Dorli Rainey, a symbol of Occupy after being pepper sprayed by Seattle police, dies

There is a photo of an old woman, a scarf tight around her neck. She looks dressed for church or the market. But his eyes and his lips are red, burning. A thin, milky liquid flows from her face in small white streams.

Two men, both much younger, one wearing safety glasses, help guide her. One holds his head, as he looks down solemnly. The other puts his arms around her. Their passivity frames its intensity.

She stares at the camera, without bowing.

Dorli Rainey, the woman in the photo, briefly became the face of the Occupy Wall Street movement after Seattle police pepper sprayed her during a protest in 2011. Rainey, a longtime Seattle political activist , died on August 12. She was 95 years old.

Rainey has been an integral part of local progressive protest movements for decades. Anti-war, pro-housing, racial justice, mass transit, anti-drone strikes, anti-big banks – the list of causes Rainey has fought for is almost too long and too countless to catalog.

“She was so active because she loved this country and she wanted to make sure the country was good for its people,” said her daughter, Gabriele Rainey. “Anything that needed to be fixed to make the world a better place, she was involved in it.”

Rainey protested at Naval Base Whidbey Island, she took the bus to Olympia to protest arms deliveries, she protested against nuclear missiles at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor, she went to Nevada to protest against a drone test facility.

She served on the Issaquah school board and ran for King County council half a century ago and ran for mayor of Seattle ten years ago. She was arrested in South Park, protesting the evictions. She was arrested downtown, protesting Wells Fargo.

But she made national headlines for her role in a downtown Seattle protest at the start of the Occupy movement. On November 15, 2011, Rainey, then 84, joined protesters in blocking downtown intersections.

When Seattle police used pepper spray to clear the crowd, Rainey was hit. Other protesters poured milk on her face to relieve the sting.

Seattlepi.com photographer Joshua Trujillo captured the stunning image.

The photo becomes a worldwide symbol of the nascent movement. It has been featured by The Washington Post, The Atlantic, The Associated Press, The Guardian. She was interviewed by The New York Times and Keith Olbermann. She went to Dori Monson’s right-wing local radio show and hung up on her.

Then-Mayor Mike McGinn apologized and ordered a review of the incident.

Rainey was back protesting downtown a few days later.

“It’s been a wonderful week,” she said at the time. “I think we’ve achieved something that we were trying to get, and that’s attention.”

“You only get real attention when you block off a few streets.”

McGinn said when he called her to apologize, she gave him a list of her concerns with the police department. He said the incident caused Seattle police to change their policy on the use of pepper spray, a change that didn’t last.

“Dorli is legendary, and rightly so, for his activism,” McGinn said Friday. “She was just ubiquitous and a conscience and a voice for change, and I respected her deeply, deeply.”

Seattle City Council member Lisa Herbold called Rainey “a special kind of social change warrior.”

“She always centered the inherent humanity of others in her activism,” Herbold said.

Rainey was active with groups such as Veterans For Peace and local homeless advocates Women in Black and Nickelsville.

Peggy Hotes, a friend and activist, remembers first meeting her at a protest against the war in Iraq at a church in Ballard. Rainey had sent several e-mails to organize in advance.

On the morning of the event, she sent one last, saying the organizers still needed help.

Hotes listened to a speaker, then a small, white-haired woman approached her.

“She said, ‘You’re Peggy Hotes,'” Hotes recalled. ”You did not reply to my email.’ “

“She was involved in everything and anything.”

Rainey has written about politics and activism on her blog, titled Old Lady in Combat Boots. It is, alas, now lost in the attics of the internet.

Rainey was born in Austria in 1926.

Hotes recalls Rainey telling a story about the uniforms school kids had to wear, which she hated.

One day, she folded a paper hat and wore it to school in silent protest. She was called to the principal’s office.

“She was always able to stand up when an injustice confronted her,” Hotes said.

Austria, Rainey said, was a big country, but a very bureaucratic country.

“I used to really argue and fight that when I was growing up,” she said in a 2010 interview for Public Access Television.

She was a Red Cross nurse and then worked in Europe as a technical translator for the US Army for 10 years. She married Max Rainey, a civil engineer who got a job with Boeing, and they moved to the Seattle area in 1956.

“What really interested me was freedom of speech, the Constitution,” she said of her new country.

She has worked as a court-appointed special advocate representing child victims of abuse or neglect. She worked as a real estate agent for Coldwell Banker for decades.

She had three children, Gabriele, of Asheville, North Carolina; Michael, of Boston; and Andrea, who died in 2014. She was also predeceased by her husband, Max.

Upon retirement, she moved to an old people’s residence in Queen Anne. Parking was an issue, so from then on she commuted by bus for all of her activism.

In 2009, she launched a brief campaign for mayor. But one rainy night in May, after a late meeting, while waiting for her bus, she decided it was too much.

She pulled out of the race and, in a letter to supporters, wrote: “I’m old and I should learn to be old, stay home, watch TV and sit still.”

But she did no such thing.

Two years later, she would describe the bus ride home from being pepper sprayed: “I must have looked scared.”

“The bus driver said, ‘Hey, what happened to you?’ I said I got pepper sprayed by the best in Seattle,” she recalled.

“And the wonderful thing that happened was that this busload of people started talking about Occupy,” she said. “It became a wonderful educational opportunity for me to convert a busload of people to our way of thinking.”

News researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this report.

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