Protests have often been known as some of the most powerful and even intimidating phenomena in human history.
Many protests see dozens, hundreds, and thousands of people coming together in solidarity over an issue. The bigger the issue and the more neglected it is, the more intense the protest usually is.
Then there are those protestors who decide that making a statement about a cause is a one-person job. Even if they believe strength equals numbers in some regard, they sometimes choose to make a massive declaration through one noteworthy action.
But emotions run high when humans are rallying against something they feel is unfair, unhealthy, or unethical. These tensions can sometimes cloud better judgment and even lead to people being harmed as a result, even if the cause or motive seems worthwhile on its own.
This seems to be the case for one well-known lawyer who decided to make a terrifying and ghastly demonstration on the dangers of fossil fuels using his own body.
It was reported 60-year-old David Buckel created a horrific situation in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park when he ignited himself, a move ultimately resulting in his death.
In an email to the New York Times, his devotion to fighting pollution was clear. “Pollution ravages our planet, oozing inhabitability via air, soil, water, and weather. 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.”
Buckel’s fact-based take on pollution was correct, but the conversation seemed to degrade into banter. He went on about privilege, and how it required action to “balance the harm done.” He also noted the importance of leaving behind a better world and noted selfishness could be present in both families and nations.
Despite the jarring nature of his demonstration, Buckel was a prominent lawyer who did good work in his field. A leader in LGBT matters and head attorney in Brandon vs. County of Richardson, he led the argument on behalf of Brandon Teena, a transgender man who was murdered and police allegedly failed to protect.
The case gained national exposure as part of the 1999 film “Boys Don’t Cry.” Buckel also worked for Lambda Legal, a leading national organization specializing in LGBT rights. They called him an indefatigable attorney, praising what he did for the social justice movement. He also campaigned for same-sex marriage rights.
Buckel left a handwritten note behind, saying he killed himself by fire as a protest suicide and apologized for the mess. He said his early death by fossil fuels reflected what earth was doing to itself by damaging the environment.
Pollution, especially at its current levels, has been talked about as a massive problem especially in relation to the amount of attention it gets. Buckel may have made a big statement, but those who he helped will undoubtedly miss the man they called a great advocate and friend.