Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | April 17th, 2018
**The following article discusses suicide. If you are feeling depressed or suicidal, or if you or someone you know needs help, please call the national suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or the local Johnson County crises line at (319) 351-0140**
The nation was rocked on the morning of April 14th after learning about the death of activist and lawyer David Buckel, who committed suicide in Prospect Park, New York via self-immolation. He was 60 years old.
Self-immolation, or sacrificial suicide, is often a death of protest, as it has been historically used as an act of self-sacrifice. This type of death was famously utilized by the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thích Quảng Đức in 1963.
Buckel was an accomplished lawyer and an LGBT activist who worked some very prominent cases as a marriage project director at Lambda Legal, an LGBT activism group. He was working for Lambda when the group filed a lawsuit against Iowa on behalf of same-sex couples in 2009, in a case that eventually lead to the legalization of gay marriage in Iowa. He had recently begun focusing on environmental issues, and what could be done to reduce reliance on fossil fuels.
In his journey to make a dent in the planet’s fossil fuel problem, he helped establish the New York City Compost Center as the Senior Organics Recovery Coordinator.
His coworkers regarded him as a man of passion and heart–“He put his heart and soul into everything he did in life. He obviously decided to put his heart and soul in the way he died. I think it’s tragic. I wish he hadn’t done it,” said Adam Aronson of the death.
Aronson was a friend of Buckel’s who worked alongside him for five years at Lambda Legal. Buckel was known to put all of his energy in everything he did, and frequently lived his truth, making small contributions to his environmental cause in his private life by walking to work and refusing to use machines at his composting sites.
At the site of his death, Buckel left a long note explaining his actions, clarifying that he wanted his death to be viewed as a final act of protest:
“Pollution ravages our planet, oozing in-habitability 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 …”
Buckel is survived by his husband, Terry Kaelber, and their daughter, Hannah.