What started as a single-city demonstration has turned into a global movement—since Occupy Wall Street began on September 17 the protest has spread like wildfire. The movement’s unofficial website, occupywallst.org, claims that its protests now blanket more than 100 cities in the United States and more than 1,500 cities worldwide.
Las Vegas jumped on the Occupy bandwagon October 6, when hundreds of locals descended on the Strip in support of the “99 percent.” The group acquired a semi-permanent “occupation” space on October 21 after Clark County granted it permission to use a parking lot west of the Thomas & Mack Center for exactly one month. It’s acquired the nickname “Area 99,” a twist on nearby Area 51 and a nod to the idea that 1 percent of the American population holds the majority of the country’s wealth.
On Monday night the makeshift campsite at 4700 Paradise Road housed approximately 40 tents, along with posters for upcoming events, the debris from making them and a supply area to the south of the fenced-in lot with food and first aid items, along with a set of calendars to remind the occupiers of their busy occupation schedule, including three “general assembly” meetings each week, upcoming protests and other events.
By 7 p.m. many of the protesters had retired to their tents, and those who remained were bundled up in several layers to protect themselves from the November chill. Several occupiers were engaged in conversation, huddled around a space heater. A few others were examining the occupation schedules.
“We’re all down here because we realize that the system is not working properly ... We really need to get the money out of the system, because our voices really aren’t being heard, whether it’s Democrats or Republicans in office,” says “Spartacus,” an Occupy Las Vegas protestor who spoke on the condition that he could use a pseudonym.
To manifest its frustrations with corporate greed, Occupy Las Vegas is aiming its protests at businesses. NV Energy was the target of a recent demonstration, and events are also planned for Citibank and Palace Station. In between demonstrations, there’s a lot of networking. “They talk to each other, they educate each other on the problems that we have and brainstorm about possible solutions. They work on the logistics of doing the different marches and protests,” says Sebring Frehner, an Occupy Las Vegas community organizer.
According to Frehner, there are usually around 40 occupiers camping overnight, with an additional 15 or so showing up during the day. The majority are employed, many of them employed students, Frehner says, adding that the homeless are welcome at Area 99 as well, in keeping with the movement’s focus on wealth disparity.
Members of the community have pitched in to assist the group’s endeavors, including Food Not Bombs, an organization that picks up Occupy’s donated food items to make a hot breakfast for the camp. Nearby Magura Pizza is allowing supportive citizens to purchase pies for the group, and owner Krenena Dimitrova says 10-15 pizzas have been delivered.
“We needed an occupation site to … bring people in and take care of them and help them,” states Frehner. “For something like this you don’t need to go negative. … You can do it legally, you can do it nonviolently.”
As for whether or not Occupy Las Vegas is making an impact, the answer depends on whom you ask. Spartacus is hopeful.
“At the moment, honestly, I feel we just put a seed in the ground ... Everybody wants bananas today, but it takes a while for that banana to grow.”