Bicycle Diaries: Political suicide

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12.11.06

Political suicide

My actions should be self-explanatory...

This isn't about Senator Kerry's recent joke linking Bush's poor academic performance with our ill-fated war in Iraq. Nor is it about the thumping the Republicans got in the elections last week.

A much more real and terrible political suicide occured on 3 Novemeber 2006 just off an exit of Chicago's Kennedy Expressway. Malachi Ritscher, a local jazzman, burned himeslf to death in protest of the Iraq War.

Incomprehensible as it may seem, such desperate acts, especially during times of war, are common. There was Thích Quảng Đức, a priest who killed himself in protest of the Viet Nam War in 1963. His act was soon followed by other Bhuddists there.

And in 1969, Jan Palach, a Czech student, killed himself for much the same reason, protesting Soviet repression of the Prague Spring. Choosing death by fire is an extremely painful option. It is a powerful statement, a way of stating one's absolute dedication to a position or belief.

For the rest of us, a brutal act such as this is both personal and political. It forces us to confront not only the person's despair but their hope. On the one hand, a political situation, in this case our war in Iraq, has become so indefensible that the only choice for some seems to be the most painful form of suicide. On the other hand, its very visibility, just off an exit of Chicago's major expressway during the morning rush-hour, reveals a desperate, if misguided, hope that the rest of us will get the point.

That's all I can say... what follows is a short piece by Peter Margasak that appeared in his Chicago Reader blog, Post No Bills, on 7 November 2006.
On Saturday the Sun-Times ran a small item about a man who had set himself on fire during rush hour Friday morning near the Ohio Street exit on the Kennedy. His identity has still not been officially determined, but members of the local jazz and improvised music community say they are certain it was Malachi Ritscher, a longtime supporter of the scene. Bruno Johnson, who owns the free-jazz label Okka Disk, received a package yesterday from Ritscher that included a will, keys to his home, and instructions about what should be done with his belongings. Johnson, a former Chicagoan who now lives in Milwaukee, began making calls. Police are still awaiting the results of dental tests, but Johnson says an officer told one of Ritscher's sisters that all evidence pointed to the body being his; his car was found nearby and he hadn't shown up for work since Thursday.

Buried on Ritscher's web site Chicago Rash Audio Potential, a compendium of invaluable show postings, artwork, and photography, are a suicide note and an obituary. Both indicate that he was deeply troubled by the war in Iraq and pinpoint it as a motive for suicide (no method is specified), though there are indications that he may have had other issues as well. "He had a son, from whom he was estranged (at the son's request), and two grandchildren," reads the obit. "He had many acquaintances, but few friends; and wrote his own obituary, because no one else really knew him." Ritscher was a familiar face at antiwar protests, and he was arrested more than once for his involvement, including this time this past May. A note found at the scene of the immolation reportedly read "Thou Shalt Not Kill."

Although Ritscher, who was in his early 50s, had played music off and on over the years, he was best known for his devotion to documenting other people's shows. Several nights a week for at least the last decade he could be found at places like the Empty Bottle, the Velvet Lounge, and the Hungry Brain; by his own count he recorded more than 2,000 concerts. Over the years he invested more money in equipment and as his skills improved, many of his recordings went to be used on commerical releases--by Paul Rutherford, Gold Sparkle Band, Isotope 217, Irene Schweizer, and Ken Vandermark among others. Ritscher was fiercely modest about these pursuits--I once tried to do a piece on him for the Reader but he declined, saying he didn’t want publicity.

Photos courtesy of Joeff Davis

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5 Comments:

Blogger Mars that rebel artist said...

This is a beautifully put together post about Malachi. I'll be linking to this as soon as I can put words together to speak to it. Still very hard to know where to begin...

12/11/06 23:50  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi,

Thanks for the great site! How about you use your $10 to buy a
t-shirt? That's about how much they cost but then people will ask you who Malachi was...

I'll be putting them up on eBay today. I'll send another e-mail when the page is ready...

Cheers,
J

20/11/06 16:58  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmm, sure odd this didn't get alot more play in our media society, considering how the outlets usually elevate every local mishap, misdeed, or tragedy to national status, either for mass consumption or to forment the mood for whatever the editors are directed to disseminate in current cycle.
Then here, we have a what amounts to a national tragedy, or perhaps a salvatory of the salvation of a nations soul, born out in the act of one of the award winning, free spirited,and artistically inclined members of our intelligentsia ......yet it gets barely a byline in comparison.
Is such a powerful story in of itself to be blanketed in obscurity, not fitting into to any of the machinations of the current news cycles? Or is it to be trumpeted or openly lamented as a tragic sacrifice in the face of all the half hearted and lackluster protestations against the spread of dark onus over our land; as even the righteous fail in speaking out, except in petty social concern, as the world is set ablaze all about them by their very own promotion or inaction with "thou shalt not commit murder.","judgement is mine sayeth The Lord." falling by the wayside ,perhaps in fear, but a test failed, none the less, each in their own faith.
I once read of late, a powerful statement made, that has a depth that could go unseen in its simplicity "Who would Jesus bomb?"
So losses such as this are tragic indeed as nolonger will he carry a banner,march,write, speak or perhaps play in protestation, any of which we are sure we would rather have him doing this very day than what was indeed done and we would have no other follow in kind as it would draw yet darker and tighter the veil that has been draped over this act as attempts would be redoubled to marginalize or discredit such who would, in order to lessen the perception of the solemnity or seriousness of the message of this act.But let it be heralded for all to know, for who could not help but be deeply moved, and even the most ardent of the herd of sheeple may be touched by it.
And what of the tape?Are we ever to see and feel his mind in this, through the visage of his spoken word?We call out for it, for such an act in of itself demands the dissemination of all of the message which the horror of the act itself calls out for.
So be not silent in this, cry out until the attention this commands is given and solemnized with the dignity it merits..anon..for all our sakes.

30/11/06 09:55  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmm, sure odd this didn't get alot more play in our media society, considering how the outlets usually elevate every local mishap, misdeed, or tragedy to national status, either for mass consumption or to forment the mood for whatever the editors are directed to disseminate in current cycle.
Then here, we have a what amounts to a national tragedy, or perhaps a salvatory of the salvation of a nations soul, born out in the act of one of the award winning, free spirited,and artistically inclined members of our intelligentsia ......yet it gets barely a byline in comparison.
Is such a powerful story in of itself to be blanketed in obscurity, not fitting into to any of the machinations of the current news cycles? Or is it to be trumpeted or openly lamented as a tragic sacrifice in the face of all the half hearted and lackluster protestations against the spread of dark onus over our land; as even the righteous fail in speaking out, except in petty social concern, as the world is set ablaze all about them by their very own promotion or inaction with "thou shalt not commit murder.","judgement is mine sayeth The Lord." falling by the wayside ,perhaps in fear, but a test failed, none the less, each in their own faith.
I once read of late, a powerful statement made, that has a depth that could go unseen in its simplicity "Who would Jesus bomb?"
So losses such as this are tragic indeed as nolonger will he carry a banner,march,write, speak or perhaps play in protestation, any of which we are sure we would rather have him doing this very day than what was indeed done and we would have no other follow in kind as it would draw yet darker and tighter the veil that has been draped over this act as attempts would be redoubled to marginalize or discredit such who would, in order to lessen the perception of the solemnity or seriousness of the message of this act.But let it be heralded for all to know, for who could not help but be deeply moved, and even the most ardent of the herd of sheeple may be touched by it.
And what of the tape?Are we ever to see and feel his mind in this, through the visage of his spoken word?We call out for it, for such an act in of itself demands the dissemination of all of the message which the horror of the act itself calls out for.
So be not silent in this, cry out until the attention this commands is given and solemnized with the dignity it merits..anon..for all our sakes.

30/11/06 09:56  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks to you, the world is finally hearing of Malachi Ritscher, the
American who gave his life in protest of the war. As we told others,
who in turn told more others, our numbers grew until the mainstream
press could no longer ignore the events of November 3rd. 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.
You *are* that community, and since the man who would thank you can't, I
will:

*Thank you for caring.*

This Sunday, we will gather to remember Malachi on the one-month
anniversary of death:

Sunday, December 3
at 2 p.m.
Grand Ave. and Peoria St. in Chicago (see attached map)
Bring a sign or just yourself


Hope you can make it,
J

2/12/06 14:30  

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