How to Make Voting Sexy 101

1. When considering your organization's image, forget about power ties. Instead, opt to put pretty women in flimsy men's undershirts--bra straps visible--and get a local graphic artist/musician (Tom Walbank) to draw on tattoos of the Statue of Liberty and the American flag. Take photos; distribute widely.

2. Spice up your literature by liberally peppering text with the word "virgin"--as in "going after the virgin vote."

3. Do not settle for being cute--become a nonpartisan powerhouse of good ideas and exciting events; genuinely care about your stated task; pair with other groups for increased mission-accomplishing effectiveness.

4. Take it to the streets--put up cool posters; form mutually beneficial relationships with local venues; and use the media to disseminate information.

Marianne Dissard, one of the founders of Tucson Suffragettes, is well-spoken, wears great clothes and--like any woman worth her salt--she can ride a bicycle in a dress.

"Tucson Suffragettes formed," she says, "when four girls--myself, Shana Zimmerman, Maggie Foul and Adrienne Lake--decided we wanted to 'do something,' in the most general terms, I suppose. Then, we had to figure out what we could do, and since we were all artists or involved in music, we decided we'd use arts and music to be political--to go after voter registration and education."

Dissard says the core members immediately decided that their group's identity should be staunchly nonpartisan. Their image, which Dissard describes as "vixen; a kind of lightening rod," was designed to fortify that aspect of their identity.

"We decided to do without the the Democrats, because we're about pushing voter registration and citizenry, and the process of democracy. It's about getting your voice out.

"And the image--it's because sex sells," Dissard says, "and it short-circuits any identification with politics. It's so far off the scale that hopefully new ideas and new relationships will spring from the group because of that. Those photos, taken by Steven Meckler, turned out to be a really powerful thing. The flags and icons of America on us, it's about no one having to align themselves with anything that's spoken for them. In the democratic process, ideally, the individual should take charge of who they are and what they can do, and not just borrow a discourse from either party."

The Suffragettes have expanded to include 14 women and one man (they call him Suffra-Jeff), and they are gathering admirers and assistance quickly.

"We reached out to other groups whose job it is and who are trained to register voters," says Dissard. "It's our job, as Suffragettes, to organize events to get those virgin voters there. We've gone around and asked venues what they want to talk about--we did gay issues at GLBT, youth issues at Skrappy's; we're doing border issues down in Nogales ... we function as a matchmaker in that sense, within the community. And all of our events are free, because they're for the community, to have a public forum.

"You can always talk about 'get out the vote,' 'rock the vote,' but it's not something that's fresh anymore. There's nothing exciting about voting for most people, because they've been made to feel it doesn't matter. You fill out a ballot in between going to the dentist and dropping the kids off at school, right? But putting 'virgin voter' in there calls attention, puts up a red flag. Our market is anyone who would blink at seeing those two words together, and anyone who enjoys going out to see music and art shows."

Saturday, Sept. 11 is the Tucson Suffragettes' biggest event to date: Art/11, featuring art and music at six different downtown venues and highlighting the work of POST-GEN collective artists Mear One, Shepard Fairey and Robbie Conal.

Dissard met Conal while working with him on the 1993 PBS movie Post No Bills, which will screen from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Screening Room. MOCA director Anne Marie-Russell will introduce the film, and a question-and-answer with Conal himself will follow the screening.

Hotel Congress will show the work of Conal, Mear One and Fairey (best known for his Obey Giant series) from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. with music by Amor; Los Angeles-based graffiti artist Miner will have work at Heart 5; more of the POST-GEN trio's silkscreens will be shown at Biblio, Flash Gallery and Vaudeville; and it doesn't stop there.

"The banned book liberation is the cherry on the whole cake," says Dissard. "Books have been donated from local bookstores that were banned at some point in their history, and we're releasing them in public spaces for people to find, take home and read. It's almost like an Easter-egg hunt. Then they can re-liberate them days, months or years later. We decided to do it as a symbol of good stuff like tolerance. There's another goodie planned, too," she adds, "but I can't talk about it.

"And the art that was chosen is provocative enough to get a response from the whole community. It will be spoken of as of Sunday, that's for sure. It's kind of playing with matches and fire," she muses, "but what do you expect from girls in photographs like that? We want people to come for whatever excuse we can give them. That's the story; that's the way it goes."

The artwork of Art/11 will remain on display through Oct. 8. For information about the event, visit www.tucsonsuffragettes.com, and be sure to watch for announcements of the upcoming Nov. 2 Virgin Voters Ball, complete with the Virgin Voters Pageant. Pageant applications are available online, and the ball itself will be free for anyone with an "I Voted!" sticker.

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