FOR NEARLY 11 DAYS Mitch Snyder, a member of the Community for Creative Non-Violence, starved himself to the point of dealth in the public view to persuade Georgetown's Holy Trinity Church through a series of vague demands to hand over to the poor $400,000 or a portion of it, which the church had raised for renovations. The church, quite rightly, did not see matters Mr. Snyder's way. It had duly raised the money from its members, and the parish council had duly considered how to spend it. Mr. Snyder then applied a procedure of his own. When his attempt at extortion failed, he decided to live.
His act was one of supreme arrogance and self-indulgence. On the one hand, he brought pressure and anguish to an institution which has been known for its work with the poor, which is, in fact, dedicated to charity, in all senses, and does not need Mr. Snyder to guide its policies. On the other hand, he brought pressure and anguish to the public, which, while not siding with Mr. Snyder, while not generally understanding what the issues were, still was forced to gape day after day at the grim spectacle of a man killing himself.
Both the church and the public suffered a good deal, which is exactly what Mr. Snyder intended. He hit both the church and the public where it hurts most deeply -- in the social conscience. And had he continued his fast and died, we would all now be in a stupor of superficial grief, not because Mr. Snyder would have thus been proved right, but simply because he'd be dead. We were helpless. Mr. Snyder was an extortionist, who was not technically commiting extortion; a kidnapper holding himself (and human feeling) hostage; a would-be suicide in a city where suicide is not a crime. In short, the police would have had to disregard the laws to get Mr. Snyder to a hospital, and force his survival. Certainly, they would have done so with the public's approval.
But the main issue is Mr. Snyder himself, who made himself the issue, and thus insisted on our judging him. Let us do so then, commending his impulse to aid the poor, yet recognizing his pretense of martyrdom as the act of egotism it was.