News: Veterans take up new ‘occupation’
Story by Cpl. Lisa Tourtelot
SAN DIEGO -- “You see people waving the flag, but you never see anyone waving the Constitution,” said Muhammed Abdullah, an Occupy San Diego protester and Marine Corps Persian Gulf War veteran.
Amid the boldly scrawled signs calling for change, Guy Fawkes masks and curious onlookers, camouflage uniform items and brightly-printed hats recalling military service dotted the scene at the San Diego Civic Center, Nov. 8.
Approximately 100 protesters gather outside the Civic Center every day, bearing signs addressing everything from legalizing marijuana to increasing taxes on large corporations.
Veterans and current service members have responded in large numbers to join the Occupy San Diego protest with various goals.
“In our enlistment oath, we swore to uphold the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” said Abdullah. “As veterans, we’re still under that enlistment oath.”
Abdullah explained that many of the veterans and service members participating in the protests can provide firsthand experience in dealing with government functioning and strategy and organization skills to strengthen the protest.
Army Pvt. James Lawrence, a food service specialist with a local reserve unit, explained that he came to City Hall more than one month ago to ask a question about permits. He claimed that police officers directed him to join the protesters based on his appearance, and he never left.
“I’m hoping to accomplish more rights for free speech,” said Lawrence, now that he is an active member of the protest. “I’ve never seen true free speech.”
Former Marine John Gray explained that he joined the military to help people and that is why he joined the downtown protests.
“There is a unique breed who go in the military,” said Michael Ponsler, a former Marine and Occupy San Diego protester. “They’re willing to stand up against oppression and obviously have a passion for fighting for democracy.”
Ponsler explained that he put his personal belongings in storage and moved out of his apartment to join Occupy San Diego after seeing news reports about violence at the Occupy Oakland protests.
“I want to see as many veterans as possible be part of healing a community,” said Ponsler. “I think it would be a big piece of their recovery from [Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder]. They see themselves bonding. It’s been empowering, moving, strengthening to be out here connecting with people. I feel like I’m part of a community again for the first time in years.”
Ponsler believes that more and more veterans will continue to join Occupy San Diego because it is an opportunity for positive change.
Though they have different goals and different reasons for entrenching themselves in the protest, the veterans there share a common background and common desire for change.