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March 24, 2017

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Political activism amid bacchanalia

Fremont Street is Vegas’ public commons by default, but revelers are tuned out

Image

Leila Navidi

Paul Swanson, from left, of Grand Junction, Colo., and Michael Jeremiah O’Keeffe of Kingman, Ariz., take the MoveOn.org challenge presented by volunteer Sue Brooks on Fremont Street on Wednesday.

Click to enlarge photo

MoveOn.org volunteers Sue Brooks, right, and Addie Crisp, in mask, talk to Robert Martin of Las Vegas about the difference between President George W. Bush and John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, May 29, 2008.

It’s one of those Las Vegas problems: Where do you hold a demonstration?

There’s no Times Square or People’s Park, no public space dedicated by tradition to hollering your fellow citizens into enlightenment.

And few places seem to offer the necessary qualities, like visibility (you have to have people to harangue), and being on public property (you have to have somewhere to stand without getting arrested).

Given all that, you settle on holding your demonstration on Fremont Street.

And nobody notices.

They’re too busy holding 2-foot daiquiris and booze-filled footballs and watching big fish float overhead.

And so it went Wednesday night, when MoveOn.org volunteers gathered on Fremont Street to quiz passers-by on the differences between President Bush and Republican presidential candidate and Arizona Sen. John McCain. MoveOn.org is an online network of liberal activists and, in their opinion, not a lot of important differences exist.

The volunteers, about seven of them at any given moment, stood on the corner between the Golden Nugget and Binion’s, waving signs, handing out Smarties and plastic bead necklaces, and carrying clipboards toward strangers while saying, “Would you like to take the challenge?”

That was their drill: “Would you like to take the challenge?” Get the target to ask, “What challenge?” Then they take the quiz, score low on it because they’re supposed to, and get their candy and a talk from the volunteers.

Mostly, people kept on walking.

But not Michael Jeremiah O’Keeffe of Kingman, Ariz. He was wearing a motorcycle T-shirt, and he had a nearly life-size tattoo of a flaming skull on the back of his bald head and another one on the side of his neck, this one of a naked angel squeezing, well, not her wings. He found the quiz helpful and informative.

“I like stuff like this because I don’t know who I’m going to vote for,” O’Keeffe said. A woman would be OK, but he doesn’t like Hillary Clinton or Bill. Barack Obama’s “too polished.” McCain, though, is a Navy vet, like O’Keeffe. But he’ll wait and see.

He is, at least, a registered voter.

On the Binion’s side of the street, a guy with skinny old legs poking out his shorts, power-walks up to one of the volunteers and starts shouting that Obama is such a boob he thinks there are 55 states. The volunteer says, no, that’s not true.

“I saw it on TV!” the man shouts. “It was on TV! He’s an idiot!”

Back on the Golden Nugget side, volunteer Donna Schlemmer, whose day job is as an administrative assistant for the state, is talking to Jim Perry, a 76-year-old Las Vegas resident.

Perry says when it comes to politicians, he always goes with his gut. He pats his gut. “I learned that a long time ago,” he says. That’s why he’s for McCain. But he really likes Obama. Reminds him of Kennedy. Anyway, he’s not registered to vote. “I have never voted in my life.”

Schlemmer registers him to vote, without a party affiliation.

Back by Binion’s, clipboard-wielding Karyn Doody professes to enjoy the street-level work, especially down here, what with the inebriated passers-by.

“Gets them to relax and they’ll talk to you more,” she winks.

A large crowd has gathered on one side of MoveOn.org’s table. Tony Romano, a 64-year-old retiree, is trying to explain Bush and McCain politics to a French tour group. “Like brothers,” he says, bringing his hands together.

Turning to me, he says, “They’re really interested in our politics.”

As it turns out, they were waiting for the 8:30 canopy light show.

Overhead, killer whales with serious glandular disorders swim lumpingly down Fremont Street. Everyone stands still, staring up.

The MoveOn.org volunteers pack it in.

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