They sat with legs crossed Thursday in the middle of Las Vegas Boulevard, blocking northbound traffic and ignoring police warnings in front of the federal courthouse.
Soon thereafter the hands of 21 protesters from the Occupy Las Vegas movement were bound with white zip ties. They were arrested on misdemeanor charges of being unlawful pedestrians in the roadway. As they were loaded onto a police bus headed to Cashman Center convention facility for processing, sympathizers clapped and shouted "American heroes!"
Dozens of federal court employees stood on the courthouse steps and crowded around windows, gawking at the commotion.
The protest group is a chapter of the Occupy Wall Street movement against corporate greed and influence in politics. The Las Vegas event drew about 75 protesters and was part of a national day of mass action that marked the two-month anniversary of the New York protests.
Unlike in many other areas nationwide, the Occupy Las Vegas protesters complied with law enforcement during their first act of civil disobedience. Police said they were notified ahead of time about the protest and told civil disobedience might occur. Officers were stationed at the boulevard intersections of Bridger and Clark avenues to head off traffic once protesters blocked the roadway. There were no injuries, and the road closure lasted about 15 minutes, police said.
As officers led one protester to the police bus, she chatted about why she risked arrest.
"To make a point. We're the 99 percent!" she said, referring to the figure protesters use to describe people not among the nation's wealthiest 1 percent.
"Was it worth it?" someone asked.
"Absolutely!" she shouted gleefully.
In other parts of the country, such as Oakland and New York, protesters have faced strong police resistance and been forced from their camps with tear gas. Las Vegas police, who responded with about 30 officers, commended Occupy Las Vegas protesters for their cooperation.
"We always want it to be peaceful, and the organizers for this event have done a masterful job," Downtown Area Command Capt. Michael Dalley said. "They worked with us. ... It's about safety for everyone involved. We've seen in other cities when these types of events have gone wrong. So we're very happy."
Protesters began quietly assembling over coffee and muffins about 7 a.m. near the courthouse steps. By 10 a.m. sign-carrying protesters were loudly chanting, "Hey, Wall Street! Step off it! People over profits!"
Event organizers marked protesters willing to be arrested with armbands of green duct tape. For many, it was the first time they risked arrest much less protested anything.
Jennifer Harney, 37, is a self-professed "soccer mom" with three children.
"I've never been an activist," she said. "I've never done anything like this."
Harney said the local movement has helped pull her out of depression as she tries to keep up her struggling small construction business.
"It was getting sad for me in the morning," she said. "It was hard to wake up and get ready for work. It was hard to get my kids off to school. I mean, what am I creating for them? Nothing. Now I feel empowered. I'm creating a future for my kids. I want people in Las Vegas to feel that too, to stand up and voice how they feel."
Two people, who appeared to be federal court employees, argued on the courthouse steps as they watched arrested protesters board the police bus.
"Good job, Metro!" a man yelled.
A woman shouted at him.
"Don't you get it? Don't you see that you're the 99 percent, too?" she asked.
"Anyone else want to join them, you just go ahead and get on the bus," he said. "They have plenty of room."
A GLOBAL PERSPECTIVE
Arjan de Bruijn sipped a cup of hot coffee and chomped on a muffin as he chatted with fellow protesters. The 33-year-old Hollander is traveling the states for six weeks before he starts working in Indiana.
During his travels, de Bruijn has camped at Occupy protest sites in St. Louis, Kansas City, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
He said the movements differed in other areas of the country, with some being more political. He characterized the Las Vegas chapter of the national movement as more mellow.
"I do sympathize with their cause," he said. "There's a similar thing ongoing in Holland. That's the thing that angers everyone the most. Bank bailouts (in Holland) might have been a necessity; otherwise the economy might have crashed even worse. Shortly after they got all this money, they took bonuses again.
"This is the reason for the massive public protest."
Contact Kristi Jourdan at email@example.com or 702-455-4519. Associated Press contributed to this report.