Humanitarian, heroine and Green: Marla Ruzicka (1976-2005)
By Khurshid Khoja
Green Party of Alameda County (California)
On April 16, 2005, humanitarian activist and Green Party member Marla Ruzicka
of Lakeport, Calif. was killed in a car-bomb attack as her vehicle traveled
along the road to the Baghdad airport. She was only 28.
Rural to global
Matt Gonzalez, former president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, first
met Ruzicka during Medea Benjamin's Green Party campaign for U.S. Senate. He
notes that Ruzicka's activism, both as a Green and a citizen of the world, was
|Matt Gonzalez and Marla Ruzicka.
Courtesy Matt Gonzalez
"Marla came from a small town," says Gonzalez. "Most people
coming from a small town to a big city like San Francisco are awed. Marla
interacted with big cities as though they were all the small town where she grew
up--so she made friends easily. As she traveled and saw other big cities in the
U.S. and around the world, she realized that all these places were similar to
her own home town."
Ruzicka viewed many of the problems and issues faced by these cities and their
denizens through the same lens, observed Gonzalez, noting that this strengthened
her activism with a sense of optimism that was undeterred by nay-sayers who view
the world's problems as intractable. "She didn't buy into that
hopelessness," says Gonzalez.
"She really stood out in the nature of her personal energy. Even in
seemingly hopeless situations, she always found the positives," recalls
close friend Kevin Danaher. "Any context that you put her in, she would
turn up the heat."
Working for the victims of war
During a visit to Afghanistan as a Global Exchange volunteer, Ruzicka witnessed
the devastating toll of over two decades of foreign military adventurism and
civil war in Afghanistan. Recounting this experience, she once told an
interviewer, "My heart broke, and I made a commitment to ensure that no
more innocent Afghans had to suffer."
After several additional trips to Afghanistan, she expanded her commitment to
other victims of U.S. military campaigns, traveling to Iraq to continue her
work. In 2003 she founded the Campaign for Innocent Victims of Conflict (CIVIC).
While in Iraq, Ruzicka organized and led CIVIC's volunteer survey teams, going
door to door to collect information about the numbers of dead and wounded and to
arrange for desperately needed medical help. She took her findings to
Washington, where she lobbied members of Congress to sponsor and pass the
Civilian Victims Assistance program--renamed the Marla Ruzicka Iraqi War
Victims' Fund in her honor--legislation to provide reparations to civilian
noncombatants harmed in U.S. military operations.
Selfless acts in the service of humanity
Marla Ruzicka eschewed the safety and security of her life in California to
embrace the practice of compassion and love for humanity. A telling entry in
Ruzicka's published journal displays just how true this was: "Recent
terrorist attacks have created a rapidly deteriorating security situation,
forcing many aid groups to leave Iraq." Without skipping a beat, her next
sentence reads, "Consequently, CIVIC's role has greatly expanded."
She was an activist--indeed, an "activist's activist," as many fellow
Greens have noted--but she was not a partisan. She would not, perhaps could not,
make an enemy of anyone.
Danaher also remembers Ruzicka as a first-class fundraiser for Green causes and
"Marla took to it naturally--she had no trepidations about 'the ask,'"
says Danaher. "She constantly challenged folks to put their money where
their values are. Her efforts [on behalf of the Green Party] make her loss all
the more devastating to fellow Greens--she was a very valued member of the
Though her work with CIVIC won her the love and friendship of untold numbers of
civilians whose lives have been ravaged by the U.S. military operations in Iraq
and Afghanistan, she included Washington politicians, American soldiers, Iraqi
policemen and "the only Rabbi in Baghdad" among her friends and
Marla Ruzicka's legacy
Tragically for all who survived them--friends, family, Iraqi and Afghan
civilians, and the countless number of strangers moved by their incredible
selflessness--Ruzicka and CIVIC's Iraq program director, Faiz Ali Salim, died on
the Baghdad road they routinely traversed, doing what they loved most in spite
of the dangers.
Ruzicka's all-too-brief existence will forever serve as an inspiration to Greens
and progressive activists throughout the world to accept the responsibilities
that their own governments won't, to make change where the odds seem impossible,
and to serve what is just and good with unbridled joy.
Khurshid Khoja, attorney, is a member of the National Lawyers Guild; county
council member; member, Green Party of Alameda County (GPAC); editor, GPAC Green
News, and a member of the GP-US Diversity Committee.
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