“No, Tina! Let me finish!” I had a hand up in the air like a traffic warden and was bellowing, re-faced, at my kindergarten teacher. We were discussing “Herland” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman at the WOW! Book Club, an offshoot of Women Organizing Wilmington.
It was one of those moments when a rant erupted from inside me that I didn’t even know existed. When I got to the end and took a deep enough breath to let someone else speak (and feel my own embarrassment), I realized a couple of things simultaneously:
1. This must be bothering me more than I realized.
2. It is an example of why I don’t belong at book clubs.
3. When did I become a person who screamed in public at a woman I have admired and respected for a third of a century?
What erupted ike volcanic vomit was my frustration at watching, still, another generation of young women who seem to be brought up with one aim and one aim alone in life: to marry and produce offspring. That the sole purpose of half the world’s population is to repopulate the world infuriates me. The person I used as an illustration is one of my contemporaries, who is a brilliant, accomplished career woman. But the sum total of what her parents could envision for her is to marry well and produce a child. Anything else she did would be “nice” but wasn’t what was important. It is so weird to me. But she is not alone.
Actually, it’s still a pretty ingrained idea that women need to marry well—however “well” is defined. I am so baffled that a woman’s accomplishments are still measured in relation to a family sphere and support to a man. But I had no idea I was holding so much anger about it. Maybe I did. The sort of endless commentary by men about my VW restoration project was probably an indicator. The culmination was the longtime family friend in his 60s who inquired where my male supervisor was?
Now changing a society-wide attitude takes centuries; change doesn’t come easily or quickly. But one reoccurring conversation in my world, of late, is how to engage with people outside of an immediate social circle. How do we reach a broader audience? How do we build larger, stronger, more inclusive movements? How do we have conversations with people who we have nothing in common? People who aren’t friends on Facebook?
So I was intrigued (and pleased) when Lynn Shoemaker, one of Women Organizing Wilmington’s core group members, invited me to come on a bus ride. Readers might have seen the regular Monday protests at noon outside City Hall. Signs, papier-mâché sculptures and a variety of noisemakers are employed to draw attention to topics that concern WOW! Recently, the drinking-water crisis and its impact on women and children has been highlighted.
In an effort to engage a larger audience, WOW! has started riding the bus on Wednesday at noon to various points around town. “We have smaller signs for the bus,” Shoemaker explained. The hope is to engage people in dialog and raise awareness abut WOW’s message simultaneously. The day I attended, they were traveling to the government center for early voting and encouraging people to vote along the way.
So, on a sunny Wednesday, a group of excited women in pink pussy hats carrying protest signs converged on Second Street at the bus stop. A woman approached Deb Shoemaker and asked what this was about. Deb explained they were headed to early voting for the Wilmington City Council election. The woman replied she had to vote all the way out at the university, and she didn’t tend to vote often. She really hadn’t looked into the current city council candidates much. Deb calmly and quietly chatted about options for early voting on her own schedule. By the end, the woman waved goodbye and thanked her, and promised to look into it more.
OK, I thought. Off to a good start; at least talking about democracy is a way to engage.
To the bus driver’s credit, when confronted with a gaggle of excited women waving signs and asking for help to get to the government center, and fumbling with single dollar bills for the fare, he didn’t even blink. He carefully outlined the route to take, issued everyone transfers, and made sure the last person was seated before the bus pulled away from the curb.
“Are you registered to vote?” One in our party asked a gentleman who was trying to nap on the last seat of the bus.
“No.” He shook his head, eyes wide, and took in the scene surrounding him.
Three voices at once started to offer him options but he quickly interrupted: “I don’t vote for my own, private, personal reasons. I don’t vote.”
He shook his head and closed his eyes, politely. He firmly made it clear he did not want to discuss the topic with a group of strangers.
Lynn Shoemaker passed around wallet-sized guides of voting rights to everyone, and made sure WOW! had plenty to hand out to anybody who might need them. “You do not need an ID to vote,” she reminded. “That misconception is still out there.”
The group missed their connection on Oleander Drive and used the time waiting for the next bus to hold up signs and engage with drivers. Lots of people honked, waved or flashed a thumbs up. More looked a little surprised at a group of protesters congregated around a bus stop on Oleander.
A couple of people pulled over to ask questions or learn more about why they were there. One sign reminded women their voices mattered; another stated, “Voting is free—but not voting is expensive.” A couple of men in pick-up trucks and one in a small white compact flipped the group the bird or a thumbs down. It was interesting to watch the impromptu gathering. It wasn’t a protest against a specific issue, just taking advantage of a logistics situation to remind people voting is important. Hell, the suffragettes fought so hard for this; to not vote would be a great disservice to everyone.
The group made it to the government center parking lot and took a moment to regroup before heading off to early voting. A chant erupted to the tune of “Hey Jude”; “Na, na, na, na / hey hey hey / Goodbye” was replaced with “Women Vote!”
“Hey! I didn’t recognize y’all without a dog to walk!” I called out to two of my neighbors I see strolling their ageing Chihuahua. They just voted.
“I wish more people were there.” He shook his head.
I looked in the window and the room filled with voting machines was empty, except for election officials. We chatted a bit about it not being a presidential election year, and both hoped the turnout would improve.
“Are you voting today?” One voting official asked me when I walked in with the WOW! group. The women were asked to leave their signs beyond the “no electioneering” perimeter. I explained Jock had just become an American citizen, and I was really looking forward to celebrating his first time voting on Election Day.
“OK, then you can’t be in here if you aren’t voting today.”
I was dismissed to the parking lot to watch candidates talk with the few early voters and contemplate the day’s events.
Early voting runs until 1 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 4 (full schedule can be found at elections.nhcgov.com/voting-registration/one-stop/). Then the polls open for Election Day on November 7. Vote!