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