Cookie Schwaeber-Issan

Activism or Mental Illness?

How far would you be willing to go to get your point across, and where does it draw the line between sanity and insanity?

Just a month ago, a Colorado man, who represented himself as a climate activist, decided that by setting himself ablaze, he might be able to call attention to his particular cause, so on Earth Day, April 22nd, 50 year-old Wynn Bruce paid the ultimate price for the sake of trying to draw others to what he apparently thought was worth ending his life. This is not mere speculation, because a close friend actually confirmed that his decision had been a planned act of protest (Climate Activist Dies After Setting Himself on Fire at Supreme Court,, 4/24/22)

Although Wynn Bruce may have been the last such disturbed activist, he certainly wasn’t the first. According to, self-immolation (the act of setting oneself on fire) was a “relatively common protest tactic among Buddhists in South Vietnam, anti-communists in Czechoslovakia during the mid-20th century and continues to be used by Tibetans protesting rule of Tibet by China.”

There is an endless list of individuals who have been willing to go to all lengths, including dying, in order to get others to pay attention to something they believe is unjust or intolerable, and, in recent days, we are getting a glimpse of those whose inhibitions are no obstacle in going to extreme lengths to make their point.

With the recent leak of the US Supreme Court decision of Roe vs. Wade, challenging the nearly 50 year-old decision which granted jurisdiction to the federal government, thus preventing each state from deciding on this controversial issue, activists have taken to extreme measures to protest any forthcoming change in the law.

Scenes captured and televised have been so unimaginable that many have begun to pose the question as to whether or not these so-called activists are simply mentally unstable individuals who, for the sake of performance art, are willing to humiliate and denigrate themselves to the point of calling into question their very sanity.

When you see a young woman clad in a skimpy bathing suit stuffed with blood-colored fabric in order to make herself look pregnant, and carrying around a toy doll, screaming, to the top of her lungs, that she’s killing the baby, you have to ask if this woman is, at all, of sound mind.

The same goes for anyone joyfully singing the lyrics, “Thank God for abortion.” Any reasonable person who has a modicum of understanding and social decorum knows that such a statement is not intended to change hearts and minds but rather to express an extremely convoluted and absurd logic only comprehensible by a deeply troubled soul who lives in an alternate dimension.

Now, we all know that the subject of abortion is very charged with both sides being highly impassioned about their positions and personal beliefs, but it’s normal and expected that anyone protesting do so in a cogent, intelligent and measured manner, bathed in reason and sanity. Not to do so simply calls attention to the performer rather than the issue itself, and that type of protest not only loses the argument from the get-go but it also discredits the person as nothing more than flaky and a raving lunatic.

Just a few days ago, Conservative commentator Tammy Bruce, while appearing on a weekend Fox news show stated the following, “When we think about the left, having come from it, a major concern for me was mental health issues, and that’s only gotten worse as we’ve been seeing. And one of the things we’re going to be looking at and realizing, in the next decade or so, is that we’ve allowed mental illness to pass for activism and legitimate public discourse, because it isn’t.” (The Big Sunday Show, May 8, 2022)

Mental illness is described as “health conditions involving significant changes in thinking, emotion and/or behavior. Distress and/or problems functioning in social, work or family activities.” (

Whereas sound mental health requires “having healthy relationships, being involved in productive activities such as work, study or caregiving and also possessing the ability to adapt to change and cope with adversity,” (ibid) it is not what many of today’s activists are displaying. In their attempt to proclaim their immense disagreement, not a few have mirrored the same temper tantrums which are more common in toddlers and young children, acting out in ways which are completely unacceptable in a normal functioning society.

This behavior has spilled out into the shocking images we’ve witnessed over the last couple of years which have included looting of stores, pulling down or defacing statues and buildings, setting fire to cars, trash bins and other city venues or taking to the streets in a threatening and abusive manner, designed to intimidate the general public.

In short, there has been a sort of anarchy which has tried to rule and which, in many cases, has prevailed for lack of enough brave leadership to demand order, because such an act might be mistaken for being labeled politically incorrect or even racist.  It’s one reason that police have often withdrawn their involvement in very charged urban confrontations, especially when being commanded to do so by their political superiors.

But if, in fact, we are looking at a very infectious spread of mental illness, where calm debate and controlled temperaments are being replaced with crazy and insane displays of rage, vilification and even the willingness to become verbally abusive or violent, we must ask ourselves if those who are mentally and emotionally unstable are going to be permitted to continue with their unacceptable and anti-social behavior or if enough of us will call it out for what it is?

In this present case of the Roe vs. Wade opinion, any activist who represents that an overturning of the law will prohibit abortion is being disingenuous, because that has no basis in reality. It simply means that the decision would be turned over to individual states where voters can make their own decisions on how they want this issue to be enacted where they live.

After all, that truly is the crux of a healthy democratic society – letting each person’s voice be heard with respect and dignity, but that type of society can only exist absent the presence of mental illness, exhibitionism and tantrum meltdowns.

Activism is clearly one’s right, but in order to be an effective and sincere activist, it must begin by caring enough about your own name, reputation and behavior in order to convince others that listening to your side is worthwhile, because if you exhibit self-respect, others can then trust you enough to believe that, perhaps, you will also have a healthy regard for their opinion. It’s important to remember that personal stability is attractive to normal people, but anarchy and rage will never accomplish anything except to prove that you don’t even believe in yourself so why should anyone listen?

About the Author
A former Jerusalem elementary and middle-school principal and the granddaughter of European Jews who arrived in the US before the Holocaust. Making Aliyah in 1993, she is retired and now lives in the center of the country with her husband.
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