We were an unlikely crew of protesters: a deacon from St. Matthew’s attending her first demonstration; a deacon from Christ Church chiefly known for her pastoral and charity work; a lay person from Christ Church; a priest from Epiphany, Henderson who despite her California roots was born considerably too late to even remember the Free Speech movement; and me, the Mad Hatter Bishop. But there we were on the Strip on a bright April Day carrying signs and passing out pamphlets on the moral blight of human trafficking and child prostitution in Las Vegas.
It may have been for the best that my colleagues were not veteran demonstrators since this was a different kind of event. First, we had to register for the Rally. Our organizers were really organized. We registered on line well in advance. Then we were required to sign liability waivers in case we twisted an ankle or got poked in the eye by a sign. Then we had to sign in at the registration site, where for a $25 donation, we got a red Not For Sale t-shirt and a bottle of water.
Someone eventually helped me realize that social activism has a new paradigm modeled on the marathon.
As we walked from where we had parked our car in the Harley Davison Café parking garage, people were already stopping us to ask what this was all about. We gave them pamphlets and explained the cause which they readily supported.
Then we took our places on the island at the corner of Harmon and Las Vegas Blvd. Other parts of our Diocese of Nevada family were elsewhere on the Strip. There were 4 venues in all. Ellie and her daughters were standing for justice at the corner of Flamingo and Las Vegas Blvd. At Harmon, we were not alone. There were a group of amiable teens of diverse ethnicity – Latino, African-American, Anglo, and Asian. The Asians were my favorite. They were vigorously chanting, “Stop Human Trafficking” while shaking their signs up and down like the folks who advertise tax preparation services.
A truck with a mobile billboard kept circling past us. The bold billboard, with boldly dressed people on it, proclaimed “Hot Babes Direct To You.” While it was stopped at the red light, the Rev. Helen McPeak got a pic of me holding my Not For Sale sign along with the billboard. Eventually, the guy driving the truck and the demonstrators began waving when he went by.
This is a strange world, at least a strange city.
The pedestrians gave us a mixed response. One tourist from Florida was supportive. We had a pleasant talk and she took a pamphlet. A couple of hours later, she came back, having just won $200 at a Casino, and wanted a pic with me, helping me hold the sign, as way to give God the glory for her winnings. It did not seem the time to engage in theology about God and gaming. I just welcomed her support.
Many took pamphlets. One man who refused a pamphlet was wearing a t-shirt that said “Father Of The Year.” After he had turned down a pamphlet from one of the teenagers, Dcn. Carolyn Shannon stopped him, and said, “Now, wait a minute. You’re the father of the year. You need to know about this.” He took the pamphlet.
An Imperial Storm Trooper also walked by. I could not remember whether the guys in white worked for the Evil Empire or Princess Leia’s rebels. I asked one of the teenagers. But she had never seen Star Wars. I felt old.
We achieved our brief moment of fame when Channel 3 and Channel 5 filmed us for the evening news. It was a surreal but inspiring day in what promises to be a long term effort that is shared all over the Diocese. On the last Sunday in March, the following Episcopal Churches observed a Sunday of Witness Against Human Trafficking: St. Bartholomew’s, Ely; Holy Trinity, Fallon; St. Martin’s, Pahrump; Trinity, Reno; St. Paul’s, Sparks; St. Matthew’s, Las Vegas; and Christ Church, Las Vegas. (Did I leave anyone out?) The Rev’s. Red Sims and Kathy Hopner wrote collects for the occasion.
Epiphany, Henderson will host the Interfaith Service to raise awareness of issues of children’s well being, with a special focus on the sexual exploitation of children, on Sunday, May 22, at 5 p.m. Improved legislation would be a good thing. But the main goals we need to accomplish are to make this crime a priority for enforcement and prosecution and even more importantly to build a Safe House for care and rehabilitation for the young victims. To learn more, go to www.notforsalecampaign.org and www.nevadachild.com.
Our advocacy efforts on this issue are part of an overall priority of caring for children in Nevada. Our restored relationship with St. Jude’s Ranch For Children, our partnership with Communities in Schools and other one-church-one-school initiatives, the participation of congregations in Family Promise, our partnership with St. Luke’s, Leogane to vaccinate Haitian children against disease are other examples of our efforts to serve and speak out for children here and around the world.