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Punks, preachers, paddlers and more

Everyone, it seems, wants us to vote in the 2004 election. Just look at some of the groups making sure we do.

By KIM CROSS
Published July 3, 2004


Some of us are only just recovering from the drama of 2000, but the next presidential election already in the offing.

Motivated by the by-a-nose outcome of last election, vote-mongers are getting creative in their efforts to rouse the masses from political apathy. Here are a few of the most colorful campaigns to get out your vote.

Lick the vote

You scream, I scream, we all scream for . . . voter registration? Yup. Ben & Jerry's (www.benjerry.com) has created a new strawberry-cheesecake-with-graham-cracker-crust ice cream to rally the sweet-tooth vote.

Last August, the company asked AOL subscribers to dream up a name for a flavor with a political twist (and a graham-cracker swirl). "Primary Berry Graham" beat out "Berry Rock-us Caucus" and "My Straw(berry) Vote" in the online polling.

The company unveiled the new flavor despite sub-zero temperatures during the New Hampshire primaries. It teamed up with Rock the Vote, a nonpartisan organization that registered 10,000 customers at 200 scoop shops nationwide during the Ben & Jerry's annual "Free Cone Day" in April.

Ben & Jerry's will embark this summer on a 50-city bus tour with Rock the Vote, which receives a portion of the flavor's proceeds.

Thou shalt vote

Jesus loves you. And he wants you to vote.

That's the message booming from the pulpits of some churches in Oregon. Restore America (www.restoreamerica.org) an evangelical Christian nonprofit group, is training pastors in voter registration, which is legal in church as long as the preaching stays nonpartisan.

"We educate them with regard to what they can and cannot do according to the law," says David Crowe, founder and executive director. "And we lay out a strategy for them to get their churches fully registered."

The goal is 100 percent Christian voter turnout. Here's why they think they have a prayer: Voters in Oregon, the only vote-by-mail state, will get ballots nearly three weeks before the deadline. That gives the pastors three Sundays to preach the gospel of turning those ballots in.

"The old strategy is voter turnout," Crowe says. "Now it's voter turn-in."

Chick the vote

The playwright Eve Ensler, of Vagina Monologues fame, has built a career on the letter "V," which has come to stand for violence, victory, and you-know-what. Now, at least until Nov. 2, V also stands for vote.

V-Day (www.vday.org) the movement Ensler founded to stop violence against women, has organized a nationwide voter registration drive called "V is for Vote." Volunteers recruit 10 pals to form a "V-Posse," a small venue for voicing women's issues, registering friends and urging those friends to recruit other voters (including men).

Ensler is also helping organize a celebrity soiree called "Vaginas Vote, Chicks Rock" on Sept. 13 at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. Susan Sarandon, Julia Stiles, Jane Fonda and Jesse Jackson are slated to attend.

The V-Day campaign has spread through 30 states, though some volunteers have toned down Ensler's "Vagina Vote" language. The V-Posses originally had a different name, one that included a p-word that sounds much like posse.

But, says Robin Laughlin, who heads a V-Posse in the Southwest, "We can't say that out here in New Mexico."

Paddle the Vote

A river runs through them. The swing states, that is. "The mighty Mississippi will take us to them," says a group of paddlers on their way to stir up voter interest.

Paddle for the Presidency (www.paddle4president.org) a group of outdoor types who met at Colorado College, are canoeing the length of Old Man River to increase political awareness among young adults and get them registered to vote.

"Young people don't vote because politicians don't listen," says 23-year-old paddler Patrick Holmes, calling on a cell phone between stretches on the river. "Politicians don't listen because young people don't vote."

The paddlers launched their 10 canoes in Lake Itasca, Minn. in June, with plans to land in key riverside cities to host events with local bands, politicians, artists and activists. They also kicked off a get-your-friends-to-vote campaign, in which participants pledge to convince 10 friends to register to vote.

The fleet will host events in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana. According to the Swing State Project, all but two of those states were won by a narrow margin last election year.

Unlike the equally outdoorsy members of Run Against Bush and Bike Against Bush, these active activists are non-partisan. The 15 members paddling all the way to New Orleans invite others to join them for a stretch. No lily-dipping!

Free the vote

Knock-knock. Who's there? Unless you're expecting the Avon lady, it may be a felon asking you to vote. America Coming Together (www.actforvictory.org) - which supports progressive candidates and wants to give President Bush a "one-way ticket back to Crawford" - is rounding up volunteers to canvas neighborhoods in swing states in a door-to-door voter registration.

A small number are former lawbreakers.

"We have 170 canvassers in (Florida) and a small handful have been convicted of a crime," says Tait Sye, ACT Florida communications director. "They have paid their debts to society, and we believe in giving these people a second chance."

The organization's policy is to reject applicants convicted of violent crimes, Sye says. The Associated Press reported that some ACT canvassers have been convicted of burglary, assault and sex offenses, but Sye says those people don't work in Florida.

"ACT has knocked on 300,000 doors and registered 32,000 voters in Florida," he says, "without incident."

Riff the vote

And, of course, the musicians are all tuning up for the vote.

Punk Voter (www.punkvoter.org) has organized a "Rock Against Bush" summer tour through 17 cities with a lineup that includes Jello Biafra, NOFX, and Alkaline Trio. Music for America, a voter registration group, will be registering people in the mosh pit.

Those who sign up may get a free Rock Against Bush CD or a DVD with footage of several anti-Bush documentaries. Not to mention an earful of reasons to vote from musicians such as Fat Mike, who says he talks about the war in Iraq so his fans "are p--ed off and want to vote."

Ani DiFranco will be touring the swing states during her "Vote Dammit" tour, which will bring her through Tampa, Orlando and Jacksonville in September. Partnering with the Feminist Majority Foundation's "Get Out Her Vote" campaign and comedian Margaret Cho, DiFranco will target college-age women, a demographic with historically low voting rates.

James Bernard, director of the Hip-Hop Civic Engagement Project, is visiting 13 states to sign up the "hip-hop generation." His strategy is to employ existing social networks, not celebrities, to focus on the issues instead of the stars. He registered voters in June at the Hip Hop Political Convention in New Jersey and will add to the tally in Florida this summer, dates and locations TBA.

Viva la vota

Tinte de pelo (hair coloring): $60

Pedicura francesa (French pedicure): $20

Derecho al voto (the right to vote): Priceless.

Salon customers waiting to be serviced will get a special offer in seven Florida counties: the chance to register to vote while they wait. It's part of a program called Vota con Estilo Vote with Style, put on by Mi Familia Vota (www.mifamiliavota.com) a statewide non-partisan campaign that aims to register 50,000 Hispanic voters in time for November.

The idea is to get people talking politics in a setting notorious for gossip but also conducive to civic discussion.

"When you go to your beauty salon, you talk about everything," says Irma Palacios, South Florida coordinator of the Center for Immigrant Democracy, which launched Mi Familia Vota with the People for the American Way Foundation.

Vota con Estilo is still in the pilot phase, with only a handful of salons participating, but plans are to roll out the program in counties with thriving Hispanic and Latin American populations, including Hillsborough, Osceola, Seminole, Orange, Palm Beach, Broward, and Miami-Dade.

- Kim Cross can be reached at kcross@sptimes.com or 727 893-8352. Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this story.

[Last modified July 2, 2004, 09:38:07]


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