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Publisher's Note: Protests and movements

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By Tom McDonald

Late last week, as soon as I read that more “Occupy” protests were being organized in New Mexico, including one each in Taos and Santa Fe, I immediately wondered why one has yet to take place here in Las Vegas.

After all, we’re about as left-wing a town as you’ll find in this state, so why are protests being staged elsewhere but not here?

So I called Las Vegas’ premier community organizer, Pat Leahan, and her answer didn’t surprise me. An Occupy Las Vegas protest has yet to be organized, she said, it’s because of the U.S. Air Force’s community forum, which is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. Tuesday in Kennedy Hall at Highlands University to hear public input about its plan to have low-flying military aircraft frequent our northern New Mexico skies. Leahan and others are staging a “community gathering” (I’d call it a protest) at National and University before the forum begins.

“Everybody’s been asking me to help them organize (an Occupy Las Vegas rally) but we’ve got to get through this first,” Leahan said.

In other words, if you want to stage a protest in Las Vegas, you’d better get in line. That’s how active our lefties are.

Of course, I don’t mean to make light of their activities. I have a genuine respect for anyone who sticks their neck out for what they truly believe in. Here in Las Vegas, there are a lot of people willing to challenge the powers that be, and to that I say, more power to you.

Nevertheless, I still wonder about the ultimate fate of the “occupy” protests. Is it a fleeting cause or the beginning of a sustained national movement? It started as a Wall Street protest about a month ago, when people decided to plant themselves in the nation’s financial center to protest the greed of the wealthy, and since then it’s spread across the country.  Some have contended that the lack of a clear and concise message will lead to its unraveling. Others say the message is broad enough to ensure its continuation as an inclusive movement.

Conventional wisdom would tell you that an easy-to-understand message is critical to the long-term survival of these protests. But this is a new age, when social media can actually usurp mainstream sound bites. Just look at the Arab Spring — “the first Facebook revolution” as some have called it.

Plus, the times are right for a grassroots movement in the U.S. The economy is pathetic, gridlock governs politics, the national media are generally in sensationalism mode, and society is interfacing in ways no one could have imagined just a few years ago. That last ingredient, it seems to me, is the real wild card that could turn a movement into a revolution.

I know some protesters don’t like to hear it, but it’s hard not to compare all this to the Tea Party movement. That’s the group you join if you believe government is the problem. If you believe corporations are the problem, this latest movement is for you. Both groups see a systemic problem, but they blame different power brokers.

The Tea Party became a real power in American politics. The verdict is still out about America’s latest upheaval.

Whether these latest protesters become a lasting force on the American landscape rests on a number of ingredients, including the leadership that emerges and the actions that follow the “occupations.” If, like the Tea Party, the protesters decide to focus on electoral politics, they may indeed have an impact on next year’s election.

But, if they continue to exercise the power that comes through participatory democracy — when people don’t just vote, they demand change, between the elections — well now, that could usher in some real and lasting change.

Tom McDonald is editor and publisher of the Optic. He may be reached at 505-425-6796, ext. 237, or tmcdonald@lasvegasoptic.com.