Wide Awakes shore up voting fervor

Boaters gather around the Island, across the country to show support.

In 1860 a group of young, enthusiastic, and torch-bearing voters dubbed the “Wide Awakes” took to the streets at night to campaign for Abraham Lincoln. On Sunday, a modern reincarnation of that group took to the water to get people excited about voting this November.

On the Vineyard, a group of boaters joined other boaters across the country and took to the water holding banners and flags with messages saying “Vote,” “Fascism sucks,” and “Eyes open.”

Today, the Wide Awakes is a decentralized, people-driven, arts-based activist network that came from the original abolitionist organization. The original Wide Awakes used a creative mixture of song, art, and public rallies to get people excited about voting.

Anna Fitch took her boat out in Menemsha with her family on Sunday to wave banners. She said it was great to feel a sense of community and to do something positive during an otherwise negative time.

“We got a lot of waves and fist bumps from the other boaters,” Fitch said. “It felt good to do something.”

Fitch said it doesn’t matter who anyone is voting for; it’s just about getting those who can vote to vote. “Everybody should have the opportunity to vote, and it should be accessible for everybody because that’s come into question in this election like never before,” she said. 

Noli and Isaac Taylor also attended the event with their children, Emmett, 11, and Tillie, 7. In an email to The Times, Taylor said she and her family were glad to be a part of the event to encourage voter turnout.

“The election this November will decide so much about the future our children are inheriting, and its outcome hinges on how many people get to the polls, or mail in their ballots, to make their voices heard,” Taylor wrote.

Alethia Donahue said people were showing their support throughout the country in places like San Francisco, Calif.; Portland, Maine; Providence, R.I.; and New Orleans, La. Here, there were several boats around the Island that flew flags to get people excited about voting.

“We were really happy and it was really fun, and we think maybe some people got more excited about voting,” Donahue said.

Both Fitch and Donahue said they heard about the idea from Duke Riley, a New York artist with ties to the Vineyard. Riley posted about the event on his Facebook page.

“Take photos and videos on the 4th and post ’em to your social media. Flood the internet, let ’em know. There’s folks all over the country doing this thing, and New York will REPRESENT FOR ALL TO SEE,” Riley wrote in his post. “You are the Wide Awakes. We are the people. And we’ve had enough of this fascist crap.”