An active-duty black National Guardsmen showed in uniform up in Liberty Plaza less than two days after Oakland police brutalized a U.S. marine Iraq war veteran in the crackdown on Occupy Oakland. He allowed people to take his photo and quite a few people made it a point to personally thank him and shake his hand.
This is remarkable. It is against military regulations for active-duty troops to attend demonstrations in uniform, although standing in a park surrounded by dozens of tarps and tents in the middle of a cold rainy afternoon without a sign or banner in sight probably does not count. During protests against the Afghan and/or Iraq wars, active-duty personnel who attended them made it a point not to appear in uniform because of these rules.
“I support this movement 100%,” he told me. He would have come down before today if he hadn’t been busy with National Guard training. He was bothered by what he described as the government’s “imbalanced” approach to fiscal issues, namely massive tax cuts for the 1% while social services for the 99% saw their funding slashed to the bone. Shelters for homeless teenagers faced cuts, and he feared what kind of trouble these kids would get into with nowhere to go and no one to turn to. As we spoke, a young Hispanic guy asked him if the military would help him get his G.E.D. (the equivalent of a high school diploma) and how the training was.
I asked the Guardsman why he joined the military. He said he chose the National Guard so that he could go to school part time (he committed to six years of part-time duty so that he could attend school at the same time). When I asked him about the military’s health care benefits he chuckled and told me that he had to pay into the system known as Tricare. He noted the irony of being forced to pay into the military’s health care system when it was his life and limb that would be at risk in a future military deployment, meanwhile Congress had no problem voting to give themselves raises every year.
British activist Richard Seymour reacted to the crackdown in Oakland by asking, “How can you uphold your right to protest when that right is gainsayed by tear gas, rubber bullets, and bean bag rounds?”
U.S. Marine sergeant Shamar Thomas showed us how a few weeks ago when he single-handedly shamed and stopped 30 cops with flex cuffs on their belts from arresting peaceful Occupy protesters at a massive Times Square demonstration.
A thinking soldier, a soldier with a conscience is the 1%’s worst nightmare. If the rank and file of the U.S. military become aware of the fact that they too are the 99%, they won’t have enough cops in the country to stop us.
Pham Binh’s articles have been published by Asia Times Online, Znet, Counterpunch, and The Indypendent. All of his writings on Occupy Wall Street and other topics can be found at www.planetanarchy.net.