Joe Moore peered through a black, wrought iron fence yesterday, politely asking for permission to deliver what he considers compelling evidence of a rising tide of public sentiment against war with Iraq. He was at the head of an unusual band of antiwar activists, more than two dozen local elected officials from cities, towns and counties that have passed resolutions opposing war.
Moore wanted someone to accept copies of the resolutions, but just inside the northwest gate to the stately mansion, a lone uniformed guard seemed unimpressed with him and the others. "There are no deliveries at the White House," he said to Moore. "Any deliveries you may have, put it in the mail."
A few minutes later, the standoff ended, and the local officials dispersed. But in a larger sense, as the episode illustrated, divisions over President Bush's policy toward Iraq are far from over and appear to be growing in cities and towns in many -- but not all -- parts of the country.
On Jan. 16, Chicago, where Moore is one of the 50 aldermen on the City Council, became the largest city in the country to approve a resolution opposing "a unilateral, preemptive U.S. military attack on Iraq." The vote was 46 to 1.
At the time, 23 other state and local governing bodies had passed similar resolutions. But now, according to organizers of yesterday's "Cities for Peace" antiwar event, the number has swelled to at least 90 and is still climbing.
At a news conference before they walked to the White House with copies of their resolutions, the local officials put their opposition to war with Iraq largely in economic terms, contrasting estimates of the cost of armed conflict with what they described as the increasingly desperate financial condition of the nation's cities.
"The [homeless] shelters are jammed in my city, and we have a deficit of $1 million" because of increased homeland security expenses, said Detroit City Council President Maryann Mahaffey. "We believe in our City Council that the needs of our cities and the people who live in those cities are paramount."
Serena Cruz, a commissioner in Multnomah County, Ore., which includes Portland, said, "War would not make us in Portland any safer. We have not seen compelling needs for this war. On the other hand, we see compelling needs of our people every day that go unmet."
To those who question why a Chicago alderman or any other local official should have anything to say about national security policy, Moore replied, "The answer is that few decisions have a more profound effect on the quality of life in our cities, towns and villages than going to war."
The local officials said they represented grass-roots sentiment across the country. But growing opposition to war with Iraq also appears to be concentrated among Democratic politicians and in regions of the country that Bush failed to carry in his 2000 campaign against Democrat Al Gore, giving the antiwar movement an increasingly partisan tone.
Asked at the news conference whether any of them were Republicans, none of the local officials replied. In federal court in Boston yesterday, a lawsuit was filed challenging Bush's right to invade Iraq without a formal declaration of war by Congress. The lead plaintiffs in the case are six House members, all of them Democrats.
A map displayed by the local officials yesterday resembled a graphic of the electoral college on election night 2000. Red pins denoting the location of communities that have passed antiwar resolutions were concentrated in the Northeast, the industrial Midwest and up and down the West Coast, all regions that Gore carried or where he ran strongly. Elsewhere, the map was largely devoid of red pins, although organizers of the event said they have active campaigns to pass antiwar resolutions throughout the country.
Antiwar resolutions have been passed in such traditional, big-city Democratic strongholds as Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, Newark, Baltimore and Washington. They have also been adopted in large numbers of college and university towns, often hotbeds of antiwar sentiment, such as Ann Arbor, Mich.; Madison, Wis.; Berkeley and Palo Alto, Calif.; Boulder, Colo., and Chapel Hill, N.C. The only red pin on the map in Bush's home state of Texas marked Austin, home of the University of Texas.
In some places, local politicians are clearly divided over the issue of war with Iraq and its impact on their communities. By a vote of 4 to 1, the Multnomah County Commission adopted its antiwar resolution Jan. 30. But a week earlier, the Portland City Council deadlocked 2 to 2 on the issue, and a similar resolution failed to pass.
Cruz said the Portland business community opposed the City Council resolution, calling it a "distraction" from dealing with the city's deepening fiscal problems.