Thousands of women have one message: Vote

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.

Thousands — many who sported signature pink hats and anti-Trump, pro-women’s rights posters — flocked to Sam Boyd Stadium as early as 5:30 a.m. in crisp desert temperatures for the event. It was a smaller turnout — about a third of the stadium seats were filled — but the audience was energized by a line-up of all-star speakers and performances by artists Ledisi and Faith Evans. An official tally of attendees was not provided.

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.

“When we think about our influence and how many millions of people marched yesterday and last year we know we are capable of grabbing Congress by the midterms and making sure our values are prioritized,” Carmen Perez, Women’s March co-chair, told the crowd.

Perez’s message was reiterated by every speaker at the rally, which began at 10 a.m. and ended at 4 p.m. PT.

“Last year, we dared to hope for a better, brighter, more inclusive world,” Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards said. “This, year we’re going to go out and build it. And if we dare to be powerful, and if we use our strength in service of our vision, nothing and no one can stand in our way.”

Entertainer Cher also addressed the crowd.

“In 1776, the union was formed; in 1920, we got the vote. What I’m going to tell you now is, it’s time to step up to the plate and deserve it and own it,” she said. “It’s time for women to own it. … If you don’t have a vote, you don’t have a voice.”

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.

“They are toying with our lives and that’s not right,” Dulce Valencia, a 22-year-old whose family immigrated to Nevada from Mexico, said of the government.

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.

“It is hard being here and speaking in front of a large crowd, and also scary,” shooting survivor Christine Caria said in an emotional speech during the rally. “Doing nothing is not an option. … No one should be afraid for their life to attend a concert, or go to a movie, or nightclub, or grocery store, or go to school. We have a responsibility as women to register and vote on behalf of candidates who promote these issues. I’m here today to speak for others who no longer have a vote, and asking you to stand with me.”

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.

Senate hopeful Jesse Sbaih was among those in the crowd. Sbaih, a Democrat who is running against Heller, stood at a stadium bleachers entrance, shaking attendees’ hands and taking selfies with those who asked.

“I’m so heartened by seeing all these folks coming out here today to support women and women’s rights and to register to vote, of course,” he told CNN. “It’s going to be a very important election this year. … Nevada is a hugely important state, as we saw in the presidential election. We also need to take the Senate back.

A handful of Nevada lawmakers were present; but many — including Democratic Reps. Jacky Rosen and Dina Titus — were stuck in DC because of the government shutdown. They sent pre-recorded messages via video, offering their support and encouraging their constituents to use their voices and vote.

Volunteers were stationed everywhere, holding clipboards with “register to vote with me” sprawled on the back. “Hi, are you registered to vote?” they asked as people flowed into the stadium.

“Las Vegas is helping get the party started for 2018,” said 20-year-old Layla Muhammad, a student at University of Nevada, Las Vegas, who was registering voters.

Some Nevada residents said people tend to forget the power of voting in a red state.

“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.”

Others said they traveled 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.

A few in attendance didn’t need the reminder to vote, but were happy to continue to back the Women’s March agenda.

“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.”