Marine Scott Olsen made it through two tours in Iraq without an injury.
But back home in the United States, while making a transition to civilian life, he was critically wounded on Oct. 25 by police in riot gear as he and other unarmed citizens participated in the non-violent Occupy Oakland protest.
Four-hundred officers mobilized from 17 jurisdictions around Oakland to repel the protesters under the premise that their assembly was unsanitary and a public nuisance.
Olsen, 24, had his skull fractured by a police projectile (rubber bullet), resulting in traumatic brain swelling. He apparently sustained the most serious injury among occupiers nationwide and is at risk for brain damage.
Olsen’s roommate and buddy Keith Shannon, who served with him in Iraq, rushed to Highland Hospital, as did other vets and friends, to begin a 24-hour watch and vigil for the downed Marine.
The hospital described Olsen as being in “serious but stable” condition. He apparently had been unable to say his surname and was sedated on a respirator. “They are waiting for a neurosurgeon to examine him to see if he needs surgery,” Shannon explained.
But why was the former soldier at #OccupyOakland in the first place?
“He doesn’t agree with the way the banks aren’t regulated, the way they drove the economy in(to) the ground,” Shannon added. Olsen apparently wants people who think that they are above the law—like bankers—to be brought to justice for their crimes.
Riot police initiated an unprovoked attack that led to some 200 arrests of members of a determined, focused but restrained crowd. The estimated cost of the overwhelming force using shock and awe tactics has been between $1 and $2 million dollars.
But in spite of the threat of state violence, some protestors were undeterred, walking straight from jail back to the occupation, defiantly chanting, “We’re Still Here.”
Exercising the Constitutional right to assembly
Over 1,000 demonstrators took to Oakland streets the day after the violent attack. Rather than being intimidated by the police brutality, protestors responded by exercising their constitutional right of assembly.
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Chanting “Whose Park? Our Park!,” demonstrators tore down a police fence last night.
The vets and their allies won a major victory late Wednesday evening, when Oakland Mayor Jean Quan announced that #OccupyOakland legally can return to the plaza in front of City Hall, which is where they in fact already were. This was an abrupt reversal in response to the significant pressure she was receiving from members of her team and the public. Some predict that, having authorized the use of excessive force against a popular movement, Quan will not be able to hold on to her office.
One of Occupy Wall Street’s first major victories was when New York City’s mayor, billionaire Michael Bloomberg, declared that he would clear the park of the occupation. Under pressure he reversed that decision before trying to implement it and the occupation has continued.
Oakland Mayor Quan authorized something that even a large police force with officers from as far as 70 miles away could not accomplish. The Occupy movement now has major coast-to-coast victories that will embolden its determination to stand its ground; this will swell its ranks.
If the movement is able to remain non-violent–even in the face of police violence–it will be more likely to achieve its objectives. Police informants have been alleged by some occupiers to be appearing.
Violence is the instrument of the state
Some consider the Oakland attack to be a practice drill for things to come.
The mayors of at least two other large California cities, San Francisco and Los Angeles, have threatened similar evictions of occupiers.
But in New York a group of police refused to move against protestors and Occupy Wall Street is chanting “Oakland is New York” in solidarity. Chants such as “Occupy America” and “Occupy Together” can be heard around the US.
Various videos documenting the assault on Olsen have been posted on YouTube.
One video reveals that Olsen was hit in the head at close range, which violates standard police policies. In the video we see demonstrators rush to Olsen’s aid, crouching around his body. Just then an Oakland cop lobs a second canister directly at the assembled group at very close range.
Wearing his Marine jacket, Olsen is seen being carried through tear-gas smoke to the sounds of shrieking people. The footage reveals that the explosion that downed Olsen came from a flash bang grenade, which the police deny they used. At a press conference they say they only used tear gas and baton rounds. See the video here.
The injury to Olsen is a shot being heard around the world, like the Kent State murders during the Vietnam War, though so far less deadly. Occupiers and supporters are calling for the prosecution of the police responsible for this brutality, which could impede future police violence.
Thus far, the Obama Administration, which was vocal in support of peaceable assembly among those in Arab countries earlier this year, has not denounced the Oakland brutality, nor has it argued in favor of the First Amendment right to assembly among Americans in the #Occupy movement.
Iraq Veterans Against the War, of which Olsen is a member, writes that he
…is one of many veterans who have returned home and gotten involved in the Occupy protests taking place in hundreds of cities around the nation. Veterans like Scott recognize that they are part of the 99% who face uncertain economic futures, including few job prospects and rising tuition costs. Rates of homelessness and unemployment are higher for veterans than for their civilian counterparts.
What “spread of Democracy” has America been arguing for all these years if we can’t have it at home?
“I’m absolutely devastated that someone who did two tours of Iraq and came home safely is now lying in a US hospital because of the domestic police force,” Olsen’s friend Adele Carpenter told the UK’s Guardian.
Olsen served in Iraq in 2006 and 2007 with the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines and left the military in 2010. It’s tragically ironic that Olsen’s injury was sustained in the streets of Oakland, which the police transformed into a war zone.
This incident disproves lies told by the corporate media, FOX in particular, who demonize the diverse members of the Occupy movement with words like “stinky hippies” “losers” and “drug trafficking potheads.”
In the four times that I’ve been at Occupy Santa Rosa, I’ve seen numerous Veterans for Peace, professors, physicians, families, and many students and others who do not fit the demeaning stereotypes. Diversity is the signature of this movement for the 99% against the 1% who rule the United States.
A quick glance at social media sites, blogs, and other non-traditional media bear out the reality that a good portion of middle America is deeply concerned with the direction of the country and are engaged with the issues about banking malfeasance and government collusion raised in the #Occupy movement.
A vigil for Olsen
Olsen’s parents have rushed from Wisconsin to be at his side.
His friend Dottie Guy, also an Iraq War vet, is one of those maintaining an overnight vigil at the hospital. “He always had a smile on his face,” she said. Others have described him as a “peaceful man with an angelic face.”
The attack on Olsen and many others has been met by the resolve of the Occupy movement to intensify its struggle. Oakland’s historic Ella Baker Center for Human Rights sent out an email telling the story of another person, Pete, 31, also wounded that night. His response:
I can’t believe Oakland would take that level of aggression against people doing nothing threatening. I still can’t believe it. But I will go back. This is our city. I love Oakland, and I am going to fight to protect our freedoms.
Demonstrators agree, saying, “We’re not leaving.”
Vets, citizens, Americans under fire
Here in Sonoma County, where I live, an hour from Oakland by car, Occupy Santa Rosa, which began on Oct. 15, continues to have a daily presence outside City Hall. Police and occupiers have collaborated to keep the occupation legal and peaceful. In fact, the occupiers called on police recently to clear the area of transients passing through while intoxicated and stealing things.
I stopped the car.
Images flashed through my mind of how important vets were to stopping the war of my generation—Vietnam. We had injuries and losses in that struggle, but we were successful in finally pulling the US out of Vietnam.
Now we have another task here in the 21st century–vets and others working together for a government “by the people, for the people, and of the people.” It’s time to take back America from the plutocrats and their Washington cronies and henchmen who have divorced the country from accountability to the people.
Vets have been trained to work together in teams and to help each other survive. The police in Oakland made a serious mistake by hitting Olsen. It has fired up the large vet community even more, which has been responding to the wounding of one of their own and rallying to his support.
Every day more vets are coming home from wars overseas. Most of them developed doubts about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now they need to make transitions to civilian life at a time of growing unemployment and homelessness, two of the major issues of the growing Occupy movement.
Vets do not like to hear that a member of the military family who survived war is assaulted at home for exercising his democratic rights, freedoms, and liberties. Isn’t that what we’ve been trained to fight for?
How will America come to terms with the gaping contradiction the Olsen Assault exposes?
Peaceful assembly and the right to petition
The Occupy movement brings hope, enthusiasm, determination, anger, joy, and the possibility of a better world. But we should expect the 1% and their managers, including President Obama, to react, in various ways, to this Second American Revolution.
The Occupy movement did an accurate analysis and targeted Wall Street and its relationship to Washington, and therefore to policy that affects the entire nation and every citizen in it.
But the Occupy movement is beyond merely political action or social action. It is cultural action that seeks a change in consciousness and deeper change, a process that takes time. Its tools include conversation and dialogue among the many—rather than the rarefied and privileged few—which has the possibility of altering history.
We’re still at the beginning of this movement, rather than the end that the state violence tries to provoke. The Oakland police are likely to be defeated, as was the all-powerful US military in Vietnam, and now in Iraq and Afghanistan.
It’s one thing to talk about democracy, to tout it with pride around the world as does Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on behalf of citizens in other nations. It’s one thing to use democracy as a point of nostalgic patriotism as President Barack Obama and his GOP opponents do so freely in debates and on the campaign trail.
It’s another thing to practice democracy directly, as the growing Occupation movement does on a daily basis.