The tourists keep e-mailing Liz Moore, thrilled that they'll be able to squeeze in an antiwar rally while they're in town.
Most are planning to be here this weekend for a Phish concert at the University of Nevada. Others will be here to get married or attend a wedding. Still others are here to lose their money in the blink of an eye. But they all tell Moore, an organizer of an antiwar rally on the Strip, that whatever else they do, they want to be a part of the antiwar events taking place this weekend around the globe.
"They're surprised that we're having one," said Moore, with the Coalition to Protect Human Rights. She was surprised that the last antiwar rally on the Strip, on Jan. 18, drew 800 people, several hundred more than expected. "The bigger surprise is that local people managed to bring themselves to the Strip," she said. "Most locals avoid it like the plague, so it shows the depth of feeling on this issue."
And so it is that Las Vegas, indelibly identified as the capital of get-rich-quick fantasies, is joining 600 cities worldwide planning rallies against a U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
The rally here, which outsiders usually find out about through the unitedforpeace.org Web site, will mix the real and surreal. Protesters will meet at the Bellagio hotel's fountains, which dance to the tune of Sinatra hits. They will march past the most fanciful citadels of gambling in the world.
But the Vegas Strip is not the only unlikely place for a peace rally. In a display of widespread dissent over the Bush administration's approach to Iraq, the more than 250 cities and towns nationwide holding rallies and marches today include some that have not held protests since the Vietnam War, if ever. They include Watertown, N.Y., 10 miles from the Fort Drum Army base, where night-time temperatures dip to 30 degrees below zero and three feet of snow covers the ground. And St. Augustine, Fla., the country's oldest city (circa. 1565), now known as a nice place to retire. And other lay-low cities such as Fort Wayne, Ind.; Bisbee, Ariz.; Hilo, Hawaii; Sitka, Alaska; Fargo, N.D.; Fresno, Calif.; Reno, Nev. There are so many small rallies taking place that organizers for the unitedforpeace.org Web site were still adding them up.
"A lot of people don't post on the Web site until the eleventh hour," said Jason Mark, a spokesman for Global Exchange, which created the Web site and co-founded United for Peace and Justice, a coalition of more than 120 antiwar groups.
"The small places are often too busy organizing to post their rallies," Mark added. "In fact, I think that's where the real story is: The people who are organizing in their own local communities because they want to express their dissent and they can't attend the big, national rallies."
Watertown, about 35 miles from the Canadian border, will be host to its first rally against war on Iraq. The organizers, Ken Price and Kelly Arsenault-Price, former Army National Guard members, left their jobs to protest the impending war, and decided to hold a rally here because they couldn't get to one in New York City.
Price said he requested a discharge from the National Guard in December after 19 years and four months -- eight months shy of retirement. He and his wife, who left the Guard in January when she decided not to reenlist, believe President Bush lacks the legal or moral authority to wage this war, he said. But, he added, they have had some trepidation organizing the rally "because of the overwhelming presence of the military" in Watertown. When Arsenault-Price listed the rally in an online community bulletin board a couple of weeks ago, the e-mails she received in return were almost all negative, her husband said.
"It is kind of scary, but something's got to light a fire for people," Price said. "I think people have been scared to speak out against the war. But the closer we've gotten to the rally, the more people have expressed interest. We've gotten people from Syracuse, 70 miles away, who say they want to come."
Steve Mitchell, a real estate agent in St. Augustine, said he had never known of a protest movement in town before he started writing letters to editors and getting in touch with others who wrote to oppose a war. "Virtually none of us even knew each other," he said. Now they are a group, "People for Peace and Justice," part of a peace coalition in St. Augustine, along with Grandparents for Peace, Women for Peace and other new groups. They hold peace vigils every Friday, forums, and rallies, including one in January that drew 250 people.
"That was more than we expected," Mitchell said. "For very little advertising, and St. Augustine being only 13,000 people, I thought that was pretty good. Northeast Florida is very conservative, so for this to happen is unusual."
In Fort Wayne, Cat Voors, an organizer, has helped make the antiwar movement part of everyday life. Her group, part of the Center for Non-Violence, has been holding peace vigils at the Courthouse Green, the city's busiest intersection, every week since before October. ("We had one right after 9/11," she said.) The group has also held peace rallies coinciding with national rallies on Oct. 6 and 26 and Jan. 18. For the last rally, 250 people showed up. Voors predicted 350 protesters for Saturday. "We're expecting a blizzard -- 8 to 11 inches tonight," she said yesterday. "So we'll see."
Moore, with the Coalition to Protect Human Rights in Las Vegas, was so optimistic about the rally that she held a sign-making meeting Thursday . She, Lisa Stiller, and Ardis Coffman, were working on slogans to put on posters.
"How about 'Hobbits for Peace'? " said Coffman, a retired journalist for the Las Vegas Sun.
"Stop Mad Cowboy Disease," Moore wrote in black magic marker. "That's one of my favorites," she said.
"I like 'What would Jesus do?' " said Stiller, a writing consultant. A native New Yorker, Stiller said she was very active against the Vietnam War. "So how's this for a sign?" she asked: "Make Love, Not War."