As We See It

[Neon Eden]

Making sense of Occupy Las Vegas

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The occupation: Protesting corporate greed with Starbucks in hand.
Photo: Sam Morris

The early evening crowd at the Fremont Street Experience is typical—jiggly, a little buzzed, wearing the tribal gear of Oregon Ducks and Green Bay Packers—except tonight it’s different. A parade of hundreds of young and old, black and white, normal and freak is marching, chanting, “Show us what democracy looks like!” And so forth. They’re carrying signs that range from the now iconic “We are the 99 percent” to the misspelled “Reign in the banks!” to the offensive “Zionists control U.S. policy and the media.”

They are “Occupying Las Vegas,” and they’re doing a pretty good job of holding the attention of slack-jawed tourists, whose looks span from sympathetic to amused to hostile.

That is, until the raver girl gets on one of the Fremont Street Experience stages. She’s Burning Man Derivative—furry boots and a bare torso that snakes to the sounds of Justin Timberlake’s “Rock Your Body.”

Suddenly, we leave the realm of political argument, of Lincoln’s better angels and Plato’s “Republic,” and the lizard brain has taken over with its obsessions: Distraction from dread, stimulation, sex.

Did I say distraction?

A woman who must be in her 50s walks by in full S&M regalia. Video of mixed martial artists smashing each other loops at a kiosk selling Tapout gear.

Showgirls with feather heads try not to look bored.

I talk to a guy who says he’s on the side of the marchers, a devotee of the “Zeitgeist Movement.” He wants to abolish money, though he concedes this probably won’t be possible until we colonize the galaxy. Hard to disagree there. I decide to play fair and find some more mainstream Occupy types, grabbing Kathy Rose and Bill Steinmetz from the march.

Steinmetz is a retired mathematics professor from Adelphi University who says his issue is money in politics. He’s financially sound, but concerned about his daughter and grandchild, and he believes the American economy is now heavily tilted toward the rich and the corporations. (Data point: The richest 1 percent of America controlled 10 percent of the national income in 1980, but closer to 25 percent now.)

Rose concurs and says members of Congress should wear patches indicating their corporate sponsors, like NASCAR drivers.

They want a constitutional amendment to limit money in politics.

Mermaids is selling deep-fried Twinkies.

I get an Elvis impersonator to do some Elvis: “Occupy Wall Street, baby.”

The video screen above Glitter Gulch lights up, advertising a “free topless party.”

The demonstrators march in a smaller oval now, though still led by Metro officers on horses.

The beating of the Occupy drums gives the march a martial, solemn air, clashing with Beastie Boys’ “(You Gotta) Fight for your Right (to Party)” on the Fremont speakers.

My attention wanders from the march to the Fremont Street Experience—one of the most entertaining places on the planet, a state fair where the livestock are people. Plus, gambling, plastic footballs filled with beer and a strip club.

A man is having a very involved conversation with himself.

A girl who can’t be more than 17 walks by with a yard-long daiquiri.

T-shirt: “Defend Hawaii” with an assault rifle emblazoned on it. Is Hawaii under attack?

Who’s the scary guy acting as a kind of agent for the Big Bird and Elmo characters who are taking photos with children?

A cherubic toddler does an adorable dance to “Thriller,” and we all feel better about the world.

More commerce: Caricature drawings, iPhone cases with rhinestones, Mardi Gras beads, a truly creative “onesy” with “I’m what happened in Vegas” imprinted on the front. The luxury perfume store also sells water bongs.

The proprietor of the European Psychic kiosk does not appear to be European.

I run into Assemblywoman Peggy Pierce, the Legislature’s most liberal member, and I’m pretty certain the only elected official here. She says people are struggling so hard just to survive that they don’t even know they’re getting fleeced by the current political and economic arrangement.

Are those straws shaped like phalluses in those cans of Bud Light? Upon closer examination, yes.

I’m sympathetic to this movement. But I fear our problems are bigger than campaign finance.

J. Patrick Coolican is a columnist for the Las Vegas Sun. Follow him on Twitter @jpcoolican or email him at [email protected] His Neon Eden radio show airs Tuesdays at 5:30 p.m. on 91.5 FM.
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