This week, Truthdig salutes Iraq War veteran Scott Olsen, who served his country abroad and at home within the Occupy Oakland movement, as our Truthdigger of the Week. At press time, Olsen was still recovering from injuries he suffered during a confrontation with Oakland police on Oct. 25, but his sacrifice—and the jarringly ironic circumstances of his injury—still reverberates among his fellow protesters. In fact, he has become an emblematic figure at the movement’s highly active West Coast epicenter.
Over the past 10 days, as Olsen convalesced, commemorative shrines popped up at the Oakland encampment, and movement members in other cities took up his story as both a cautionary tale and an inspiration. The 24-year-old Wisconsin native had come into his own politically after serving two tours with the U.S. Marines in Iraq, as his hometown friends told Reuters after his injury, and his nascent activist impulse led him to also participate in last year’s demonstrations against Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s attempt to deprive government workers of collective bargaining rights. Olsen’s tech savvy eventually took him to the Bay Area, where he linked up with the local chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War.
When he was struck down last month, reportedly by a projectile lobbed by a member of Oakland’s police force, Olsen was taking part in a march to push back against the closure of the main encampment. According to The Bay Citizen, he lay bleeding as riot police and emergency medical crews passively stood by, ultimately requiring marchers to haul him to Highland Hospital. Although Oakland’s interim Police Chief Howard Jordan visited Olsen on Oct. 29 to express the collective remorse of his precinct and confirm that law enforcement officials were investigating the incident, his case has grown into a cause for Occupiers as well as servicemen and -women whose experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as at home, have given rise to a similar political sensibility and an urge to speak out.
And it wasn’t lost on Olsen’s supporters that his speech center was affected by the injury to his head. As one member of Occupy Boston declared Thursday, “His skull was fractured, his brain swelled up, and he is no longer able to speak. So we are here to speak for him.”
Check out the footage of the confrontation between Oakland police and protesters, including Scott Olsen, on Oct. 25:
AP / Jay Finneburgh
Fellow protesters tend to Scott Olsen as he lies bleeding on the ground after suffering a head injury in Oakland, Calif.