Three Protesters Hungry for D.C. Voting Rights
||Thursday, December 8, 2011
The last time that the District saw a substantial victory in its fight for voting rights, self-determination and statehood was 1973, when the city was given limited Home Rule. Three protesters are hoping that the next big victory comes much more quickly -- because they'll be fasting until the District gets it.
The Huffington Post reported yesterday that three protesters affiliated with the Occupy D.C. movement will be launching a hunger strike today, refusing all food until the District gains budgetary and legislative autonomy and full representation in Congress. In a statement justifying their hunger strike, the three protesters, Adrian Parsons, Kelly Meers, and Sam Jewler, wrote:
To consciously disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of American citizens is unjust and contrary to this country’s principles. Democracy for D.C. is not a political issue but a moral issue; not an issue of left or right but of representation and democracy. We call on President Obama, House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, and the U.S. Congress to show leadership and give the capital of this great country the voting representation and local democracy it deserves.
As a first step, they're planning on demanding a meeting with Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), who recently proposed a budget autonomy measure that awkwardly included a prohibition on the use of local funds for abortions that city officials said was unacceptable. The three protesters plan on asking Issa for a clean bill. Even if they get one, though, they'll keep the hunger strike on until all of their demands are met.
Throughout the two-month encampment at McPherson Square, Occupy D.C. protesters have generally steered cleared of local issues. In late October, they apologized for removing a D.C. flag during a protest at the Wilson Building, though a recent declaration by the movement included a brief mention of D.C. voting rights. They also occupied the Franklin School in November as a means to protest the lack of available homeless shelters.
Though Parsons is stocking up before the fast begins today at noon -- HuffPo reported that the skinny performance artist was wolfing down pastries, pasta and ice cream -- he and his two cohorts may be in for a wait. Beyond the fact that nothing in the struggle for D.C. voting rights has moved quickly, Congress is only really in session for three more days this year -- today and December 15-16 -- before returning to town on January 3.
Locally, there have been a few hunger strikes in the past. In 1999, 14 inmates at D.C. Jail refused food over complaints of conditions in the maximum-security wing. In 1986, local homeless activist Mitch Snyder did not eat for a month until he convinced the federal government to turn over a homeless shelter to the D.C. government; a prior 51-day fast had similarly ended in victory when another federal building used as a shelter was renovated. (Snyder had the support of then-Mayor Marion Barry.)
The last hunger strike somewhat related to D.C. voting rights came in 1993, when then-Shadow Senator Jesse Jackson refused food -- though he was doing so to protest Haitian refugees with AIDS being denied entry to the U.S.
The longest hunger strike recorded by the Guinness Book of World Records was by a prisoner in the United Kingdom in 1973 -- he lasted 385 days, though he was fed through a tube. The three protesters have pledged to consume only water, which means that within three weeks their bodies could enter starvation mode.
UPDATE, 9:45 A.M.: One more recent hunger strike that ended in victory: Georgetown University students fasted in 2005 for a living wage for university employees and won concessions after 10 days.