Nearly 100 years after her grandmother was arrested during a women’s suffrage rally in New York, Vicki Lambert is protesting in something her elder relative might have worn. “This is an authentic 1898 walking skirt outfit that you would wear to go to a charity event, if you were a lady of means,” Lambert says of her ornate red blouse and bustle-less skirt, meant for sitting in trolley cars or carriages.
But she didn’t come to sit – she came to rally with thousands of other women at Women’s March: Power to the Polls in Las Vegas. The flagship event, which took place exactly one year after the inaugural D.C. march, promoted a simple message: Vote.
Thousands showed up to Las Vegas’ Sam Boyd Stadium in support of that message, and more than a million turned out across the nation a day earlier. Demonstrations in Los Angeles drew an estimated 500,000; 300,000 people turned up in Chicago; over 200,00 marched in New York.
In Las Vegas, Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards, professor Melissa Harris-Perry, Black Lives Matter co-founder Alisha Garza, Cher and dozens of others delivered successive battle cries for reproductive rights, immigration rights and better representation for transgender women, women of color and sex workers. The issues were as varied as the sign-waving, pink-hat-wearing attendees, but the implication was clear: Women are poised to take power and they intend to.
This year, women are doing more than just voting – they’re volunteering for campaigns and running for office themselves in record numbers. Women’s March is doing its part to help the 600-plus women expected to compete in races this year by spearheading a nationwide voter registration drive targeting first-time voters in swing states like Nevada. They aim to register a million new voters in time for the midterm elections.
Lambert, who at 63 is a lifelong activist who has registered voters and worked the polls, says she became disillusioned after Hillary Clinton lost the presidential election. She was doubtful a woman could be elected in her lifetime, but the march has drawn her back in because, she says, there’s still work to be done.
“All the things we’re dealing with are things I’ve already marched for,” Lambert says. “I’ve marched for reproductive rights already. I’ve marched for equality already. Why am I having to march again?”
She’s not alone in her exasperation.
Jody Labb of Los Angeles attended with her 11-year-old daughter, Ila, and her mother-in-law, Gail Shields-Miller, who traveled from New York.
“I was raised by an activist; I’ve been involved in social justice work for a long, long time, and I cannot believe we’re still fighting for the same things we’ve been fighting for,” Labb, 46, says. “I don’t want [my daughter] to have to fight those same fights.”
Since Donald Trump took office, the three have adopted political activism as a family activity – attending rallies, posting to social media and swapping books, like Together We Rise and Fire and Fury.
“I’ve been a thousand percent more active,” says Shields-Miller, 73, whose activism goes back to the Vietnam War. “I was very complacent. I think we all were.”
Susie Gestrine drove in with a large group of friends from Kingman, Arizona, which they call “the reddest spot in a red state.” Since the 2016 election, Gestrine has become president of the Kingman Democratic Women’s Club and organized Move On events, registered voters and recruited progressive candidates.
“After Trump was elected I got a lot more involved,” she says. “It just became that much more important because it’s a terrifying time.”
For her efforts, she says Democrats are finally paying attention to conservative Mohave County.
But even Arizona’s urban centers lean conservative: Trump won Maricopa County, where Phoenix is located. Of Arizona’s 15 counties, 11 went to Republicans in 2016. Danielle Webster, 35, of Mesa, Arizona, says while she sees the state “turning purple,” there are still times when she feels uncomfortable as a liberal.
“For me, as a woman of color, [living in a conservative state] can feel almost dangerous at times,” Webster says. “I work in a really rural area where people have gun racks on their trucks or they’re flying the Blue Lives Matter flags, and so I feel a little bit stifled. It may not be safe for me to express my opinion there as much.”
Webster came to the rally with a friend, Lisa Paz, 36, of New Mexico. Paz attended the D.C. march last year, and since then she has been been canvassing, phone banking and supporting her mother, Alexis Jimenez, who is running for a New Mexico house seat.
“I’ve been political for a long time,” says Paz, who is of Comanche and Pawnee descent. “Some of my first memories are being in strollers going to marches and things, but it’s never been like this … it’s more exciting and more fun now.”
Jimenez is by no means alone. More than 600 women are expected to run for office this year, not including state legislatures, compared to just over 200 in 2016, according to the Center for American Women and Politics.
Amy Vilela is among them. She became a single-payer healthcare advocate after her daughter, Shalynne, died from a blood clot at age 22. Now she’s running for a congressional seat in Nevada.
For the first year and a half after Shalynne’s death, Vilela locked herself in her room, emerging only to work. But in the second year, she learned about single-payer, traveled to New York for a healthcare conference, and stopped at the Women’s March on the way back.
It was there she found the courage to do more. She returned to Las Vegas, organized several healthcare rallies, and is now campaigning for the Democratic primary.
“The march was such an inspiration to me – to be there, in this huge sisterhood of women, marching out for all different types of issues,” she says. “It was empowering for me. It motivated me to be really involved and not be afraid of that process.”
It created opportunities, Vilela says, and gave a lot of women the initiative to carry their activism beyond the marches.
Nevada State College professor Shantal Marshal, 35, had a similar experience. She had always considered herself to be above average in her political engagement – she campaigned for Hillary, registered voters and followed the primaries – but says the march inspired her to do even more. “It wasn’t until the march that I realized how much power we have politically,” she says.
She had planned to go to D.C. to attend Clinton’s inauguration, but when that didn’t happen, she was determined to go to the Women’s March instead. Standing outside, shivering with her friend, she didn’t realize how large the crowd had become.
“When I saw it on TV I started crying,” Marshall says. “You had no idea how big it was until you saw the massive scope.”
Since then, she’s testified on behalf of a bill, called her representatives and she’s actively considering her own run for Nevada State Senate. “I’m such a groupie now,” she says, laughing.
Most of the demonstrators in Las Vegas participated, in one form or another, last year. This year, many were helping organize the march itself.
Denise Lauren Hooks, 26, became a local organizer for Power to the Polls this year, and Jean Munson, 30, became the official artist for the Las Vegas event after attending last year. “Just being there and marching and seeing the intersectionality that took place there, I was like, I really need to dive deeper into this,” Munson says.
Dive deeper she has – and not just into traditional political organizing. Munson has gotten involved in Asian Pacific Islander activism and two female-centric groups. The first, which she co-founded, Girls Reaching Radical Levels of Success, or GRRLS, is a mentoring program; the other – Very Awesome Girls Into Nerdy Activities (yes, the acronym is intentional) – is a forum for teaching underrepresented groups about comics and drawing body-positive female-centered cartoons.
Judy Grell, 75, and Maureen Wilson, 59, met at the Las Vegas march in 2017 and returned this year together. Since the first march, the two joined Indivisible, the anti-Trump grassroots organization that, in Grell’s words, is a group that “takes positive actions to overturn the things that are wrong in the country – mostly get[ting] rid of Republicans.”
Wilson, a soft-spoken woman, says she’s found community in the march. “We feel great; we feel powerful,” she says. “Sometimes it’s easy to feel powerless. There’s so much chaos. You can’t keep up with it from day to day. But then you get here and you feel powerful.”
But it’s not just a feeling they’re looking for. It’s action – action that they’re sure is coming. “I’ve noticed on my own that the tide is turning,” Wilson says.
“Yes,” Grell chimes in, clutching her homemade “Impeach” sign. “The tide is turning.”