British and American suffragettes did it in the early 20th century, with Marion Wallace Dunlop leading off in Britain 1909 and Alice Paul a few years later in the U.S. Many were force-fed while in prison. They considered force-feeding to be torture, and some died of it.
Gandhi and others did it as part of the Indian movement for independence from Britain.
Irish republicans did it, too, throughout the 20th century. Like the suffragettes, they were subject to force-feeding, and some died of it, while others died of starvation.
Hundreds of Palestinian prisoners had been at it for weeks this spring, in response to being indefinitely detained without charges or trial under the Israeli government’s policy of “administrative detention” (to which NYC’s own stop & frisk policies targeting young men of color could be considered a little brother), as well as the conditions under which they are held. The first two strikers, Bilal Diab and Thaer Halahleh, stopped eating on February 27, with at least 1500 more later joining. Just last Monday, as the longest strikers were close to death, Israel conceded to some of the strikers’ demands, and almost all the strikers have lifted their strikes.
This Tuesday prisoners at the Red Onion State Prison in Virginia refused their first meal. They are striking in response to inhumane conditions and treatment inside the prison. “Phil Wilayto, of the Richmond Defenders, said “The most important thing about the prisoners’ demands is that Red Onion need only follow their own regulations with regard to meals, medical care, sanitation, grievance procedures, and humane treatment of prisoners. In order to press these demands the prisoners have to take the extreme step of risking their health and even lives.”” There have been several hunger strikes in the U.S. in recent years, such as those by prisoners in Georgia, Ohio, and California.
And last night I saw that my buddy Jack has begun a medication and hunger strike here in New York.
Trinity Church, located on Broadway at Wall St. in Manhattan, dates from the late 17th century — it received a charter from the King of England in 1697. The current building was consecrated in 1846. It is an Episcopal church. It owns a shit-ton of very valuable land in Manhattan, and since its inception has been frequented by wealthy and influential locals. Like all religious institutions in the U.S., it is tax-exempt, in exchange for being supposedly non-political and due to the separation of church and state, which usually seems to all boil down to nothing more than not explicitly endorsing political candidates. (If we’re demanding a restructuring of tax law in the U.S., changing that exempt status is one of my demands, let me tell you.) As is also common among religious institutions, especially large, wealthy ones, they give a lot of lip service to serving humanity, but when presented with the nitty-gritty of it tend to balk.
Back in December, OWS attempted to occupy Duarte Square, a vacant, gravel covered lot on Canal Street that is owned by Trinity Church. It was well-publicized beforehand, as were attempts to negotiate with Trinity for use of the space without interference by the NYPD. It didn’t work, on both counts. Several hundred people showed up, but so did the cops. After folks went over the fence, about 50 were arrested and charged with trespassing. The most iconic images from that day are of George Packard, a retired Episcopal bishop (yes, same branch of Protestant Christianity as Trinity), in his scarlet robes climbing over the fence and subsequently being arrested. (He was also arrested on May 1 at 55 Water Street at the end of our May Day activities.) It is now nearly six months later, and those folks are going to trial on June 11.
In response to the complete shit-fuckery of a church charging members of an economic justice (among other things) movement with trespassing on an empty lot, Jack is going on a medication and hunger strike. Jack is 57. We’ve done a bunch of jail support work together. He helps keep some of the other middle-aged white men in line. Pertinent to his strike, he is HIV+. He won’t be taking medication or eating until Trinity drops all charges. (He is an occupier, though, so cigarettes and coffee are still in!) Today is day 5 of his medication strike and day 2 of his hunger strike. I’m sure Trinity has heard by now, but you might want to contact them in support of Jack and in support of our comrades who will shortly be in court.
ETA: 5/30/12. Via Facebook, Jack asks, “[P]lease send Rector Cooper, firstname.lastname@example.org, an email in support of my medication/hunger strike. Today is the 11th day I have been without my lifesaving medications and the 7th day without food and necessary nutrition. I am deadly serious about this strike…”