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Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on Brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights? ...If I thought the war was going to bring freedom and equality to 22 million of my people they wouldn't have to draft me, I'd join tomorrow. I have nothing to lose by standing up for my beliefs. So I'll go to jail, so what? We've been in jail for 400 years.

Muhammed Ali (1942-2016)

Norman Morrison

by Adrian Mitchell
On November 2nd 1965
in the multi-colored multi-minded
United beautiful States of terrible America
Norman Morrison set himself on fire
outside the Pentagon.
He was thirty-one, he was a Quaker,
and his wife (seen weeping in the newsreels)
and his three children
survive him as best they can.
He did it in Washington where everyone could see
because
people were being set on fire
in the dark corners of Vietnam where nobody could see
Their names, ages, beliefs and loves
are not recorded.
This is what Norman Morrison did.
He poured petrol over himself.
He burned. He suffered.
He died.
That is what he did
in the white heart of Washington
where everyone could see.
He simply burned away his clothes,
his passport, his pink-tinted skin,
put on a new skin of flame
and became
Vietnamese.

Suggested approach

Write up the phrase direction action on the board and find out what the phrase means to the students. Ask if anyone has ever been involved in direct action and if so get them to say what it involved. Share any personal experiences of direct action with the students. Ask if there are any issues the students might consider taking direct action about.

If climate change has not been mentioned ask the students if they are concerned about climate change. Write up or display David Buckel's suicide note. Ask if they have heard of him. Elicit or explain the details of his death. Then introduce the poem.

Shuffle the strips. The students take turns taking a strip at random and reading the line on the strip. Answer any questions about vocabulary and meaning. When all the strips are handed out either read the poem or play the recording. The students assemble the srtips in order to produce the complete poem. Hand out the complete poem sheet and go through the poem one more time.

NOTES:

For large classes eiither put the students into groups of 4-6 and use multiple sets of strips or make one large set. Students aim to stand side by side and display each line in order.

David Buckel was a prominant LBT rights lawyer and environmental activist. On April 1th, 2018 he set fire to himself in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, New York to protest against fossil fuels. A suicde note stated:

Most humans on the planet now breathe air made unhealthy by fossil fuels, and many die early deaths as a result—my early death by fossil fuel reflects what we are doing to ourselves.

For more details about David Buckel see the BBC News report David Buckel: US lawyer sets himself on fire in climate protest and the New York Times report Prominent Lawyer in Fight for Gay Rights Dies After Setting Himself on Fire in Prospect Park

Put up 20th April 2018