Marla Rusicka, Human Rights Activist

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by Derrel Myers / May 2005 issue of Socialist Action
 

With some reservation my wife Naomi and I began a gloomy Saturday morning driving 2 1/2 hours from San Francisco to Lakeport, Calif., to attend the funeral

of our friend Marla Rusicka.

 

We’ve had more than our share of memorials for loving and courageous youth, and Marla’s death (at age 28) was the third such tragedy in less than four months.  That it was to be celebrated in a religious mass in the heartland of conservative rural California was, in my opinion, not promising to fully honor the life and work of this dedicated antiwar and human rights activist, this bold and effervescent feminist rebel.

 

Marla and her Iraqi colleague, Faiz Ali Salim, were killed on April 16 in Baghdad by a roadside bomb in the course of their work calling attention to the unbearable loss and suffering of the civilian victims of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq. They agitated the U.S. military and government to

acknowledge, and to take responsibility for this humanitarian crisis.

 

While still a student at Clearlake High School, Marla sometimes drove a 120 miles to the Global Exchange office in San Francisco, returning armed with

"subversive" literature and speakers to awaken her sleepy hometown of Lakeport to a world of change.  Marla devoted her adult life to aiding victims of

disease, war and injustice in the U.S., Zimbabwe, Cuba, Palestine, Nicaragua, Afghanistan, and Iraq. To Marla, no one on earth was a stranger, no one unworthy of justice.

 

Although we arrived an hour early, the church had already filled with Marla’s bereaved family, friends, colleagues, and international media. Standing for

hours in a drizzle in a parking lot, observing a religious ceremony on big-screen television was not my idea of honoring a fallen friend.

 

When the pastor, an avowed 11-year veteran of the local police department, insisted that after the mass guest speakers not bring politics into his church, my spirits sank even deeper. What was Marla’s life about if not politics?

 

Then I saw her smiling face on the printed program, and below her picture the words of Che Guevara, "The true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of

love." I knew then it was going to be a real celebration of Marla.

 

After the celebration of the mass, siblings, lovers, friends, renowned journalists, fellow activists, and Vietnam War veterans, boldly brought into that church the "politics" of Marla Rusicka—the politics of love, solidarity, compassion, peace and justice. Jesus himself would have been inspired.

 

As I listened attentively to each eloquent, inspired speaker, I observed the hundreds of local residents gathered in the church and the parking lot to honor

their ambassador to the world. I’ve never seen such pride, such applause, such heartfelt approval of the "politics" of the Marlas of the world in a small rural California town.

 

On the drive home to San Francisco, I thought of the young Marla driving the same road on a journey to unite her people of Lakeport with the rest of

humanity. I’m sure she couldn’t imagine then how important her travels would be.

 

The beautiful wildflowers covering the hills in great profusion reminded me of the tenacity of life, and of the words of Arundhati Roy and the "Internationale,"

the anthem of world revolution. A new and better world is in birth, and on a quiet day you can hear her breathing even in a small conservative  town in

northern California.

 

Marla y Faiz Presente!

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