My name is Brendan. I am a 23 year old student at the University of Nevada Reno. On June 14th, 2016, I was privileged to attend my first peaceful demonstration. The BLM was attempting to auction off public land for oil and gas, including fracking, in the Smoky Valley region of central Nevada. As an intern at PLAN focusing on renewable energy and climate justice issues, and a concerned citizen, this egregious use of public lands is in direct contrast to the goal of %100 renewable energy for Nevada.
Flag made during the art build on June 13th (Photo: Bucky Harjo)
They held this “public” auction on the private property of the Siena Hotel. So PLAN and it’s partners formed a coalition with the goal of stopping this auction and letting the BLM know our loathing of this heinous proposition.
My experience started the day before during the prep for the demonstration. The organizers wanted to use art of all types to help communicate our message to the BLM and the oil and gas companies. So we gathered to make visual pieces of art for the event and spent the afternoon creating and connecting. This was a very big part of the process for me personally because it helped to show we weren’t alone while, building a strong sense of community and investment toward our common goal of stopping fracking operations in Nevada. We were united.
On the day of the demonstration we gathered together early and moved our people and art pieces into position a couple of blocks away from the scheduled auction. The performances began as more people arrived. Before I knew it I was surrounded by 150 like-minded people with the singular goal of protecting our beautiful state. The energy and sense of community amongst the crowd was powerful! There is something magical about a group of people gathering for a singular purpose. Before we began the march we had a moment of silence. The crowd silenced in solidarity ever building the feeling that we were here united.
Then we began to march towards the Siena. I took up position in the middle of lead banner, which I didn’t plan, but felt compelled by the energy of the crowd. So we started off toward the auction the power of our message grew as 150 people all chanted our message together. The cries of people echoed through the streets as we approached the hotel where the auction was being held. As we approached the Siena we were met by their security guards. The security isolated who they believed was our leader and violently slammed him into the ground drawing blood. The treatment of our fellow angered the crowd but we turned our anger into motivation. It seems that they thought that by taking down “the leader” they could take away our momentum, but this was a movement of the people and could not be silenced.
At the Siena, inside the abandoned BLM auction room (Photo: Bucky Harjo)
We took the energy of the assault and used it to enter the hotel. The lobby filled up behind me as we made our way to the stairs leading up to the auction, but we were again halted by two security guards. But the movement would not stop. Someone maneuvered around the line of security and we flooded up the stairs and into the auction room. We were met with an empty room and news that the people attending the auction had fled. They refused to hear our message. We occupied the room for about 20 minutes in case they came back, but eventually we moved back outside to avoid further arrest and harm to our people.
When we came outside the scene on the streets had changed dramatically. A large police presence had showed up, including a helicopter circling above. One thing that amazed me was how well the police treated us. They blocked off the street and allowed us to speak our peace – and speak it we did. Along with our message we demanded the release by the Siena security team of our fellow protesters. We achieved the release of two out of the three. After they were returned to us we begin our march down the street back to our starting point. The police were very considerate and blocked off our path for us.
As I look back on my first demonstration I have this new sense of empowerment. The political process is often so noisy that it seems too busy to make anything out and too loud for the people to be heard. However, despite the chaos, we can be heard when we are united. United we can make a difference. Together we can stand up against those who take advantage of those less fortunate. We can stand up against the wasteful and destructive use of our precious resources. We can stand up for our rights. And most importantly we can win – or at least that is how I feel after my first demonstration. I just have one question for you. Will you stand up too?
By Brendan Gault