A few days ago, a man burned himself alive in Washington, D.C. 

A lot has been said about this man already, and surely more will be said as the media continues to rifle through his past to try to find a narrative befitting the suddenly famous and dead, a habit born of a glut of spree killers and suicide bombers.

Here’s what is known at this point.

He was an airman, and it was his government-issued fatigues that drank up the gasoline he knowingly poured on himself. He was an anarchist who fumbled for his lighter as security looked on in disbelief. He was a man, on fire, using his body to express that he was no longer going to be complicit in genocide.

His name was Aaron Bushnell. 

Self immolation is a desperate act, but it is not plainly suicidal; it is horrific, painful and inherently public — realities that make it an inconvenient action for those purely interested in ending their lives. It is an extreme form of protest that aims to galvanize the public into snapping out of their stupor and taking action. It is an act so unthinkable that it is impossible to ignore. It demands our attention.

It demands our attention in the same way Thích Quảng Đức demanded attention when he self-immolated in protest of the America-backed South Vietnamese government’s oppression of Buddhism and caused new international pressure against that government. It demands our attention in the same way Mohamed Bouazizi demanded attention when he self-immolated in protest of corruption of the Tunisian government and kicked off the Arab Spring that toppled myriad governments.

It brings into sharp focus that what we are experiencing right now is historic and criminal and that we cannot allow business to continue as usual. The United States government is using the brunt of its enormous economic and diplomatic power to allow and abet atrocities. Far from being out of our control, it is something we can and must stop.

Of course, this attention is hard fought for. Charged with greasing the wheels of American conquest, mass media has been quick to characterize Aaron’s actions as futile and dangerous. Ironically, this coverage vindicates him; despite the Palestinian death toll rising to 30,000, we are told we must fear for American lives above all others, and thus the profile of Aaron’s protest is increased.

None of this discourse can erase the magnitude of the sacrifice he made.

When Aaron Bushnell walked toward the Israeli embassy, he was doing what he could to ensure that the continuance of these crimes would not be comfortable nor easy. He assured that the diplomatic seat of a murderous regime would know at least one less day free of disruption. He demanded the whole world’s attention.

With Aaron gone and his friends and comrades mourning, it is up to us to honor his memory and sustain our attention. We must understand that there cannot be a normal day until this war ends. 

This does not mean that everyone should go and set themselves on fire. Instead, we must be relentless in our resistance and activism. There should never be a day of silence in Washington, there should never be a bombmaker undisturbed, there should never be a caring person willing to let one red cent be spent on products from Israeli settlements. We must scream, as Aaron did until his lungs gave out.




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