by Randolph T. Holhut
November 3, 2011
WE ARE ALL SCOTT OLSEN
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Now we've entered the stage of the Occupy Wall Street movement where things are starting to get dangerous for the brave American who insists upon exercising his or her First Amendment right to peaceably assemble to seek social change.
We've seen mass arrests and the forcible dismantling of encampments in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Denver, and other cities around the country.
There have been some positive stories, however. In Albany, N.Y., Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered the encampment there dismantled, and the mayor and the police refused to do it. And a forced dismantling of the Zuccotti Park encampment in New York City was narrowly avoided after Mayor Michael Bloomberg backed down.
But then there was Oakland, Calif., and the sight of a 24-year-old war veteran, a Marine with two combat tours in Iraq, getting his skull fractured by a tear gas canister on Oct. 25. during what could charitably described as a police riot.
Scott Olsen survived the Iraq War without a scratch, only to be seriously wounded while exercising his right to free speech and free assembly by cops firing rubber bullets and tear gas against unarmed protesters.
According to John Nichols of The Nation, Olsen, who was working as a systems administrator for a software firm, had joined the Oakland protests with fellow members of Iraq Veterans Against the War, an advocacy group that has long sought to draw attention to issues of homelessness and unemployment among American veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Keith Shannon, who deployed with Olsen to Iraq, told Nichols that "Scott was marching with the 99 percent because he felt 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."
For doing that, Olsen got his skull caved in.
That's why it can be dangerous to stand up for your rights in America. If standing up for your constitutionally guaranteed right to dissent means you will face pepper spray, a club to your kneecaps and a few nights in jail, you're not likely to go out and exercise those rights.
That's by design. People in power do not like to be challenged for any reason. Fear of bodily harm is a good way to keep people quiet, at least in the short term.
But in the long run, it usually fails.
Olsen is slowly recovering, but some have called his wounding a "Kent State" moment for the Occupy movement. It's not quite as shocking as the massacre of four college students by the Ohio National Guard in Ohio in 1970, but the Olsen shooting inspired vigils and protests around the world from anti-globalization protesters who support the goals of their U.S. counterparts. The whole world truly is watching now.
The only way the Occupy movement will succeed is through non-violence. Indeed, it already has. Every time that police use extreme tactics against protesters, the movement grows a little stronger. Every cellphone video and photo that gets flashed around the world by witnesses to the brutality strengthens the arguments of the Occupy movement.
Violence is the last refuge of the powerful when they know they are losing. But in the space of seven weeks, the Occupy movement has gone from a curiosity mostly ignored by the media to something that has captured the attention of millions of Americans who sense that our nation's political, economic and social systems no longer work, but never had a way to articulate those feelings until now.
The people who have benefitted from more than 30 years of policies designed to enrich the 1 percent at the expense of the 99 percent are getting nervous, now that more and more Americans are becoming aware of what has happened to them.
This is the moment when violence and repression seem almost inevitable. If that is the only way that the elites can respond to the Occupy protesters, that's a very good sign that the protesters are winning, and there will be more, not fewer people, out in the streets.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at email@example.com.