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Aaron Bushell: The Extremities of Protest Throughout History


Twitch is an interactive livestreaming service for content spanning from gaming, entertainment, sports, music and more. On Sunday, February 25, 2024, Aaron Bushnell, 25-year-old US Air Force serviceman, took to the platform with a different intention in mind. 

“I will no longer be complicit with genocide…“I am about to engage in an extreme act of protest. But compared to what people have been experiencing in Palestine at the hands of their colonizers, it’s not extreme at all. This is what our ruling class has decided will be normal”  Bushnell said. 

Setting up his phone on the pavement, Bushnell stands outside in front of the Embassy of Israel in Washington D.C. where he then douses himself in liquid in a bottle and is soon engulfed in flames. He screams his last words: “Free Palestine!” 

As Bushnell screams in pain, law enforcement approach the burning victim in pain with guns, telling him to “get on the ground.” A second officer yelled at the first: “I don’t need guns, I need fire extinguishers!” By the time D.C. Fire and EMS arrived on the scene, the fire had been put out.

The New York Intelligencer states that an act of protest like this wasn’t expected from Bushnell four years ago. Bushnell was initially very conservative and was immersed in an allegedly abusive religious group with a foundation of a fixed social hierarchy. Friends of Bushnell stated that he left the church in 2019 and found himself attending socialist organizations where they tended to their communities, feeding people on the streets. It wasn’t until the murder of George Floyd that encouraged Bushnell’s moral switch and ultimately being more open to the rejection of the military. 

“He said that he kind of went from one extreme — the conservative beliefs that he had grown up around — to the opposite, forming his anarchist, anti-imperialist values,” A friend of Bushnell shares with the New York Times. 

This switch of moral values and as well mindset that is sparked by the actions of enforcement in our country holds imperative significance. As the United States of America continues to neglect, silence, and perform immutable injustices upon its citizens, acts of extremities seem to be the only way to truly be heard. 

This isn’t the first time extremities of this matter were taken in order to beg for the ears of others. On November 8, 2023, an unidentified Congolese man acted in self-immolation in front of a crowd in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, standing tall within the flames as he holds a sign that reads “Stop the genocide in Congo.”

Despite the genocide’s ongoing presence since 1996, this incident is what introduced the conflict to the media. An article by BNN Breaking expands on the topic explaining this is a conflict fueled by the competition for rich natural resources of the region which are invaluable to various industries and technologies. As the region is tyrannized by army groups, who seek to exploit the resources and influence the politics of the DRC, enforcing in heinous practices. 

Incidents of extremities for protest date back even further in history. On June 11, 1963, a Vietnamese Mahayana Buddhist Monk died of self-immolation at a busy Saigon road intersection, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Despite the monk’s peaceful demeanor engulfed in flames, the monk’s self-immolation is a desperate attempt to combat the persecution of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese government of Ngô Đình Diệm, a staunch Roman Catholic. 

In the tumultuous tapestry of history, from the self-immolation of a Vietnamese monk in 1963 to the recent harrowing act of protest by Aaron Bushnell outside the Embassy of Israel, one unsettling truth remains: when the cries of the oppressed fall on deaf ears, when governments turn a blind eye to the suffering of their people, individuals are driven to the extremes of protest. The flames that engulf Bushnell and those who came before him are not just a spectacle of despair, but a piercing cry for justice echoing through the annals of time. As we grapple with the question of why we risk our lives to be heard, we must confront the uncomfortable reality that it is the failure of governance, the systemic oppression and the silencing of voices that propel individuals to such drastic measures. When we ignore the pleas of our citizens, we not only betray their trust but also pave a path stained with the blood of countless lives lost in the pursuit of finding justice. It is time for us to heed the lessons of history, to listen to the cries of the silenced and to strive for a world where the flames of protests are extinguished by the winds of change, not by the force of violence. Only then can we truly claim to have built a society where every voice is not only heard but valued, where the sacrifice of one is not in vain but serves as a beacon of hope for generations to come.


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About the Contributor
Kennedi Bryant
Kennedi Bryant, Staff Writer
Hello! My name is Kennedi Bryant and I am a Senior at Hazelwood West High School. At school, I love to be involved in any way I can to explore the different values and passions that I have within myself. From finding joy in the acts of teamwork and determination through joining Varsity Lacrosse and, for the first time this year, the Tennis team, to giving back to my community and encouraging a sense of unity with participation in the PEP club, KEY club, and as well National Honor Society. With my last year in high school, I now find myself gravitating towards my interests within school as I explore my intrigue in reading with the fresh Book Club breaking out of my shell, and sharing my writing within Writers Week and now Newspaper! I am very excited about Newspaper this semester as I have always wanted to do this with aspirations to become a journalist. With this opportunity, I hope to gain as much experience as possible and expand my writing abilities!
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