OAKLAND (Reuters) - U.S. Marine veteran Scott Olsen, who became a face of the Occupy movement after he was badly wounded in an October demonstration, joined marchers in Oakland on Monday for the first time since he was injured.
Wearing a neck brace, the Iraq War veteran led more than 1,000 demonstrators from downtown Oakland to the city’s port as part of marches intended to bring cargo traffic to a halt there and across the West Coast.
“Hi Occupy Oakland. It’s a great day to be out here for my first event,” Olsen told a cheering throng in Frank Ogawa Plaza, site of the movement’s former tent camp. “I look forward to marching with you and joining you once again.”
Olsen, 24, was struck in the head by a projectile during a late-October rally through the city’s streets in an incident that gave fresh impetus to anti-Wall Street protests nationwide.
Olsen told the crowd on Monday that he appreciated their positive energy, adding: “Stay peaceful, stay safe, let’s do some real action today.”
Occupy Oakland organizers say Olsen was struck in the head by a tear gas canister fired by police. Interim Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan has opened an investigation into the circumstances surrounding Olsen’s injury but police and city officials have not said how they believe the veteran was hurt.
Olsen, wearing star-spangled pants, spoke haltingly in a separate brief interview with Reuters, saying that he still suffered pain in his neck and has spent time in rehabilitation since his release from the hospital.
“It feels good to be out here,” Olsen said. “All of us are on the march and we are ready to go.”
Asked about plans beyond Monday, Olsen said: “Keep getting better and keep spreading the truth.” He said he had not decided whether to pursue legal action against the city.
Roughly 1,000 activists took part in the Oakland marches on Monday, the biggest protests on the West Coast.
Tractor-trailers en route into the facility, the nation’s fifth busiest container port by volume, were prevented from entering at least two terminals where protesters formed picket lines in front of police.
Olsen served two tours in Iraq, working as a technician and earning a handful of service medals. But friends say he soured on military life after his discharge and started a now-defunct website called ”I hate the Marine Corps.
Olsen received an “administrative discharge” from the Marines in late 2009, his uncle has said, though the precise reasons for it have not been confirmed. Such a discharge can result from any number of behavioral or disciplinary issues.
On Monday, Olsen was smiling. “It’s good to be back,” he said.
Additional reporting by Emmett Berg in Oakland and Mary Slosson in Los Angeles; Writing by Mary Slosson. Editing by Cynthia Johnston