Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2003 | 8:50 a.m.
The songs of gondoliers were drowned out Tuesday by the voices of hundreds of protesters who marched in front of The Venetian carrying placards and signs decrying the Bush administration and the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository.
Whistles, cowbells and megaphones blared as protesters marched against the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump, the war in Iraq and the Patriot Act while tourists gathered on balconies and walkways to watch the spectacle.
"You got people out here from all kinds of backgrounds and we're all protesting different things; it's amazing we're all getting along," said Paul Brown, a director with Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada. "I think what we're seeing today is that many people just aren't happy with this president."
The crowd of protesters grew to about 1,000 by 11 a.m. and dwindled to around 20 by 2 p.m. Signs of all shapes and sizes were hoisted by protesters with some reading, "Mr. Bush I belong to the majority who didn't vote for you," and "No Chernobyl in Las Vegas."
Protesters also carried photocopies of a doctored picture of Bush with his nose growing like Pinocchio's.
A majority of the protesters were local union members with Culinary, painters, plumbers and service employee unions, but others also marched.
Sara Giampa and Liz Israel, both 16-year-old Green Valley High School students, took the day off to attend the protest.
"We just thought it was important to come down here," Giampa said. "Bush thinks he can come here and act like he's our friend when he really wants to put nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain."
Las Vegas resident Bob Baker said he doesn't have a problem with nuclear waste being stored 90 miles outside of Las Vegas, but he does take issue with the Patriot Act.
"This guy is slowly killing democracy," Baker said. "We got carried away after Sept. 11 giving the feds a little too much freedom and now (Bush) is taking it to the hilt."
At the height of the protest about 200 people lined the balconies and walkways along the front of The Venetian watching the protest and hoping to catch a glimpse of the president's motorcade.
Richard and Pamela Bryan, a couple vacationing from England, said they were experiencing deja vu as they watched the protest.
"It's very similar to what we saw in England when (Bush) visited last week," Pamela Bryan said. "It's almost like he's following us."
Wallace and Carole Shaw, who are visiting Las Vegas from Canada, said they took some time away from gambling to check out the protest.
"Watching this is probably the cheapest entertainment in town," Wallace Shaw said.
Those wanting to see the president had to settle for a wax likeness in front of Madame Tussaud's wax museum, as the president's motorcade did not enter the main entrance of The Venetian. The likeness was at the museum's front entrance, and tourist lined up for photos with Bush's wax counterpart.
About 25 Metro Police officers, including four officers mounted on horses, worked crowd control in front of The Venetian. Sgt. John McGrath said there were no major problems as protesters marched along behind portable, waist-high metal barricades that lined the sidewalk.
McGrath and Allen Lichtenstein, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, did have to intervene in what turned into an argument between a protester and Venetian security.
Jason Halprin, 27, was walking with a group of about 20 other protesters after the rally had died down and the majority of people had left when Halprin said a Venetian security guard asked him to move to a protest area to the north of where he was.
"They just told us that this was their property and that they had given us a place to protest up the street, and then he threatened to trespass me," Halprin said.
Lichtenstein said that Halprin moved across a driveway to the northern stretch of sidewalk after McGrath explained to the guards that the sidewalk is a public forum and acknowledged Halprin's right to be there.
"Apparently we've had an instance where someone's been told that (The Venetian) owns the sidewalk," said Lichtenstein, who added that he had heard reports that smaller groups of protesters and reporters had been told by Venetian officials to get off the sidewalk in front of the property in the past.
The Venetian lost a federal lawsuit that upheld that the sidewalks outside the hotel-casino are a public forum.
"All it says to me is that The Venetian appears to not mind being in contempt of a court order, but hopefully that's not the case," Lichtenstein said.