At three and a half years old, Shelby is too young to vote but not to be voted for. Last night, she almost ruined her greatest accomplishment to date when, during announcements at Occupy Denver's 7 p.m. general assembly, she ran into the center of the circle for attention. It would be a short wait until, with a landslide vote, she would earn it. In about five minutes flat, the young Border Collie/cattle-dog mix was elected the occupation's official leader.
The decision, one that earned more than the required majority, is both laughable and pointed. Even in a leaderless movement, the fact that many corporations have power over the rights of their human employees has inspired the group to symbolically strike back. Shelby is a leader among men -- and a four-pawed iconoclast, depending upon how far you're willing to take the issue.
Aaron "Al" Nesby is willing to take it pretty far. It was, after all, his idea, and it began with Michael Moore. Stung by the documentarian's refusal to follow general assembly guidelines at his recent visit to Occupy Denver, the idea of electing a symbolic (if hairy) leader struck him as an opportune statement.
"(Moore) walked in with security and made everyone listen to him in the center of the circle with a bullhorn like he was our leader, even though he said out loud it's a leaderless movement," says Nesby, a recent Westword profile subject. He and a few fellow occupiers gathered to contradict the misconception that the group needs an end-all representative. "Shelby has more human traits than any corporation: She can bleed, she can breed and she can show emotion. If this is the way the corporate world chooses to do business, let's apply the same rule." Despite the new political burden, Shelby remains unfazed: She sprung into action immediately, earning a joke from one occupier that this puts her ahead of most elected officials. Although she spent much of her first night in office celebrating (read: napping), it's unclear if the news has successfully hit home. "Are you the new leader?" Peter John Jentsch quizzed her in a voice usually reserved for children. "Are you, girl? Are you?"
Her bodyguard, as the 27-year-old filmmaker prefers to be called, has accompanied her to Denver from their Boulder home every other day for a month now, and Shelby maintains a strict protest against leashes. ("She has yet to come by herself, so she's only as passionate as I am," Jentsch says.) The black-and-white dog walks freely and without prejudice throughout Civic Center Park unless a threat of police interaction relegates her to the car.
"She spent a few weeks getting to know everybody here, so when Al nominated her, everybody knew who she was and liked her," Jentsch says. "She's the youngest leader of a revolution in history and the first of any occupation so far, but she's smart, so people know she won't make any situations. We just have to make sure she doesn't get arrested."
Since she was adopted from the Boulder Humane Society at three months old, Shelby has consistently maintained an open mind. She identifies as an independent, though Jentsch says she was originally an Obama supporter and now leans toward Ron Paul. (Shelby remains characteristically tight-lipped about her politics.)
The four-pawed president serves as a direct response to those who claim a leader, by putting a face on the movement, would make it easier to handle. But when it comes down to it, the occupiers don't want to be handled.
"At the DNC riot, we were able to locate a few of the leaders and talk to them directly, but for Occupy Denver we can't go around and talk to everyone in the park directly," says Matthew Murray, public information officer for the Denver Police Department. "That's one of the issues of this style of hierarchy."
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While Shelby's background is not ideal, her personality and her status as a symbol more than make up for her youth and the fact that, being from Boulder, she was born on foreign soil. She is currently accepting applications for her fictional cabinet.
"It's strange that she's the leader of Occupy Denver before holding any office at Occupy Boulder," Jentsch says. "She has been recognized as a person for a long time, but this is the first time by an elected body. I always knew she'd be famous."
More from our Occupy Denver archive: "Occupy Denver: Michael Moore calls CBS4 reporter "punk media" liar -- on CBS4 (VIDEO)."