As protesters trickled out of the Port of Oakland Wednesday night, after Occupy Oakland demonstrations shut down business at the port, scores of them filed into a retrofitted former AC Transit bus that was giving free rides back to the encampments in downtown Oakland.
“Free rides for the 99 percent … Say hi to your bus driver, John, on your way in,” a man shouted from a megaphone, as he directed protesters to the bus.
The bus’ décor was groovy: shag carpet, polka dots and black stripes painted across the wall, comfy foam sofas in place of stiff bus seats, and lights dangling from the ceilings, fastened with fake cloth flowers.
The protesters were celebratory but tired. But mood picked up quickly when a man stood up and made an announcement that there was a special guest on board who was too humble to address the jam-packed bus.
That special guest: Sgt. Jay Gentile, the former marine whose “Brother” photograph went viral after Cpl. Scott Olsen was severely injured by a projectile when the Oct. 25 Occupy Oakland protests turned violent.
The 29-year-old from Salem, New Jersey posted a picture on Reddit.com of himself, teary-eyed, holding a photograph of Olsen injured from the impact of the projectile and a piece of paper that read, “You did this to my brother.”
Two days later, Gentile, who served two tours in Iraq, posted a letter on the website addressed “My Dearest Occupants,” in which he encouraged demonstrators to protest peacefully and respect the police force.
“Stand your ground, and stand it firmly, but do not turn to violence,” he wrote in the letter. “For every violent act, hurled object, insult, or generalization that is lobbed in one direction or the other, another brick is stacked on the wall that currently separates us.”
Gentile doesn’t know Olsen personally, but he said on RT, a Russian news program, that all Marines regard each other as brothers and sisters.
“I may not personally know Corporal Olsen, but I know his story. I know what he had to eat when he went to Iraq. I know what his walk to work was like. And I know how it feels to have rockets and mortars flying at you, just like Corporal Olsen does.”
Gentile, who sat crossed-legged on the floor the entire ride, flew in from New Jersey to Oakland to be a part of Wednesday’s general strike.
Asked to say a few words, Gentile looked around the bus and said: “I know I’m not a wordsmith…This [Oakland] is the hub of something huge that’s going on right now. Thank you for letting me be a part of this.”
Hasan Dudar is a reporter for Richmond Confidential, a sister publication of Oakland North.
You can see Oakland North’s complete coverage of Occupy Oakland here.