This week, Las Vegas spearheads the women’s movement as it hosts the national Women’s March event, #PowerToThePolls. The spotlight found the Silver State for many reasons. Catherine Cortez Masto took office as Nevada’s first female U.S. senator and the nation’s first Latina elected to the Senate. Nevada voted to elect Hillary Clinton as the nation’s first female president and remains a powerful swing state in future elections. And as women spoke out about sexual harassment and abuse in greater numbers and volume, state Sen. Mark Manendo and Rep. Ruben Kihuen, D-Nev., became high-profile political casualties of the accusations against them.
As Hollywood now says “time’s up” to a culture of predatory behavior and the #MeToo movement gains space in the national consciousness, Nevada looks back at its accomplishments in putting women in political office while acknowledging the work still left to do. The Sunday examines how minority women will shape the state’s future and why organizers selected Nevada as the central gathering for the Women’s March.
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By the numbers
• About 1 in 5 U.S. women and 1 in 17 U.S. men have experienced rape or attempted rape in their lifetimes.
• About 1 in 3 female victims of rape experienced rape for the first time between ages 11 and 17. One in 9 reported it happening when they were 10 or younger.
Source: Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey released in April 2017, spanning from 2010-2012
The power of the black and Latino vote has grown in the past decade as demographics change and Nevada becomes more diverse.
Some are optimistic about what a new wave of activism could do to improve gender equality, while others are worried about sustaining momentum begun at last year’s Women’s March.
“One handy thing the Trump effect brought up and brought out is that it woke everybody up,” said Las Vegas resident Angela Thomas, owner of 21 Smooches Cosmetics and an activist among a group of black women that meets at least once a week to discuss politics. “Everybody has noticed that we’ve been a bit presumptuous, and maybe even in some cases complacent.”
The Women’s March anniversary event in Las Vegas is working to better include black women after organizers were criticized for their lack of inclusion during the inaugural event. In Nevada, 63 percent of black women citizens voted in the November 2016 election.
“We are not just a percentage point,” Thomas said. “We will be counted.”
Erika Washington, Southern Nevada chair of the Women’s Lobby and director of Make it Work Nevada, said campaigns rarely prioritize the black community. The community needs to do a better job of using its voting power to demand policy changes, she said. Both parties take it for granted that the black voters will choose Democrats, so outreach from either party is lacking.
“It’s that consistency,” Washington said. “It works for us and it works against us.”
How can men better support women?
Daniele Dreitzer, executive director of the Rape Crisis Center, gave several ways men can support women:
• Believe women’s stories. According to rainn.org, 93 percent of juvenile victims in sexual abuse cases reported to law enforcement said they knew the perpetrators. More than half of all accused rapists have at least one prior conviction. Perpetrators of sexual assault are less likely to go to jail than other criminal, and 2 out of 3 sexual assaults are not reported to the police.
• Support and invest in women by mentoring them; speak up for them in meetings; give them proper credit on assignments/work projects.
• Be an active bystander. If you witness what may escalate into a sexual assault, Dreitzer says to remember the 3 D’s: direct, delegate and distract. Directly ask the potential victim, delegate to security or others who may have more power to interrupt the situation, or distract the perpetrator.
• Understand and adjust your language toward women by not victim-blaming or slut-shaming. Call out a friend’s sexism. Dreitzer also suggested complimenting women on their intelligence, hard work and effort, not just their physical appearance.
• Understand what consent and boundaries are and build a culture of consent in your home and workplace.
• Use your position of power to stop those who abuse theirs and address the open secret in your work, your family or your group of friends.
Washington did not attend the first Women’s March, but went to the October Women’s March conference in Detroit when her organization was invited to put together a panel. She later agreed to help the host committee for the Women’s March through Make it Work Nevada.
“The question will be how do they (broaden and expand their audience) authentically and how do folks feel as though they are actually being invited to be a part of the conversation, not just the token,” Washington said.
Las Vegas resident Deborah Porter, a marketing consultant and community organizer, said she hoped black voters would become more educated about the power of their vote, even beyond election season.
“While I sense that there’s this movement, as you see more and more black women stepping forward, my hope is that it’s not a temporary knee-jerk reaction to (President Donald) Trump,” Porter said.
Black women are largely credited with the defeat of Senate candidate Roy Moore in Alabama, with CNN exit polling showing black women accounted for 17 percent of the vote, mostly against Moore. The Republican candidate was endorsed by Trump despite being accused of sexual harassment and pursuing relationships with teenage girls.
In Alabama, activists thought the country would be surprised by the outcome of the race, said Nevada state Sen. Pat Spearman, D-North Las Vegas. Spearman, who was invited by Reno march organizers to participate this year, has friends in Alabama who told her that people who expected Democratic candidate Doug Jones to lose did not know what was happening on the ground.
“One of my friends said … ‘the fact that these accusations are out there and there are children involved, let me tell you something: Women, our women in the African-American community, are mobilized like you wouldn’t believe,’ ” Spearman said.
Washington and political consultant Leisa Moseley said black women were not single-issue voters. After voting for President George W. Bush twice, Moseley organized for President Barack Obama, worked for Sen. Bernie Sanders in 2016, and helped Lesley Cohen win her Assembly seat. She said women need to work on common issues, such as child care or the high rate of infant mortality among the children of black women.
“This will be beneficial, the Women’s March, as far as getting women together and helping us to understand what our power is and where our power comes from,” Moseley said.
Black voters want lawmakers to address issues that matter to them, Moseley said, such as reforming the criminal justice system and addressing disproportionate rates of discipline experienced by black students. She said her work in the community focuses on battling municipal fines and fees, trying to get evictions sealed and improving tenant laws.
“Women that look like us, and brown women and Asian women and poor and working-class women, those are the things that are affecting us every single day,” Moseley said.
The power of Hispanic women in Nevada grows today as well, as evidenced by the 2016 election of Cortez Masto.
The Culinary Union and groups like it have long worked to harness those votes in their communities.
“We were working so hard every single day to be in the street, knocking on doors, talking to people, organizing people so they understand why it was so important to vote in the last election,” said Geoconda Arguello-Kline, secretary-treasurer of the Culinary Union. “The only way the middle class gets something is when we work really hard to grab it.”
More than 60 percent of the organization’s 57,000 members were registered to vote in the 2016 election. Its Citizenship Project has helped 16,000 residents become citizens who are eligible to vote. The group has grown from 18,000 members in 1987, and women make up 55 percent of membership.
“The Latino voting bloc and power in Nevada, Culinary is a big part of that as the largest Latino organization in Nevada,” said Bethany Khan, the union’s spokeswoman.
State Sen. Yvanna Cancela, D-Las Vegas, in 2017 became the first Latina in the state Senate after working many years for the Culinary Union.
“We are only seeing the tip of the iceberg in terms of what’s possible for Latino power in Nevada,” Cancela said.
Finding a voice in Nevada
Five ways to stay involved after the rally
(as suggested by Women's March organizers and the Rape Crisis Center)
1. Vote in local, state and national elections. The theme for the 2018 Women’s March is #PowerToThePolls. Learn more at powertothepolls.com
2. Sign up to be a volunteer for the Rape Crisis Center in Las Vegas, to offer support services to those who have been sexually assaulted: rcclv.org/volunteer
3. Donate to the Time’s Up legal defense fund, which helps cover the legal costs of women and men who have been sexually assaulted on the job or while pursuing their career. Donate at gofundme.com/timesup
4. Utilize the power of the purse to support businesses, organizations and entrepreneurs who support, are run by or uplift women. Don’t buy from businesses or organizations that don’t support women. You can research this at borgenproject.org/global-feminist-companies.
5. Attend fundraisers, events or marches throughout the year that help support equal rights for women. Local offshoots of the Women’s March share events on their Facebook pages that have their stamp of approval.
While Nevada is still waiting on its first female governor, the state has crossed several other gender-equality hurdles in recent decades.
After electing its first female secretary of state (Frankie Sue Del Papa) in 1986 and putting two women into the attorney general’s office since 1990 (Del Papa and Catherine Cortez Masto), Nevada has grown its female representation in the state Legislature from almost 30 percent in 2003 to about 40 percent in 2017. It’s the second-highest in the nation, according to the National Council of State Legislatures.
The Legislature in 2017 helped make Nevada the 36th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, which was three states short of being added to the Constitution more than 30 years ago. The ERA bill was sponsored by Sen. Pat Spearman, D-North Las Vegas, who said the ERA puts in writing the right to equality under the law regardless of gender. Its passage highlights the lack of equal pay for women, among other issues. Spearman took office in 2012 and references her own presence as a gay black female veteran as evidence of the chamber’s improved diversity.
“When women aren’t at the table, the bread-and-butter kitchen table issues that we think about all the time aren’t there,” Spearman said.
Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., first was elected to the state Senate in 1988, just a few years before the Legislature ushered in its anti-sexual harassment policy.
“When I was in the Legislature back in the ’90s, I was the one who pushed to create a policy for the state Legislature; they didn’t even have one there,” she said. “Of course, that’s a long time ago.”
Lucinda Guinn, vice president of campaigns at Emily’s List, said her organization has been adding staff and expanding office space to handle the influx of interest from female candidates running for office. The group, which focuses on electing pro-choice Democratic women, has received inquiries from more than 22,000 women since the day President Donald Trump was elected. In 2016, up until Nov. 7, 920 women had reached out to the group.
“These 22,000 women are not all going to run this year,” Guinn said.
At Emerge Nevada, an organization that works to elect Democratic women, Executive Director Danna Lovell says the group’s six-month class on running a campaign has 26 students this year, more than double the participation of the previous two classes. Sen. Nicole Cannizzaro, D-Las Vegas, is an Emerge graduate.
The sexual harassment reckoning is a movement that will lead to change, Lovell said.
“Some of the women who have been urged to run have stories just like we’ve heard from so many other women right now,” Lovell said.
One of the students in this year’s Emerge class, Julie Pazina, is a sales director at an electrical exhibition services company and candidate for legislative office. She said it’s inspiring to run a campaign in light of how the Women’s March empowered participants.
“After Trump declared his candidacy and became president, it’s an exciting time, I think, for women to run as well and try to take their voice back,” Pazina said.
Spearman remembers when, while serving in Panama in 1986, a colonel propositioned her in his office and later knocked on the door of her room. She said she heard years later that the man was court-martialed for similar behavior, but that the experience is still almost sickening to remember.
In 2017, after hearing stories about inappropriate behavior from fellow Democratic Sen. Mark Manendo, Spearman told Senate Majority Leader Aaron Ford that something had to be done. An investigation led to Manendo’s resignation.
“In the past, people would hear it, and they wouldn’t do anything,” Spearman said.
State Sen. Yvanna Cancela, D-Las Vegas, was the Culinary Union’s political director before her appointment to now-Rep. Ruben Kihuen’s seat.
Cancela is running to keep the seat, but considers herself an accidental politician. She said she would not be in office if Trump hadn’t won the presidency, posing what she called a threat to issues she cares about, such as immigration and health care.
Though a bit outside her comfort zone, Cancela said, she put her name in to be appointed to the seat vacated by Kihuen, a Democrat who was elected to Congress and subsequently accused of sexual harassment.
Representation, she said, is important to inspire girls and women to run for higher office.
“It’s so important that we as women support each other in pushing women who are willing to lead to take that next step, because it really does make such a difference to have women’s voices in office to talk about their experiences,” Cancela said. “As women in office, we have the responsibility to mentor and train the next generation of leaders.”
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#MeToo. In the U.S., approximately 1 in 3 women and 1 in 6 men have experienced some form of sexual violence in their lifetime.
Women's March event
Las Vegas will kick off the national #PowerToThePolls movement in an effort to continue the momentum of the 2017 Women’s March. The aim is to register voters in swing states and educate people on how local, state and national politics affect them every day.
• WHEN: Sunday, Jan. 21
• TIME: Doors open at 10 a.m.; event runs until 4 p.m.
• WHERE: Sam Boyd Stadium
• TO REGISTER: To attend the #PowerToThePolls event, visit powertothepolls.com/rsvp.html
• PARKING: Free (or check facebook.com/womensmarchnv for free shuttle service to and from the event)
• MISSION: Organizers’ goal is to enroll 1,000 voters at the event and a million voters nationwide before November’s midterm elections.
The unrest spilling over now from women started long before the nation elected a president who boasted about sexually assaulting women on a Hollywood Access tape, before Harvey Weinstein and #MeToo populated headlines, before millions of women marched in unison around the globe.
Last year was not the start or end of the open secrets about powerful men objectifying and abusing women, from film sets to fruit fields.
It started with women whose stories were not told on the evening news, but were whispered in beauty shops and bathroom stalls. And then with Anita Hill, Lois Jenson and the women of the Eveleth Mines in 1988, the first class-action lawsuit about workplace sexual assault.
On the anniversary of the 2017 Women’s March, the same activists who marched on Washington, D.C. — drawing a larger crowd than inauguration of President Donald Trump — plan to amplify those voices in Las Vegas, the flagship for the #PowerToThePolls movement.
Unlike other cities, Las Vegas, although home to the central event of the national Women’s March, will not march.
#PowerToThePolls is a stationary event, much like a rally, where speakers and performers including singers Faith Evans and Ledisi, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., and U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., will kick off the national program Jan. 21 at Sam Boyd Stadium.
The national branch looked at Las Vegas for myriad reasons, including the election of the first Latina to the U.S. Senate, the sexual allegations against U.S. Rep. Ruben Kihuen, Clark County School District’s teachers’ lewd behavior toward students and the Oct. 1 mass shooting on the Strip. That’s according to Deborah Harris, co-state coordinator for Women’s March on Washington-Nevada.
“Here in Nevada, we’re very much a microcosm of the national trends, but also demographically, we’re very much in line with the overall demographics of the country,” said Jean Green, co-state coordinator for Women’s March on Washington-Nevada. “Our local gains and our state Legislature show there’s a lot of opportunity here.”
Last year’s Women’s March and #MeToo movement united millions of women by providing some safety and solidity in numbers. Both movements transcended activism by taking hold of headlines, Hollywood and pop culture. Ashley Judd, Mira Sorvino, Taylor Swift and other celebrities spoke out against the sexism and sexual assaults they faced in their careers. Their fame, wealth and reach helped expose a problem many women face in everyday life.
But both the Women’s March and the #MeToo movement have seen their share of critics.
The original name of the march was Million Women March, but concerns arose that it would detract from a 1997 march consisting mostly of black women, Harris said. The name was changed shortly after to the Women’s March on D.C.
The #MeToo movement began long before October 2017, when actress Alyssa Milano tweeted a screenshot sent to her by a friend reading: Me Too. Suggested by a friend: “If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me Too’ as a status, we might be able to give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”
Milano added a single line: if you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.
New to activism?
Culinary Union tips for getting involved and what new activists should know:
• It takes organizing, face-to-face conversations and investment to get started.
• Get on the same page as existing organizations.
• Talk to people who have been doing this work.
• If you’re new, declare it and be respectful of people already in the space.
• Try to find where the holes are and where you can add capacity as opposed to doing something another organization is already doing.
That tweet and those two words spurred an international movement continuing work started by activist Tarana Burke. #MeToo exposed the scope of the problem, but it did not solve it.
“If you think about the #MeToo movement, it is so power-focused,” said Daniele Dreitzer, executive director of the Rape Crisis Center. “If you think about 2017, a lot of what happened is people in positions of power were finally, after a long time, held to account for their behavior. But what that means for the people who were affected by their behavior, again, still largely remains to be seen.”
Among the critiques of the Women’s March and #MeToo was a lack of diversity. Harris and Green recognized that the movement stumbled there, and are motivated to improve it.
“We understand what we need to do strategically, not just this day, but going throughout 2018 ... that we make sure we’re doing our due diligence to build our collective power,” Harris said Jan. 6 at a community meeting.
The organizers of #PowerToThePolls tried to correct the missteps of last year’s march by reaching out to those communities that felt excluded. At this year’s event, they’ve invited the Native American, black, Latino and LGBTQ and sex worker communities aboard as partners.
Many women without wealth, power and influence still fear retaliation if they speak up.
“There are so many open secrets that you learn, especially as women growing up in Las Vegas,” Green said. “Even just (being) afraid to disclose things because of the power of the person that’s victimized them.”
Speaking about certain venues she didn’t want to name, for fear of retaliation, she added: “If you had caught me when I was 22, I would have said flat-out, don’t go there, and don’t go there alone. But now I know people who work for that casino or I know people that their livelihoods depend on this industry. We don’t have a safe space to talk about that because of the backlash.”
This month, celebrities such as Meryl Streep, Gwyneth Paltrow, Halle Berry and others launched Time’s Up and an associated legal fund to help support women who may be less privileged to deal with the fallout that often happens when people report sexual assault in the workplace.
The Time’s Up GoFundMe page exceeded its original goal of $16 million, thanks in part to large donations from TV producer Shonda Rhimes, Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg.
“A lot of the women who were affected by everything that happened in 2017 were women who were also in relatively privileged, powerful positions themselves, who had the ability to come forward and had the support,” Dreitzer said. “With things like Time’s Up, I hope we see more movements like that in 2018, to figure out how to make sure these changes are impactful for everyone across the board.”
The Las Vegas chapter of Women’s March aims to become a nonprofit organization this year, which would allow it to endorse, lobby and fundraise for candidates in an effort to shift those power dynamics in the political sphere.
The national organization’s hopes to expand to other swing states and register 1 million voters for the 2018 election. The rally at Sam Boyd Stadium will register local voters as well as those from other states.