By Medea Benjamin
I must admit that ever since Mother's Day, when we made the decision
to launch this fast on July 4 (I should say ever since Diane Wilson
made the decision for us!), I've had a feeling of anticipation
mixed with dread. I don't even like the thought of fasting
for a day, much less an open-ended fast. I get hungry if I haven't
had lunch by 1pm. And although I'm tiny (I've been just
over 100 pounds my whole adult life), I eat a lot.
A few weeks ago Father Louis—a wonderful Franciscan priest--came
into our office in San Francisco. He was skinny as a rail, having
lost 30 pounds in prison where he spent 4 months protesting the
military training school known as the School of the Americas. Despite
being so thin and just out of jail, as soon as we told him about
the fast he agreed to join us. We told him to eat up, and handed
him a bag of chocolate-covered raisins. “Yes,”
he said, munching on the raisins, “ you know first you use
up the fat and when there's no fat left, your body starts eating
the muscle. And your heart's a muscle.”
Wow, that was all I needed to hear. I started preparing for the
fast—by eating. I ate desserts like chocolate cheesecake that
I don't even like, I ate lots of pasta, I snacked on nuts.
I ate all the food on my plate, and then everybody's leftovers.
My stomach got so big that Cindy Sheehan started calling me Miss
Chubby. But at least I now have some padding before getting down
to the heart!
I've only fasted once before in my life. That was in Chiapas,
Mexico, in 1994, just after the uprising of the Zapatistas. The
government was threatening to send thousands of soldiers to the
region to quash the rebellion. Having seen the slaughter of thousands
of indigenous people in Guatemala over the years, I was terrified
that the same was about to happen in Mexico. When I heard that the
Catholic Bishop in Chiapas, Don Samuel Ruiz, was about to embark
on a fast to keep the military out, I jumped on a plane to Chiapas
to join. I was the only non-Mexican among the 12 fasters, and the
only Jew among the priests and nuns. It was an intense experience
living in the Cathedral, sleeping in the pews, fasting and praying.
The Mexican government was chastened by the sacrifice of the much-loved
Bishop and 11 days later, they sent the military back to their barracks
and we ended the fast in jubilation.
This fast we are starting on July 4th seems harder because unlike
the situation in Mexico, our government doesn't cares if we
eat or not. So our goal of bringing the troops home from Iraq is
less attainable—in the short term. But I've reconciled
myself to the openness of it all, understanding that in that space
we create by calling for this fast, things will undoubtedly happen
that will lead to a more rapid end to this war. Other Americans
may be moved to take action, people abroad may learn that some Americans
care, soldiers may decide to stop participating, congresspeople
may be moved to vote against the war.
We certainly know the outcome when we do nothing—the war
and the dying and the suffering continue. But fasting is doing something,
and something will emerge from the nothingness. Of that I'm