Las Vegas Sun

August 21, 2019

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Trump protest shows political engagement is on the rise in Las Vegas


Steve Marcus

Isaira Diaz holds a sign reading “Immigrants Make America Great” outside the Suncoast before President Donald Trump’s address to the Nevada State GOP Convention in Summerlin on Saturday, June 23, 2018.

Protesters Await President Trump at Suncoast

Laurie Lytel, center, and other protesters picket outside the Suncoast before President Donald Trump's address to the Nevada State GOP Convention in Summerlin on Saturday, June 23, 2018. Launch slideshow »

Trump Supports Heller in Vegas Visit

President Donald Trump boards Air Force One at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, Nv., Saturday, June 23, 2018. Launch slideshow »

When Donald Trump got elected, Sandy Huggard got off the sidelines.

The lifelong Las Vegas resident, who was among several hundred people who protested Trump’s visit to the city today, said she had stepped away from political activism in recent years but became re-engaged in outrage over Trump’s sexist comments and policies.

Her anger grew, she said, as Trump made Cabinet picks that struck her as outrageous — Scott Pruitt as chief of the Environmental Protection Agency, which he sued several times as Oklahoma attorney general, private-school supporter Betsy DeVos as education secretary and so on.

Then came Trump’s policy of separating children from immigrant families at the U.S.-Mexico border, which prompted her to carry a sign today saying, “History’s eyes on Trump’s brutality.” Looking at similar signs up and down the line of demonstrators, Huggard said the issue had become a galvanizing point for Trump’s opponents.

“He kicked a hornet’s nest,” she said.

That may be true, based not only on the size of the crowd but its diversity and the number of causes it represented — not just immigration, but reproductive rights, the environment, energy, organized labor and health care.

“You see the diversity of America here,” said Rep. Ruben Kihuen, D-Nev., who took part in the protest. “Men, women, young people, older people, Latinos, African Americans, LGBTQ community members, you see the whole spectrum here. And it goes to show you that when they see something they don’t approve of, they will speak up.”

In doing so, Trump and those who have risen up against him may be changing the political nature of Las Vegas.

It’s part of the city’s narrative: Las Vegas, a place with an unusually transient population, attracts residents who sometimes have no desire to put down roots here and therefore don’t become civically engaged. They move here, make a little money and go off to a place they plan to call home.

Voter turnout tends to be dismal in Southern Nevada, and the last midterm election was certainly no exception. Just 41.49 percent of Clark County voters cast ballots, which helped drag down the statewide total to a record-low 45.5 percent.

Granted, the ballot that year was not particularly electric. There was no U.S. Senate election, Gov. Brian Sandoval was a lock to be re-elected and only one of the U.S. House races was hotly contested, so there was little drama to drive voters to the polls.

But the 2014 midterm was just another chapter in what until then had been a long history of weak engagement in Las Vegas.

In this year’s primary, however, things took an uptick. Turnout was still not great by any means, at 20.07 percent, but it was signficantly higher than the 2014 level of 15.8 percent.

Meanwhile, a women’s march held shortly after Trump’s election drew a strong crowd, as did today’s demonstration. Organizers estimated the number of participants at 700 to 800, which was remarkable for a scorching hot day.

The protesters crowded the narrow sidewalk along Rampart Boulevard for several hundred yards in front of the Suncoast, where Trump addressed the Nevada State Republican Convention.

Taking time out for an interview as she walked up and down the line, Huggard said she hadn’t seen such a high level of activism and social rancor in Las Vegas since the desegregation days of the 1960s and early 1970s.

Although the 24/7 nature of Las Vegas makes it difficult for some people to arrange their work schedules to participate in protests, she said, “that doesn’t mean we as a community don’t have a conscience.”

That conscience was on display Saturday.

“They know that what this president and this administration are doing to these kids is inhumane, and they’re going to speak up about it,” Kihuen said.

After the Oct. 1 mass shooting on the Strip, Las Vegas showed it had grown past its reputation of not being community minded, as thousands of people volunteered to help the victims and their families. The city then rallied behind the Vegas Golden Knights during the NHL team’s improbable run to the Stanley Cup Final, further tightening its community bond.

With Trump, is the city now undergoing a political transformation? Or is it just a temporary reaction to a fractious president?

We’ll know more in November, but today’s protest suggested that political engagement is no longer a missing thread in the fabric of the community.