Nov 30 2011

The Activist Beat – 11/30/11

Activist BeatThe Activist Beat with Rose Aguilar, host of Your Call on KALW in San Francisco is a weekly roundup of progressive activism that the mainstream media ignores, undercovers, or misrepresents.

Over the past few weeks, Occupy encampments across the country have been raided and dismantled. While police brutality deserves far more media attention, I fear that the main message and the people’s stories are getting lost in the coverage.

On Thursday, November 18, a crowd in Portland, Oregon was trapped between police on horses and police wearing riot gear. The Oregonian posted an incredibly disturbing, but powerful photo of a young woman being pepper sprayed in the face. Her eyes are closed, but her mouth is wide open. The spray was shot right in her mouth. The photo quickly went viral.

Oregonian photographer Randy Rasmussen didn’t even know he had taken the photo until his editor found it later that evening. I wanted to know more about the young woman. Who is she? What happened after the spraying?

The woman in the photo is 20-year-old Elizabeth Nichols. Her mouth was open because she was yelling at an officer for jabbing her in the ribs with a billy club and pressing it against her throat.

When she was yelling, another officer shot her with pepper spray. In an interview with the Oregonian, she said she felt like her face, ears, and hands were on fire. In jail, officers showed her the photo. She said they told her, next time you get sprayed, keep your mouth shut. Her hands still burned after she was released at 2 am.

She said if she had to do it again, she’d rather be tased. The pepper spray was that bad.

According to the Oregonian, Elizabeth was raised in Mountain Home, Arkansas, a town of about 1600. She recently moved to the West Coast and joined the Occupy movement to speak out for her parents. Her mom has multiple sclerosis and her dad was disabled by a back injury. They barely make ends meet on Social Security and have no health insurance.

In an email exchange with the Atlantic, Elizabeth’s mom wrote, “We live on one disability check. No, we don’t live. We exist. Lizzie knows this. That’s why she’s doing this. She never took part in anything like this. Of course, it’s Arkansas. There isn’t a lot of that here.”

Elizabeth is being charged with second-degree trespassing. She pleaded not guilty. Her court date is scheduled for January 9.

The photo of Elizabeth went viral just days after a photo of 84-year-old Dorli Rainey went viral. Dorli was sprayed in the face at an Occupy action in Seattle. In the photo, her face is dripping with spray as two men help her. Dorli told Keith Olbermann that she was at a transportation meeting when she heard helicopters overhead. She figured that an Occupy rally was happening, so she decided to join. Shortly after arriving, she got shoved and sprayed.

On the bus ride home, everyone started talking about the protest and wanted to know what happened to her. She said, “They had never seen a real person that they could identify with who got pepper sprayed.”
She ended the segment by quoting one of her sheroes, a Catholic nun. She said, “whatever you do, take one more step out of your comfort zone. It’s so easy to say, ‘Well, I’m going to retire, I’m going to sit around and watch television or eat bon-bons … but somebody’s got to keep them awake.”
These stories speak volumes about what we are facing and they should not be forgotten. No amount of pepper spray or brutality can silence them.

I’m Rose Aguilar for Uprising.

One response so far

One Response to “The Activist Beat – 11/30/11”

  1. Dorli Raineyon 30 Nov 2011 at 11:51 am

    Getting pepper sprayed is a terrible insult to your body. The Seattle policeman who mentioned that pepper spray was harmless for people from 10 to 80 year olds does not know what he is talking about. The Public Health Officials in all towns have to educate their elected officials to not only the physical damage, but also to the eventual cost of lawsuits.