Mahatma Gandhi, the leader of India’s independence movement in the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s, once said that “fasting is the sincerest form of prayer.” I’ve been on 17 long fasts, from six days to 42 days, over the last 35 years, and based on my experiences, he is right.
3,000 people around the U.S. and the world are fasting or have done so for at least one day this week as part of a national Troops Home Fast (www.troopshomefast.org) to end the Iraq war. I’m one of them. I’ve not eaten since the evening of July 3rd and won’t start up until the evening of July 10th, and I won’t be eating any Mondays for as long as this fast goes on.
Among the more well-known people who are participating are: Cindy Sheehan, Susan Sarandon, Daniel Ellsberg, Sean Penn, Medea Benjamin, Dick Gregory, Willie Nelson, Bonnie Raitt, Alice Walker, Danny Glover, Ed Asner, Dolores Huerta, Lynn Woolsey, Cynthia McKinney, Rev. Bob Edgar, Rev. Al Sharpton, Howard Zinn, Kim Gandy and Patch Adams.
Why are we doing this? Diane Wilson, a shrimper from Texas and a founder of Code Pink, explained why she was doing it in this way:
“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. Because this war is against everything America should stand for: peace, security, loving one’s neighbor.
“The question that remains is: Are we 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? Would we risk our lives so Iraqi children could live?
“That is why I am beginning this hunger strike on our national holiday: to stop an insane war and bring the troops home, and also to keep my country from going where we seem to be heading.”
Diane Wilson is one of a number of people whose fast is open-ended, with no set ending date. She has said, “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.”
This is an historic action. It is the first time ever in the United States that large numbers of people, thousands so far, have acted in this way for peace.
But this goes way beyond the numbers involved. Much more significant is the willingness of people to step out of their ordinary routines, to disrupt their lives and voluntarily suffer, for the greater good. In some cases, as with Diane Wilson, to risk serious injury or worse.
Is this happening because people are full of despair and hopeless about the Iraq war and the direction of our country? No. Just the opposite. Acting in this way states in no uncertain terms that, although we are deeply concerned and outraged by the actions of our government in Washington, we will not remain passive, or only go so far in our acting for peace. We are willing to go the extra mile.
In the words of former Pax Christi leader Marie Dennis, who fasted for 42 days in 1992, by fasting we remember those who “cannot choose to stop when it gets overwhelming; rather, theirs is the daily, grinding hunger of simply being too poor to find enough food; it is a hunger that is ever-present and gnawing, that consumes their children slowly or quickly; it is a hunger for a more than minimal existence—for education and health care and housing.”
Ordinary Iraqis and ordinary Americans and ordinary people everywhere want and deserve food, education, health care and housing. The resources exist for this to happen, but they are being used instead for bombs and guns and to enrich the already obscenely rich corporate elite of the world.
We must end this war, and we must turn this country around, and 2006 must be seen by future historians as the year that this great turning began to happen. It can happen if we all do our part, in whatever ways we can.