Occupy Veterans Movement Growing Across U.S.

Coast to coast, war veterans the newest force in Occupy Wall Street protests.

ByKRISTINA WONG (@kristina_wong)
October 31, 2011, 3:23 AM

Oct. 31, 2011 -- 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 Occupy Marines Corps recently posted on its Facebook page advice about how to protest in winter weather. According to a Tweet by @Kruggurl, the organization 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."

Last Thursday, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, a prominent, nonpartisan veterans advocacy group, called for a full and complete investigation into Olsen's injuries.

"The injury of any veteran is a serious concern to the broader veterans community -- especially when it happens on American soil. Scott Olsen and his family are in our thoughts and prayers, and we hope for his speedy recovery," the statement said.

While not every veteran in support of Olsen necessarily supports the Occupy Wall Street movement, those like Olsen and Thomas are participating because they believe in the cause.

"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."