Dorli Rainey: Elder With a Cause

Seattle’s poster child for pepper-spray abuse shares her 2012 to-do list.

Dorli Rainey became the 84-year-old face of Occupy Seattle by being in a bad place at the right time. (Photo: Screen Grab)

Allan MacDonell is TakePart’s News + Opinion editor, with a focus on social justice.

Dorli Rainey wasn’t expecting to become famous. On Tuesday, November 15, she joined a group of friends at the Occupy Seattle encampment. The 84-year-old has been a citizen activist ever since she moved to the United States from Austria in 1956. She’d campaigned for civil rights and women’s rights, for environmental responsibility and compassion for the homeless. Naturally, she gravitated toward Occupy. She felt secure in its throngs, until police shoved their bicycles into the press and doused individual demonstrators with poisonous chemicals.

Dorli’s sense of safety dissolved in a stream of pepper spray.

People need to finally say it’s the end. We’ve had enough, and we won’t take it anymore.

Within minutes, it seemed, an image of Rainey’s face, awash in water, mucous and poison, owned the Internet. She rode home on the No. 1 bus an iconic figure of a burgeoning social movement. Within hours, she would be leaving Keith Olbermann speechless on TV.

“People think that I’m some kind of a special person,” Dorli tells TakePart, “but I’m not. I sit here in my bedroom with my computer. I ride the bus. I’m just a human being like everybody else. I just was at the right place at the right time. With a photographer who should win a Pulitzer Prize.”

Three weeks after that far-reaching photo op, Rainey answered the phone to talk freely about Occupy, real news sources and America’s need for backbone in 2012.

Dorli Rainey: I still have a bad voice, and I hope that doesn’t interfere with what you want to do. My throat and my voice don’t do what they should do.

TakePart: This is still from the pepper spray?

Dorli Rainey: Yes.

TakePart: That’s nasty.

Dorli Rainey: I know it is.

TakePart: What signs of hope do you see for 2012?

Dorli Rainey: With the growing of the Occupy movement, I’m very hopeful that we will produce some leaders who will run for office, from Occupy or from people who philosophically support Occupy.

TakePart: Can Occupy regroup and move forward in the coming months?

Dorli Rainey: What you see, the police action and the removal of the camps, is really only the public view of what Occupy is. The depth of this movement amazes me. People I would never have expected to even think about joining a movement are on our side. Some of the older people in my building here, who purport to be Republicans, send me little clippings they find, and post on our bulletin board the needs of our encampment in Seattle. There are people out there who have never gone to any of the demonstrations, but are behind it.

TakePart: Where is the best place for people to go to read the news in the coming year?

Dorli Rainey: I’m sorry to say that only people with computers can get the real news. I get my news on the computer; I read the international newspapers. I read the German papers and the Austrian papers, plus what I get from the free press here in our country. In order to get a balanced view of anything, you have to go to other places—from Al Jazeera to the European newspapers. You can do that on the computer. So far.

TakePart: What is your message to an immigrant coming to America today?

Dorli Rainey: That’s a really tough one. It was so different when I came. I’m not sure I’m even qualified to give any advice to anybody. If it is somebody who is Muslim or Hispanic, they cannot now expect open arms the way I did when I came. I would say try to find some people who are with you in the struggle for freedom. They will probably help you more than any authorities will ever help you.

TakePart: What quality of character does America most need going into 2012?

Dorli Rainey: Backbone. People need to finally say it’s the end. We’ve had enough, and we won’t take it anymore. As long as we think that shopping is the only occupation left, we won’t see what we can do to make change that matters.

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