Richard Preston helped with the cleanup missions after the Vietnam War. He also was stationed in Germany and Pakistan, and served in the Gulf War. But for the past four weeks, the 53-year-old Army veteran has been at Justin Herman Plaza in San Francisco to stand with the national Occupy movement.
“I’m here because I have to be,” Preston said. “Both federal and state are messed up. They won’t even help their vets out. It’s not proper.”
Preston is one of a growing number of veterans occupying parks, plazas and financial districts nationwide to protest income disparities in the U.S. and the influence of big business on politics.
Though many veterans have joined the Occupy movement since it began Sept. 17 in New York City — it has since spread to hundreds of cities across the country — dozens more have come out to support Iraq War veteran Scott Olsen, who suffered a skull fracture following a confrontation with police in a demonstration Oct. 25 in Oakland.
Another Iraq vet, Kayvan Sabeghi, was hospitalized after Oakland police allegedly beat him up following the Nov. 2 general strike that also turned violent overnight.
Both Olsen and Sabeghi are recovering from their injuries.
Dottie Guy, a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War and a friend of Olsen, said though the violence against veterans in Oakland was wrong, it has made more people pay attention to the overall message of the movement and the need to boost services for veterans.
“It sucks it happened to [Olsen], but I’m glad people are waking up,” Guy said.
She said the entire movement also has empowered her.
“I feel like I’m defending the First Amendment of the Constitution,” Guy said. “I didn’t feel like it in Iraq, but here I’m defending the freedom to speak. It makes me feel alive.”
Preston, too, said what happened in Oakland was uncalled for.
To help veterans get involved, Dallas-based Occupy Veterans was formed. The group tries to connect veterans with their local Occupy movements to “bring motivation and organization to the Occupy camps … and work to correct the issues our veterans are facing in today’s society,” according to the group’s website.
Former Army Cpl. Nick Shaw is one of the veterans who could use the help. Shaw said he lost his house after his fiancée died last year because he couldn’t maintain it without the second income. He joined the Occupy SF movement nearly two months ago.
“All the money that was given to banks could have paid off all the mortgages,” Shaw said. “I fought for freedom. I gotta stay somewhere. I’m here for the right to occupy this earth.”