Are you nervous? What did you consume for your last meal?
I had my last meal last night, I thought I had better not do the Easter eggs and ease into it so I went for salad and vegetables. I woke up this morning feeling refreshed, I feel good. But yes, I am a little nervous.
Why is it important for you to undertake this hunger strike?
The people of Darfur are going to starve in huge numbers. I’m going to fast I hope for 21 days if I last that long, but the people that are going to starve to death cannot be heard, their voices cannot be heard. I’ve just come back from one month in the region, I have friends there and I have promises to keep. I’m proud to do whatever I can to the plight of the displaced people.
In early March, the international criminal court issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar al Bashir for the murder, rape, torture and displacement of millions and he retaliated by expelling 16 key aid agencies from Darfur and there has been no response. I keep thinking the shoe is going to drop; this surely is a line that cannot be crossed. He has already displaced nearly three million people; he is now going to sever the lifeline to those displaced people who cannot sustain themselves? Are we going to let that happen? I can’t believe that there hasn’t been a larger outcry that merits the death of more than a million people.
By undertaking this you’re talking to me. I'm also Irish and there is a long history of Irish using fast to draw attention to an issue and to shame perpetrators. And those who would do nothing because in this case doing nothing is enabling this to happen. I just pray that there will be intervention.
When and how did the idea to undertake this come about?
It was sparked from absolute outrage. After March when the humanitarians were expelled I kept waiting for the shoe to drop but that never happened. I was just astounded, how could it be that a million lives could now be put at risk by a genocidal dictator and the world would just watch? I waited and waited — I waited for the appointment of an envoy. I saw that no-one was doing anything; it disappeared from the news entirely. But what I was getting from the camps and people on the ground was a very different and dire scenario unfolding, that no one seems to be talking about and writing about. I didn’t know what else to do, the desperation of the situation. I thought if I go on a hunger strike this is a time-honored way of drawing focus to the issue and shame to the perpetrators, I realize it is an extreme thing to do but worse things are happening to the people of Darfur. I felt compelled, I cannot just watch.
Do you feel that President Obama is doing enough for the people of Darfur?
During the campaign trail both he and Biden made a lot of promises to help the region of Darfur, and nobody voted for him more excitedly than I but nothing has been done. Before, there were pre-election promises from Obama concerning the people of Darfur; this was before the expulsion of the aid workers. He even visited the refugee camps in Eastern Chad; he knows very well what the situation is.
I fully appreciate that his plate is overflowing, but he could have appointed an envoy much earlier, he didn’t apply an envoy until really late in the game and so the envoy went over and said ‘I'm here to listen and learn’. I just found that extremely dispiriting, while it’s commendable to listen and learn, one would have hoped our envoy could have hit the ground running and already done his learning before he arrived in Sudan.
But my information from the camps is alarming – the well-pumps are breaking down because there is no-one to repair them, the latrines are over-flowing, the food stock piles are dwindling. There is no medical assistance in more than half the camps because of the expulsion.
What are you hoping to achieve in doing this?
I know I run the risk of sounding presumptuous, I run that risk of sounding foolish. I just hope that it informs people. I come from a generation that marched against the Vietnam War and we brought about an end to that war. Campuses and citizens of conscience throughout are country were heard, finally. History shows that governments don’t show a position for reasons of altruism simply because human lives are going to be lost however great the numbers. But they will take action in democracies if the people make their voices heard, my feeling is that people just don’t know. If they knew they would surely do something.
What can the average American do to have their voice heard?
You can call the White House. We set up the 1800 G-E-N-O-C-I-D-E number, so please call the White House or call your elected leader; tell them it’s not acceptable. Tell them we are not prepared to watch more than one million people die.
Have many people reached out to show their support?
There is an aid organization formed called FAST FOR DARFUR. People are signing up to fast in solidarity, not with me but with the people in Darfur, for the people that are starving not by choice. I will end my hunger strike before I die, but they won’t have that choice. I’m not saying it’s for everybody to undertake a fast, but maybe people would want to do it for one day. It’s more important for people to be heard.
I remember the late Senator Paul Simon said of the Rwandan genocide, if just 100 people from each district had contacted their state leaders and national leaders then our government would have ended the Rwanda genocide. That puts a burden, gives us a sense of empowerment and makes us realize we have a responsibility to be one of those 100 people. If everyone thinks ‘what can one person do?’ then no-one does anything. Then all these lives will be lost.
There was a plea from a leader of the camp; he’s the spokesperson for a network of refugee camps. He sent a letter to president Obama. He wrote
“Mr. President, we need quick and immediate intervention to save us from quick and immediate death. The expulsion of international humanitarian organizations is the regime’s final goal and the deadly blow to accelerate our death through starvation and disease.”
I’m undertaking this in the heartfelt hope that anyone who hears about this might hear through my hunger strike, but they’ll hear something more than just me, there is something much more important than my hunger strike going on. If me fasting draws attention to that then that is my goal. People are coming in and out, Ruth messenger joined for one day. I know that it is listed on fast for Darfur, people are signing up. I invite people to join me, but in solidarity with the people of Darfur but more importantly to make our voices heard. If this is a news hook to get the message out, its worth me appearing to be silly or self aggrandizing or whatever else I run the risk of appearing to be,
What advice have your doctors given you? Are you afraid of doing severe damage to your body?
I’ve learned that up to three weeks I can fast, not to say that things can go wrong. Beyond three weeks you run the risk of real irrevocable organ damage, I would not exceed three weeks. I would be pleased if I can fast that long but I’m not very fat so my doctors were doubtful that I could exceed two weeks given my body mass.