IN ANTICIPATION OF THE FAST

Posted by on July 3rd, 2006

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 certain.