Drumbeats! Commotion! Intimidating hordes thronging the streets! That's what political marches are usually about.

Now, activists can demonstrate with a mouse click, as Web-savvy organizations discover the virtues of "virtual marches.""The e-march takes most of the headaches out of traditional marching. No more port-a-potties lining the Mall, no more disputes about park-service head-counts, and no more exorbitant police bills for taxpayers," says Daniel Zingale, executive director of the AIDS Action Council, an advocacy group that this week ended a yearlong "e-march" on Washington.

Logging on to www.aidsaction.org, e-marchers encountered a virtual Washington Mall, where they could create their own e-sign or choose a prefabricated one. Messages were forwarded continuously to the White House and Congress. Organizers say the rally registered more than 23,000 poster-carrying marchers, with messages such as "AIDS is Not Over. Invest in HIV prevention. It saves lives."

Mr. Zingale says an e-mail march is cheaper than the real thing, and can reach more targets than fax and telegram campaigns. The anonymity and ease of the Web brings in new activists -- like those from rural areas -- who might not have made it to a real AIDS march.

"I've done the Quilt, the AIDS Walk, the AIDS marathon, AIDS marches. But this struck me as sort of revolutionary," says one e-marcher, San Francisco attorney Ross LaJeunesse. "I could get all my friends involved in a matter of minutes."

Even denizens of real-world rallies are gaining respect for their virtual counterparts. "If you do a huge demonstration with people marching in the streets and getting arrested, that's more likely to be covered by the media. But if you want to directly contact government officials, then it's effective," says Eric Sawyer, a founder of ACT-UP, which has organized "real" AIDS demonstrations like "die-ins," in which activists lie down on the Mall and chant.

The downside is that e-mail messages are easier for lawmakers to ignore than a noisy throng on the Capitol steps.

"The folks on Capitol Hill get so much spam that the meaningful mail gets lost," says Richard Thau, executive director of Third Millennium, a "Generation-X" advocacy group which has launched its own "Billion Byte March" www.march.org to press for Social Security reform. To cut through the clutter, the group plans to save all the e-mail the march generates and bombard Congress with it in a single day.