WASHINGTON - The ad starts with a little girl pulling petals off a daisy and ends with a mushroom cloud - a startling image underscoring an appeal for peace. In an updated version of an infamous 1964 political spot, modern-day activists are trying to urge mainstream Americans to join the movement against war with Iraq.
The 30-second television spot, which is scheduled to start running today in 13 cities including Boston, is illustrative of a preemptive peace movement that has been organizing against a war that hasn't started. The movement's leaders are using 21st-century tactics to spread their message beyond the traditional ranks of the antiwar movement.
''Our members don't really consider themselves activists,'' said Eli Pariser, international campaigns director for MoveOn.org, the group that funded and produced the ad. ''It's the first time they've been involved in political issues. So getting out in the street for them is a scary thought, but making contributions and helping pay for an ad is something they're only too willing to do.''
To produce and air the ad, MoveOn.org raised more than $400,000 over the Internet from more than 14,000 members between Dec. 5 and Dec. 7, according to the group, which came into existence in 1998 to advocate against impeaching then-president Bill Clinton. The group raised more than $26,000 from 1,000 donors in Massachusetts.
The strength of this incipient peace movement remains unclear. Organizers say it is broad, deep, and spreading, but it has shown little political muscle. Congress passed a resolution in October authorizing President Bush to use force against Iraq and the US military has been steadliy preparing for war.
''I have no sense from people I talk to at all that anybody is giving the American peace, antiwar movement a second thought,'' said Dan Goure, a military analyst with the conservative Lexington Institute. ''There's a lot of concern about the allies and their peace movements. ... I don't think that necessarily means that it may not be important, or it may not have significant impact when it gets going, but it's just not on the radar screen.''
Organizers acknowledge that the effort to reach the mainstream is in its formative stages. Meanwhile, traditional antiwar activities continue: International ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism!), which ran an October rally that drew tens of thousands to Washington, is organizing another for this weekend with protests in, among other places, Washington, San Francisco, Canada, and Spain.
''On Saturday, you will see many, many people in Washington, D.C., and some of them will be our members,'' said Pariser. ''But what's exciting about this is we can get people who are housewives in Arkansas or plumbers in Ohio also involved in the same political push. I don't think it's a change in tactics necessarily, [so much as] adding new tactics that haven't been available in the past to reach more mainstream audiences.''
The television ad is calculated to get this movement noticed by mainstream America. Starting with the girl and the daisy, the images shift to what peace activists say could result from a war in Iraq: burning oil wells, wounded soldiers, angry crowds.
''War with Iraq. Maybe it will end quickly. Maybe not. Maybe extremists will take over countries with nuclear weapons,'' a voice-over says.
The image returns to the little girl before flashing to a nuclear explosion. The final message in white letters over a black background is: ''Let the inspections work,'' referring to what the UN weapons inspectors currently assessing Iraq's efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction.
The ad mirrors the television spot ''Daisy,'' which then-president Lyndon B. Johnson's campaign ran against Republian challenger Barry Goldwater, suggesting that Goldwater was too dangerous to have control of the US nuclear arsenal. That ad ran only once before being pulled, but it has been rerun countless times as a classic of negative political advertising.
The new ad may mirror the old in more than just its theme: MoveOn.org spent the relatively small sum of $185,000 on air time, apparently hoping just a short run would generate media attention.
''The `Daisy' ad was this ad about the danger that we face as a country and about the choices we have to make sure the worst doesn't happen,'' Pariser said. ''We felt like we're in a very similar situation right now. With the prospect of this war in Iraq, we are playing with matches in a tinderbox.''
MoveOn.org is part of the Win Without War coalition, one of several groups trying to organize a peace movement that encompasses people who have in the past been slow to join.
David Cortright, the founder and staff coordinator of Win Without War, recalled that the group's genesis came during the October antiwar protest in Washington. The rally, said Cortright, ''was all over the map politically and not very appealing to a mainstream perspective.'' At dinner that night, he and a few others discussed forming a coalition that would be ''more welcoming to mainstream constituencies.''
''We wanted to project a more mainstream, patriotic message. We feel that the number-one concern about this whole policy is that it's going to harm our country,'' Cortright said. ''We don't go off and start wars, at least that's our tradition.''
The Win Without War group, announced last month as a group of ''patriotic Americans who share the belief that Saddam Hussein cannot be allowed to possess weapons of mass destruction'' but which also opposes a military solution, was the result. The coalition includes groups ranging from the National Organization of Women to the National Council of Churches.
''It's an attempt to recognize that it's not just the liberal left or the theological left or the political left that is organizing,'' said Dr. Bob Edgar, a former House Democrat from Pennsylvania who is now the general secretary for the National Council on Churches. ''It's just average, ordinary, common people who don't normally get excited about issues of war and peace, but on this issue they believe that the administration has not made its case.''
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