By Peter Henderson
OAKLAND, California (Reuters) - A former soldier wounded in a protest on the streets of Oakland after surviving two tours in Iraq has put a new face on the 'Occupy' movement by galvanizing veteran backing for the push against economic inequality in the United States.
Former Marine Scott Olsen, 24, was sent to the hospital in critical condition after a clash on Tuesday night with police, which authorities blamed on provocation by protesters. Demonstrators have rejected blame.
A video of the bloodied young man being carried to safety by other protesters has eclipsed images of dirty tent camps and people dressed in costume that have dominated national coverage of the occupy demonstrations.
"A lot of people are now doing this for Scott," said Claire Chadwick, who works in nearby Berkeley. She was at the Tuesday demonstration and said she was the first to aid Olsen after a projectile hit him.
"I moved here a month and a half ago from Dayton, Ohio. I'm only 20 years old! And I've never been so disappointed in my government," she said on Thursday outside the Oakland hospital where Olsen is receiving treatment.
He was upgraded to fair condition by Thursday morning.
Occupy Wall Street, which has spread to cities across the United States, protests high unemployment and an economic system demonstrators see favoring the rich. They often call themselves the "99 percent" -- a reference to the wealth enjoyed by the top 1 percent of the economic pyramid.
Veterans have not been high-profile members of the movement in New York, California, and many U.S. cities.
But many veterans returning from Iraq are scrambling for jobs and sympathetic to, or outright supporters of the Occupy movement, said Vincent Emanuele, an Indiana-based veteran and organizer of Iraq Veterans Against the War.
Olsen's wounding "went viral" in the veteran community, energizing many to join the 'Occupy' groups, he said. The irony of a soldier who served two tours in Iraq being wounded while protesting at home was a shocking message that was affecting people of all backgrounds, he said.
"Right off the bat, on the surface, folks can see there is something wrong with that situation," he said.
Veterans are holding vigils across the nation at 7 p.m. local time in honor of Olsen, he said.
Jackie Smith, a professor of sociology at the University of Pittsburgh who is studying the protests, said the response by authorities in Oakland had the opposite of the intended effect.
"It sounds like it has somewhat backfired in Oakland and generated support for more protests there," Smith said.
Emily Yates, 29, an Iraq veteran who recently became acquainted with Olsen, said the Tuesday incident had pushed her off the fence and into Occupy movement. The police action had stunned her, she said. "The friggin' police are the 99 percent, too," she added.
(Additional reporting by Ben Berkowitz in New York and Dan Levine in San Francisco; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Eric Walsh)