Whether it was a politician, activist, community leader, or entertainer, the message at Sunday’s rally centered on the power of voting to bring women equality in America.
“Stay strong and remember, if you don’t have a vote, you don’t have a voice,” Cher told the crowd at Sam Boyd Stadium.
The Las Vegas rally was the central hub of the Women’s March anniversary weekend, welcoming about 20,000 supporters from all corners of the nation in a push to increase voter registration by one million.
Organizers hope the rally will help recruit candidates to push back against the Trump administration and promote issues important to women, progressives and those feeling marginalized by the president’s policies.
The Las Vegas event started the national #PowerToThePolls movement for one million new voters. Linda Sarsour, the movement’s co-chair, said the initiative will next launch in Texas, Pennsylvania and Ohio. Speakers ranged from lawmakers to artists and expressed opposition to the federal administration’s stances on immigration, law enforcement and LGBTQ issues.
Christine Caria, a survivor of the Route 91 shooting on Oct. 1, told the audience that she knew taking positive action would help her heal. The Oct. 1 shooting left 58 victims dead, and a device called a bump stock helped the killer fire faster.
“The last time I was in a crowd this size it didn’t end up so well,” said Caria, who is now the Las Vegas chapter president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. “I had to run — I had to run for my life.”
She said she was at the rally to speak for those who no longer have a vote. In December, Caria and two other shooting survivors testified in favor of a bump stock ban on the Senate floor in Washington, D.C.
“This can and will happen,” Caria said. “We felt and saw firsthand the power just three women can have when they have a message that is profound. We met with Senators and House Representatives from multiple states. We know who heard us and we certainly know who will get our votes.”
Paula Beaty, 53, a tech worker from Durham, N.C., attended the rally wearing an outfit recalling the women’s suffrage movement of the early 20th century. She cited the difference women made in helping Democrat Doug Jones upset conservative Republican Roy Moore for a Senate seat in Alabama in December.
“For us it’s all about women’s rights and we’re seeing them be eroded with Trump in office,” Beaty said. “The women made a difference in Alabama and we’re hoping we can flip the House and Senate with the power of women.”
Morgann Smith, a recent Las Vegas transplant who was at the first march in D.C., said in sign language, with her wife Dyana Thurgood interpreting, that she was there with her activist aunt.
“We’ve come a really long way in terms of seeing things improve,” said Smith. “We want to see a future for our children because we believe that they have rights ... we want to make sure everybody has equity and value.”
Las Vegas residents Kendra Castro and Edith Gonzalez, both 17, said this was their first time attending a Women’s March event. Gonzalez said it’s time for women to get better pay. A Pew Research Center analysis says that in 2015, women earned 83 percent of what men earned.
“We are the future,” Castro said, echoed by Gonzalez, who also said, “We deserve better.”
The local event comes on the heels of similar events in other cities this weekend. Thousands of women marched Saturday in various cities across the country, with an estimated 500,000 participants in Los Angeles. The inaugural event in 2017 drew millions of women around the world and came the day after President Donald Trump took office.
“We can’t just be loud with our mouths, we must be loud with our votes,” Tamika Mallory, the Women’s March national co-chair, told the Las Vegas crowd.
Sharon Racey traveled from Camarillo, California, to attend the rally after attending the D.C. march last year. She said she graduated from Las Vegas High School in 1956, and that it’s up to her generation to keep inspiring those who follow. She said marchers didn’t go to D.C. for the movement to die, and she’s happy to see the young women and men at the event this year.
“My generation, John F. Kennedy was our hero and he inspired all of us and that’s how I really felt about (former President Barack) Obama,” Racey said. “So I’m not seeing any inspiration now and I want my grandchildren and children to be inspired. I think it’s important for my generation to do that.”
Pink hats dotted the crowd this year just like at the inaugural marches. The Pussy Hat Project was an effort to take back the word “pussy” as well as create a visual movement of the pink color often used for women’s products. President Donald Trump was recorded by Access Hollywood saying stars can do anything, including grabbing women “by the pussy.”
Democrats including Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto — the first Latina in the Senate and Nevada’s first female senator — and Rep. Dina Titus, both of Nevada, addressed the crowd via video, all urging attendees to vote. Leaders from national and local activist groups also spoke onstage, urging participants to celebrate the movement while also turning that into action.
“This is a birthday party for a movement that has only begun to flex its power to change this democracy,” Anna Galland, the executive director of the progressive group moveon.org, told the boisterous crowd.
Local activists have said black women, a long-reliable voting block for Democrats who have been organizing for equality for centuries, are being used as tokens rather than having their actual issues addressed, such as the disproportionate amount of discipline that minority students face.
Trump earned 53 percent of white women’s vote in 2016, while 94 percent of black women voted for Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Many speakers asked white women to acknowledge their privilege, make room for women of color who have long been fighting for equality and follow through with action. Several mentioned reports that Trump referred to African nations as “shithole” countries, and his implementation of immigration policies that could deport hundreds of thousands of people.
“Don’t come to this rally today and sit here with your pink hat on saying that you’re with us and you’re nowhere to be found when black people ask you to show up in the streets to defend our lives,” Mallory said. “Our job in 2018 is to make good on all the times that you left us out here in the cold.”
Poet Jessica Washington was scheduled to deliver a poem at the Las Vegas rally alongside women who were wearing head wraps and t-shirts saying “#IamNotaTrend.”
“We’ve been doing this work for a long time and not getting the attention that I think that work has deserved,” said Leisa Moseley, a political consultant and strategist who specializes in female candidates. “But now all of a sudden it’s trending, especially black women, we’re trending. But we have been behind the scenes doing this work for a very very long time.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.