By Amy Goodman and Denis Moynihan
Hunger strikes are powerful acts of non-violent protest. Mahatma Gandhi engaged in nearly 20 public fasts during his lifetime. In 1917, 32 suffragists protesting in the White House for the right to vote were arrested and subjected to brutal prison conditions. When some went on hunger strike, they were violently force-fed. In 1981, 10 Irish Republican political prisoners, including Bobby Sands, died protesting their treatment in Maze Prison in Northern Ireland as well as the ongoing British occupation. Several of the seven Palestinians currently on hunger strike in an Israeli prison are believed to be on the verge of death. Fasting is a difficult and personally dangerous tactic, depriving oneself of food to challenge the powerful who deny justice.
Also currently on hunger strike, a group of young people who, like the suffragists of a century ago, demonstrate in front of the White House. They are part of the Sunrise movement, pressuring President Joe Biden to take drastic action in the face of the climate emergency.
“I am on a hunger strike for my family and my future and the promises the president made to the young people who put him in office,” climate activist Kidus Girma told Democracy Now! news time. He was speaking on the eighth day of his fast, just days after being hospitalized with dangerously low blood sugar. “We need the president to put the children of tomorrow, the children of today at the center of his agenda, not the Exxon officials and representatives fighting for the oil and gas billionaires.”
Sunrise hunger striker Abby Leedy confronted Joe Manchin, the conservative Democratic US Senator from West Virginia, who single-handedly removed much of Biden’s renewable energy program from the reconciliation bill :
Abby Leedy: “I’m going to grow up in a catastrophic climate emergency if you keep blocking the Civilian Climate Corpsâ¦ Methane emissionsâ¦”
Senator Joe Manchin: âWe are changing the climate. The United States … May I speak? Can I speak for a second? Your name?”
Abby Leedy: “My name is Abby.”
Senator Joe Manchin: âAbby, let me tell you that we have done more in the United States of America than in any other country. All broadcasts from Asia – Â»
Abby Leedy: âJoe Manchin, if the United States of America doesn’t cut our emissions by at least 50%, I have to grow up in an ongoing climate emergency. I have been on a hunger strike for seven days.
Senator Joe Manchin: âCall my office. “
Manchin is Congress’ largest recipient of oil and gas industry donations and has made millions of dollars from a West Virginia coal brokerage firm he founded, now run by his son. One of its biggest donors is Energy Transfer LP, which owns the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline.
Meanwhile, in downtown New York City, another group of hunger strikers is calling for change. Taxi drivers staged a 24/7 protest outside City Hall, demanding overwhelming debt relief resulting from the purchase of taxi medallions when the prices of these essential licenses were artificially inflated by the city. Medallions that once cost as much as $ 1 million are now valued at nearly $ 100,000, largely due to the flooding of the market by Uber and Lyft cars. Thousands of New York City taxi drivers are now in debt and at least nine have died by suicide.
“I have started a hunger strike for the 6,000 families affected by this medallion crisis,” New York taxi driver Augustine Tang told Democracy Now !, on the sixth day of his fast. âThese men and women have invested in the city and have driven 20, 30, 40 years of their lives, just to be taken out of retirement and are on the verge of losing their homes and jobs as well.â
The protest was organized by the New York Taxi Workers’ Alliance, which drew up an inset debt restructuring plan backed by just about every elected official in the New York metro area, including Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio- CortÃ©z and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.
The taxi drivers were joined in their hunger strike by New York State Assembly Member Zohran Mamdani, who spoke on Democracy Now! on the impacts he felt after fasting for eight days. : “Inability to sleep, relentless hunger, moments of blurred vision, stress, headaches – the same consequences I’ve heard drivers say are the physical realities of being hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, unable to take on caring for your family and seeing no way out.
Before he died in 1981 in Northern Ireland after 66 days on hunger strike, Bobby Sands said: âOur revenge will be the laughter of our children.
Through this difficult act of depriving themselves of subsistence, activists around the world are fueling the cause of justice.