LAS VEGAS – What happens in Las Vegas on Sunday won’t stay in Las Vegas.
Or at least that’s what organizers of the Women’s March are hoping after their first ever “#PowertothePolls” activation in Nevada, which was designed to both celebrate and build on the momentum of last year’s Inaugural Women’s March.
Crowds of people flocked to Sam Boyd Stadium as early as 5:30 a.m. in crisp desert temperatures for the event, which officially began at 10 a.m. PT.
“We marched with all sisters in DC last year, we had to come here,” said Paula Beaty, 53, of Durham, North Carolina, who came dressed in matching suffragette outfits with her older sister Elizabeth Beaty, 59.
“We want to remind people of those women who came before us who went to jail, were force-fed, tortured basically so we could have these every day rights,” Elizabeth added. “we cannot let this stand, we have got to fight back and we have to vote.”
This year, the main Women’s March organizers — who spent much of 2017 uniting as many people as they could for 2018 — have a goal of turning the movement’s momentum into political action. They hope to register 1 million voters in 2018.
The rally comes a day after hundreds of thousands of marchers filled streets in Washington and several other major cites Saturday on the anniversary of President Donald Trump’s Inauguration. It also comes two days after the government shutdown as congressional leaders from both parties try to reach a deal to fund the government and find a fix for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which granted legal status to undocumented immigrants who came to the US with their parents.
Nevada has a large immigrant population. Several thousand Nevada residents from El Salvador will likely become deportable in September 2019, the Las Vegas Sun reported earlier this month, following the Trump administration’s decision to end temporary protected status for citizens of El Salvador.
The state was among the few swing states to go Hillary Clinton’s direction in 2016. Now, it’s poised to play an important role as a battleground state in 2018, as Republican Sen. Dean Heller fights to keep his seat and Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval, who is term-limited, prepares to exit.
Last year, Las Vegas was also the site of the deadliest mass shooting in modern US history, an event that reignited a simmering debate over gun control last year.
All these factors — coupled with the large Women’s March network in Nevada — helped influence the decision, Linda Sarsour, a Women’s March co-organizer, told CNN last week.
“Nevada is a big melting pot,” Sheila Sowltow, a 49-year-old Las Vegas resident, said. “One thing that makes us so important is our diversity. And we are a swing state, we can have an impact.”
Sowltow, who is a self-proclaimed “voting nerd,” said voting is something “we all take for granted, and we shouldn’t.”
“I think the change we saw in Virginia, New Jersey and Alabama has really motivated people,” she said. “And showed there is change to be had and we are making it happen. We [women] are over half the population, people should know we are here.”
Some came from other battleground states to Nevada to show their support and get energized for 2018.
Bordy Brilling, 66, came from Scottsdale, Arizona, to attend the rally with a high school friend, who lives in Nevada.
“My New Year’s resolution was to get more involved,” she said. “I know this event will get me more excited, but I hope it also gives me more purpose when I go back to Arizona.”
She said it’s especially important to her as a resident of a red state, where Sen. Jeff Flake’s seat is up for grabs.
Ahead of the start of the event, organizations — including national organizations like Planned Parenthood and OFA, as well as local groups like Our Revolution — set up and walked around passing out free swag, encouraging people to vote and sign up for their mailing lists. Meanwhile, volunteers readied the stage for the line up of speakers, which includes Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards, Democratic Rep. John Lewis of Georgia and musician Cher.
Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who was announced as an honorary co-chair of the Women’s March with Lewis, will not be in attendance. However, she will be featured in a video message that will be played during the event. There will also be live performances by Faith Evans and Ledisi.
Early attendees nabbed spots in the bleachers as close to the stage as possible, and mingled with one another as they waited for the event start.