A group of five young climate activists are entering the ninth day of a hunger strike to demand that Democrats in Congress pass meaningful climate laws as part of the Build Back Better agenda. Hunger strikes have a long, diverse history as a means of fighting injustice and seeking justice – but this climate strike is unique in the way it shows the generation gap.
Hunger strikes pull the body extremely severe, painful and life-threatening conditions. One attacker, Kidus Girma, 26, was hospitalized over the weekend. Doctors allowed him to return to the strike only after they had been watching him overnight.
“I honestly feel pretty awful,” one of the attackers, Emma Govea, said Thursday. “I’m really tired and I can’t walk much.”
Govea was stationed in front of Congress on Thursday with her fellow hunger strikers to urge the Progressives to hold the line against Representative Nancy Pelosi’s attempts to force a vote on the draft infrastructure law. She turned 18 years old just the day before the strike began.
“This is a very, very difficult experience, and it was much harder than I thought it would be,” she said. “It was very exhausting and physically and emotionally exhausting. I am a person who finds it difficult to walk anymore, to have no autonomy or energy. I love being able to do things and do as much as I can. Now it was really hard to be away from home. This is my last year of high school, and I should be in class with my friends now. That was very difficult. I would like to go home. “
Historically, the effectiveness of hunger strikes has depended on several specific factors. Hunger strikes are often seen as a protest in the last resort. This makes them a particularly effective form of political protest in prisons, where many of the most prominent hunger strikes in history have taken place, since closed members of the IRA in Belfast 1980s to Black political prisoners in apartheid in South Africa prisoners at Guantanamo Bay during the Obama administration.
Outside of prison, since hunger strikes often rely heavily on publicity and public sympathy to drive change, it helps if one of the strikers has a high profile to draw attention to the cause. Various posts by Mahatma Gandhi during his political life, including his own a successful hunger strike in protest of British support for the caste system, are perhaps the most famous examples. And strikes often work best, like journalist Brian Palmer wrote for Slate 2013, when clear and limited requirements are set for existing powers – requirements that can be met within the time frame of the human body’s ability to survive without food.
These strikers were not imprisoned nor were they known to the general public before the strike began last week. But there are some key things that stand out. They are strikers amazing young people who literally risk their lives for this goal; Girma is the oldest striker and is only 26 years old.
What these young people are doing is unique in the history of hunger strikes, because it shows the rift in how the younger generations think about climate change. Those who strike clearly know that their lives will be forever changed for the worse due to climate inactivity. The scope of the research shows the risk if politicians fail to reduce emissions in the coming decades at a speed unprecedented in human history. This has led to sharp conflicts with politicians, and these interactions show that there is division here.
“Joe Manchin, if the United States doesn’t reduce our emissions by at least 50%, I have to grow up in climate emergencies,” said one of the attackers, Abby Leedy, 20. he told Manchin on Tuesday as she confronted him at an event in Washington, DC, as she spoke from her wheelchair. “I’ve been on hunger strike for seven days.”
“Call my office,” Manchin told her.
The interaction shows how politicians – many of whom are much older – do not see the urgency of strikers nor do they view climate change as an existential threat. And it’s not just Manchin who has shown little sympathy for the future of the planet (and made a mint from their links in the fossil fuel industry). Even the Biden administration, which has been waving the banner of climate progressivism since it took power, seems barely aware of the strikers who have spent days in front of the White House. When asked for a strike at a news briefing on Wednesday, press secretary Jen Psaki seemed confused about what the protest was for. She responded lukewarmly that “the president admires the activism and energy of young people who stand up for what they believe in.” In other words, activists see this as a situation of life and death, while the administration and Manchin see it as a moment of “loving his passion.”
I asked Gove if he thought the older politicians on the Hill fully understood what she and her fellow climate strikers were demonstrating.
“We have made it clear that they know science as well as we do,” she said. “What we are trying to do is [to have] to see our humanity and understand that it is our future and millions of other people’s futures. I think politicians care more about their money than fossil fuels, but I don’t know how to figure out what’s going on in their heads. ”
They are often young activists rejected by older types of experts as too dramatic about the climate crisis, spreading what some see as a frivolous political battle into an existential struggle. But for the strikers, this too is the ultimate measure to protect their well-being and the well-being of future generations. Not to be rude, but most politicians debating the Build Back Better law will be dead in a few decades, while young hunger strikers will get into what should be at the peak of life. But the decisions of politicians today will decide how much the planet is ready to welcome them. The attackers have decided that it is worth putting their health at stake for now so that they have a chance for a better future.
“Part of the reason we’re here is to make them realize that we’re fighting for our survival,” Govea said. “After all, that’s what we do. We are fighting for survival and we are fighting for life. ”
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