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Tristan Anderson and Scott Olsen Anti-War Panel, Oakland: audio & photos
Tristan Anderson is an activist and Indybay journalist who was critically injured in the West Bank village of Ni'lin in 2009 when he was shot in the head with a high-velocity tear gas canister by Israeli forces. Scott Olsen is an Iraq War vet, now a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War and Veterans for Peace, who suffered a traumatic brain injury during an Occupy Oakland march on October 25th, 2011, when Oakland police fired a bean bag round into his head at close range. Although Scott regularly participates in local social justice demonstrations, he infrequently speaks in a formalized setting. Tristan too attends numerous political events, but public speaking events for him are even more rare. On September 23rd, though, an anti-war panel and film screening were held at The Holdout, featuring both Scott and Tristan. Before the panel began, a forty-minute condensed version of the film "Occupation Has No Future: Militarism + Resistance in Israel/Palestine" was screened. The full line-up of panelists and speakers included David Zutnick, documentary filmmaker; Gabby Silverman, activist and Tristan's partner; Paul Larudee, International Solidarity Movement and the Free Gaza Movement; and Clare Bayard, Catalyst Project and War Resisters League (full audio below).
[Pictured above: Tristan brings one of several moments of levity to the evening. Panelists from left to right, Tristan Anderson, Gabby Silverman, Paul Larudee, Scott Olsen, and Clare Bayard.]
Long-time environmental activist Air begins the evening with a call-out to support The Holdout and introduces Autumn. Autumn, Holdout collective member and volunteer, explains the various projects of The Holdout and invites those in attendance to make use of the social center for other events in the future.
David Zutnick, "Occupation Has No Future" filmmaker, speaks about the Dialogues Against Militarism (DAM) and IVAW delegation to Israel and Palestine he documented. DAM was initiated by a Courage to Resist activist in solidarity with young Israelis who were refusing to participate in Israel Defense Forces' conscription in protest of the occupation of the Palestinian territories.
"Occupation Has No Future" is screened and then Air introduces the panelists, initiating the conversation by asking what led each of them to either participate in foreign occupations and/or to work in solidarity with those resisting occupation.
Clare Bayard, a member of the DAM delegation, asks for a moment of silence to honor Palestinians killed by U.S. munitions and those in the U.S. killed by police. Clare describes the work of the IVAW which encourages a withdrawal of consent for U.S. wars, active duty service members and veterans attempting to break the normalization of U.S. wars. She speaks of the close working relationships of Israeli activists and Palestinians resisting the occupation and colonization of Palestine, as well of the importance of American citizens demanding an end to the U.S. government's support for the occupation.
Scott Olsen starts by talking about the IVAW as post-911 veterans fighting against U.S. wars, for full benefits for veterans, and reparations for the victims of U.S. wars. He explains his motivations for joining the U.S. marines as being like those of many others who have enlisted, wanting to be a part of something bigger than himself and to make a difference for Iraqi civilians. Scott acknowledges "believing the lie" for about a year and a half until he came to see that the U.S. military was not there to make things better for people. Some of his main tasks included searching for bombs and helping to open an oil refinery. He speaks about how it took time to accept the realization that he had been taken for a fool and was doing someone else's dirty work. That awakening led him toward the activism he is involved in today.
Paul Larudee opens by stating that he, along with everyone in the room, is an occupier living on occupied land and that it has been going on a long time. Paul says that he personally has been working on Palestine as his focus since about 1965. He adds a fact to what is covered in the film screened, that in December 2011 the mayor of Jerusalem signed a document effectively making the 70,000 Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem non-citizens. He says that discussions of occupation and colonization can be taken one step further, that what's happening in Palestine is ethnic cleansing or genocide. He points to the majority of Palestinians not living in Palestine and not being allowed to go there. Paul himself has been banned from traveling to Palestine due to his solidarity activism.
Gabby Silverman speaks about traveling to Palestine with Tristan in 2009. After being shot, Tristan was in an Israeli hospital for 15 months. She says the number one question she got from hospital workers who dared to broach the subject, as well as from family and non-activists stateside, was, "What were you doing there?!?" Gabby calls that a red flag question as it implies that it is better not to look, not to know. She declares that it is not better and the reality has to be confronted. She says that more people need to go and see for themselves. U.S. foreign policy through support of Israel claims many victims. She tells how Tristan was shot while resting after a peaceful demonstration in Ni'lin and that no one in the IDF has taken responsibility for the shooting, although they suspect it was a Sergeant Jackie. She notes that incidents like that happen all the time when the Israeli government creates a space for bullies with assault rifles. Tristan's shooting garnered far more attention than the killing of Bassem Abu-Rahmah in a similar manner in Bil'in one month later in 2009 because Bassem was Palestinian. Air adds that Tristan and his family are currently suing the Israeli military. Trial dates are set for February and March 2013, and there will likely be related solidarity events in the Bay Area in January. Air notes that they approach the trial realistically with the recognition that Rachel Corrie's family recent lost their case in Israeli court (see http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2012/08/28/18720443.php, http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2003/03/18/15845871.php, and http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2003/03/17/15838231.php).
Tristan Anderson was asked by close friend Air about why he traveled to South America, Europe, Iraq, and Palestine to be on the front lines of the global justice movement. Tristan speaks about being raised with his adopted sister from Korea having raised his political awareness. He learned about the massive force used in the Korean war and was inspired to travel. Tristan was asked about being to Oaxaca and knowing Indymedia journalist Brad Will who was killed there in 2006. Before that, he says he started his travels abroad by going to England, because "they speak a very similar language" even if it's hard to understand at times, drawing laughter from the crowd. Having been to the UK, he knew he wanted to travel to places "more interesting than this." He went to Honduras with a group bringing humanitarian aid to El Salvador war refugees. He made a lot of friends in El Salvador and during the 1990s returned for a few months every year. From that point on, he knew he could go anywhere.
The panel then takes questions from the audience for just over forty-five minutes, most of which went to Scott and Tristan.
Scott, Tristan, and Gabby are asked about how it feels to be in the streets of Oakland after having been in Iraq and Palestine. Scott says it's different but October 25th, 2012, and a few other days have felt like combat zones. Gabby notes that less-than-lethal weapons can no longer be called non-lethal weapons. She says she's seen people all over the world throw tear gas cans back at police. She talks about police and soldiers who are uncomfortable at demonstrations but there are others that "check out" and just follow orders. Gabby believes staying out there is important and headway has been made.
Scott is asked about police in Oakland that don't do bad things but are still a part of the "good 'ol boy" network and how that compares with being in the military. He answers that there is a similar code of silence for the sake of the safety of one's self and other soldiers.
Another audience member uses the examples of environmental activist Judy Bari, who had a bomb planted under the seat of her car, and Brian Wilson, who lost his legs during an anti-war protest in Concord, California in 1987, to commend both Scott and Tristan for coming back after their severe injuries and continuing to fight for justice.
A local teacher asks what Scott he would tell high school students who might consider joining the military as their only option after graduation. He suggests that they speak with as many veterans as they can find and try to get at the full story about military service. Scott says military recruiters will only give the students one side of the story.
This reporter follows up on a previous interview with Scott by asking what his plans might be for demanding accountability for being shot on October 25th now that OPD was revealed in the Frazier report to have closed their investigation on the matter despite the fact officers failed to file any reports on who was issued bean bag rounds that night and denied even seeing Scott Olsen hit the ground after being shot and that Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley's office has given no indication of intentions to hold anyone in the department legally responsible. Scott says that getting justice is a long shot because there is no integrity in OPD or in city leaders. Somebody within OPD knows who shot him that night, fellow officers and probably commanders. Scott says as a last resort he intends to file a civil lawsuit but that it shouldn't have to happen that way. (Since this panel, Oakland police chief Howard Jordan announced on October 12th, 2012, that he intended to pursue disciplinary action against 44 unnamed officers for Occupy Oakland related offenses, including firing two, that it was indeed an Oakland officer who shot Scott Olsen, and that there is an open criminal investigation of the known shooter.)
Air adds that Gabby has remained diligent and was able to find previously unknown video of an IDF officer holding the tear gas weapon that shot Tristan just minutes earlier, which has been a big break in the case, enough to cause the trial to have been delayed.
Another questioner reminds those in attendance that pursuing civil cases might be discouraging but Judy Bari, posthumously at least, and Darryl Cherney won their case against the FBI for millions of dollars. If Tristan and Scott do succeed in using that platform, they are asked what would be their focus in the future moving forward. Scott says he will likely always be involved in anti-war, as well as police brutality, activism. Gabby adds that she can think of better ways to become rich and famous, that there is an awkwardness to civil suits when one believes in prison abolition, that the problems go beyond one shooter, and protesters tend to do more time than abusive police and military officers. She adds that the movement's real power is not in the courts but in the streets.
To all of the panelists it is asked in what direction would they like to see the movement go in order to be most effective. Scott says that everyone is already doing the best they can, but suggests staying creative when people get tired of marches. Paul says there is a victory taking place now -- 23 people were subpoenaed to a grand jury in the midwest but refused to show up. Groups of people can make a difference. Individuals can make a difference, such as when Paul himself jumped from a ship in the Mediterranean which tied up two Israeli ships for hours. People can make a lot more trouble than they are, he says. Clare mentions a solidarity action in San Francisco for one of those targeted in the midwest raids whose property is still being held by authorities. The raids targeted mostly Palestinians, Arabs, and those involved in the Palestinian solidarity movement.
Support is requested for Leah-Lynn Plante, Matt Duran, and Katherine “Kteeo” Olejnik, all three currently being jailed for refusing to cooperate with the grand jury in Seattle. More information can be found at http://nopoliticalrepression.wordpress.com.
One audience member says that police have told here they support the goats of Occupy and she asks how people can best intervene with police and the military to bring them over. Scott says that it's hard because being in the military is a job they depend on so they can't just quit. Gabby says that military personnel do refuse orders sometimes around the world, unwilling to fire on their own people. She suggests that the state of the economy makes police less likely to risk leaving their jobs. Clare says to send people the IVAW.org website to familiarize themselves with the Operation Recovery campaign, which connects with soldiers on their own suffering as a result of having served, and going to the GI Rights Hotline website, getting information cards, and handing them out. Many people in the military are not aware of their rights.
Gabby and Tristan are asked if they think Tristan was targeted deliberately. Gabby says that Tristan was making photographs when he was shot and that they may never know. New facts may come out in the trial, though. Was the officer going for the "kill shot" or was he just trying to mess with them? Given that the Israeli military is actively protecting the soldier who shot Tristan and that written testimony submitted by soldiers thus far is verbatim identical, word for word, paragraph after paragraph, Gabby is skeptical that they will learn anything substantial. Nevertheless, the trial will go forward and Gabby intend to be there all winter. Air thinks the fact that Tristan had a camera may have made him a target, not necessarily because he was posting them to Indybay, but because the soldier felt an offense at a foreigner making photos of the situation in the West Bank. Gabby adds that soldiers tried to smash her camera at a checkpoint when they were leaving after Tristan was shot. She had to sneak her memory card out with photos of the immediate aftermath of the shooting because photos can be very powerful.
A speaker says that the attacks on Tristan and Scott were intended to make other activists give up, but in the case of Brian Wilson, who was run over by the train in at the Concord Naval Weapons Station, activists persevered afterwards by blocking every train and truck for 28 months, enduring thousands of arrests. He says a San Francisco police officer once told him that 80% of them support the cause. He asks how more can be brought to the side of the social justice movement. Paul responds by talking about a friend who worked for Raytheon who quit his job rather than continue to work for the military contractor, so he questions why if 80% of SFPD supports the cause don't more of them quit their jobs. One thought is that a declining economy suits those in power because people are more desperate for work. Scott speaks to a disassociation that occurs with soldiers, but says that appealing to their guilt might help. Air says that cops might be worried about ending up on the wrong side and may switch as they have in Syria and other places. Clare brings it back to supporting groups like the IVAW who reach out to National Guard units about to be deployed against U.S. citizens at events like the Chicago NATO summit, asking them not to fire on demonstrators who have their interests in mind, many of whom will be veterans.
The final audience question addresses suicide amongst the ranks of the military, what would soldiers who have killed themselves say about having killed others in war. Gabby says the active military, vets, and police have high rates of suicide, alcoholism, and domestic abuse. One person suggests that rather than killing themselves, they should join Veterans for Peace. David Zutnick adds that the number one cause of death in the IDF is suicide, so it's not just an American military issue.
Air closes out the evening by thanking those who provided the large amount of food for the event, soliciting donations for The Holdout, and asking Tristan how his life has changed since the shooting and what lessons would he want to leave people with as an international solidarity activist. Tristan says that is a big question. He describes his skull being shattered which damaged the right frontal lobe of his brain so the he can no longer control the left side of his body. Besides not being unable to walk any longer, Tristan says that he was proud of being left-handed throughout his life but now cannot move his left arm or hand. As for being an international solidarity activist, Tristan says he had made great connections around the world and would do it all over again if he had the choice.
Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW)
Veterans for Peace
International Solidarity Movement (ISM)
Scott Olsen / Tristan Anderson Anti-War Panel, Film, Feast event announcement
For background information, see:
Interview with Scott Olsen About His Injury from the Police Attack on Occupy Oakland: video
Battle for Occupy Oakland Begins with Police Raid; Occupiers Up Ante with General Strike
Oakland Occupiers Defiant After Police Raid, Mass Arrests, and Tear Gas/Projectile Attacks
Occupation Has No Future: Militarism + Resistance in Israel/Palestine
Bay Area Filmmaker Premieres New Palestine Documentary with Dialogues Against Militarism
Tristan Anderson Critically Injured After Demonstration Against Israeli Wall
Oakland CA Resident Tristan Anderson Critically Injured by IDF Tear Gas Canister in Ni'lin
The time during which the documentary was screened, just after David Zutnick spoke, is indicated by a short bit of music from the end titles.