Jerry Bordeleau, 24, center, from New York, an Army veteran who served in Iraq, speaks to protesters and supporters of the Occupy Wall Street movement at Zuccotti Park on Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2011. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
As a US Marine, Scott Olsen lived through “blood, sweat and tears.” Twice. After two tours of duty in Iraq, first from 2006 to 2007, then again from 2008 to 2009, he finally came home to Wisconsin. He then moved to the Golden State, rented a house with a friend and got a job as a systems network administrator in Daly City, just south of San Francisco.
But on the night of October 25, Olsen, who had survived enemy fire as a member of the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine regiment in Iraq, was hit by a projectile shot by a law enforcement officer as he joined a few hundred people protesting with Occupy Oakland that night. He was hospitalized for a skull fracture and brain swelling.
According to Olsen’s roommate, Keith Shannon, who was deployed in Iraq with him, Olsen was marching with the Occupy movement because he felt that “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.”
Veterans have long been involved in American social movements and protests—particularly anti-war ones. Take, for example, the protests, demonstrations and acts of civil disobedience organized, in the early 1970s, by the Vietnam Veterans Against the War. But veterans’ involvement in the Occupy movement went largely unnoticed by organizers and protesters alike until October 15, when a video of Marine Sergeant Shamar Thomas went viral on the web. In the video, Thomas spontaneously addresses NYPD officers patrolling an Occupy Wall Street demonstration, passionately criticizing their crowd-control methods and brutality.
Since then, the visibility of veterans and veteran organizations at Occupy events around the country has grown, becoming more persistent and evident to both protesters and organizers. After witnessing the police brutality in New York earlier this month, a group of veterans calling themselves Occupy Marines pledged its support to the Occupy Wall Street movement. “As veterans we were led to believe [that] our service was to protect America’s way of life abroad,” a spokesperson of the organization explains, “We did not want to believe that our presence in the Middle East was to ensure an oil supply, or to deepen the pockets of the financial elites. Many…lost their life out there, and the suggestion that their sacrifice was for profits, or oil, is unbearable. [That is why] we came forward to protect these demonstrators’ ability to express their constitutional First Amendment right.”
Similarly, other organizations such as Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) and Veterans for Peace (VFP) have been supporting the movement by occupying Zuccotti Park.
“Joining the protest is the opportunity to show visible support for what probably is the most important American social movement of this generation,” says Joseph Carter, a media spokesperson for IVAW who has taken part in the protest at Freedom Plaza.
It is not difficult to see why veterans are particularly suited to align themselves with the Occupy movement. While the financial crisis has affected the vast majority of Americans, veterans have been particularly burdened. Foreclosure rates in military towns, for example, were growing at four times the national average in early 2008, as military families were particularly targeted by subprime mortgages’ lenders.