Occupy Denver profile: Special Forces vet Billy Reno is reintroduced to political activism
Billy Reno's first reaction to the Occupy Wall Street movement was a desire to head to New York. But this was quickly squashed when he stopped by the local movement instead. Tonight, Reno, whose last name is spelled on the knuckles of his left hand with a diamond replacing the O, will sleep on the front lines, in the sleeping bag he took out of his storage unit when the occupation began, on the sidewalk in front of Civic Center Park.
Reno's slept in this area since he was born into the occupation on day six, although he now maintains a spot on the sidewalk directly opposite the one he used to occupy. Curled inside a black sleeping bag and covered by a protest sign, the decision to fall peacefully asleep in front of a line of police is in its own way a defiant form of protest.
In the beginning, sleep is part of what drew him.
"It was a safe place to camp," Reno says. "I stopped by one day out of curiosity, and I heard Crunchy (kitchen worker and outgoing occupation personality) preaching what it was all about. I knew it was important to me.'
Kelsey Whipple Billy Reno.
Early in the occupation, Reno struck upon the idea that tents would make the camp safer and warmer at night. But before he could remove his from storage to surprise the group, they erected their own. Reno's would later be the second tent on the right side of the former site and the fifth total, though today it is just an anecdote. As the late-October chill approaches, it will become a difficult loss to handle.
For fourteen years, Reno's identity was tied to his role in the 75th ranger regiment, 3rd battalion. However, the Special Forces vet is currently homeless. The 49-year-old lives on $175 a month and $200 in food stamps, and he is both the first person to offer candy to new friends and the first person to open his bag another time when they mention Reese's Peanut Butter Cups is a favorite.
His time in the military ended suddenly and with disappointment for a man who planned to make at least a twenty-year career out of the experience.
"When I joined the army, I thought it was the best thing for me," Reno says. "I got used to the routine, to the organization, and it wasn't a bad life. I thought I had seen the worst the world had to offer," he pauses, "but then there was East Africa." Later, he will pull a US Army hat out of the Carhartt tote he carries. "I see Occupy Denver as a chance to right all the wrongs I've done in my life."
Today, Reno supports the occupation on Twitter and Facebook, and he collects videos, some of them startling, on a cell phone that, like most left in the camp, is running low on battery. As he pulls that phone out of his pocket, the video he cues up is of Saturday night's demonstration. In it, a young male volunteer is reading poetry out loud from a notebook when he is struck in the back by a police baton. The image is uncomfortable at best, but Reno's expression is unchanged.
When it is over, his amiability transitions, for a moment, into the occasionally bitter demeanor that has resulted from recent interaction with state and city police forces. "They're here to silence it," Reno says, shaking his head. His predictions for future interactions are grim, but he has no plans to leave. "The more you lay down, the more they walk all over you. We're standing up right now, but we're doing it peacefully."
More from our Occupy Denver archive: "Occupy Denver has a day of peace -- for now (PHOTOS)."