At the time of ILM’s 2020 Women’s March and Rally this Saturday, Women Organizing for Wilmington (WoW!) will have protested for 150 consecutive weeks—just six weeks shy of three years—at the corner of Third and Princess streets. “And we will continue to protest until a new president is elected,” notes WoW! founder Lynn Shoemaker.
Shoemaker and WoW! have utilized these last three years as an exercise in expanding engagement and public awareness of issues affecting women and their families: access to healthcare, family planning, equal pay. WoW! is busy encouraging folks to participate in local civil protests and public processes, such as attending school board, city council and county commissioner meetings. Not to mention, they hope women consider running for public office and serving on local boards.
“WoW! has worked really hard to stick to the issues,” Shoemaker clarifies. “Although, we do not hesitate to state we are steadfast progressives who support women’s rights.”
WoW! has engaged in numerous community-centered projects, like collecting back-to-school book bags stuffed with supplies; contributing to roof repairs to shelters for women and families fleeing domestic violence; filling local food bank pantries; or collecting bras and tampons for women without shelter. In 2020 WoW! will assume a more active role in the electoral process, which is included on Saturday’s agenda.
“Our current elected officials have mostly had two years to demonstrate their commitment to women and families,” Shoemakers says. “There are some who need to be ousted and some whose seats need to be protected.
. . . This year is really exciting because we are moving into a state of empowerment.”
Since the first Women’s March in 2017 (WoW! has sponsored them from 2018-2020), thousands of people of all genders, ages, races and socio-economic backgrounds continue to congregate to raise awareness of women’s issues and rights. Past marches/rallies have included a lineup of local musicians and artists presented alongside a series of guest speakers—women leaders, advocates, poets, etc.. This Saturday will welcome Izzy Stoneback from March for Our Lives and Noelle Powers from 350 Wilmington.
“The future is female [and] they are the future,” says Mary Martha “Mittens” Vaught, chair of WoW’s Woman of the Year Committee. Vaught will present the award to its third recipient this weekend. For two years, Vaught says, each honoree unanimously has been approved: Sarah Johnson in 2018 and Kristen McKeithan in 2019. “They are superlative women,” she praises. “Each acted selflessly, creating ripples that continue to impact our community.”
Johnson was in high school when she filed a complaint against New Hanover Schools with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. School administrators failed to address her assault in a fair and timely manner. “Her bravery brought about change,” Vaught explains. “New Hanover County Schools now has a new Title IX Committee [dedicated to handling these complaints].”
Kristen McKeithan founded GoodWorks after Hurricane Florence, which helped connect families in need with resources. “[Kristen McKeithan] reawakened us to caring and sharing and doing,” Vaught notes.
As far as hints about who this year’s winner is…
“Not punch, not unfairness,” Vaught offers. “You are going to love her. You probably already do.”
The 2020 all-day event will be broken up into two major parts, starting with a rally at Innes Park from 12 p.m. – 3 p.m., followed by a march to North Fourth’s Brooklyn Arts District. A lineup of femme musicians and spoken-word artists will perform at Bottega until 7 p.m., including Emily Marriott, Sarah Rose, Delthea Simmons, Freya, Lissette and Michele Wuensch. (Anyone interested can still sign up for open mic.) There also will be food trucks on site. Port City Breastfeeding Project will provide breastfeeding and diaper-changing stations at the rally at Innes Park, and Cape Fear Trolley Company will provide a free shuttle to and from the park for anyone unable to march.
More than two dozen femme advocates and leaders will speak throughout the day, including emcee Rep. Deb Butler, who was just recognized by InStyle magazine as 50 #badasswomen to watch out for in the country.
“I think Deb alone speaks volumes about where WoW! and the women of New Hanover County (and our nearby sister counties) are headed in 2020,” Shoemaker says. “With Deb leading the way, this year’s battle cry is clear: ‘We Will Not Yield!’ She’s such a fierce fighter for the underdogs, per se, and we feel so proud to call her our representative.”
Other guest speakers include current female candidates vying for votes in 2020, such as Dr. Kyle Horton and Leslie Cohen (both candidates for NHC Commission), Ret. Colonel Marcia Morgan (running for NC House), and Commissioner Jessica Holmes for NC Commissioner of Labor.
Nevertheless, there will be one male speaker this year: Senator Harper Peterson. “He has been so instrumental behind the scenes every year in helping us set up the women’s marches and rallies,” Shoemaker notes, “just as he has in arranging public town-hall meetings to educate our community on the corporate polluting of our Cape Fear River and providing spaces to help our poorest public school children.”
Shoemaker says folks can expect to see more WoW!-organized fundraisers, phone banks and door-to-door canvassing in 2020, especially for candidates who support SNAP, public transportation, environmental protections, women’s reproductive health rights, public schools and public school employees, livable wages, affordable housing, and childcare and voter rights, among other issues.
Readers can find a comprehensive schedule of events this Saturday at the Women’s March 2020 Facebook page.