DIANE WILSON, OUTSIDE THE WHITE HOUSE, WASHINGTON DC
When I did my first hunger strike on a shrimp boat in Texas in l991, an environmentalist friend said it was the stupidest thing he had ever heard of. “Nobody does hunger strikes in Texas!” Still, I sat, not eating, until a local shrimper threatened to throw me overboard if I didn’t get off his dang boat. I had never done a hunger strike before. I was a woman shrimper. What the heck did I know about civil disobedience? I grew up in the ’60s all right, but I wasn’t a flower
child. I was a solitary teen who loved hot Texas bays and spent half my time sitting in the tide.
But there comes a time when the orthodox route takes you to a place you’re unwilling to go. In l991 it was toward a gigantic
petrochemical expansion by Formosa Plastics, a notorious polluter that was coming to Texas. The hunger strike was my last ditch attempt to save my home bay.
A hunger strike comes from the heart. It isn’t a coincidence that Gandhi’s hunger strikes were decided suddenly. The planning might take some time, but the decision doesn’t. Gandhi called it “soul power”. I didn’t call it nothing back in 1991, but I knew, intuitively, to NOT think long and hard about that hunger strike. So, while I had no resources – things like money and people to support me – I did have myself and a living, breathing bay and so I started a hunger strike nobody believed in. That first hunger strike succeeded beyond my wildest hopes, well, good enough that folks figgered a bold man
must be behind me somewhere.
Now, fifteen years and seven hunger strikes later, I’m fixing to start another hunger strike to save lives. Last May I
joined a CodePink Mother’s Day vigil at the White House and walked in a silent march to a big green field where thousands of boots representing dead soldiers and dead Iraqi civilians lay. The most common sign was ‘Out of Iraq, NOW. Peace, NOW.’ Every speech boiled down to one message: ‘Peace. Not tomorrow. Not in a year. NOW. Its pretty much what Martin Luther King said when he called for freedom from fear and oppression in the ’70s. WE WANT IT NOW.’
Those words echo polls that show a majority of Americans don’t want this war and want the troops to come home. Not because war is too tough or that some folks are lily livered and want to cut and run, but because this war is based on lies and a lot of tangled agendas clearly having to do with oil. The question that remains is: are those who want the killing to stop as committed to peace as those who are committed to war. The war machine will certainly commit the lives of our children and Iraqi children. But will we commit our own lives? Would we exchange our lives for those of the soldiers being shipped out or barricaded in the “Green Zone” in Baghdad? Would we risk our lives so Iraqi children could live?
I grew up with a Pentecostal church nearly in my back yard, and I’ve retained one thing besides the gospel singing: we are our brothers’ and our sisters’ keepers. I find it baffling that with all the jostling over who’s side God is on or who’s the better ‘born again’ fella, nobody takes that peaceful phrase beyond the paper it is written on.
I was ten when John F Kennedy was inuagurated, and I remember something he said that puzzled me at the time. He said,
“Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” Was he asking me to join the Peace Corps? I volunteered as an Army medic during the Viet Nam War, but I don’t think he was talking about that. Forty-five years later, I know what Kennedy meant. He believed that the potential greatness of this country starts and ends with WE, THE PEOPLE. Not “We, the President.” Not “We, the Congress.” Not “We, the corporations.” That is why I am beginning this hunger strike: to stop an insane war and bring the troops home, and also to keep this country from going where we seem to be heading.
I believe it is better that we put our lives on the line than that our children put their lives on the line. It is better that we put our lives on the line than that innocent Iraqi children give up their lives. If we can do this, maybe, maybe, we can create a safe space where peace can grow. I am not certain that this will happen, but I know that when we lose ourselves, we find ourselves.
And I’m willing to stake my life on it.
Visit the Codepink “Troops Home Fast” site