December 2, 2006

Hard to Know What to Think

This is a disquieting subject. Malachi Ritscher is--was--a guy who set himself on fire in downtown Chicago last month to protest the unjust and unjustifiable US occupation of Iraq. His death got one mention in the mainstream press, a single paragraph buried deep in the Chicago Sun-Times. Suicide protest, the embrace of martyrdom in any form, falls so far outside the norms of US society that we instinctively write him off as a loon.

I found that dismissive stance surprisingly hard to adopt. I don't think it's mainly the particulars, though Ritscher was a music freak like me, passionately opposed the war like me, was a white guy in his 50s like me, had a few quirks--well, you get the idea. Our, my, discomfort comes more from sensing how driven Malachi was both by the need to make a difference and by his need to reject the privileges that come with living in the Belly of the Beast, while billions of others live constricted lives and suffer agonizing deaths to pay for those privileges.

There is, however, a "happy ending." An independent journalist named Jennifer Diaz wrote a moving story about his death and joined with some friends of his who set out to reclaim Malachi Ritscher and his sacrifice from the memory hole. They started a website in his memory, designed a tee shirt with the image to the left and the words "I heard you, Malachi" and began relentlessly pumping the story out to the anti-war movement and the public through the Internet. I found it via the news digest on the website of the Bring Them Home Now! campaign.

Now an email from Jennifer Diaz reports:

This week the story was picked up by dozens of papers across the country, including the Chicago Sun-Times, the New York Times, and finally, on Wednesday, the Tribune. Radio programs from all over the world have also been broadcasting the story of his actions, as well as the story of how a growing community of Americans refused to let his message go unheard.
Loyal friends, the Internet and, most of all, the sore-tooth-you-keep-touching-with your-tongue nature of Brother Ritscher's sacrifice have combined to make a reality of the simple slogan "I heard you, Malachi."

A question to readers here: When did you first hear about Malachi Ritscher and what did you think when you did?

1 comment:

Magnus said...

I read about it on the Boing Boing blog first.

I thought that it was horrible to think that he saw no other way to protest the war, and I was very sad abou it.

I thought the story would make a big impact. We now know it didn't. Hopefully the campaign to make it known i successful.