‘Woke and proud’: Mouse-eared activists protest Ron DeSantis campaign stop in Bluffton

Friday morning commuters on U.S. 278 were greeted with waves from Mickey Mouse’s iconic white gloves. The roadside protesters were decked in Disney gear, with messages of “No book bans here” and “I wokenly say gay” held high for passing drivers to see.

The colorful crowd, comprised of several local progressive groups, was protesting 2024 presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis’ Friday campaign stop in Bluffton, his first of three rallies across South Carolina. Their colorful attire is a jab at the Florida governor’s recent public feud with the Disney company’s “woke” corporate values.

A throng of mouse-eared protesters display their signs along U.S. 278 during Ron DeSantis’ Friday morning campaign stop in Bluffton.

Demonstrators began to gather at 8 a.m. along the four-lane highway, only a few yards from the growing crowd at Okatie Ale House, where DeSantis would arrive to a sea of 1000 Lowcountry attendees. By 9 a.m., the protest group had grown to about 50 people.

The peaceful demonstration was not meant to provoke DeSantis or his supporters, said Mitch Siegel, president of Lowcountry Indivisible, a local chapter of the nationwide grassroots movement that sprouted in response to Donald Trump’s 2016 election. Rather, Siegel said, the protesters were speaking out about DeSantis’ harmful policies.

“Some of the policies being espoused by this governor are dangerous; they are threatening civil liberties of Americans,” Siegel told The Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette. “We are concerned when the governor is busier banning books and telling teachers what they can and cannot teach. That is scary.”

One Friday morning protester waved to passing cars with the iconic glove of Mickey Mouse. Demonstrators wore Disney gear in reference to Florida governor Ron DeSantis’ recent clash with Disney, his home state’s largest employer, over the company’s “woke” business practices.

One protester said nearly 70 passing cars had honked at the protesters as they whizzed past, each eliciting cheers from the crowd. He had been chosen to count, he said.

Another attendee, a retired schoolteacher from New Jersey, said she joined the crowd because she was “worried about the kids.” During her time teaching 16 years ago, she said, students and teachers never had to deal with book bans and feuds over controversial curriculum.

People line up along U.S. 278 ahead of a presidential campaign stop on Friday, June 2, 2023, at Okatie Ale House in Bluffton.

The Friday morning protest was primarily organized by Lowcountry Indivisible, but the crowd was a smattering of local progressive groups: Sun City Indivisible, Sun City Democrats, Bluffton Democrats and Beaufort County Democrats. It was the groups’ first major demonstration since June 2022, when members gathered at the Bluffton government buildings to protest the overturning of Roe v. Wade, said Pamela Reading Smith, the founder of Sun City Indivisible.

One unconfirmed and possible counterprotester was jogging past intermittently, carrying a large American flag and Trump 2024 flag. He was largely ignored by the group.

A supposed counterprotester, touting large American and Trump 2024 flags as he jogged past demonstrators, was largely ignored by the crowd. Attendees elected not to chant during the Friday morning protest of Ron DeSantis’ campaign visit to Bluffton.

“We’re here to send a quiet, peaceful, lawful message,” Siegel said, shouting over the honking of cars driving past. “We are here to show that this is not a one-party state in South Carolina, and that different opinions exist.”