Thoughts on Occupy Las Vegas

I attended a meetup for the Occupy Las Vegas movement tonight, which is planning a protest march on the Las Vegas Strip on Thursday. By and large, I was glad to see so many people from so many different walks of life out to support this movement. However, I had some concerns and some suggestions to make sure everything runs smoothly. I recognize that with some of these issues I may sound paranoid…but I’d rather be absurdly wrong about the things I’m concerned about than be even slightly right.

In security analysis, one of the measurements you do is threat versus risk; in other words, what am I afraid is going to happen, and how likely is it to actually happen?

The risk here is pretty small; I hope and think that Thursday will be nice and peaceful. But there has apparently been some discussion about the possibility of interference by either black bloc anarchists or right-wing provocateurs. Unlikely as that may be, it raises the stakes a little. The black bloc goofballs can escalate a peaceful protest into a massive flaming shitstorm in short order; if you don’t believe me, ask anybody who was at the WTO protests in Seattle in 1999. And hell, they’re nominally on the same side; if any of the wingnuts from Nevada’s Tea Party or Nazi groups show up and start getting rowdy it’d be even worse.

And while the risk is low, the threat is high. You’ve got a crowd that’s estimated to be between 500 – 700 people, mostly people who’ve never protested or participated in an event like this before; almost none of them, I’m willing to bet, have ever been in a protest that’s gone violent. If badness happened, most of them wouldn’t have any idea of what to do. There’s been a lot of discussion on OLV’s Facebook page about what to do in case of arrests…while at the same time, people are being invited to bring their children, which is frankly fucking idiotic. Don’t bring your kids if being arrested or being attacked is enough of a possibility that a bail bonds company is offering fee-free bail bonds to protesters. I mean, imagine if you did get arrested; in the heat of things, are you sure somebody would know to even tell your kid? And who would take responsibility for getting them home safely if that happened?

Also, something else to consider: though I understand that both the security teams for the adjacent casinos and Metro are apparently being helpful, don’t forget that their goals — keeping the tourists and their money moving and maintaining order, respectively — are at cross-purposes to this protest, which is designed to attract attention and disrupt the status quo.

There’s also the fact — which no one seems to have pointed out — that this is a protest against the excesses of capitalism that’s being held in the most excessively capitalist place on the entire planet. It’s like walking into Disneyland and calling Walt Disney a Nazi prick; you may have the right to do it, and nobody may stop you…but they’re not going to be on your side if things go wrong, either.

I could keep going, but I hope I’ve made it clear that the organizers of OLV cannot afford to be naive about this. Hope for the best — a nice day where people’s voices are heard and everyone has a peaceful, wonderful time — and at least make the minimum necessary preparations for the worst. So here’s my specific advice:

  • 1) Have your security/peacekeeping team walk your route. Estimate how long it’ll take the average protester (which means the mass of the group) to walk the route. Establish checkpoints along the route — say at the end of every city block. Assign one security person to each of those points, to remain there from the time the group leaves the starting point until the last person passes by. Figure out exit points in case something goes wrong — if there’s violence, you want to make sure people have alternative routes to get away from it. These routes should not involve entering the casinos, because once you do, you’re on their property and you can be arrested even if you’re not doing anything particularly wrong. Figure out how to get people between the casinos, or through their service driveways, out to Koval to the east or Dean Martin to the west, in case something goes wrong. If it does, make sure your security people know where to lead others to get away.
  • 2) Give your security people walkie-talkies. There was some suggestion that people could communicate via cell phones. Cell phones are a slow and unreliable tool. Walkie-talkies are cheap. Get some. Make sure everybody can talk to everybody else. If a fight breaks out at the front of the mass group, make sure the people at the back of the mass group don’t just keep walking towards or (God help you all) surround it.
  • 3) Watch the crowd. Think of a bouncer at a nightclub; the bouncer’s job is not to beat up somebody who gets rowdy, but to know who’s going to get rowdy and stop them peacefully before they can. Most of the people who are going to show up are going to be good, happy, peaceful people. But statistically speaking, the likelihood is good that at least one or two people are going to be absolutely stone fucking crazy or provocateurs or just drunk. Know who these people are before everything gets underway.
  • 4) Keep your cameras out. I had suggested that somebody track down one of those digital video cameras that always stores the last 30 seconds buffered in RAM, but that’s not going to happen before Thursday. So everybody keep your cameras out. If anything goes wrong, film it — video, still photos, whatever — and upload it offsite to Flickr or Facebook or Twitter as fast as you can. I don’t think Metro is going to start busting heads for no reason, but if they do, you want pictures of it on Twitter before anybody can grab your camera. The world may be watching, but only if you’re giving them something to watch.
  • 5) Keep families together. If people really do bring their kids (out of naivete or a lack of other options), keep the people with kids all together, preferably at the back of the group. That way, if anything bad happens, they’re not stuck in the middle of it, and they can break off and find safety.

Again, I’m sure I sound hyper-paranoid. Maybe I am. I hope so. But if I’m not, well…do you really want to see what happens when you take 500-700 of the fabled 99% and start blasting them with pepper spray? What would you do? Would you calmly sit down and wait for the nice policeman to put the zip ties on your hands…or would you blindly run into a street filled with cars driven by drunk tourists who are too busy staring at some goddamn fountain to notice you?

So take these simple precautions. It’s worth the minimal cost and effort. I’ll help, if I can, any way I can. But if these steps aren’t taken, I’m not going to be within a mile of the Strip on Thursday, because I won’t feel secure in my freedom or safety. This can all go off without a hitch with some careful planning…so let’s plan.

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