YouCampaign

10.21.12

DIY Swift-Boating: Alexandra Kerry Launches Ad Your Voice 2012

Republican super PACS are amassing a $1 billion war chest to boost Romney. Enter Sen. John Kerry’s daughter Alexandra and a user-generated ad campaign. She tells Judith Grey why it’s time to fight back.

Many Democrats have found the pecuniary power of Republican Super PACS highly intimidating.

Not Alexandra Kerry.

Filmmaker, consulting-firm managing director, and the eldest daughter of Massachusetts Senator and 2004 Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, Alex—as she likes to be called—has taken it upon herself to fight back.

Ms. Kerry and her college roommate, environmental journalist Amanda Griscom Little, have launched a super PAC of their own—Ad Your Voice 2012. The PAC’s website describes Ad Your Voice as the “the unofficial ad campaign for Obama’s reelection,” enlisting the public to create political ads “to take down Romney-Ryan in 60 seconds or less.”

More recently, Kerry has teamed up with Vivian Rosenthal, founder and CEO of GoldRun, a breakthrough augmented-reality platform that allows people to pose with different products, characters, or, in this case, politicians to add a print component to the user-generated ad initiative.

“I want to give people the opportunity to tell their version of the story,” the 39-year-old Kerry shared over a warm apple cider and six-minute egg at a Greenwich Village café in New York yesterday.

Kerry is a Brown graduate and has an M.F.A. in film directing from the American Film Institute Conservatory. She has directed, produced, and acted in films and cofounded the film production company Locomotive Film, based in New York and Los Angeles. She campaigned for her father’s presidential bid in 2004 and for the Obama campaign in 2008. Drawing from her experiences, in 2008 she published the memoir Notes From the Trail.

For all three women collaborating on the project, the primary motivation is to encourage fellow Democrats to become “participants” in the democratic process in an effort to reelect the president.

As the site warns: “GOP Super PACs are amassing close to a $1 billion war chest to support Mitt Romney–many times more than what pro-Obama Super PACs hope to bring in. Which means Democrats must learn to fight above their weight class.”

Kerry stresses, “One of the motivating factors was watching the control that Sheldon Adelson and the Koch brothers” were having on the election.

While Ad Your Voice might have slightly overstated the numbers, their fears of the GOP’s fundraising advantage are not unfounded. As The Daily Beast reported last month, “Conservative super PACS and outside groups have raised $248 million—nearly four times the $65 million raised by their liberal counterparts.” More recent reports, however, show that Democratic donors have become more enthusiastic about giving to super PACS as the election nears.

“The platform exists to encourage anybody with a camera to submit their video,” Kerry wrote in an email. 

After the submissions are uploaded to the Ad Your Vote website, the videos are to be reviewed by “a panel of luminaries, led by Bill Maher and Scarlett Johansson,” among others. (Kerry and Johansson met at the Democratic convention.) The panel will then award the filmmaker of the video they deem most likely to get Obama reelected a $10,000 honorarium and have a professional director prepare the ad for primetime television and online distribution.

So far, Kerry and Little have identified the top contenders. (Submissions close Oct. 25.)

The first on the list, “My Country, My Choice,” shows a series of shots of naked women covering themselves with little more than cardboard placards that form the sentence: “If you don’t trust me with my body, why should I trust you with my country?” 

The second, “Why Obama Now,” is an animated short created by Simpsons and Family Guy animator Lucas Gray.

The third, “Republicans, Get in My Vagina!," is a short film featuring Kate Beckinsale, Judy Greer, and Andrea Savage produced by FunnyOrDie.com.

While all three spots have stopping power—perhaps too much so and in not the right way for the Obama campaign’s risk-averse palette—none, Alexander conceded, has the potential to harm as the Swift-Boating ads that contributed to the demise of her father’s 2004 run for president.

“The platform exists to encourage anybody with a camera to submit their video.”

The commercials, produced by a 527 group—the 2004 equivalent of a PAC—Swift-Boat Veterans for Truth, challenged John Kerry’s military record and claimed his testimony on the misconduct of American servicemen during the Vietnam War was a “willful distortion,” deeming him “unfit” to serve as president.

Even though the ads were mostly discredited, their message was so widespread and damning that the term “Swift Boat” has become, as Wikipedia explains, “an American neologism used pejoratively to describe an unfair or untrue political attack.”

Alexandra confided that, although not consciously the primary motivation for her user-generated ad initiative, the Swift Boat episode is “probably now somewhat built into my DNA. I’m sure that I observe the [political] process in an entirely different way.

“Of course, it was extremely devastating to watch such an unethical attack against your family,” Kerry emphasized. “It’s not as though it didn’t have an effect. But I think eight years is a long time to work through different interpretations of that experience.” 

Kerry asserts that she was “driven to [Ad Your Voice] much more from a filmmaker’s perspective in terms of enabling creative people, in terms of being interested in all the alternative messaging that’s out there, in terms of building a business that is interested in building alternative platforms for communication.” 

“In 2004, the big story was that everyone was on their BlackBerries,” she reflected. “It was really pre–social media, and we didn’t have quite as much virality.”

Unfortunately for Kerry, in 2004 there was sufficient “virality” not only to usurp her father’s presidential aspirations but to disseminate an image of her on the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival (a mere six months before Election Day) in a Pierre Cardin dress that proved to lose its opacity upon being photographed.

“I regret the accident that was the dress,” Kerry lamented. She reassured me “it was opaque when I walked out.”

Ultimately, whether Ad Your Voice is a catharsis for Kerry’s experience with Swift-Boating, an effort to rebrand herself as a productive, non–diaphanous dress–wearing citizen, or an extension of her pursuits as a filmmaker is immaterial. Alexander has a palpable grasp of the power of the media, and she intends to use that understanding to further the causes she believes in.

While probably a bit late in the game to have considerable impact during this presidential race—after all, her website has only had 76 submissions to date—Ad Your Vote may have well provided a template for the democratization of the democratic process for elections to come.

So take that, Sheldon!