LAS VEGAS—On a bright Nevada Sunday, they gathered in the half-empty Sam Boyd Stadium, donning pink pussy hats and clever posters to pledge to go the polls.
It was a rally to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the Women’s March and recommit to channeling that positive energy into election-year wins.
“Well, Donald Trump, let me tell you something, you are an asshole!” declared Tamika Mallory, the co-president of the Women’s March Board, about an hour into the program.
It was also about President Trump.
And social justice.
And abortion rights.
And gun control.
And sex worker rights.
And internal divisions within progressives.
And Cher was there, too.
Think of it as a liberal version of the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, but instead of the guy in a tricorn hat waving the Gadsden flag, there were women dressed as suffragettes, more people of color, and no blue blazers.
The groups collecting signatures in the cement ring around the interior of stadium were a who’s who of the professional left—from Planned Parenthood to the American Civil Liberties Union.
And while attendees insisted this was not about party, Democrats were everywhere. The three female members of Congress who beamed in from Washington, D.C., where they were stuck due to the government shutdown, were all Democrats.
Before and largely during the first half of the rally, the mood was upbeat, the speeches and chatter focusing on sisterhood and female empowerment.
Democrat Susie Lee, who ran and lost in a primary bid for Nevada’s fourth congressional seat, said after the Women’s March last year, her friends convinced her to run again, this time for Nevada’s 3rd district.
“When I lost, I was like ‘never again’ and honestly last year right after the Women’s March many of the women that are here right now called me and were like we’ve got to do something, we have to organize,” she said. “Last year was about making our voices heard, this year is about actually having an impact at the polls.”
Elizabeth and Paula Beaty stood in the first row of the stadium an hour and a half before the program began, dressed as suffragettes in celebration of the movement.
“Every day this regime is going after something else and we have to take a stand,” Elizabeth Beaty said.
The sisters agreed the event was about Trump as much as it was about getting to the polls.
“For us, seeing the women come out and save Alabama and getting that seat back when we were really hoping to flip it, and have women really energized to get out and do something about it not just say oh we’ve got this one or whatever,” Paula Beaty said.
Speaking of Alabama, it wasn’t long before that win became an airing of grievances.
It began with Cecile Richards, who delivered a speech that gently scolded white women for casting their vote “the wrong way.”
“From Virginia to Alabama last week in Wisconsin, women have beaten the odds to elect our own to office, that’s right, women of color, transgender women, rural and urban women, and these victories were led and made possible by women of color, so white women listen up, we’ve got to do better.”
Left unspoken, until that point, was that not only did 63 percent of white women who voted in Alabama cast their vote for former Judge Roy Moore, but 53 percent cast their vote for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton.
Then came Bob Bland, Mallory’s co-president of the Women’s March.
“This kickoff is called Power to the Polls, but when we bring our power to the polls, and I’m speaking specifically to white ladies here,” she said, “we need to bring our voice and our vote not just for ourselves, not just for the issues that directly impact us and our families, but for the issues of all marginalized communities.”
Mallory was more blunt.
“We have the power to change every policy and make every elected official work for us, but they cannot see decision among us because they will go and do nothing for the people,” she started. “We must stand up and be loud and be bold—they same way we were in Alabama.
“In Alabama, we went there and said, ‘hell no.’ A man who is running around malls looking at teenagers and chasing little girls you cannot be a senator in this country and black women said, ‘hell no,’” she said. “But white women, I want you to know that only half of you voted still the wrong way. Let me tell all the white women today there is a problem in your community and it’s not my job to fix it for you.”
Regardless of the divisions, the organizers pledged to take their show on the road to Texas, Pennsylvania, and Ohio to spread the word and register people to vote.
As the afternoon stretched on, attendees began to filter out or become restless. There was even a protest. As Maria Theresa Kumar, president and CEO of VotoLatino spoke, a small group of protesters tried to shout her down yelling “sex worker’s rights!” “We want to hear from sex workers!”
(They spoke later in the program.)
It took an arrival from Cher to bring it back to—based on the signs in the crowd—enemy number one.
“I have never seen anyone like the president that we have. I can’t even call him the president that has been willing to destroy our country for money and power,” she said, glowing slightly from behind the podium. “I never believed it could happen.
“I just want to tell you girls… that in 1776 the union was formed. In 1920 we got the vote,” she said. “What I’m going to tell you now is that it’s time to step up to the plate, and to deserve it and to own it. It’s time to own it.”