Peace corps

Maine’s anti-war activists have found a way to make their congressional delegates listen. Now they’re sharing it with people in other states
By SARA DONNELLY  |  January 18, 2006

In December 2004, 13 anti-war activists gathered in Senator Susan Collins’s office in Portland, Maine. They read the names of American soldiers who had died in the Iraq war, as well as an equal number of Iraqi civilians who had died. They occupied Collins’s office for roughly four hours and, before leaving, they asked the senator to hold a “town meeting” to discuss the war with her constituents. X MARKS THE LOST Hatch marks tally the Iraq war dead.

On February 4, 2005, 17 activists gathered in Senator Olympia Snowe’s office, also in Portland. Again, they read the names of American soldiers and Iraqis who had died in the war — more than 2000 in total by that date. After reading each name, the activists marked X’s, in red or black marker, on a giant piece of cloth. They then asked Snowe to hold a town meeting on the war.

On March 18, 2005, 35 people gathered in Representative Tom Allen’s Portland office. They read the names of the war dead, marked X’s on a white sheet, and requested a town meeting — which Allen eventually agreed to.

On August 26, 2005, 75 people showed up for another occupation in Collins’s Lewiston office. This time someone brought a bell, which tolled for each name of the war dead.

The number of people attending each of these events is swelling, as is the pace and number of the events themselves — and that sense of momentum was all part of the Pine Tree State organizers’ plan. In little more than a year there have been seven nearly identical occupations of three of Maine’s four congressional delegates’ offices (as well as several informal meetings with US Representative Mike Michaud, who held a town meeting December 21, 2005), and they were all part of a coordinated action called the “Frequent Visit Program” (FVP), founded last December by some of Maine’s most fervent anti-war activists.

FVP’s ready-to-wear war-resistance model — an office occupation, a roll call of the dead, a request for public dialogue — has also been used in a handful of other states, including Massachusetts, thanks to FVP outreach. And with public support of the war plummeting and lightning rods like Cindy Sheehan and US representative John Murtha spreading the anti-war message, FVP creators think their particular form of protest is about to catch hold nationwide.

The Frequent Visit Program follows a simple plan. First, “Visitors,” as the participants call themselves, call or visit the offices of congressional delegates in groups of three or four. They request private meetings to discuss their concerns about the war. If they can’t arrange a meeting after several attempts, they stage a sit-in — or, as they usually call it, an “occupation” — in which they eulogize the Iraq war dead. If they don’t get a commitment to a town meeting, or a reasonable promise of one, they make phone calls, send letters, and write e-mails, several times a month, over and over and over, repeating the request. They apply frequent, pointed pressure. They are the guests who won’t leave.

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Related: Female Trouble, US Rep. Allen to protestors: go directly to jail, D.C. wannabes, More more >
  Topics: News Features , Protestantism, Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins,  More more >
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