Women Organizing for Wilmington (WOW) has been demonstrating for 86 consecutive weeks since the inauguration of POTUS 45. After the 2016 Women’s March on Washington—and hundreds of sister marches across the country since—it was clear to WOW cofounder Lynn Shoemaker she wasn’t the only one unhappy with direction the nation was heading. Like millions she was motivated to do something about it.
Shoemaker and her band of cohorts have been gathering downtown every Monday at noon for an hour of protest. Sometimes donning red capes and white hats, inspired by “The Handmaid’s Tale,” other times pink pussy hats, women and allies continue to gather at 102 N. 3rd St., armed with signs aplenty: equal rights for women, clean water not poisoned by GenX and most recently getting out others to vote. On Saturday, October 27, WOW will host Pearls to the Polls at Greenfield Lake Amphitheater to continue their mission to inspire everyone to vote come Election Day, Tuesday, November 6.
“We thought we’d make it a family-friendly event, with transportation to the polls with two vans and two buses donated,” Shoemaker notes. “They’re also picking up and dropping off near the Democratic event going on at St. Stephen AME Church at Red Cross.”
Dana Sergeant, one of the original founders of Clean Cape Fear, will be among guest speakers slated for the day. As an advocate for safe drinking water, Sergeant represents one among myriad issues WOW wants to educate voters about.
“Water is life and effects everybody here,” Shoemaker notes. “Dana will be talking about the Cape Fear River and what’s been going on with that. We need to elect people who will support regulating dirty corporations that pollute our drinking water.”
NARAL Pro-Choice America will be representing the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), of which women like Shoemaker have been advocating for an entire lifetime. A representative from Planned Parenthood will be on hand to talk about women’s reproductive rights. LGBTQIA and Black Lives Matter advocates will attend, too. Also slated to speak is ILM’s own Southern darling Celia Rivenbark, local comic and columnist. But, of all the guests planned for the day, none quite match the stature and spectacle of the Baby Trump balloon.
Like millions of people, Shoemaker watched the 20-foot-high balloon mimicking Donald Trump take flight over Britain’s Houses of Parliament during POTUS 45’s visit there in July. Shoemaker’s sister also was tuning in.
“[She] saw on Twitter they were bringing the baby to America and replicas were going to be made,” Shoemaker remembers. “She immediately tweeted: ‘WOW wants the baby to come to North Carolina in Wilmington. We’re highly qualified to babysit!’”
It wasn’t long before a “nanny” in New Jersey reached out to the group to help coordinate Baby Trump’s trip to the Port City. They had to complete an application process and employ the help of a scientist who could oversee the helium the balloon will use. Naturally, WOW has chosen a woman scientist, who wishes to remain anonymous because of her role at a university.
“There are a lot of women involved in the resistance who have to work behind the scenes because they fear retaliation from their employers or because they need to protect their employer, or because they fear for the safety of their children,” Shoemaker says. “This is very much where we are today—with unleashed hate and discrimination by the man in our nation’s highest office. He has given his base permission to behave badly.”
While there are people vehemently against the current administration and recoil with every character of every new tweet, there also are folks who remain just as passionately in favor of the man behind the Twitter handle. Mockery of the president might not exactly build bridges between the two groups, but it has worked well in rallying progressives.
“I think people that support this administration is wide awake and they’re going to turn out to vote,” Shoemaker admits. “On the other side of that coin is a large chunk of women who don’t vote—and that’s who we’ve been appealing to over the last 86 weeks we’ve been downtown: the rising American electorate; women of color, millennial women; women with children. I don’t think you can turn those voters out without being loud about what’s going one. Silence and politeness is not going to work.”
WOW has gotten more positive than negative feedback about bringing the oversize man baby to ILM. In fact, WOW has noticed an uptick in followers and RSVPs within 24 hours of announcing Baby Trump’s appearance at Pearls to the Polls.
“Ninety-nine percent of anything negative has come from older white men,” Shoemaker notes. At first, they weren’t going to mention Baby Trump flying at the rally. “I did catch flack from women telling me to put it [on social media] so people know the two are related,” Shoemaker clarified. Since the organization stands tall for women’s equal rights, Shoemaker listened.
“Everybody talks about civil discourse during every election,” Shoemaker says, “but I don’t think that we can have that until we have balance and right now we don’t have balance and representation—that’s sad but true . . . The Trump administration is working against women and families and our environment. . . . I think the clear message here [with the arrival of Baby Trump] is that if you don’t support their agenda then you’ve got to go to the polls and vote. Vote for people who aren’t going to give [Trump] blanket support.”
WOW is responsible for the helium and shipment costs of the balloon, for which they’ve created a GoFundMe campaign for $2,500. They raised about $1,900 as of press. They don’t know where he’ll be headed next, but groups in Greensboro and Charlotte have applied for him to fly.
Shoemaker has faith their efforts will help break a 50-year record in the U.S. for voter turnout at a midterm election. “I hope women and marginalized demographics show up in droves,” she notes. “While I’m going to be at Pearls to the Polls, I plan on being at [New Hanover County NAACP’s] Souls to the Polls [Sunday, Oct. 28, which gathers at St. Stephen’s AME Church and marches to call for early voters]. We’re sticking together to get out the vote.”
Folks at Pearls to the Polls will be able to take their picture in front of Baby Trump for a $1 minimum donation for Hurricane Florence relief at the Village of Greenfield. The area recently lost their community grocery store, Everybody’s, along with other businesses in the strip mall, from a fire. Smaller Baby Trump balloons will be available for $10, as well as pink pussy hats knitted locally, all to raise monies for the Domestic Violence Shelter and Services, Inc. as part of October’s Domestic Violence Awareness Month. They also will be collecting tampons and pads for Good Shepherd Center.
In addition to a series of speakers, Pearls to the Polls will feature live music by local female artists Johanna Winkel, Cheyenne Champion, and Laura McLean and Calamity. Concessions will be open at GLA and WoW will confirm a food truck on their Facebook event page.