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March 28, 2015

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Occupy Las Vegas:

Living in the present tents

Occupiers and Metro are maintaining a delicate truce


Leila Navidi

Mary Underwood works on her laptop at the Occupy Las Vegas camp between Paradise Road and Swenson Street south of East Naples Drive in Las Vegas on Thursday, Oct. 27, 2011. Underwood works in IT and plans to work from her campsite.

Occupy Las Vegas Camp

Mark Andrews of Las Vegas stands with an American flag with 13 colonies at Occupy Las Vegas between Paradise Road and Swenson Street south of East Naples Drive in Las Vegas on Thursday, Oct. 27, 2011. Launch slideshow »

Beyond the Sun

Occupy Las Vegas - Fremont Street

A participant taking part in Occupy Las Vegas carries a sign on the Fremont Street Experience on Saturday, Oct. 15, 2011. Launch slideshow »

These are the things you learn when you show up with a sleeping bag and spend the night at Occupy Las Vegas.

The movement is taking shape at an encampment some 300 feet south of the Double Down, a saloon known for its bacon martini. We’re between Paradise Road and Swenson Street, north of Tropicana Avenue, on a piece of land owned by the county.

The movement’s leaders and its faithful include real estate gurus, an ex-Texas madam, public relations experts, doctoral students and lawyers. They mix with barbacks, veterans, unemployed construction workers and the homeless. Someone’s a stage-lighting wiz. One guy wears a bright red hoodie emblazoned on the back with his self-proclamation: “Facebook President of the World.”

JoNell Thomas, a Clark County special public defender, shows up with her two kids and husband. She is pledging legal aid, and says another dozen lawyers have vowed to help. Billy Logan, her husband, has come every morning with 100 hot towels that campers use to wipe their faces and freshen up.

Some stay overnight in tents erected on the asphalt lot. Others stay for a bit then drive home.

The site is oddly neat, despite the characterization that the movement is an exercise for hippies, bums and other undesirables.

But here you see smart kids and seasoned businesspeople along with some rabble-rousers. The gamut of Las Vegas.

Late Thursday afternoon and deep into Friday morning, occupiers emerge from and disappear into the tents arranged in a neat rectangle with walking space between them. Peacekeepers — volunteers who act somewhat as security guards — walk among them and shush people talking too loudly so those in the tents can get some sleep.

Against the wall of a building to the north is the main staging area where nightly “general assembly” meetings are held. On the wall is a hand-drawn calendar, partially filled with upcoming events. Bank of America protest October 28; Paris demonstration October 29; foreclosure workshop October 31.

Next to the calendar is a list of rules, which organizers proudly proclaim are unique among all the Occupy assemblies around the United States. They include no tolerance for alcohol or drugs and no use of flammable materials.

It’s the 99-cent potluck dinner night — the 99 cents to mock the $1,000-a-plate fundraiser President Barack Obama held on the Strip a few days earlier. People arrive in cars to drop off food, then drive off. There’s pizza and a chocolate sheet cake with white frosting that declares: “In Solidarity — We Are The 99%.”

By 7 p.m., the time set for general assembly meeting, 60 people are on hand. Meetings are to be open forums allowing anyone the chance to talk. One man takes advantage, yelling from the crowd that they need to arm themselves. He is booed.

Someone else has a near meltdown, yelling about his lone effort years ago to accomplish what Occupy Las Vegas is trying to do now. The guy can’t calm himself and keeps talking loudly, to himself mostly, while others speak into a megaphone. Someone finally barks at him to keep quiet and he does.

There’s talk among the throng that Metro has undercover cops embedded in the camp.

Kristal Glass hears that and shrugs. She has emerged as one of Occupy Las Vegas’ leaders. She was one of four who put an ultimatum to county commissioners two weeks ago: Let us have/lease some county land to occupy, or we’ll occupy it ourselves and the arrests won’t look pretty on TV. Within days, this site was arranged. Strewed with broken glass, Occupiers cleaned it and painted over the graffiti that was on the north wall. Then tents started moving in.

Glass, a 41-year-old mortgage loan officer, is adamant in her warnings. Don’t break the rules. The police are not our enemies. We can get more done peaceably than through civil disobedience.

Police like that message. And for now they and the Occupiers are friends. Some officers have even confided their own financial troubles to group members, an effort to demonstrate their kinship. Thursday night, two officers stop by just to talk. One gives a group of peacekeepers tips on how to approach people.

In Glass’ view, if police are embedded, undercover and watching, she doesn’t have a problem with it. The Occupiers have nothing to hide. On the other hand skinheads, American Nazis and others deemed less desirable have tried to join. They have been turned away — but what if they decided they wouldn’t be turned so easily?

Sebring Frehner, a 34-year-old UNLV student who is also emerging as a leader, has no problem with police checking their event calendar.

Metro worked with Bank of America executives to work out a peaceful protest Friday. (The bank is despised for having received billions in taxpayer bailout dollars but then doing what many see as very little to help those same taxpayers keep their homes.) The protest will entail a throng of people entering the downtown bank building and closing their accounts.

“Officers are part of the community, they shop where we do, their kids go to our schools,” he says. “They are no different from us.”

Frehner learned the logistics of organizing earlier this year when he helped get thousands of university students to Carson City to protest higher education budget cuts during the legislative session.

“It seems that people in power have forgotten that people are more important than money,” he says.“

County Commissioner Steve Sisolak, who helped the group work with Metro to find this place, stopped in around 9:30 p.m. The group treats him as one of them. They all know him. They also know he has a few million dollars to his name. But does he agree with what they are doing, what they stand for? Does he support stronger campaign finance reform?

Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak

Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak

“I do,” he says, adding that he would support moves to prevent corporations and unions from flooding political campaigns with money. “A lot of reform needs to be done. Unfortunately, political campaigns have become increasingly expensive.”

Maria Wilburn, a 54-year-old guidance counselor with the Clark County School District, retires to her tent around 10 p.m. She’ll get up in seven hours, drive to her house, shower, then go to work. Then she will return to the encampment. Her Occupy mission is to draw more people from Las Vegas’ large Hispanic community to the group.

“I wouldn’t be here if there was a possibility of being arrested,” Wilburn adds. “We’re going to do this peacefully.”

By midnight, a young man strums and sings on a guitar and another 15 people sit in 50-something-degree air listlessly. There is some talk and political debate.

Over by the Double Down, the flashing light of an electronic billboard splashes over the Occupy encampment, promoting gentlemen’s clubs, casinos, Chippendales, circus acts and Halloween parties.

It’s about 3:30 Friday morning. Glass and Frehner aren’t around. Four 20-somethings sit in chairs guarding the entryway when a 59-year-old construction worker, out of work since CityCenter was completed, walks over from his tent. He sits in a chair cocooned inside a large blanket.

“I’m homeless now,” he says. Maybe the Occupy movement will work, he says. Maybe it will change things.

He’s been living mostly in the Salvation Army shelter. Now he’s here.

He likes it here.

“This is my element,” he says.

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  1. It's nice to live in a country that allows public protests to occur. I personally don't agree that these "occupy" protests represent the feelings of the "99%", rather they represent the unemployed and the radicals, but I still give them respect for standing up for their beliefs.

    It will probably take something far more drastic than protests to make any significant change in the country (granted our high level of living standards, relative freedom, and relatively low unemployment still make us one of the best countries in the world) and I think it really starts with political contribution reform and more accountability for house and senate representatives. At some point the public has become oblivious to the fact that our representatives are supposed to speak for the state's interests and not for whichever corporation of industry donates the most to money to their respective political party.

  2. If this was a legitimate movement the protesters would have been outside the fund raiser President Obama held. The housing, banking and economic collapse were caused by government policies, not the rich. It's not Wall Street, it's Washington and the political parties. This is a union supported movement of socialists who hate wealth, success and the country. Great story, go to the encampment, soclize with others, eat free, get free stuff, wake up, go home shower and go work. Nice gig if you can get it. Want some creditabilty set up your camp on the steps of the Federal Building.

  3. "We need a 28th Amendment that removes the power and influence of corporations and big money from politics."

  4. Enjoyed the article, Mr. Schoenmann.

    It really shows that democracy ain't perfect. Everyone has their own ideas, some screwball, some practical, but one thing it shows is that all these people can congregate in one place under one banner. With one cause in fix America.

    Between 2007-2008, America lost just about 20 percent of it's worth. And how it was lost was by blatant corporate greed, with no one to stop them, nor any regulations set in place to prevent them from doing what they did.

    The most insane thing about all this is that the people who did this to America and its away with it. No one was called to the carpet, held civilly liable nor was anyone prosecuted for criminal wrongdoing. They walked free and reaped the benefit from it.

    Still, to this day, there are no regulations in place to prevent this from happening again. And all indications show it is building up to reoccur!

    The people left holding the bag and have to suffer the most from it ones who have the least say in Government.

    We are now saying that enough is enough. There is only so much you can take of this nonsense.

    It don't surprise me that the people rise up and say this stupidity needs to stop. The middle class is the lifeblood of America, not the scapegoats.

    Last Monday, I stopped by the Occupy Las Vegas site after a shopping excursion to the Commissary at Nellis AFB. I dropped off two cases of bottled water for them.

    I fully stand by the 99 percent and want to help whenever and wherever I can.

    The word needs to get out there that the one percenters may be too big to fail, but the 99 percenters are simply too many to ignore.

    Keep up the fight.

  5. mar100, I was out in front of the Bellagio protesting obama's fundraiser, where were you? If you were out with me, thank you. I consider myself a member of OLV yet I do not support most modern unions, I'm not a socialist, and think that the steps of the federal courthouse would be a fine place for the next (or parallel) occupy site. Let me know when you're going, and I'll be there.

  6. Birds of a feather flock together. These birds be fools.

  7. Comment removed by moderator. Name Calling

  8. When Wall Street Banks have over 1000 Lobbyists working on "K" Street to lobby Congress and BOTH political parties will do their bidding, even after they committed fraud and destroyed our economy, what chance do we have. And we still have the Right Wingers attacking the only movement that represents them? Do they only watch that criminal corporations programming that is News Corp.(FOX)

  9. Thank God we have the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights!

    Some of those "commenting," are basically wanting to shut up those who are peacefully protesting and expressing their personal truths publicly. Slapping LABELs on people does not make YOU powerful nor any better.

    The fact is, if it weren't for those colonists who were dissenters of the tyranny of the crown, we would NOT be having this conversation TODAY! They took the risk of being different, expressing their truths, protesting, and eventually becoming our Founding Fathers!

    So it goes, those who dissent versus those who sit back and criticize. Who is more forward-thinking: the dissenters or those criticizing?

    The right to dissent is an important and vital safeguard that our country's Founding Fathers found necessary to maintain for the good of our country. It appears that some of you are Anti-American in your thinking and comments, wishing to exclude these protester's from their right to dissent. Shame on YOU! LABEL yourself accordingly!

  10. The loony left is earning their nick name

  11. To my fellow bloggers;
    I appreciate that this newspaper is properly portraying the route core of the people and their movement, (leaving out the dirty hippies). I agree with some of the movement's goals. I especially agree with the way this is all being handled as long as the Constitution of the United States of America and the Bill of Rights are being respected and followed, this is what makes our country so great and I love it. I also like the reporting that "Cop's family's and kids also live in this community and are part of it. Too often the community forgets that part and subscribes to the "We, They" theory, which keeps us all separated and hating one another. Just an old cop reflecting,

    Gordon Martines

  12. Before any demonstration can work, everyone has to know what they are demonstrating for and why. The demonstrations going on across the country does not have any leaders nor a set of desires. Of course the middle class is gone or soon will be. Why? Government is your problem. The EPA has and is killing jobs daily. Taxes are forcing business to leave in droves. All we have left is High Tec. not everyone is a High Tec person. Check out tags and see what you find that is made in USA. Mostly nothing. Wages, materials, taxes are why. The question is "If you had a business, what would you do"? That answer is "the same as other business. Because you can not afford to build in America. The government has priced us out of the common market.

  13. While I respect people to do what they want, this movement makes absolutely NO SENSE what so ever.

    First, these are a few handfuls of people - not very large. In Oakland California they are basically "no good people" who refuse to work; refuse to better themselves; and brutalize cops; they steal money from taxpayers.

    Glad to see the Las Vegas group may be a bit nicer and I wish them well. They do NOT in any way speak for me or most people. They speak for themselves. Companies employ people; Leaders of Companies have often given big sums of money to non profits. There are many good Republicans, Democrats, and Independents.

    Our president Obama has been a horrible despicable creep - a divider. He refuses to endorse the American spirit and he spends thousands of dollars to feed himself; then goes out immediately after to have chicken and waffles. Obama is a terrible human being; his wife and her toned arms can leave the country. They may be citizens on paper - but they are not in any way good for American. SPIT IN THEIR FACE.

    And stop saying this Occupy thing speaks for anyone besides Move or other insane Obama speak organizations. They do not speak for me.

    While I respect those involved and wish them well; they do not speak for most Americans and should realize that.

    And the disgusting way Obama treats Congress - PuKE ON OBAMA.

  14. These groups do not represent the unemployed who actually want to find a job and work.

    They represent those who refuse to endorse America; Hate so many people; and are in short major league losers.

    If they cared about anyone, they would set up job recruitment tents; ask churches to set up food lines for them; and actually better themselves.

    Instead they tear down people who may have come from poor situations who have done well in America (the American dream). These people hate those who actually make America a better place to live.

    Obama would have you believe that the American dream is dead so he can manipulate you; steal all your money; and make your children poor. That is Obama.
    We must get rid of the insane person in the White House.

  15. It is amazing that this insane occupy group hates the bank tellers; the people who work at the bank. They hate it as these people have put money in the bank. The bank provides services; many services. The bank also has lent money so people can live in homes - if the bank is so bad, they could simply refuse to loan to anyone and make you buy your home outright.
    The bank is not the problem my dear people.
    The problem is OBAMA and his shipping zillions of jobs out of America.
    The problem is Democratic Party who does not want non union employees to work and has shuttered and slammed companies who are not union.
    The problem is with overregulation.
    The problem is sadly to say with many who knew they could not afford the house they were buying, but bought it any way.
    The problem is also with our schools who refuse to teach our kids how to handle and manage money so they overspend by the age of 20 and are deeply in debt.
    The banks did not make you overspend; these same people who are protesting could have saved their money and made something of themselves.
    Instead they blame the bank.
    They are sick people who need mental help.

  16. These people make a mess of our streets; spit at our police; and are no good.

  17. If this was a legitimate movement the protesters would have been outside the fund raiser President Obama held.




  18. Dear Moo the Cow: Many folks might be wondering WHERE the "98.5%" of the group are. Let me assure you, that this composite of Americans from ALL walks of life are likely WORKING (quite a few several jobs just to get by these days), attending to family commitments, volunteering, etc. and do whatever they can for or towards supporting the movement.

    Physically protesting in our country's streets, plazas, and gathering places is just ONE facet of protesting. Some may be more able and fit to do letter writing, emails, phone calls, consituency visits to Lawmaker's local offices. Certainly, there is more than one way to protest!

    The people most impacted by this sick economy are families, the elderly, the veterans, young people, farmers, small business owners, civil servants, public servants, service industry workers, and more! I have met shut ins who were in fragile health and would love to join in the protests, but simply are not able to do so.

    Sure, there are a host of people out there who leach off the system, some are generational welfare recipients who have no intention to ever do their part as a citizen. They are arrogant and constantly wail over their "entitlement" that the "world owes them a living." These sorts offer the world, their community, nor their own families anything. Their own children are ashamed of them. It is sad, and it is a fact that these kind of folks exist and burden the rest of us who are hard working and kind.

    It seems that some must stereotype and or label others, in order to feel good about themselves, or validate themselves. It is a good versus evil thing to them, and it is just where they are at in their ability to reason/think.

    Blessings and Peace,