I took a ride over to Opportunity Las Vegas Friday afternoon, not to be confused with Occupy Las Vegas. More on that in a few paragraphs.
They are down to a skeleton crew at the empty lot strategically located next door to the Double Down Saloon and a bunch of empty warehouses on between Paradise Road and Swenson Street. The epicenter of Las Vegas activism, Sin City’s answer to a national grassroots political movement designed to strike fear in Gucci-shod one-percenters, has turned into a de-facto homeless feeding center.
There were four people there when I drove in. A man who called himself Spartacus said some of the regulars were on Fremont Street in support of a Veteran’s Day parade. He also said only six activists stay there day and night, down from maybe 30 at the movement’s peak 10 long days ago. Many of the 25 or so tents on site are empty. Some are occupied by the homeless
“Eighty percent of the activists are gone,” he said. “We were growing and growing, and then within a week it just blew up.”
What happened was, perhaps, sadly inevitable given the nature of group dynamics. It’s a long, convoluted tale with way more back-and-forth than anyone outside of the argument wants to hear, but it boils to this: A small group took control of the empty lot, dubbed Area 99, and other people didn’t like that. Occupy as a rule is a leaderless, non-hierarchical movement that runs on the often-maddening idea that everyone gets a turn with the talking stick. When someone steps up to exert control over that process, there goes your democracy.
The someone in this case are the three people who put their names on the lease for the lot Oct. 21: Sebring Frehner, Kristal Glass and Jonathan Riley. They created a non-profit organization, Opportunity Las Vegas, to protect themselves from legal liability on the site, and also with an eye toward soliciting donations. “We were trying to have a little foresight,” says Frehner. “If you are going to do anything sizeable, you need funding to go with it.”
But a faction of Occupiers didn’t care for the new direction, and when they got vocal about it last weekend Frehner and company showed them the gate.
Gina Sully was one of the people kicked out of Area 99. “This is not what democracy looks like,” Sully wrote in a long e-mail explaining her side of the story. “This is what politics as usual looks like.”
Sully and others no longer welcome at Area 99 now meet regularly at UNLV as Occupy Las Vegas, and maintain the group’s original website at a new address, occupylv.org. Frehner’s camp maintains the site occupylasvegas.org.
You almost need a playbook to keep up, but things will get simpler after Nov. 21 because Frehner says he doesn’t anticipate renewing the lease for Area 99 once it runs out. “I have a feeling we will let it go back to the county,” he says. “The lot served the purpose it needed to serve.”