It’s hard to call this a simple protest. Early on Saturday morning (4/14), David Buckel, an attorney and longtime LGBT activist made his way to Prospect Park in Brooklyn.
Once there, he poured out some gasoline and set himself on fire in the middle of the lawn facing the stately apartments that line Prospect Park West, across the street. Police and fire department personnel arrived not long after, but there was little they could do. David Buckel was dead. He left a note especially to the groundskeepers in Prospect Park: “I am David Buckel and I just killed myself by fire as a protest suicide,” read Buckel’s note left, with a typed letter steps from a patch of black grass that had burned beneath his body. “I apologize to you for the mess.”
I live only a few miles from the park and had originally planned to do a bicycle ride there Saturday, but changed my mind at the last minute. Therefore, I was unaware of the incident — it didn’t make the local news on Saturday. I found out about it only through one of my climate/extinction friends, who had posted about in at 4 AM or thereabouts. And the story had ended up on Google Newsfeed with more than a little prominence. The resulting stories are interesting in terms of what they want to emphasize about Buckel’s life. From the Daily News, The Guardian and the BBC, the emphasis was on his work with Lambda, with very little mention of his climate based activism.
There has not been a release of his suicide letter. I found this a bit odd–the quotes attributed to his notes are interesting, and I’d like to know if he’s one of the people who follow the news in the near term extinction movement. Here are the quotes (assembled from the above publications) from his letter.
“Pollution ravages our planet, oozing inhabitability via air, soil, water and weather,” he wrote in the email sent to The Times. “Most humans on the planet now breathe air made unhealthy by fossil fuels, and many die early deaths as a result — my early death by fossil fuel reflects what we are doing to ourselves.”
In his note, which was received by The Times at 5:55 a.m., Mr. Buckel discussed the difficulty of improving the world even for those who make vigorous efforts to do so… Privilege, he said, was derived from the suffering of others.
“Many who drive their own lives to help others often realize that they do not change what causes the need for their help,” Mr. Buckel wrote, adding that donating to organizations was not enough.
Noting that he was privileged with “good health to the final moment,” Mr. Buckel said he wanted his death to lead to increased action. “Honorable purpose in life invites honorable purpose in death,” he wrote.
“My early death by fossil fuel reflects what we are doing to ourselves,” he wrote.
In the note, Buckel reportedly drew comparisons between his actions and those of the Tibetan monks who’ve self-immolated to protest Chinese rule.
In a news article appearing Monday, his family and close associates spoke about what drove Buckel to take this action. The title of the Daily News piece in question was that he “made the statement he wanted”. “He put his heart and soul into everything he did in life. He obviously decided to put his heart and soul in the way he died,” said Adam Aronson, who worked with Buckel at Lambda Legal from 2001 to 2006. “There are other ways to fight for what you believe in. I wish this hadn’t been the way that he had chosen to do it.”
On Sunday, I braved the cold and wind and rode out to Prospect Park to see if I could find the place he died. It was just off the bicycle/driving path, visible from the road and visible from the second floors of many of the apartments across from the park. People were walking up to the small circle of burnt turf, now populated with flowers and marked with two orange traffic cones. Most knew that something awful had happened there, but hadn’t seen the news (even though the story made the above Sunday Daily News cover). From a distance, you could see it like this…
Upon closer inspection, this:
I haven’t had a chance to ride over since Sunday. I don’t know if it’s been visited since or whether the park workers have covered it up. I’m more intrigued by what Buckel had to say in his final letter–assuming his next of kin don’t have objections to the text, why shouldn’t the NY Times release his letter? The Times did a follow-up story on the last days of Buckel’s life, and it’s somewhat helpful but isn’t quite the same as reading the protester’s ideas. And (lest people misunderstand) other protesters have taken this route. Most famously, a Quaker missionary named Norman Morrison set himself on fire to protest the slaughter of civilians in Vietnam. He was one of three such protests from that period. More recently, in 2006 a local music promoter in Chicago named Malachi Ritscher set himself on fire to protest the war in Iraq. His site was next to a highway, and people saw the fire but didn’t know what it was about. And others have taken their lives over the loss of habitat and the destruction of the climate. One of the things I wanted to investigate is whether Buckel was following some of the other people who have said we’re doomed. I found it intriguing that David Buckel took his own life four years almost to the day climate activist/journalist Michael C. Ruppert took his own life. Was there a connection?
And no one I know in the NTHE movement is encouraging people to take their own lives, either out of protest or despair over where we think things are headed. The desperation that David Buckel felt was clearly palpable, and many who are familiar with the work of the scientists saying game over are probably seized with a similar depression. I don’t know what to tell people who are similarly depressed. We will all have to find a balance somewhere.
That’s where I am right now. This incident has driven a lot of conversation on a bunch of different sides. I will try to address this in a future blogpost. In the meantime, I wish all of you peace.
Copyright, D Kinch