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Amy Goodman: United States war veterans join Occupy movement


Democracy Now! November 2, 2011, report on the planned Oakland general strike. In New York City, members of Iraq Veterans Against the War are planning to march on November 2 in their military fatigues from Vietnam Veterans Plaza to Zuccotti Park, the heart of the Occupy Wall Street movement. "It’s clear that veterans are part of the 99 per cent. Veterans, when they leave the military, are much more likely to face unemployment and homelessness", says Jose Vasquez of Iraq Veterans Against the War. "Many people are forced to reenlist because they’re facing a tough economic situation." Vasquez says they are encouraging veterans across the country to join their local Occupy protests.

For more reports on the Occupy movement, click HERE.

By Amy Goodman

November 2, 2011 -- Democracy Now! -- 11-11-11 is not a variant of Herman Cain's much-touted 9-9-9 tax plan, but rather the date of this year's Veterans Day in the United States. This is especially relevant, as the US has now entered its second decade of war in Afghanistan, the longest war in the nation's history. US veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are appearing more and more on the frontlines -- the frontlines of the Occupy Wall Street protests, that is.

Video from the Occupy Oakland march on Tuesday, October 25, looks and sounds like a war zone. The sound of gunfire is nearly constant in the video. Tear-gas projectiles were being fired into the crowd when the cry of "Medic!" rang out. Civilians raced toward a fallen protester lying on his back on the pavement, mere steps from a throng of black-clad police in full riot gear, pointing guns as the civilians attempted to administer first aid.

The fallen protester was Scott Olsen, a 24-year-old former US Marine who had served two tours of duty in Iraq. The publicly available video shows Olsen standing calmly alongside a Navy veteran holding an upraised Veterans for Peace flag. Olsen was wearing a desert camouflage jacket and sun hat, and his Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) T-shirt. He was hit in the head by a police projectile, most likely a tear-gas canister, suffering a fractured skull. As the small group of people gathered around him to help, a police officer lobbed a flashbang grenade directly into the huddle, and it exploded.

Four or five people lifted Olsen and raced with him away from the police line. At the hospital, he was put into an induced coma to relieve brain swelling. He is now conscious but unable to speak. He communicates using a notepad.

I interviewed one of Olsen's friends, Aaron Hinde, also an Iraq War veteran. He was at Occupy San Francisco when he started getting a series of frenzied tweets about a veteran down in Oakland. Hinde raced to the hospital to see his friend. He later told me a little about him: "Scott came to San Francisco about three months ago from Wisconsin, where he actually participated in the holding of the State Capitol over there. Scott's probably one of the warmest, kindest guys I know. He's just one of those people who always has a smile on his face and never has anything negative to say... And he believed in the Occupy movement, because it's very obvious what's happening in this country, especially to us veterans. We've had our eyes opened by serving and going to war overseas. So, there's a small contingency of us out here, and we're all very motivated and dedicated."

As I was covering one of the Occupy Wall Street rallies in Times Square October 15, I saw Sargent Shamar Thomas become deeply upset. Police on horseback had moved in on protesters, only to be stopped by a horse that went down on its knees. Other officers had picked up metal barricades, squeezing the frightened crowd against steam pipes.Thomas was wearing his desert camouflage, his chest covered with medals from his combat tour in Iraq. He shouted at the police, denouncing their violent treatment of the protesters. Thomas later wrote of the incident: "There is an obvious problem in the country and PEACEFUL PEOPLE should be allowed to PROTEST without Brutality. I was involved in a RIOT in Rutbah, Iraq 2004 and we did NOT treat the Iraqi citizens like they are treating the unarmed civilians in our OWN Country."

A group calling itself Veterans of the 99 Percent has formed, and with the New York City Chapter of IVAW set November 2 as the day to march to Liberty Plaza to formally join and support the movement. Their announcement read: "'Veterans of the 99 Percent' hope to draw attention to the ways veterans have been impacted by the economic and social issues raised by Occupy Wall Street. They hope to help make veterans' and service members' participation in this movement more visible and deliberate."

When I stopped by Occupy Louisville in Kentucky last weekend, the first two people I met there were veterans. One of them, Gary James Johnson, told me: "I served in Iraq for about a year and a half. I joined the military because I thought it was my obligation to help protect this country... And right here, right now, this is another way I can help."

Pundits predict the cold weather will crush the Occupy movement. Ask any veteran of Afghanistan and Iraq about surviving outdoors in extreme weather. And consider the sign at Liberty Plaza, held by yet another veteran: "2nd time I've fought for my country. 1st time I've known my enemy."

[Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column. Amy Goodman is the host of Democracy Now!, a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 900 stations in North America. She is the author of Breaking the Sound Barrier, recently released in paperback and now a New York Times best-seller.]


Iraq Veterans Against the War march on November 2 in their military fatigues from Vietnam Veterans Plaza to Zuccotti Park, the heart of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

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Occupy Veterans Movement Growing Across U.S.

By Kristina Wong

October 31, 2011 -- ABC News (USA) -- Since Occupy Wall Street protests have broken out in cities across the U.S. and abroad, support has come from what might seem like an unlikely corner: war veterans.

But two of the highest-profile protesters -- each from opposite ends of the country -- had served in wars. Last week, the world watched as bleeding, dazed 24-year-old Marine Scott Olsen was carried away by fellow protesters after he was struck in the head by an object apparently fired by an Oakland police officer. And before that, Marine Sgt. Shamar Thomas was captured on video confronting a group of New York police officers he said had been too rough with protesters.

Both Thomas and Olsen have become rallying figures in the Occupy Wall Street movement -- not only among civilian protesters but among veterans whose participation in the protests has been growing, according to such veterans-turned-organizers as Paige Jenkins.

"For veterans especially, health care is paramount, yet is always on the table to be cut," Jenkins said in an interview with ABC News. "Vets in this movement don't want to fight anymore. We want to make peace and live peaceably. We shouldn't have to fight for our benefits, and if vets are fighting for their benefits then it can't be any better for nonvets.

"What do you think is going to happen in 2012 after everyone gets home from Iraq? No jobs, no benefits. This will not be a good scene," Jenkins continued. "I imagine the suicide rate will climb, and sadly, I think that some people in this country don't feel any responsibility for that."

Jenkins, who served from 1987 until 2002, first in the U.S. Navy and then in the California National Guard, said that some veterans were organizing to be "peacekeepers" and maintain "perimeter security."

"As vets, I think it is our job to protect our community through teachings of nonviolence and defensive measures like how to protect yourself from unprovoked police attacks," said Jenkins, who is currently studying military social work at the University of Southern California's Virtual Academic Center.

Another group that called itself OccupyMarines recently posted on its Facebook page advice about how to protest in winter weather. According to a Tweet by @Kruggurl, Occupy Marine Corps has offered protesters supplies for the winter.

"We are a collection of prior service Marines intent on protecting American citizens and their ability to exercise their First Amendment rights," a spokesperson for the group said.

"These riot squads deploy unlawful excessive force against Americans all service members swore to protect, and many veterans have sacrificed their lives in that honor. We at OMC will not stand idly by as these cowards continue to abuse the Constitution, hurting American citizens. We will use any nonviolent means to convince law enforcement agencies to understand that brutality will only strengthen our resolve," the spokesperson said, adding that the group acknowledged that not all Marines agreed with the group's position.

"As for Scott Olsen, we are outraged his life was nearly snuffed out by these cowards, and pray for his continued recovery and that of his family during this difficult time."

Olsen, who deployed twice to Iraq, is a member of the Veterans for Peace and Iraq Veterans Against the War. The Veterans for Peace issued a statement shortly after Olsen suffered his injuries.

"VFP members are involved with dozens of these local 'occupy movement' encampments, and we support them fully," it said.

On Sunday, Veterans for Common Sense, a Washington, D.C., veterans' advocacy group, issued a statement in support of Olsen.

"Veterans for Common Sense is troubled to learn that Iraq War veteran Scott Olsen was badly injured this week by police at the Occupy Oakland gathering. We wish him a speedy and full recovery. VCS supports the right of Veterans for Peace to exercise the freedoms they have defended with their service."

"I'm doing this because I believe it is the right thing to do," Jenkins said. "And if we lose at least I will feel good about having done my best to stand up for what I believe is in the best interest of current and future generations of not only my country but the world."

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