Sun. May 26th, 2024

Image: News_SCLP_Vigil_1: Vigil for Aaron Bushnell poster via wcu_sclp instagram

**Gaven Mitchell is a member of the Student Coalition for Liberation of Palestine.

On Tuesday, April 9 at 3:15 p.m., the Student Coalition for Liberation of Palestine (SCLP) held an event for Aaron Bushnell, senior airman in the U.S. Air Force, who recently died in an act of self-immolation in front of the White House on Feb. 25.

The event, held on the Academic Quad, was meant to remember Bushnell and his dying message, “Free Palestine!” Speakers were also there to tell attendees who Bushnell was before his adulthood and what he was like as a person.

Teen Vogue’s coverage includes quotes from the video of Bushnell’s death, which is held by Talia Jane, an independent journalist. Bushnell’s message before igniting the flame was, “I am about to engage in an extreme act of protest, but compared to what people have been experiencing in Palestine at hands of their colonizers, it’s not extreme at all.”

Bushnell was raised in Orleans, Mass. where he was primarily brought up in the Community of Jesus, according to Susan Wilkins in an interview with the Washington Post. The Community of Jesus, which is now inoperative, has been criticized during its years of operation by former members and local outsiders for its abusive practices of authority and humiliation. After he left the community, Bushnell enlisted in the U.S. Air Force, something common amongst those who leave the group, according to Wilkins.

In an interview with Democracy Now!, Levi Pierpont, a friend of Bushnell, said that he and Bushnell’s views on war changed based on what they saw during their time in the military. “[B]oth of us shifted … because of the things that we learned because we were a part of it,” Pierpont said. 

The speeches presented at the Aaron Bushnell Silent Vigil also included more personal accounts of Bushnell from friends and family, including what he was like, his interests and hobbies. Some said that Bushnell was, “incredibly strong-willed,” and that he was one of the most dependable people they knew.

The on-campus vigil also included speeches detailing some history behind the practice of self-immolation. Information about Thich Quang Duc — the famous “Burning Monk,” — was shared, and how the practice ties to Buddhist and Hindu practices in India.

In an article by NPR, the famous coverage of Duc’s act — specifically the photo — helped make the practice more well-known in the latter-half of the twentieth century. People in eastern Europe, South Korea and Tibet have since reported forms of protest since the “Burning Monk” photo.

Ann Wright, writer and former veteran, was also interviewed by Democracy Now!. Her most recent essay was on the political motivations of self-immolation as a practice. According to Wright, five people “burned themselves to death over a political decision of the United States to go to war.”

Wright notes that Bushnell is one of two individuals who have committed suicide within three months in protest of the harm against Palestinians. “He’s not the first person to have committed suicide over what the United States has been doing,” Wright said in response to those questioning Bushnell’s mental health.

According to Wright, 22 veterans commit suicide a day. Data from the Suicide Prevention Resource Center corroborates that statistic.

As for West Chester University, our history of self-immolation is brief, but it does exist. In 1965, the Daily Local News reported on the self-immolation of Patricia Ann Conway, a WCU student.

Reports of the incident suggest that this act was not political in nature. In interviews with Conway before her death, she was reported saying the cause of her act of self-immolation was, “because I love my God. I did it because of a personal thing.” The Daily Local reported that Conway’s act had nothing to do with “Vietnam, referring to recent cases of suicide by [self] immolation in protest against government policies.”

Conway’s death was around the same time as five others who self-immolated in protest to Vietnam. According to Consortium News, Alice Herz was the first of whom self-immolated in the United States in protest of the nation’s foreign affairs. Her last words were about the arms race and President Nixon using his power to “wipe out” other countries.


 Gaven Mitchell is a third-year History major with a minor in Journalism.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *