Occupy Wall Street: Support from soldiers grows, national guardsman attends in uniform

Iraq War veteran Scott Olsen after a tear gas canister fractured his skul at Occupy Oakland, October 25.

Support for the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement that has swept more than 100 cities in the United States is rising among current and former members of the US military.

The support from former and current soldiers for the Occupy movement against corporate greed was brought into the spotlight when Iraq War veteran Scott Olsen suffered a fractured skull after being shot in the head by a tear gas canister fired by Oakland police on October 25.

The horrific injury, which left Olsen unconscious in hospital in a critical condition, occurred when police violently shut down Occupy Oakland’s protest camp in front of Oakland City Hall in the early hours of the morning.

Police used extreme force and there were allegations they fired rubber bullets as well as using tear gas and stun grenades. Dozens of people were arrested. When other protesters tried to come to Olsen’s aid, police attacked them as well.

On October 26, more than 1000 people took part in a general assembly outside Oakland City Hall that voted to organise mass protests — including a call for a general strike — in the city’s centre for November 2.

A statement by Iraq Veterans Against the War (of which Olsen was a member) quoted Keith Shannon, who deployed with Olsen to Iraq, as saying: “Scott was marching with the 99% because he felt corporations and banks had too much control over our government, and that they weren’t being held accountable for their role in the economic downturn, which caused so many people to lose their jobs and their homes.”

There is a growing move to organise military supporters of the Occupy movement. A Sodahead.com report on October 22 said: “What began as the gathering of just a few US Marines has now become a major organized movement to get Marines and military personnell of all branches to Occupy America nationwide.”

The movement was sparked by the widely-seen footage of US Marine Corps Sergeant Shamar Thomas shouting at police in New York, shaming them for attacking unarmed peaceful citizens.

A website, OccupyMarines.org, has been set up. It said: “OccupyOMC are separated, or retired, Marines who support Occupy Wall Street and general ‘Occupy’ movements. We are not on active duty … We are acting and organizing as former Marines, private citizens and patriots.”

Groups calling themselves Occupy Army, Occupy Navy and Occupy Air Force have been formed, DailyKos.com said on October 24. The site noted: “The Veracity of the these organizations may be questionable at this moment, but what can’t be questioned is the growth of the Occupy Movement, and its ability to attract Military Veterans, Active duty as well as retired and current Police Officers.”

A US army veteran turned up at an OWS camp in New York in early October with a placard that read: “2nd time I’ve fought for my country. 1st time I’ve known my enemy.”

A US marine veteran standing next to him told an interviewer: “I don’t support these wars, I want my brothers and sisters to come back.”

In response to attacks by right-wing commentators that the OWS protesters were “unAmerican”, the marine said: “When they have these violent protests overseas, they call it democratic, that the people are trying to get theirs. But as soon as we start trying to do it here, they call it unpatriotic.”

Pham Binh, an OWS participant, reports from New York on a further development.

* * *

An active-duty Black National Guardsman showed up in uniform in Liberty Plaza less than two days after the police crackdown on Occupy Oakland. He allowed people to take his photo and quite a few people personally thanked him and shook his hand.

This is remarkable. It is against military regulations for active-duty troops to attend demonstrations in uniform, although standing in a park surrounded by dozens of tarps and tents in the middle of a cold rainy afternoon without a sign or banner in sight probably does not count.

During protests against the Afghan and/or Iraq wars, active-duty personnel who attended them made it a point not to appear in uniform because of these rules.

“I support this movement 100%,” he told me. He would have come down before today if he hadn’t been busy with National Guard training.

He was bothered by what he described as the government’s “imbalanced” approach to fiscal issues, namely huge tax cuts for the 1% while social services for the 99% had their funding slashed to the bone. Shelters for homeless teenagers faced cuts, and he feared what kind of trouble these kids would get into with nowhere to go and no one to turn to.

I asked him why he joined the military. He said he chose the National Guard so he could go to school part time.

When I asked him about the military’s health care benefits he chuckled and told me that he had to pay into the system known as Tricare.

He noted the irony of being forced to pay into the military’s health care system when it was his life and limb that would be at risk in a future military deployment. Meanwhile Congress had no problem voting themselves raises every year.

US marine sergeant Shamar Thomas showed us how a few weeks ago when he single-handedly shamed and stopped 30 cops with flex cuffs on their belts from arresting peaceful Occupy protesters at a huge Times Square demonstration.

A thinking soldier, a soldier with a conscience, is the 1%’s worst nightmare. If the rank and file of the US military become aware of the fact that they too are the 99%, they won’t have enough cops in the country to stop us.
[Pham Binh’s articles can be read at http://planetanarchy.net ]

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