Initiated by one of our regular contributers, Am Johal, it was a natural for rabble.ca to take up the 2010 Homelessness Hunger Strike relay. The ongoing direct action will run past the February 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. I'm just starting Day 3 of the strike, and I plan to go till next Sunday. I am drinking milk and juice, and trying to get as much work done as possible early in the week...
It's a modest and symbolic action, but the ongoing strike is a very welcome initiative. The homelessness crisis in Vancouver, B.C. and across Canada is one of the shameful legacies of a generation of neo-liberal policies. Even with a provincial election underway, the issue does not receive the profile it deserves.
So it's also welcome to see the use of a tactic that has a long and important tradition in progressive movements; a tactic that involves, in this case, some willpower, restraint and mild discomfort, but one that can in other cases mean the ultimate risk and sacrifice on behalf of the strikers. One famous example is the Irish hunger strikers led by Bobby Sands, who were left to die in 1981 by the callous, occupying UK government of one Margaret Thatcher. A brand new film by Steve McQueen, Hunger, graphically tells the story of the Irish martyrs. Bolivian President Evo Morales recently undertook a successful hunger strike alongside social movement activists to help push through legislation.
The Vancouver hunger strike, of course, is not open-ended for participants, and involves no risk to life, but at least it allows people to make a statement through their participation: the homelessness crisis is so urgent that we are willing to make a personal sacrifice to raise awareness.
Already, many notable activists and public figures have taken part. The one who really inspired me to take up the relay was Sister Elizabeth Kelleher, an 80-something-year-old nun who works in the Downtown Eastside and is a tireless fixture at events for social justice in the city.
When I heard that Sister Elizabeth was taking a week -- I guess I shouldn't have been surprised -- I knew I'd have to do a week myself. In January, during a near-blizzard (at least by Vancouver standards), I saw the Sister in a march in solidarity with Gaza. As I said hello, she was already taking the gloves off her hands, since she had noticed my freezing, bare hands. Before I could protest that she needed her own gloves, she flashed a smile and pulled out another pair from her bag. If only all our movements were as organized and determined as Sister Elizabeth!
Stay tuned for more updates from other rabble staff taking part in this week's relay.
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