“Occupy Reno” has piggybacked on the themes of the “Occupy Wall Street” protest, bringing to northern Nevada the spirit of the movement.
“I was a little bit disenfranchised by the fact that I didn’t see it being covered by the media whatsoever,” said Sean O’Brien, who started a Facebook group less than two weeks ago hoping to gin up interest in the protest and bring it home to the Truckee Meadows. Traffic to the site has grown exponentially, O’Brien said, with about 150 people now joining the group daily.
O’Brien, 38, said he was inspired to bring like-minded protesters together by imagining what the world would look like when his 18-month-old son grows up.
“When I look in the eyes of my child, this is not what I want to hand him,” he said, citing record unemployment, low wages, tax breaks for big corporations and the greed of Wall Street as concerns. “I think the message coming out of here is gonna be about the same one coming out of New York. We want to hold corporate America responsible. We want to hold the bankers responsible.”
And this was a common rallying cry heard on campus Wednesday. It just so happens to be echoed among members of the Tea Party, as well. So while the “Occupy Wall Street” protesters tend to be young, idealistic and politically liberal, organizers stressed the importance of remaining inclusive.
“It’s not a partisan protest,” said Ashley Hennefer, 22, a UNR graduate student and one of the leaders of Wednesday’s rally.
“It’s my hope that it is not a political movement,” he said.
But for all the energy pumping into the movement in recent weeks as activists in cities across the country hold similar protests, a central message appears lacking and where this thing will go — particularly in northern Nevada — is anyone’s guess.
“We don’t know what this is yet,” said Lea Moser, 22, an undergraduate at UNR and key organizer of the protest.
Wednesday’s rally was in many ways a planning session for the nascent local movement.
“This is still a burgeoning and infant movement,” O’Brien said. “It can go any direction.”
One direction it is certainly heading locally is to The Underground music venue in Reno. A second rally will be held there beginning at 1 p.m. on Saturday.
But who are these protesters, exactly? The answer is complicated.
Protests tend to encompass a grab bag of political and social issues with people from all sorts of backgrounds, beliefs and worldviews coming together in a morass of criticism and complaint.
But if there was one overarching message trumpeted Wednesday, it was this: People are fed up with the fact that not a single senior Wall Street executive has been charged with criminal wrongdoing in the banking and financial collapse of 2008. This feeling that transcended age, gender, race and political persuasion on the UNR campus.
Those out in force Wednesday got a chance to speak their minds as a megaphone made the rounds through the crowd.
At one point, a young man led the protesters in a chant, “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” a quote attributed to Gandhi.
The day was also an opportunity for organizers and supporters to coalesce.
In addition, organizers want the movement to spread beyond the campus scene, where students naturally gravitate toward such protest causes, and into the wider community.
“So many people are getting involved,” Moser said.