Whose Country Is This? An Open Letter to My President.

[photo: Randy L. Rasmussen, Portland Oregonian]

Dear President Obama,

Are you seeing this?  Do you see what’s happening to the youth and the grass roots movements for change in our country?  Are you reading the same reports and watching the same images I am?  Does it make your blood boil?  These are community organizers, and passionate youth, and believers in the American Dream…and they’re being robbed of hope.

The photo of Dorli Rainey made my stomach turn.  Reading about Jennifer Fox’s miscarriage, allegedly from a kick to the stomach delivered by a member of the (notoriously violent) Seattle PD made my heart ache.  An account by a UC Davis student of police spraying under protestors shirts as they heaved and gagged and tried to hide from the noxious gas brought me to tears.  But this image of 20 year old Elizabeth Nichols being shot directly in her open mouth with high-potency Pepper Spray?  I can’t possibly swallow the rage that swells up in me when I see it.

She’s 20 years old, Mr. Obama.  Her parents are living on a single disability check and she’s frustrated and angry.  And a few days ago, she took to the streets of Portland for a peaceful protest – Occupy is her first protest ever – she’s only been away from home for six months.  And when she did?  When she found her voice and opened her mouth to tell the world how frustrated and angry she was that so many of the liberties and promises made to her as a young American are being violated, that’s what she was met with?  A mouth full of pepper spray, and a night in the slammer?

When the Oregonian first printed the photograph without knowing her name, Elizabeth’s mother, homebound with multiple sclerosis, saw it online and wrote in that it was in fact her daughter featured in the horrific image.

You’re a parent Mr. President.  And there’s no doubt in my mind that you and Mrs. Obama are raising two brilliant, passionate, strong girls who will no doubt one day be frustrated and angry about injustices they see.   What if it were Sasha, or Malia in that photo, Mr. President?  What if it were one of your daughters that you saw on your computer screen being gagged with enough major capaicinoid to stop a freaking bear while fighting for YOUR honor.  Or your wife’s honor.  Or anyone’s honor for that matter.

Do you see what I see in that picture?  Do you see the Police in riot gear shooting pepper spray into a crowd of people who are standing still?   The girl next to Elizabeth has her hand raised in a peace symbol.  These people aren’t threatening anyone. 

At least…not anybody who was present at the protest that day.

I’m writing to you today as a parent – deeply concerned for the youth of our country as I watch their freedoms be spat upon by those who purport to protect them, but I’m teetering on the edge of the occupy generation myself.  I too am frustrated and angry.  Only I’m too disenfranchised to get out there any do anything about it.  Elizabeth Nichols was not.  A few days ago, Elizabeth Nichols woke up believing in change.  I wonder if she still holds on to that glimmer of hope today?

I read the news, and I can hardly recognize my country any more, Mr. President.  Can you?

I don’t have a solution.  That’s why I voted for you.  You promised us hope and change.  But what I see in the images coming out of the Occupy movement is the trampling of hope, and change, and youth, and promise, and freedom, all that I held so dear about our country. That’s unacceptable to me. And if you’re the leader I thought you were, it’s unacceptable to you too.

So, Mr. Obama…with all due respect, I need to know: What are you going to do?

My friend Peter Brauer has been filming the Occupy Wall Street efforts in New York. You can view the [alternately inspirational and upsetting] footage HERE.

As shown in one of Peter’s more disturbing videos, Legal Observers, there to monitor, record, and report on violence and illegal behavior, are not immune to the brutality. I found this account by retired NY Supreme Court Judge Karen Smith particularly chilling.

Feed Me Seymour

  33 comments for “Whose Country Is This? An Open Letter to My President.

  1. vanessajubis
    November 21, 2011 at 9:40 pm

    Well said, well written & well done! I’m with you and I’ll be waiting for Mr. Obama’s response as well. Thank you for this!


    I voted for ‘Change’ NOT ‘Corporate greed’

  2. LittleBabyBlog
    November 21, 2011 at 9:52 pm

    I cried reading this. I cried for the girl in that photo, I cried for our generation of disenchantment, for the world our girls will inherit. This is a powerful letter Morgan, and I’d like to sign my name to the bottom too. Well done.

    • CanBeAFunnyGirl
      November 21, 2011 at 10:17 pm


      I too would like to cosign.

      Well said.

  3. JeniBensonBoden
    November 21, 2011 at 10:16 pm

    You worded the exact thoughts in my head much more eloquently than I ever could. Thank you.

  4. fergusonsarah
    November 22, 2011 at 1:12 am

    Very well said.. This reality promise made to be broken and hope that being crash.. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us..

  5. Court1128
    November 22, 2011 at 4:19 am

    While I may stand a few steps away from you on the political spectrum, I stand behind you 100% on this letter. It makes me sick to my stomach to see where OWS has been taken. It would be different if there were these awful riots taking place or non peaceful and dangerous measures on the part of the protesters, but the fact remains, there isn’t. When did our rights, as Americans to have voices that can be heard, get tossed in the trash? While I do believe that the majority of police officers out there are there to protect and serve, the shit show that is being seen (thank God for smart phones and other technology) demands radical measures by people in TRUE power.
    How can we stand by in our own country when injustices are taking place? Especially when we so easily invade someone else’s when we deem it appropriate…
    Thanks for writing this…let’s just hope the message gets heard/read.

  6. lindseytanthony
    November 22, 2011 at 7:45 am

    Awesome post, Mo! This picture made my stomach turn. So horrifying. Well-written letter. I’d sign my name to it.

  7. Alena29
    November 22, 2011 at 8:19 am

    I have watched the Occupy movement grow. A friend of mine has been part of the OWS movement, including the arrests made on the Brooklyn Bridge long ago. I have heard from the inside the amazing things that have happened, and I know what COULD be happening if we stood out of our own way. This country was founded on the idea that taking things as they were was never enough of a reason to keep quiet. If you wanted something to change, you spoke up. If you were unhappy with policy, with politics, with economy…you stood up and spoke up. And for the first time in my life I am seeing a wide spread group of people, republicans, democrats, independents…all stand together and say FUCK THIS! They are standing up to money and false power and trying to bring this country back to what it should be about THE PEOPLE. It isn’t just about jobs, or the lack of, it’s about how corrupt our country is because we have been quiet while our leaders have been bought out by the highest bidder. I am sick of the freedoms that people, like my husband, fight their asses off for, be spat on by a police officer with a can of pepper spray. What rights do these police officers have to silence my {or anyone’s right} to yell? To make noise? To speak up? To stand up? These people aren’t rioting, or raping, or beating anyone. They are exercising their right. And I have a hard time understand how anyone, whether you understand or believe in their movement or not, can tell them to shut up…how anyone could wish they would go away. How are people happy with the way things are in our country? How are they ok with these images? How are they able to stand by and be ok with the censorship that these police departments are forcing on protesters.

    • November 22, 2011 at 11:15 am

      @Alena29 Can I like this ten more times? Cody and his colleagues work too hard for this kind of bullshit. Please tell your husband thank you for his service and protection. And as I’ve said to you before, thank you for loaning him to us.

  8. Tiffgriff06
    November 22, 2011 at 8:30 am

    I am not even really sure what the Occupy movement is about but the images I have seen lately horrify me! The way the police are handling the situation is completely wrong. Thank you for this letter and allowing us to read your thoughts. I would be interested in what President Obama would say in reply. I pray for these people and for this woman. I cannot imagine going through the things they are living through.

  9. CAFootwearCo
    November 22, 2011 at 11:10 am

    So well written. Co-signing (in the sense that you did all the hard work and I know I couldn’t say it any better, so humbly asking if I can ride your train).

  10. MsAfricaAmerica
    November 22, 2011 at 12:35 pm

    @the818 thanks will fit this in some where.

  11. BarbraPushies
    November 22, 2011 at 2:19 pm

    @bellakarma You are very welcome… things like this need to be shared.

  12. Neilochka
    November 22, 2011 at 5:13 pm

    @Greeblemonkey I didn’t realize how politically aware you are as a person. You seem genuinely into OWS as a movement for change.

    • Greeblemonkey
      November 22, 2011 at 5:24 pm

      @Neilochka I used to post more politically, but have fallen off in recent years. Dragged down by it all.

      • Neilochka
        November 22, 2011 at 5:32 pm

        @Greeblemonkey I just worry that thuggish cops vs protesters becomes the main issue rather than less sexy stuff like Glass-Steagall Act.

        • the818
          November 22, 2011 at 5:37 pm

          @Neilochka @greeblemonkey – I wholeheartedly agree it shouldn’t be the main issue, but it’s a pretty serious issue, don’t you think?

        • Neilochka
          November 22, 2011 at 5:38 pm

          @the818 @Greeblemonkey yes, it is. The police need to be retrained.

        • Neilochka
          November 22, 2011 at 5:41 pm

          @the818 – I’m just saying people were happy when police followed law and arrested graffiti artists and loiterers, so they trained this way.

        • Neilochka
          November 22, 2011 at 5:42 pm

          @the818 I think it is a big issue. But separate issue from big banks, etc.

        • Greeblemonkey
          November 22, 2011 at 6:51 pm

          @Neilochka @the818 So many conflicting issues. But examples: Tea Party rallies can have guns? People can camp for a movie opening?

        • Greeblemonkey
          November 22, 2011 at 6:52 pm

          @Neilochka @the818 Or my fave: Bloomberg ok with shutting down the streets for a movie but not the right to protest?

    • Greeblemonkey
      November 22, 2011 at 5:25 pm

      .@Neilochka I support the ideals of #OWS and am deeply saddened by the hypocrisy in how they have been treated.

      • Neilochka
        November 22, 2011 at 5:35 pm

        @Greeblemonkey this is how our police forces have been trained to handle things in a post 9/11 world. And we wanted zero tolerance w/ crime.

  13. Charlotte74
    November 23, 2011 at 5:14 am

    That is an incredible photo. And we thought the images from the spring uprisings would never happen in the west.

  14. ChristopherVanDijk
    November 23, 2011 at 7:27 am

    I love this and I just keep sharing it. i feel like this, whether you agree with OWS and their desire to free our political process from the shackles of corporate money or not, the crack down of American citizens, journalists, people exercising their rights guaranteed by the first amendment, is wrong. And this letter is the most eloquent I’ve read expressing this.



    • November 23, 2011 at 9:01 am

      @ChristopherVanDijk Thank you so much, Chris.

  15. JennieBaird
    November 23, 2011 at 9:01 am

    @the818 just signed your letter. Pls chk out my blog & let me know if u wd be interested in hearing an idea I have. http://t.co/RFCmTMvG

    • the818
      November 23, 2011 at 9:04 am

      @JennieBaird I’m always interested in hearing ideas – I’ll check out your blog today :)

  16. alexandrawrote
    November 25, 2011 at 2:34 pm

    I fully support the OWS movement, and I know that politically we’re on the same page, but I also understand why the POTUS is not involved on the level I’d like him to be. How I wish the former community organizer could be. Just as during the Civil Rights Movement, the protest brutality was a state issue not a federal one. Kennedy should have stepped in. But he didn’t. Kennedy expressed support on a personal level but did not do anything to attempt legislate for civil rights for some time. (While it’s the best comparison I can come up with, I don’t think they’re at all equal. The behavior of the 1% is inexcusable and must change, but it in no way am I saying it can be equated with the inhumanity of Jim Crow Law.)

    I actually think that with the new jobs programs and the creation of Obamacare, the POTUS is doing what as President what he can do for the 99%. He and Dems like Pelosi have spoken out in support of OWS on a human level, but I can’t see what can be done on a federal one. (If you can find something I haven’t been able to that states otherwise I would love to read it. I just haven’t found it.)

    For now, our concern and desire for change must be directed towards the mayors of these cities and governors of the states as they are the ones responsible for doing something about the behavior. As a former community organizer, I can imagine that’s what the POTUS would do.

  17. the818
    December 1, 2011 at 11:08 pm
    • JMattHicks
      December 2, 2011 at 8:21 am

      @the818 We appreciate your patience!

      • the818
        December 2, 2011 at 8:50 am

        @JMattHicks I appreciate your hard work – thank you!

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