Interview with Wow!

I was lucky enough to get the chance to ask Lynn Shoemaker, a founding member and organizer for WoW! (Women Organizing for Wilmington), some questions regarding the local activist group who protests every Monday in downtown, Wilmington. Recently gaining attention in the local media, getting out the mission of WoW! and why they do what they do for the good of Wilmington, North Carolina, and the U.S. in general is super important for wilmingtonians to understand. Here are the questions I asked, and what Shoemaker had to say speaking on behalf of this badass group of people fighting for women's rights! 

HC: When was WoW! created and why?

LS: Originally, we were a small group of women (many already holding elected offices) who met in my backyard for potluck dinners and wine to discuss how to elect more women to public office. That was March 2012.  We went into action when the then all male County Commissioners' board declined an unencumbered grant offered by then-governor Bev Perdue. The grant was to purchase IUDs for women on a waiting list at the Health Department. Comments by elected men such as now House Representative Ted Davis were disparaging of women, misogynistic statements like "Women wouldn't need birth control if they'd just stop having the sex" (discounting that many women take oral contraceptives for reasons other than birth control) and "Women who can't remember to take their pill are irresponsible" (discounting that quite a significant number of women cannot take oral contraceptives for a whole host of reasons that do not include irresponsibility. We were able to get the Commissioners to take another vote to accept the grant-- by having 300 of us show up on the river to protest and then by packing the special meeting they called with speakers. NARAL and Planned Parenthood state organizations came down to show support for us at that meeting. The next major event was to incorporate our respective uterus when Hobby Lobby pushed through a personhood bill that gave corporations more rights over women's reproductive health than women had. We displayed our articles of incorporation on a clothesline outside the old courthouse downtown-- as a statement about women's new roles in government.  Our biggest project lasted 69 consecutive weeks-- to get then-Senator Thom Goolsby, who supported a bill to required women seeking abortions to undergo an invasive vaginal ultrasound, out of office. We often protested outside his law office, sometimes wearing aprons and banging wooden spoons on pots and pans. His office called the police on us every week but we persisted-- and I might add that we were always compliant with city ordinances.  

HC: What does WoW! do currently?

LS: WoW! has been focusing mostly on educating local women on issues of concern for them and inundating them with powerful role models around the world via media clips and news reports --and we've been encouraging women to run for office. We have rallied behind pro choice progressive women who've thrown their proverbial hats into the political ring. Through WoW! a lot of women have cut their teeth on working political campaigns, volunteering for more boards, and generally becoming aware of optics, i.e. Recognizing when a board is all white men. 

HC: What are some messages you try getting across to the public?

LS: Some of that is above in the previous answer, but in the past four months we've kicked back into action and we're back out on the street peacefully protesting on a weekly basis like we did in 2013-2014. With the current national administration and the conservative controlling legislation in our state have come too many aggressive and devastating cuts to programs that benefit women and their families. Not only is Planned Parenthood STILL under attack but now Roe v Wade is vulnerable. Elderly women will be a predominate demographic negatively impacted by cuts to Meals on Wheels and the replacement care act that will either drop them from eligibility for coverage or eliminate their fiscal ability to participate (the cost increase per an enrollee will average just under $10K by 2026). Women with pre-existing conditions will not have coverage. Young women are impacted by the double digit increase to college loan default penalties and a lack of livable wage for jobs right out of college. Young adult children won't be able to continue receiving health insurance coverage under their parents' plans, and the Medicaid expansion will be shifted to the state's to fund for programs like substance abuse counseling and mental health services. Poor women in NC have already suffered debilitating cuts to supplemental nutrition assistance programs that have helped feed their families (these are women who work part-time jobs, sometimes more than one, but can't afford the high cost of childcare and earn poverty wages). Our community also has a growing population of DREAMERS who are losing an opportunity of not only the American Dream but of an opportunity of remaining in this country. Their mothers fear being deported and separated from their young children so much so that many, as we've been told by nearby rural women, are not going to work in the local farm fields this spring and summer, which means further loss of income. We are also very concerned about our Trans Women in our community who are bearing the brunt of HB2, which was intended initially to be leverage for a conservative agenda to strip workers of their rights. We remain concerned about poor students in public schools and our educators and support staff in traditional public schools as well as the diminished enrollment in our universities' schools of education. Tax monies are being siphoned off our public schools and the backs of children to support parochial and For Profit schools without any accountability to the taxpayers. And, well, now we've got cuts to the arts and humanities. 

HC: What are WoW!'s goals or missions?

LS: We use street theatre to garner public attention to the aforementioned issues and more. Our goal is reach as many citizens of New Hanover County as possible before the next election, so that our citizenry walks into the ballot box, per se, and is an educated voter on more than one issue. Did you know that there are enough women voters in just 18 counties of North Carolina (and ours is one of them) to decide the outcome of any national or state election IF they would vote-- and voted informed? We have a vast population of women of all ages who aren't informed because they simply don't have the time to be or the resources. However, if we can get them as they drive or walk or ride the bus to and from work by using short messages in big letters on signs, then we can educate them on the policies that are hurting them and their families. We get them to LOOK by wearing interesting costumes. We utilize caricature papier-mâché puppet heads: Trumpty Dumpty, RED Rouzer, Me Too Mike Lee (carried on a silver platter by a white gloved Thom Foolsby -the original BIG HEAD), Jellyanne's Microwave Box Head, and now Big Bird, who will be protesting to protect public broadcasting. We will be adding a Besty De Voucher, and she will be the first woman in office that we have ever taken on but we decided she absolutely demands public scrutiny. We will also be adding a Representative Ted Davis (we haven't named him yet) because we feel like the mood is shifting in his district due to environmental concerns. We plan to recruit a woman to challenge him.  

HC: How can university students get involved?

LS: Show up!  Join our Facebook group and share our information. Invite friends to join us. WoW! will be at 102 N. Third Street in front of Thalian Hall EVERY Monday, 12 noon to one o'clock for as long as it takes to exact policy change or to change the face of power. Our page is Women Organizing for Wilmington. We need folks to photograph and post pictures of our protests on social media. We need folks to help with wearing costumes, playing instruments, assisting puppet head wearers who can't see well with their heads on, poster designers (relevant and timely messages), and we have a closed group of artists (some are quite renowned) who collaborate on making the papier-mâché heads. Not all the costumes require a high degree of artistic ability. I made the microwave box head using a picture from Randy Rainbow, and it received a lot of positive feed back on the street today. The microwave followed Trumpty everywhere he went. Come for part or stay for all of the one hour-- bring your own sign or costume or use ours. We need bodies because the bigger we are the more messages we can get out and the more people we can reach.  

LS: When we first began protesting, we aligned ours with that of Moral Monday in Raleigh. We chose 12 noon because we felt like women who work downtown could take some of their lunch hour to join us and also it would allow those who wanted to drive to Raleigh to do both. We recognized that there were women here who wanted to do something but couldn't go to Raleigh because of school, childcare, jobs, caring for aging parents, physical challenges, etc... Also, until WoW! began protesting weekly, there was little reporting of the enormous protests in Raleigh. I was astounded at how many women did not even know that Moral Monday existed. Wilmington was in a bubble. That's not true anymore. 

A Special thanks to Lynn Shoemaker for providing Her Campus with such valuable information, now go out there and fight!

[Photo Courtesy to the WoW! Facebook page.]

The views of the author do not reflect the Her Campus chapter as a whole.