California Mayor Will Skip Veterans Day Memorial for Occupy Rally

Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin shown with a group of Occupy Richmond protesters earlier this month. She will skip a Veterans Day memorial in favor of another Occupy rally. (Photo credit: San Jose Mercury News)

The mayor of Richmond, Calif. plans to skip her city’s Veterans Day memorial events to attend an Occupy rally, a choice that’s prompting anger and criticism.

Mayor Gayle McLaughlin will miss a Veterans Day salute Friday in favor of an Occupy Richmond “public speak out,” the San Jose Mercury News reported.

McLaughlin defended her decision, telling the newspaper that the city is not sponsoring the Veterans Day event, and the rally she will attend will honor Scott Olsen, the Iraq war veteran injured at an Occupy Oakland rally last month. Richmond and Oakland, both in the San Francisco Bay Area, are about 12 miles apart.

“I choose to honor our veterans, not only on Veteran’s Day, but daily, by supporting an end to military warfare to prevent further fighting and dying in needless wars,” she said in an email. “I am a strong supporter of Veterans for Peace and Iraq Vets Against the War.”

McLaughlin, a member of the Green Party elected to a second term last year, has been supportive of the Occupy Wall Street movement since its inception. In a message on her website dated Nov. 6, she said since it “burst onto the scene, calling for an end to corporate domination all over the globe…[w]e, in Richmond, are part of this movement and have everything to gain from it.”

Her website also notes former White House “green jobs czar” Van Jones spoke at her 2010 re-election campaign kickoff.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, she marched in Occupy Oakland’s “general strike” earlier this month — the same march that turned into violent rioting. Asked whether she would support Friday’s protesters if they decide to stay and camp after their rally, she told the Chronicle: “Yeah, I would stand with them for that. I stand with this movement.”

A message on her website urged Richmond residents to attend the Occupy rally as well, scheduled for 11 a.m. — the same time as the Veterans Day events.

Jeff Rubin, a Veterans Day memorial organizer, told the San Jose Mercury News the mayor has ”very little respect for the country and traditions” and wondered whether the date of the rally was picked on purpose — a decision McLaughlin said had nothing to do with.

“As mayor, she has a responsibility to everyone in our community,” Rubin said. “Not only the disenfranchised and the unemployed, but to the veterans as well.”

Michael Klasno, director of Gold Star Dads of America, called the mayor’s choice a “slap in the face” to veterans and to grieving parents like himself.

“You don’t blow off the veterans of the United States for anybody, and you certainly don’t blow if off for Occupy Wall Street,” he said. “As somebody who’s paid the ultimate sacrifice, that to me is beyond the pale.”

But McLaughlin countered that exercising freedom is respectful of veterans.

“I think a good way to show respect for our veterans is to put all our energy into promoting the values that veterans fought for and some of them died for,” she said.

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