Occupy movement stays peaceful in cash-poor Vegas

By Cristina Silva

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 16 2011 12:51 a.m. MST

Occupy Las Vegas was one of dozens of copycat movements created last month after protesters began gathering near Wall Street in downtown New York City to protest corporate greed, economic inequality and government corruption.

The first gathering drew hundreds of protesters to the Las Vegas Strip in October, as police officers on horses watched cautiously. Some protesters wore goggles and gas masks, expecting tear gas and police dressed in riot gear. But there were no arrests or fits of violence that night, and a group of self-appointed organizers quickly decided that they would only express themselves by peaceful demonstration at subsequent events.

"We are definitely trying to take an organized and non-violent approach to all of our actions," said organizer Kristal Glass. "I don't want to say that non-violent civil disobedience is not going to happen in this group, but if it happens it will be done in a manner where it is not disruptive to the community as a whole."

When county officials balked at protesters who wanted to occupy city parks, Glass signed a lease with the county allowing the movement to occupy an empty lot on a secluded street near the airport for 30 days. The contract required protesters to maintain clean portable bathrooms, obtain insurance and prohibit littering.

"This group has been unlike the others in lot of the other cities where they have been health and safety issues and violence," said Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak. "They have kept their word in terms of being accommodating, no one causing any trouble."

The Occupy Reno movement has received similar praise from city staff and law enforcement officials for obtaining a permit before setting up camp at a public park miles from the main downtown casino strip.

"There's a small group interested in the actual occupation," said organizer Steve Metcalf of Reno. "I think a much larger group is interested in talking about policies and the community and community service."

In Carson City, roughly 70 protesters opted against gathering on the lawn of the state Capitol after they were told that would require a costly insurance policy.

"We decided to hold off on that for now and just use the public sidewalks," said organizer Janette Dean. "For the size of our group, that seems to be plenty of space."

But it's unclear whether the peace pushers will be able to tame the more aggressive voices within the movement forever. A local militant group tried last week to convince the protesters in Las Vegas to arm themselves. Others have simply urged organizers to take a more forceful stand and stop being so darn nice.

Roussan Collins, 38, a homeless former math teacher, said the Las Vegas protesters have been too willing to concede to the police department's suggestions.

"They are not 'Occupy' officially to me," said Collins, who had been living at the Las Vegas camp for three days. "I want them to take back the land, not lease it."

Associated Press writers Sandra Chereb in Carson City and Scott Sonner in Reno contributed to this report.

Cristina Silva can be reached at http://twitter.com/cristymsilva.

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