Dorli Rainey is an Inspiration to Everyone

By now most of you have likely seen this picture:

Photo by AP Photo/seattlepi.com, Joshua Trujillo

Seattle activist Dorli Rainey, 84, reacts after being hit with pepper spray during an Occupy Seattle protest on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2011 at Westlake Park in Seattle (the Boston Herald).

Dorli Rainey, who is 84 and just above 4 feet (1.2 + meters) tall decided to join the protesters in Seattle as she was on her way to a “boring transportation meeting”. On November 15th, 2011 she was pepper sprayed and then appeared on Countdown with Keith Olbermann on the following day. She was a wonderful guest describing how she has been an activist all her life. In the interview she described the friends she has, from all walks of life and how the situation deteriorated that night in Seattle. From her account it sounds like the police made the situation worse by corralling the protesters into a tighter and tighter confined space, then pepper spraying them. She admitted that her savior that night was a military veteran who was also at protesting. However, none of this is really the reason I am posting this information.

I am posting this because Rainey also discusses, in the interview, how once she left the protest and hopped on the bus to go home, that something good actually came out of this horrible incident. The thing is though, she didn’t just sit there in silence, she used the opportunity to tell people on the bus about Occupy Wall Street, why the people were protesting, and to describe the police response:

“So, after that, then some people helped me to go back to the bus and I went home. But the great thing is that I ride these buses an awful lot, and some of the people — I see them at least once or twice a week on the bus, “Hello, how are you?” And they said, “What happened to you?” And I had no mirror, so I must have looked a fright. And the bus driver said, “Hey, what happened to you?” I said, “I got pepper sprayed by Seattle’s finest.” And the other people piped up and said, “That’s terrible.”

And the wonderful thing that happened is this bus full of people started talking about Occupy. And they had never seen a real person that they could identify with who got pepper sprayed. And it became a really wonderful educational opportunity for me to convert a busload full of people to our way of thinking.

… I remember Goebbels. I remember the time — I grew up over there. And I remember the shrinking of the print media. We had one newspaper. It was called Völkischer Beobachter — The People’s Observer. And it was the same from North Germany down to South Austria, same propaganda: “We’re winning the war. We’re sinking the U-boats and we’re into Scotland.” So — we were doing so well, it’s amazing how long the war lasted after we were winning it already. And I see the same thing happening here (Countdown Transcripts).”

As Rainey explains, these people probably did not have previous direct contact with a protestor, or as she describes it, “a real person that they could identify with who got pepper sprayed”. More people like this need to be featured on the news in the media to showcase that this movement is not just dirty hippies as so many people with no direct real contact seem to think. I will be the first to admit that one person does not represent a movement, which is very much the case for this movement. However, what Dorli Rainey represents to me is a person who has seen a few things in her life, and should be respected for that while also being respected for continuing to stand up for what she believes in despite the odds, in spite of the use of force by police in many cities across the country to crack down on this movement. She is remaining peaceful, using her voice and her ability to choose to make her stand. This looks to me like a lot of the people I know in the United States who are also participating in this movement.

I have been hearing far too many straw man arguments, like this one which include some gross generalizations, which I attempt to deconstruct below. These generalizations do nothing but pigeonhole both the protestors and the people who might disagree with what or how the protestors are protesting instead of actually helping the debate, they are hurting it, thus proving my point, yet again, that discourse among far too many average every-day Americans is dead or seriously dying. Yelling at each other, name calling, and mud-slinging does not a discussion make.

The first issue I have with The Unlikely Conservative‘s argument is in the language he uses, for example “unemployed over educated hipsters…self-righteous morally indignant hypocrites…”. While he says this all with a relatively straight face, it is still name calling. How is this helpful to the larger argument? It is just bullying and proof that he has not really met a “real person they could identify with” as Rainey explained.

Secondly, he asks “What the F$%k is ‘corporate greed’? Seriously, what business doesn’t want to make a profit?

What the f&*k is corporate greed?  Well, corporations are not people, so they cannot feel, so how could they be greedy.  Greed is something that can be felt by people. However, corporations are run by people and people feel, or at least we hope people feel, but can be increasingly disappointed in this day and age. So, Oxford‘s defines greed as an “intense and selfish desire for something, especially wealth, power, or food.” Businesses by their sheer existence want to make a profit, in fact generally need to remain in business. People, specifically corporate leaders,  by their sheer existence as part of corporations must improve their bottom line thus creating “corporate greed”. This can be further defined as greed in excess, for example, the fact that corporate profits and CEO payouts are 185 times bigger than their workers and employee pay overall has remained stagnant and has not increased since the 1970’s, comparatively, leading to severe income inequality among Americans.

Why do people work? Do they work to make money? Do they work to provide for the basic needs of their families – Shelter, food, safety and warmth? Why do people work? For the money or for the things money provides? Not all people work simply for the money. For those that do, that is a rather shallow existence. People work for good money because they like to have the ability to provide for themselves and their family, to be successful – meaning that it isn’t always about the financial statement at the end of the month. To be able to take time off when they want to or need to, in order to see their children grow up. Or they work so their children don’t succumb to drugs or gangs. People work for more than just money – money is just what they usually get from working that allows them to do all the other things they really want to do. Just like people open businesses not only for the money, profit is often a byproduct. People open businesses because they see a service they could provide for their community, they see a need in a niche that could be filled, or perhaps to continue a family tradition. To boil it all down to money surely cheapens what many people take a lot of pride in.

He is arguing that the protestors are against ALL business because all businesses are out to make a profit and that is wrong, essentially saying without saying it that the Occupy Wall Street protestors are just “socialists” or “communists” albeit, he does not say this outright, but I am assuming that via his name calling of the protestors, that is the point that he isn’t making out loud. It is after all a conservative talking point. Here, instead of quoting Dorli again, I would like you to just go ahead and reread her transcript excerpt from Keith Olbermann. She lived through the atrocities of World War II in Europe under Hitler, I think she better than anyone can identify a good cause, and propaganda perhaps better than any of us and she has reason to stand up today – because she was able to live through that dark time in our history.

On The Unlikely Conservative‘s blog, he is a self-described ‘new conservative’ that grew up rather liberally but has leaned further to the right as he has gotten older and especially since beginning his own small business. He also says that he does “not watch Fox news or listen to Glenn Beck–this has been an organic process and is not a result of being brainwashed by the right-wing media”. He does however, site in one of his blogs, http://www.breitbart.tv, which he says he woke up and noticed himself on while watching one morning. Hasn’t Breitbart been heavily criticized for his (mis)use of information to spread condemning information (meaning it’s false or seriously edited information only to do damage that needs to be apologized for later), making him more of a political bully than anything else? How is that supposed to be neutralizing information?

Next he says, “And why would you be out protesting this unless you were unemployed and had absolutely nothing better to do? 

Who is protesting at these events? Is it just the trust-fund youth/young adults that “have nothing better to do”?

No, in fact by the evidence of the picture and interview of Dorli Rainey we know two demographic groups that have been at the protests; the elderly and veterans. Who else has shown up in support?

…If you really wanted to change the system wouldn’t you want to boycott these evil corporations? Well, here’s how it really is with these self-righteous morally indignant hypocrites…”

Here, I will admit he makes a good point, minus the name calling. People should vote with their wallets, although it is becoming increasingly more difficult to follow the paper trail of which corporations  own what other corporations, especially when these same corporations do not seem to readily disclose this information. This is one of the reasons why Adbusters.org called on others to Occupy Wall Street, it one of the main things Adbusters stands for, hence their blackspot campaign.

Secondly, it is easy to pigeonhole people you see from a distance. It is also easy to stereotype an entire group of people based on the voice or image of one. I mean, we’ve been doing it for decades to people of color and women, and the LGBT community, so never mind learning anything from any of those experiences, the Unlikely Conservative is after all a white male living in America. Because it is far too easy to pigeonhole people, it only proves how narrow minded a person is when they do this.

One thing I hate doing as a teacher living in Germany and an American is speaking on behalf of my entire country. My students and others I met here seem to love to attempt to make me do it, but I avoid it as much as I possibly can. So, much so that my students during my first year here had a running joke and chuckled every time I said, “In Oregon, where I’m from…” or “In Portland, where I am from…” or “In the Northwest, it is like this…” which I usually tried to balance with another example from some other part of the country which I have been to and have personal experience with. One of the favorite student activities in my culture studies class is the stereotyping of Americans, because it is oh, so easy and fun. The tables however usually take a critical turn when I ask my students to stereotype themselves or ‘Germans’ as a whole. Then, they usually get upset and defensive explaining that one single area or group (or point in history, in their case) cannot define a society or Germans as a whole. When the students automatically come to this conclusion, it makes me very happy because it is oh so true, and my point exactly.

I explain that as an individual we see things based on the filters we grow up with which includes family, community, neighborhood, economic situation, geographical location, our ability to learn and master new skills and information, our sexuality and gender, our access to information and other resources, and many other filters/factors. All of these things provide a film through which we see and process our world which is why traveling and making and maintaining connections with people who are not necessarily just like you incredibly valuable because they help us deconstruct our filters to see them as just that, barriers (protective or otherwise) that prevent us for seeing ourselves and our world as clearly as we could be seeing it. Oh, how “West Coast” this makes me sound, I know. For this I am not sorry.

…And that is only the first 35 seconds of the video.

The Unlikely Conservative introduces us to “Dakota” a 26-year-old female, whom I am sure he has met. She and her friends seem to be wearing nothing but logos all over their bodies, be eating and drinking only at corporate establishments, smoking only corporate owned cigarettes and mooch of their parents like true trust-fund kids whose parents happen to work for some big corporation. The academic in me really wants sources, ANY sources (even though I don’t accept Wikipedia from my students) especially the interview he must have done with “Dakota” and her friends to come to such a conclusion.

The truth of the protest is that yes, some of these protestors will likely be wearing logos because it is increasingly more difficult to find clothing that does not have some brand attached to it. Believe me I hate wearing ‘brand’ anything and it is hard for me to find these items, especially when being free advertisement for these companies and designers is now seen as an okay good thing. All that we can hope is that the majority, if not all of the protestors, are voting with their wallets and by doing so supporting businesses big and small that support the supply chain and end consumer as much as they support their CEO’s.

Unfortunately, unemployment is high across the country (remaining nationwide at 9%, with regions and various states maintaining levels even higher) more and more people living at or below the poverty level in America and the number of homeless persons nationwide having increased by approximately 20,000 people from 2008 to 2009 which is often today due to foreclosures, among other things. I am sure some people take whatever they can get. For many, the job market has either contracted or decreased since 2008. This includes at least 18.4% of the working population that is underemployed (so employed but not 35-40 hours a week at one job) and 8.7% that are unemployed. Additionally, Economic confidence is down among Americans from -20% in 2008 to -46% in 2011 as is consumer spending both of which affects other aspects of the American economy. This is why people are protesting, among other reasons – These seem to be many of the same reasons people were protesting with the Tea Party but why is one more socially acceptable than the other? Why do we have to be so divided about the state of our economy and society?

I recommend that we follow Dorli Rainey’s example and not the Unlikely Conservative‘s, Rainey’s seems to keep a person alive and in high spirits well into adulthood while the Unlikely Conservative‘s seems to simply be about misdirected anger and aggression, something very childish and immature indeed.  It seems far too easy to attack people we don’t know with straw man arguments and blanket statements, and I understand with the words that I type right now, I am opening myself up to this same ridicule and fair enough. What I hope happens one day, perhaps because of this occupy movement, or the tea party or another movement is that we can start talking to each other.This is not the first time, nor will it likely be the last – yelling does not a conversation make. Americans seem to immediately jump to the attack when someone challenges their way of thinking or what they are used to. I see people struggling on the right who are attacking people who are struggling on the left and vice versa. We will never win if we continue to be this divisive. When we share our opinions and beliefs we need to be open to hear others opinions and beliefs – if we dish it out we must be able to take it too. I think if we actually could listen to each other we would find that we are that fundamentally different. We all want to fight to protect what we believe, but how are we to be successful if we can’t move beyond all the name calling and mud slinging?

Personally, when I turn 85, if I live that long, I hope I am still standing up for what I believe in and am able to be such a positive inspiration to others.

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