On October 25th, 2011, U.S. Marine Corps veteran Scott Olsen was injured in a conflict with police at the Occupy Oakland movement (a northern California affiliate of Occupy Wall Street). Shortly thereafter, a shrine was erected to recognize his injury.
Spontaneous shrines are most often erected at the location a person has died. Especially when the death is of a prominent public figure, the shrines are also often located where the person lived or spent most of her or his time. For example, in the case of Princess Diana’s death, shrines were erected both near the tunnel in Paris where her car crash occurred and at the palaces of the royal family in the U.K.
Although many death-site shrines are created by family members and close acquaintances of the deceased, certain deaths call for a more participatory or public response. One of the most fascinating and moving shrines I’ve ever seen was located in Potsdam, Germany following the fatal beating of an Ethiopian-German man. The attack sparked extreme controversy over post-WWII identity, racism, and neo-Nazism in Germany (more about this shrine to come in a later post). Particularly when a death is highly controversial or socially unsettling, the resulting shrine tends to be a community affair, rather than being left to the family. Because the death itself demands a response from the community, the shrine may becomes the forum for that response, allowing people to come together and speak out.
This shrine for Scott Olsen is very interesting for a number of reasons. News of his injury (he was hit in the face by a “projectile,” possibly a tear gas canister) went viral almost immediately. His status as a USMC veteran of the Iraq War makes his injury a potentially controversial issue. Not only does it bring to light the occasionally violent outcomes of the clashes between police and protesters, it also highlights the diversity of the protesters. His injury was taken up by certain protesters as a poster case of police violence– not only are people getting hurt, veterans are getting hurt. Others not involved with the protests have branded his injury an unfortunate outcome of anti-American activities– he was patriotic, and now he is not, so this is what happens.
The shrine has become one of the rallying spots for the movement in support of Olsen. There are dozens of votive candles, photos of Olsen, pro-vet posters, and flowers. One of the unique features is the series of posters calling for people to contribute money to a fund helping to pay for Olsen’s hospital bills. The shrine is not for a death, but for a life, perhaps not even so much for a person, but for an event, for an injury…
Several videos of the shrine have been posted on youtube, photos of the shrine have appeared on several tumblr and flickr feeds, and the incident has been featured in the headlines of numerous papers including the Washington Post, the U.K. paper The Guardian, and the Huffington Post. There are several Scott Olsen Facebook pages including Scott Olsen, We are all Scott Olsen, and For Scott Olsen.