Small in stature, quiet in voice, a bit road weary, sure, but this retired nurse and public school activist blasted through the Green River Community College campus in Auburn, Wash., earlier this year with several plasma-setting lightning bolts of energy and passion for her almost eight decades of protest.
Even Wonder Woman couldn’t have stopped the electricity of activist, former nurse and Austrian-born Dorli Rainey, who was not escorted to the stage by the school’s president or any school board member.
No big-time media were there to record her visit, one based on speaking with youth at a very suburban campus that has, like many other ‘burb community colleges, a culture of disinterest by students and lethargic faculty who are many times hiding behind desks to placate the tsunami of budget cuts.
For Rainey, who was made famous last fall by the Seattle Police Department’s brutality and a photo of her milk-drenched face during the Occupy Seattle movement, this is the time for young people to Occupy not just downtowns of big cities but everything.
Student loan debts are averaging $35,000, on youth expected to lock-step to the adage of the new bachelor’s is the master’s and who are being forced into unpaid internships (read the book, Intern Nation: How to Earn Nothing and Learn Little in the Brave New Economy)
Rainey understands. In an interview with Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez on Democracy Now Nov. 17, 2011, one day after the City of Seattle targeted her face with offensive pepper irritants, she demonstrated why she has quickly become an icon of the Occupy Movement.
“When you look at the pictures, you will see that the pepper spray fog and the stream of pepper spray is all over. My problem is not only with police brutality, it is with the progressively getting worse attitude of the police. I was tear-gassed—and thank you, Norm Stamper—in Seattle when the WTO was there in Seattle.”
Just three months later, she’s already joking with students how being pepper-sprayed is a great way to get on a diet: “I’ve lost 20 pounds since that day … I have trouble breathing … I don’t have the ability to taste food.”
That program was also indicative of how the Occupy movement was forcing people to either bear witness and not act, or go into action. Along with the headline introducing Rainey to a worldwide audience, “84-Year-Old Dorli Rainey, Pepper-Sprayed at Occupy Seattle, Denounces “Worsening” Police Crackdowns,” other stories belie a deeper story: “Occupy Wall Street’s National Day of Action Launches with Protest at NY Stock Exchange” ; “Ex-New York Times Freelancer Natasha Lennard on Quitting the Corporate Media in an Occupy Era” ; “Former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper on Paramilitary Policing From WTO to Occupy Wall Street.”
I bring up that particular episode of Democracy Now because as a college instructor in Seattle, Spokane, Las Cruces, N.M, Tucson and El Paso, I’ve come to understand how mind-numbing K-12 public education can be, forcing good teachers to toe the party-line of standardized testing, forcing students to not think critically. In many cases, teachers are reprimanded or fired for exposing students to certain authors, movies and movements.
During Dorli’s presentation at Green River, a majority in the audience did not know what the Occupy Wall Street movement was, and not one had heard of Democracy Now. Dorli has been all around the state, before and after being sprayed. She told me how tough it is in places like Auburn to find students willing to shape their lives around resistance, rebellion and questioning authority.
I taught English at Green River September to December 2011. As a part-time faculty my role is diminished because I need to make ends meet by taking on ridiculous schedules and teaching loads.
No lamentation, though, considering Dorli Rainey is pugnacious, determined, and highly critical in a Jane Jacobs kind of way.
Her work as a nurse and a proponent of teachers in the Issaquah School District and support of a principal who fought for non-sexist language in her school and for implementation of Title IX (fair treat treatment of females in sports participation), campaigning for the Equal Rights Amendment, marching during the Civil Rights movement alongside Martin Luther King’s allies, running for Seattle mayor in 2009, and rallying around fellow educators during the McCarthy “Communist hunts” set the stage for this speaking event, organized by faculty member Louise Hull and others.
There was a music-enhanced Powerpoint show, “Power to the Students,” created by Carlos Adams, another faculty member. There were rousing calls to action from Sarra Tekola, an environmental sciences major and member of the new campus group, Student Activists for Education, SAFE. Finally, Cindy Small, an art faculty member, worked with about two dozen participants to transform themselves into political activist artists in a poster creation frenzy.
The real staying power behind this teach-in was Dorli and the students who asked questions and heard how a person two decades past retirement stays so active and impassioned.
“I would maybe retire if I saw young people taking up the leadership roles of the protest movement,” she said. Because of social media sites like Twitter and Facebook, youth today have so much more power “than we ever had when I was starting out.”
Her modus operandi is always tied to social justice. She feels the United States has perpetrated a lot of global injustices with its economic and foreign policies.
The under girder to Rainey’s work is justice, and she knows her climate change frames, knows the unwieldy city-private ventures like the Alaskan Way viaduct dismantling project and the $4.5 billion dollar car-truck tunnel project are tied to the One Percent wanting waterfront property over the needs of the environment, both ecologically speaking and culturally speaking:
“I believe change begins in the streets, and all citizens have the power to make a difference. ,” she writes in the blog’s about section. “Together we can make our voices heard in the ivory towers of government, so lace up your combat boots, log in and turn on!”
She’s proud of being an activist across a wide range of issues, including non-violence in foreign affairs, feminism and local transportation. She took the bus from her retirement home in Seattle to the Auburn campus, and she repeated to me that she disapproves “car takeover” in Seattle and the morphing parking lots.
She even mentioned all the embedded energy in cement, like that of the Viaduct, which is being crushed by diesel-consuming trucks, and then a tunnel built by the most expensive tunnel grinder using untold amounts of Portland cement.
When asked by the student editor of the school’s paper, “The Current,” whether getting media attention was a penultimate goal of Occupy Seattle, Dorli respectfully scoffed: “The media just don’t know what we’re doing because they don’t ask, and they toe the corporate line.”
The Occupy movement, she said is working magic behind the scenes, with community clubs, churches and others working on recruiting and training. “Teachers are joining us, and we have Physicians for National Health Care signed on.”
More information about Seattle Occupy protester Dorli Rainey will be presented in Part 2.
This is the second half of Paul Haeder’s closer look at 84-year-old protester Dorli Rainey, who was pepper sprayed and arrested during Occupy Seattle protests last fall. She continues to speak to students and encourage them to continue to fight for injustice, including a presentation at Green River Community College earlier this year. For part 1, visit here:
In the 1990s Dorli Rainey taught a media class at Highline Community College in Federal Way, Wash., called “Current Issues-What the Media Don’t tell You.”
She continues to be inspired by and inspire young people. During a visit to Green River Community College this spring, she invited the students to continue Occupy thoughts and actions.
“Occupy Seattle, Occupy everywhere is another progression of the anti-war movement. It is a diverse movement with many groups and many ideas. But there are two main points: get the money out of politics and stop the war,” she said.
A Power Point developed by Chicano studies adjunct, Carlos Adams of Green River, highlighted student activism in the past century, including Kent State and the anti-war actions, and the rise of feminist power, Black power, and Chicano power movements.
As a follow-up, she offered a wizened face and her own historical ‘boots on the ground’ perspective on protest.
“I was born a protestor … My mother had to go to the school a lot and talk to the principal.”
That was in Austria, where she spent the first 30 years of her life. She moved to Seattle when her former husband landed a job as a technical engineer for Boeing. She was quick to jab Boeing for not paying its fair share of taxes and for promulgating its role in the military-industrial complex by building parts, engines and jets that end up killing people in other countries. Boeing got back $5 billion in refunds last year even though it enjoyed profits in the billions. Half its income is derived from military air power.
Dorli Rainey has been fighting against some sort of rapine of the soul all her life. When she was 10 in Austria, Hitler was sharpening his fascist talons. She lived through a huge depression, flu pandemics, and World War II. She’s watched faces change and presidential policies carried out, from Eisenhower to Obama, wars in Vietnam, Central America and the invasions of Iraq, twice.
Without a doubt, education is her linchpin, both at the Occupy Seattle rally that got her face pepper sprayed then drenched in milk after being sprayed with toxic irritants by the Seattle Police Department and he outreach around Seattle and the state.
That image moved on every wire service as the face of protest in the U.S. in the 21st century. Seattle Mayor Mike McGuinn issued a statement of apology the next day, but Dorli then and now hasn’t been impressed.
“We spoke very briefly, and I told him that he is not in charge of what is going on, that our politicians really have lost control, and this sort of brutality is now endemic all over the United States and is being controlled by Homeland Security, by the FBI, and by the military against the war on terrorism,” she said. “It has nothing to do any longer with what individual mayors may want or not want to do.”
Since the media in general have failed to really understand the Occupy Movement, she puts a face on it – young people with huge student loan debts working for minimum wage or who are jobless. She sees her Occupy Seattle participation as a natural outgrowth of decades on the front line protesting unfair treatment of her fellow Americans and people worldwide.
“Washington’s constitution specifically states that education funding is the Legislature’s first priority. Compared to the 1970s – when I was already seeing the cuts in education then as a teacher – today we have really fallen in funding education.”
As always, her message resonates as one of fighting for truth through education, and her idea is that all higher education should be free.
Rainey is as persistent and determined as any postal courier. Her narrative deserves more than one-hour at any Seattle-area school. She should be a guest in all classes, a guest at an all-school assembly, anywhere, private, public, charter schools (which she rails against), religious, alternative schools.
“It all boils down to fallen down priorities – there’s too much money in politics, too much money for the military, too many wars, and not enough power to the people,” she told the students and few faculty.
She referenced Albert Einstein, who was as well known as a peace activist as he was as the father of the nuclear age. In the end, Rainey emphasized Einstein regretted he was even part of the lead-up to splitting the atom.
Her heroes? Three Catholic nuns, Ardeth Platte, Jackie Hudson, and Carolyn Gilbert, who were sentenced to jail-terms ranging from 30 to 41 months by a US District judge in 2003 for spreading their own blood on an unmanned Minuteman III missile silo near Greeley, Colo.
Most everyone in the Green River community college multipurpose room had no idea about these activists and their sentences.
“You just need to take one step outside your comfort zone to make change,” she told the students. That message also is galvanized to learning, and understanding history.
Leaders pop up in all sorts of funny ways. For GRCC student Sarra Tekola, the horizon is long, filled with many battles. She spoke loud and clear before the audience. She promoted the very concept of involvement and not backing down.
One student group I had some hand in creating, since I was a part of the first Green River teach-in Oct. 6, 2011, The Attack on Higher Education, is fighting not only their own campaign of stopping class closures and raised tuition, but are looking to support faculty in their own fight against layoffs and the exploitation of contingent faculty.
We had SEIU’s Working Washington folk there, which organized the students to tackle the legislative attacks on higher education in Washington – approaching a billion dollars in statewide cuts to education on every level while at the same time all education leaders, proponents of early childhood learning and community and business development folk know education is the key to survival for the state of Washington and State of Democracy.
This Dorli Rainey event was part of the college’s year-long series of teach-ins and other events under the theme of The Attack on Higher Education.
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