Planned Parenthood, Black Lives Matter and others join thousand-strong Women’s March in Wilmington

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The crowd at Saturday’s Women’s March in downtown Wilmington may have exceeded 1,000, with perhaps as many as 2,000 attending. (Photo by Benjamin Schachtman)

WILMINGTON — In contrast to isolated outbreaks of violence during President Trump’s inauguration, Saturday’s Women’s March in downtown was peaceful, though turnout considerably exceeded early expectations.

The event did turn boisterously vocal at one point, late in the rally, when Black Lives Matter spokes Sonya Bennetone led the crowd in a chant of “No Trump.” This was despite the event’s online statement: “the main march organizers suggest not using images or mentions of Trump.” Few of the numerous signs and banners specifically mentioned the incoming President, although many indirectly referenced allegations of Russian interference in the election as well as the President’s alleged sexual and financial misconduct.

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A fairly direct reference to allegations that Russian interference led Trump to victory in the election. (Photo by  Benjamin Schachtman)

Organizer Deb Norton echoed the national Women’s March in telling Port City Daily that the march was “not a protest, and not a reaction solely to what happened yesterday. This is about women’s rights, which are human rights, and all the things that fall under that umbrella. But this isn’t tied to any one politician or their agenda. This is about protecting the precious rights we have and not taking one step backwards.”

Aside from Bennetone, speakers at the event largely focused on specific issues, leaving the relationship between the Women’s March and the new administration largely implicit. Speakers introduced by Kelley Finch Ahlers included Susan Lynch, of Cape Fear Equality, who spoke out on the future of LGQBT rights, Pam McMahon, who spoke on behalf of Planned Parenthood, Deborah Maxwell, the New Hanover County NAACP president, Boo Tyson, who spoke on criminal justice reform, Kyle Horton, who spoke on environmental concerns and John Phelps, of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense.

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A sea of signs which, in many cases, made explicit the connection between the event’s topics and the current Trump administration. (Photo by Benjamin Schachtman)

Signs in the crowd made clear what the speakers often merely suggested – the crowd feared progressive legislation on these issues would be rolled back, in some cases immediately, by the incoming administration. Turnout nearly tripled that of estimates of 400 reported earlier in the week.

Guitarist and singer Laura McLean said the crowd appeared to have doubled in size between her opening performance at 10 a.m. and her taking the microphone again one hour later. Wilmington Police had about 10 officers on the scene; officers blocked Princess St. as the crowd overflowed from the south lawn of Thalian Hall.

Concerns voiced earlier in the week about a city statute requiring event attendees to maintain a 15-foot distance from each other did not materialize; despite an apparent moment of brief tension during Bennetone’s speech, officer’s interaction with the crowd was limited to fishing several children out of a tree on the corner of Princess St. and Third St.

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In the absence of rioting or violence, Wilmington PD’s involvement in event amounted to light babysitting. (Photo by Benjamin Schachtman)

Officers declined to comment on the size of crowd; Norton said she had reports of nearly 1,400 – the number of Facebook members on the event’s page who had marked themselves as “going.” (Speaking to Norton later in the afternoon, she had heard estimates as high as 2,000). Norton had previous told Port City Daily she expected between 400 and 500 attendees.

Watch Delthea Simmons, actress and poet, and New Hanover County NAACP President Deborah Maxwell addressing the crowd; later, local musician Laura McLean led a crowd of over 1,000 in Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth.”

See photos from the event (below).

Kelley Finch Ahlers, addressing a crowd that by noon had reached over a thousand.
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