On October 4, a man poured gasoline over his body and set himself on fire in Washington DC. He committed suicide in the National Mall, the open-air park surrounded by national museums and monuments, now closed due to the government shutdown.
Witnesses say he had set up a tripod to film his self-immolation. They say that before he killed himself he was yelling about voting rights. The man on fire was black. In June, the US Supreme Court struck down key parts of the Voting Rights Amendment, proclaiming racial discrimination a thing of the past.
Now it is the government that is struck down, paralysed by vindictive partisanship while its most vulnerable citizens suffer.
As I write this, no one knows who the man was or why he did it. But his act is not unique. He joins a long list of men who have self-immolated since the global financial collapse and subsequent austerity. Around the world, men are setting themselves on fire because they cannot find work.
As a gray-haired, 56-year-old lesbian, I don’t have time to wait another generation for equality — it’s been almost 40 years since similar legislation to ENDA was first introduced in Congress. And being polite hasn’t gotten us any closer to it becoming a reality.
When I attended a Democratic National Committee (DNC) fundraiser a few days ago, I brought this sense of urgency. When I blurted out my comments during the first lady’s speech, it was a spontaneous reaction to her saying, “Right now, today, we have an obligation to stand up for those kids.” I needed to speak up for LGBT youth, who make up 40 percent of homeless youth — kicked out onto the street because parents and workplaces won’t accept them for who they are — and for LGBT parents, whose lack of workplace protections imperils their children’s futures.
Some have said that the first lady wasn’t a proper target because she is not an elected official. However, time and again, the first lady has come to our community and asked us to “max out” on our contributions to the DNC. In fact, she had just made the same request of several hundred LGBT attendees, days after Senate Democrats had refused to include same-sex binational couples in their immigration reform bill. Despite the Democratic Party happily cashing LGBT checks, I have not seen the Obama administration “max out” on the myriad ways that the government could protect the LGBT community.
According to protesters, the Ethiopian Consulate from Los Angeles was barricaded inside the cultural center with an undetermined number of members of the San Diego and Los Angeles Ethiopian Community. The Consulate was attending a widely publicized meeting to promote the purchase of bonds to build a controversial dam in Ethiopia that threatens the livelihood of thousands of indigenous peoples. Protesters maintained that flyers advertising the meeting had been left in City Heights Ethiopian markets and restaurants. One woman told me that when the protesting group entered the cultural center they were met with invectives, hostility and intimidation before being dispersed from the meeting which had been publicized as open to the public.
Protesters were anxious to describe the current conditions in Ethiopia under a government led by the minority Tigray tribe. Someone handed me the 2012 US State Department Human Rights Watch which detailed the Ethiopian government suppression of journalists and bloggers and the alarming incidences of imprisonment and torture. There is no independent press in Ethiopia and dissenting political views are often treated as “terrorism”.