‘People say to me, “Are you crazy? Why don’t you just retire?” I can’t’
Dorli Rainey: ‘There was quite a bit of discussion about police brutality [afterwards]. That was my first reaction: we have just gained more people for our movement.’ Photograph: Patrick Kehoe for the Guardian
In September 2011, Occupy Wall Street began in Zuccotti Park, New York, when 1,000 people gathered to protest against corporate greed and social inequality. The Occupy movement quickly spread to more than 950 cities and 82 countries. Dorli Rainey, 84, was at an Occupy Seattle protest on 15 November 2011 when a policeman pepper-sprayed her in the face.
I’d come into town to go to a meeting about street safety, ironically. As I got off the bus, I saw helicopters and a lot of police activity. Occupy Seattle had taken over the intersection of Fifth and Pine. I’m a member, so I went over. The police had cordoned it off, so you could not get out even if you wanted to. Now I did hear one policeman say, “You have got to leave the intersection” but there was no warning. It was just: right now, get out, and then the police started pushing their bicycles at the crowd. We were very tightly packed together and there was really no place to move.
Dorli Rainey: ‘The media are paying attention’ Link to this videoThen they started pepper-spraying indiscriminately. I got it full in the face, which is something I don’t wish on my worst enemy. I was afraid of falling because people were pushing and there was no way out. Two young men helped me stabilise and finally they got milk and put it all over me to neutralise the effects.
They wanted to take me to the medic tent, but I just took the bus home. The driver said, “What in the world happened to you?” and everyone stared. They had seen me as a regular human being, not as this Halloween mask that sat down next to them. So there was quite a bit of discussion about police brutality on that bus. That was my first reaction: we have just gained more people for our movement. But I was very angry.
That night I took a shower and washed all the pepper spray from my hair right back into my eyes. I was blind for about 10 minutes, hanging on for dear life. I was afraid I would fall over in the bath tub. I didn’t sleep because I was so pumped up.
In the morning, the phone started ringing and it never stopped. Now I don’t get to clean my house, or do grocery shopping, or get a haircut because my calendar is just full. I sit in my bedroom with a computer that goes day and night. It is a life change. And I did not ask for it. I’ve never been a publicity hound. I’m not complaining, but it’s difficult.
I’ve been asked to go to schools and talk about activism, and I always talk about non-violence, because some of the younger people are very eager to get something going, and think that just sitting around is not going to accomplish anything. But I feel that non-violence is the only weapon we have. Any excuse that we give them to brutalise us, they will take it. So we have to control how we react to the police. It would be easy to say, “Next time, I’m just going to let them have it.” But that just vindicates them: “Well, if those people attack the police, then they had it coming.” I did not have it coming.
Over the years, I have been active. I helped close down the freeway when the shooting started at Kent State, when the four students got killed during the Vietnam war. I was involved in the anti-WTO protests and got teargassed. People say to me, “Are you crazy? Why don’t you just retire?” I can’t. I have to keep on going because there’s so much work to be done. I just don’t feel like sitting at home and letting the world fall apart.
A lot of my older friends are very involved in the protest movement. One, Father Bichsel, is in federal prison here in Seattle. He just turned 84, too. I would like to educate people so they understand what really is happening. Our first amendment rights are being shredded. The police are being militarised. I taught a course about current events at a community college for senior citizens, and those senior citizens still come to events with Occupy Seattle or Stop The FBI Repression. One of my friends is 90, and she has a big Stop The FBI sign and stands in front of the FBI. It’s very gratifying when they tell me that they look at the news with completely different eyes. They used to believe everything they read in the paper, but they don’t any more.
My voice is not completely back and my lung capacity is not up to 100% yet. I used to run upstairs, but now I get really out of breath – and that is a direct result of the pepper spray. But I am very happy that I got pepper-sprayed, because finally the media are paying attention. I hope it does not go away. I hope that understanding of the real problems in the world will grow.