Beliefnet
SAN FRANCISCO, Ca., June 15 (AP) -- The electronic message doesn't beckon like "I Love You" or a sexy tennis star. No flash, no sizzle and no damage to the hard drive. Just a call for people to turn off their lights to protest President Bush's energy policies.

But like a benign virus, this e-mail protest is spreading - from college friends' computer inboxes to Sierra Club newsletters to dump-Bush Web sites. Its proponents hope for a rolling, voluntary blackout across the country and a brief drop in electricity use.

Whether people will respond to the message is uncertain. But it joins a series of e-mail-driven environmental campaigns in recent weeks, inspired by California's energy crisis, rising gas prices, and the Bush administration's stance on conservation and global warming.

"It's a simple thing and a meaningful thing to do," said David Stitzhal, a Seattle environmental consultant. He got the e-mail from a friend and passed it on to a few others with his address mistakenly attached. Now he gets e-mails nearly every day from strangers for and against.

The "roll your own blackout" asks people to turn off their lights and unplug their appliances for three hours on the evening of June 21.

Another e-mail campaign that began in Europe seeks to boycott Exxon Mobil (known in Europe as Esso) to protest global warming. Yet another urges a boycott of a different oil company each month to protest the rising price of gasoline.

Those drawn to the voluntary blackout like the symbolism: pull the plug, disconnect from the electric grid. Shut off the lights, the television, the stereo, the air conditioner and, yes, even the computer that's spreading the message.

The White House isn't paying much attention to the e-mail - a spokesman says it mischaracterizes the administration. "The president believes that conservation and renewable energy development are very important," spokesman Jimmy Orr said.

Even if a million homeowners took part nationwide, utilities say it would be hard to tell. "Based on the size and breadth of this industry, this blackout will be hardly noticed to negligible," said Mike Hyland with the American Public Power Association.

No one is sponsoring the protest, but Dave Aragon started it. An electrical engineer from Oakland, Calif., Aragon posted a version of the idea to two chat rooms in early April while planning a march to protest Bush. He was met with silence.

The Bush administration's stance on conservation continued to rile him until one day - "I was feeling powerless" - he posted the idea to his church's Web site.

A few days later, it came spiraling back from a different site, rewritten and aimed at nightfall of summer solstice. Unbeknownst to him, an artist in Los Angeles had seen his earlier message, tweaked it and sent it off.

"It's a simple protest and a symbolic act," that version of the e-mail read.

"Unplug whatever you can unplug ... Let them know we want global education, participation and funding in conservation, efficiency and alternative fuel efforts."

The e-mail has since bounced to chat rooms, Web sites and newsletters of Sierra Club chapters in Tennessee, Kentucky and New Hampshire. Some online conversations note June 21 is the longest day of the year--not the best time to notice darkened homes.

The e-mail is now prominently posted on an anti-Bush Web site, Citizens for Legitimate Government. Site organizers are buying TV ads and working with overseas groups to roll the blackout worldwide, said spokesman Mike Rectenwald.

"The thing we like about this is it's absolutely passive," said Rectenwald, an English professor at Carnegie Mellon University. "People from almost all kinds of political persuasion can get behind it."
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