Occupy Seattle protester in pepper spray incident served on Issaquah School Board
December 13, 2011
By Warren Kagarise
Occupy Seattle protester Dorli Rainey, 84, turned into the unlikely face of Occupy protests nationwide after police used pepper spray against demonstrators last month.
The incident came as the latest chapter in a long record of civic engagement for Rainey, a former Issaquah School Board member.
Seattle police officers used pepper spray against Rainey and other protesters Nov. 15 as the group blocked a downtown Seattle street and ignored orders to disperse. In the moments after the incident, a photographer captured Rainey as pepper spray and a material meant to dilute the irritant dripped from her face.
“I’m not a dangerous person,” she said days after the incident. “I did not ask for this fame. I really did not ask for this.”
The photo — by seattlepi.com photographer Joshua Trujillo — soon started to go viral, as bloggers and media outlets reposted the image. Then came calls from journalists around the globe. Rainey appeared on “Countdown with Keith Olbermann” the day after the incident.
“My whole life has turned upside down,” she said. “My phone rings constantly. My inbox keeps telling me to clean it out.”
Detective Mark Jamieson, Seattle Police Department spokesman, said officers use pepper spray after warning demonstrators and exhausting other options to disperse the crowd.
“This particular incident where Ms. Rainey was, the march ended up blocking a major intersection during rush hour,” he said. “Warnings were issued numerous times. The crowd did not get back. There was pushing and shoving from some of the demonstrators, and so pepper spray was used. It is a decision that is made on the ground at the time by the commanders.”
Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn apologized to Rainey in a public statement released the day after the incident.
“With the recent Occupy demonstrations, I would say that the majority of them have gone off very peaceful and without any incident at all,” Jamieson said. “It is only a few of the unscheduled, sort of spontaneous, unpermitted marches that have been problematic.”
In the days since the incident, Occupy Seattle protesters dispersed from Seattle Central Community College after college administrators ordered the group to depart from campus.
Moments after the incident, Rainey, now a Seattle resident, boarded a bus to head home.
“I get on this bus and the bus driver looks at me says, ‘What in the world happened to you?’ I said, ‘I just got pepper sprayed’” she recalled.
Then, as she returned home and stepped into the shower, water washed pepper spray from her hair into her eyes. Rainey said the unexpected jolt left her blind for about 10 minutes.
“If you get one of those little, orange peppers and you cut one of those without gloves on and you rub your eyes, you think you’ll never see again,” she said. “It is so painful that it’s hard to describe the pain that you feel.”
Rainey said she joined the Occupy Seattle demonstration to protest the influence of corporations on the federal government.
“Our government is owned by the corporations, by the chambers of commerce and by the mainstream media — and we get no say in the whole thing,” she said.
Rainey served on the Issaquah School Board from 1971-75, as members confronted funding issues and other problems unique to a district large in area but, at the time, small in student population.
The former board member recalled the time officials squared off about book bans after the novel “Slaughterhouse-Five” entered the curriculum.
“They kept saying, ‘We teach pornography to children, to kindergartners,’ but this particular book was read only in a senior lit class, not in the kindergarten,” Rainey said.
In the end, the board did not ban the Kurt Vonnegut classic.
The board also achieved success in passing school levies to shore up Issaquah School District finances.
Rainey left the board in 1975 to run for the King County Council, but she lost in the primary election.
In the years after the council loss, Rainey remained active in public life. The former school board member started a blog — titled Old Lady in Combat Boots — and briefly entered the Seattle mayoral race in 2009.
Rainey said the pepper spray incident shifted how the public perceived the Occupy movement.
“It has changed things,” she said. “I think people are noticing a little change in the perception of what Occupy is all about.”
Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.