When I pulled the assignment to cover the Babes Against Bush press conference in Ferndale, I didn’t know what to expect. This Detroit-area group produced a wishful pinup calendar that counts down the days to the “regime change” on Jan. 20, 2005. The photographs that illustrate each month are saucy, but not salacious, and many of them are more political than prurient. Far from radical-chic, the whole calendar has a red, white and blue color scheme — and it tells of the times that even critical electoral activists wrap themselves, though scantily, in the flag. It seemed to be a respectable enterprise, but just to make sure, I called the Babes’ point man, David Livingstone, who assured me the news conference would be “a dignified affair.”
And it turned out to be just that. In the lower barroom of the Woodward Avenue Brewery, the babes sat at a long white table before a cluster of microphones. Photographers and videographers jockeyed for good sight lines while the most vocal of the babes, Jessica Domain, announced the launch of their new voter registration site, www.voter538.com.
The thin and doe-eyed Domain, a singer-songwriter who knows how to speak publicly, gave a clear and straightforward speech, delivering a laundry list of complaints that included everything from wasteful military adventures abroad to economic failures at home, unemployment for working people to sweetheart bonanzas for corporate bosses. Domain carefully added that the Babes are not “party politicians” but aim to show that anybody can use their First Amendment rights to bring change.
Presenting an irresistible photo opportunity, they announced a new fundraising initiative by revealing a plastic turkey in shrink wrap. In honor of the commander in chief’s recent visit to Iraq, the Babes intend to auction the turkey on eBay to raise money for veterans. “One good turkey deserves another,” declared Domain with a smirk, adding that the bird, nicknamed “Little Georgie,” was as “hollow and plastic as our president.”
This spectacle is a long way from early fall of 2003, when Domain and Livingstone hatched the idea. Pulling together a core of four volunteers, they managed to find models, graphic designers and even a backer to fund the project. It was such a shoestring endeavor that Domain says they thought they’d be happy just to cover their expenses.
Some 2,500 calendars later, after having made media as far away as Hungary, Argentina, England, Japan, and as close to home as MSNBC and Fox News, it’s safe to say they are overwhelmed by the success of the project. In between radio interviews and media events they are getting set up to turn over the considerable proceeds to worthy charities.
After the press conference, I waited in the upper bar to have a word with the Babes, watching a German video crew set up tripods while rubbernecking barflies took in the action.
An older man with a baseball cap asked two men, “What are they protesting?”
After a moment of looking on, the man pressed, “For what reason?”
One of the men replied, “Well, one reason might be he’s not too smart.” Perhaps offended, the older fellow departed.
No doubt some right-wingers will be at a loss for words when faced with these patriotic pinups with a purpose. Roaring, red-faced right-wingers are robbed of so much of their vocabulary when they cannot scream, “Commie-pinko-faggot!” In fact, these red-blooded specimens of American pulchritude will likely rob those of any political persuasion of much of their vocabulary.
But, as one might guess, these volunteers didn’t disrobe without compelling reasons. When asked about her stake in politics, Babes Against Bush organizer Eleanor Vast-Binder earnestly explained how her identical twin was diagnosed with MS, which brought the issue of spiraling medical costs close to home. She added that, like tens of millions of Americans, “I don’t have health care — and that’s a very scary situation to be in.”
Christie Kocsis, a spiky-haired 22-year-old from Rochester Hills, described how “People’s husbands and brothers and friends are going to war – and the decision to go to war was made by Bush despite all the opposition.”
For their efforts, Kocsis says, the Babes have received threatening e-mails and phone calls, and even bore a televised tirade in December on Fox News’ blustery Hannity & Colmes show, which consisted of ad hominem assaults and moralistic finger-shaking from Hannity.
Kocsis explained, “It was just personal attacks. He asked, ‘Do your parents know about this?’”
“Do they know about this?” I inquired.
Laughing nervously, she replied, “I didn’t tell my parents because they’re Bush supporters.”
But Kocsis points out that the Babes are simply exercising their rights. “We’re not being pushy,” she says in soft consternation, “We’re not pushing it in people’s faces.”
Not that many would mind!
The Germans had left by the time I sat down with Antoinette Richardson, a 26-year-old nightclub dancer from Canton. Richardson (Miss February) has the gravelly voice and languid attitude of a woman who knows how to turn a man into a molten puddle of mush. As she settled onto a barstool wearing a one-piece camel J-Lo catsuit, her easy and husky laugh and soulful black eyes made me delightfully uncomfortable.
Unable to restrain my questioning to the Babes’ platform, I attempted a little fashion reportage. “What is that called that forces your bust up like that?” I asked.
“Implants,” Richardson replied cheerfully.
Richardson, a mother of three, had a compelling story to tell as well. Her ex-husband, Allen, is a Desert Storm veteran who was sent into the toxic smoke of burning oil fields and amid the dust of depleted uranium ordnance. After returning home, he found a lump in his throat. It was thyroid cancer, and it was repeatedly misdiagnosed as mere “sinuses” by military doctors. After surgery and treatment, he was “permanently retired” and is now being denied his disability. To make matters worse, Richardson says the veterans’ medical insurance that covers their children doesn’t provide a single pediatrician that can treat their children.
Richardson feels stung that George W. Bush, a two-war president, would cut veterans’ benefits, and feels insecure about her children’s future.
“I think they should take care of the home front,” she says.Michael Jackman is the copy editor of Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org