Dorli Rainey - Activist: The Real Deal

By Kathleen Kirwin, Esq. 

In the late afternoon of October 6th, 2011, I flew into Washington DC and headed straight for Freedom Plaza at the corner of 14th and Pennsylvania.  Months before that date, and as so many others already had, I “pledged” to be there to participate in an occupation of Washington entitled “October 2011: STOP THE MACHINE—CREATE A NEW WORLD.” On its website, and in solidarity with those who had already signed, I too pledged as follows:

“I pledge that if any U.S. troops, contractors, or mercenaries remain in Afghanistan on Thursday, October 6, 2011, as that occupation goes into its 11th year, I will commit to being in Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C., with others on that day with the intention of making it our Tahrir Square, Cairo, our Madison, Wisconsin, where we will NONVIOLENTLY resist the corporate machine to demand that our resources are invested in human needs and environmental protection instead of war and exploitation. We can do this together. We will be the beginning.”

It now comes as no surprise that Dorli Rainey had also signed the pledge to be at Freedom Plaza on October 6th, and she was.  

The honor and privilege of sitting beside her that first night was utterly mine, while speakers, musicians, and the wise beyond their years voices of the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers broadcasting live from Afghanistan over the Plaza’s sound system filled downtown Washington with something not indigenous to this nation’s capital: inspiration, enthusiasm, determination, solidarity, creativity, and a gravity of purpose, all for the good of the many, rather than the few. I can attest without hyperbole that as Ms. Rainey watched and listened to the events unfold that first night at Freedom Plaza, her 84 year old face reflected a joy and an unmitigated hope reserved for those whose dreams had come at last. As we took in the occupation’s opening events under the stars, Ms. Rainey put her Nana-like hand on my arm and said: “I have been waiting for this for a hundred years. I didn’t think I would live to see it.” And as Emma’s Revolution took the stage reminding us of the power of songs of protest, Ms. Rainey jumped from her seat and danced along with the crowd, clapping all the while.

Not only has Ms. Rainey “lived to see it”, she has lived to embody it. She has lived to personify it. She has lived to teach it and to advocate for it by a lifetime vigilant example. As such, it was not the least bit ironic to see that Ms. Rainey had joined the large march from Freedom Plaza to the Martin Luther King Memorial the following day to retrospectively commemorate the enormity and greatness of all that Dr. King stood and stands for, and to prospectively bring his morally and righteously based activism into the present fight for global sanity on all fronts.  Notwithstanding her years, the distance, and the heat that day, Ms. Rainey did what few people can claim: she literally and figuratively walked the walk of Dr. King. She was holding her government to account and she was doing so for the numerous younger generations with whom and for whom she marched that day, and their posterity. It’s a rare person who can evoke the visceral term posterity and endow it with the meaning it deserves, but this 84 year old “activist” does just that.

Ms. Rainey spent five days in Washington before returning home to Seattle. On November 16th, and as the world now knows, Seattle police engaged in acts of brutality against participants of Occupy Seattle. Ms. Rainey had gotten off her bus that day to join them in non-violent solidarity after witnessing a swarm of police helicopters flying overhead. The price she paid for doing so was to be on the receiving end of a volley of chemical weapons discharged by police officers. Peace officers, as it were. Notwithstanding that such a disproportionate and violent response by law enforcement constitutes fundamental excessive force, Ms. Rainey remains ideologically undaunted. Her exchange with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! on November 17th is indicative:

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you, Dorli, what did it feel like to be pepper-sprayed in the face? This dramatic photograph of you being helped by two people right afterwards.

DORLI RAINEY: Well, first of all, it’s very painful. And when they say there are no after effects, I still have a pain in my lungs, and my voice is kind of raspy. I don’t know how long that will last. But the thing really is not about me getting pepper-sprayed. It is a much bigger issue than that, and I would like everybody to keep that in mind, that while we’re getting pepper-sprayed, other issues are not being heard. And that’s my problem. I feel issues become a major focus to the detriment of the real issues that cause this whole problem.

Notwithstanding Ms. Rainey’s drive to keep her eye on the ball, the issue of police brutality being committed on the streets of America against non-violent, unarmed citizen protestors, and the command responsibility of police and/or city brass giving police officers either the leeway or the orders to commit such brutality, is no longer a matter collateral to the “real issues”, as Ms. Rainey called them. Hence, if those trying to impose a literal police state want that fight, they will get it. But the fight will be on our terms: powerful and peaceful. And I can only hope Dorli Rainey will be leading it.

[Kathleen Kirwin is a trial attorney specializing in high-level civil rights and criminal cases and is currently based in Sarasota, Florida. She also practices international human rights and criminal law and has been an anti-war activist for the past 40 years. Kathleen can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and her blog can be found at]