It looks like Ashland’s history of having an outsize presence on the national protest map will get another chapter added next week when locals take part in a rolling fast for three days. The #Hungry4Justice campaign protesting the Trump administration’s policy of separating immigrant and asylum-seeking families at the border, and its failure to meet terms of a court order requiring family reunifications, started in Oakland, California, in July, followed by Sacramento and Santa Cruz, California; Portland, Oregon; Staten Island and Albany, New York.
The rolling fast is currently in Chicago, to be followed by New York Sunday through Tuesday. On Wednesday, Ashland follows New York, then the protest baton is set to go on the Seattle, Washington, and Washington, D.C.
In April, a "zero-tolerance" policy was enacted ordering prosecutors at the border to separate families entering the U.S., including those seeking asylum. In June that policy was updated to detain families together. An effort was made to reunify the families that were separated, but hundreds of children remain in the various holding and housing facilities.
The Trump administration wasn’t able to reunify all of the separated migrant families by the court-ordered July 26 deadline. The hunger strike rolling through America in protest of the separations will stop in Ashland Wednesday, Aug. 22, through Friday Aug. 24, according to local activist Laura Davis.
Participating #Hungry4Justice fasters will refrain from food for 52 hours but can drink water. They will begin at 8 a.m. on Aug. 22.
Events for those who do not wish to refrain from food but would like to support the cause will be announced nearer the events due to changing smoke conditions. These events will include activities such as petition gathering, activities for children, live music and actors performing Shakespeare’s immigration soliloquy from 10 a.m. until 8 p.m. each day.
Friday evening, Aug. 24, will include a shared meal of some kind to break the fast.
Davis said the hunger strike was initially the idea of community members in Oakland to support a hunger strike already happening in the facilities where families were being kept, beginning with the mothers inside Port Isabel Detention Center in Los Fresnos, Texas. The mothers in the detention center began the rolling hunger strike after being prevented from speaking to their children.
“What it morphed into was sort of a rolling hunger strike across the United States, just in support of families that are asking to be reunited with their children,” Davis said. “In some cases, children have been taken from their families during an actual, legal immigration process … We can’t silently watch government-sanctioned kidnapping."
“Now we’re seeing children that are being reunified with their families and are so traumatized that it will take years for those children to ever feel safe again,” Davis said.
The strike rolls through each participating city for three days before moving to the next city. It began in Oakland, California, on July 30. There have been 15 cities to sign up since the initial end date of Aug. 31 in Washington, D.C. was determined. Additional cities will continue the rolling hunger strike at least through September.
“Fasting has historically been a way that many people who have felt that their rights are being violated, could draw attention to what is an inhumane practice,” Davis said. “It’s a way to be in solidarity with the people who are practicing it within the detention facilities.
“There’s also something almost sacred to be willing to sacrifice something for what you believe in,” Davis said. “The willingness to abstain from food for a number of days is not only political, but in my eyes, it’s also a spiritual act.”
There are currently three people signed up to fast in Ashland. Davis said it’s not the number of people who are fasting that’s important, but that there is a least one person per day to hold the place.
Davis, who has Parkinson’s disease, cannot abstain from food because it would affect her health adversely, but will be on a form of a liquid diet during the strike.
She said there will be a two-day “cyber-fast” event for those who would like to participate but are unable to leave home. This date is yet to be announced as more cities sign up to participate, but it may be Aug. 25-26.
“Even if you can’t fast, but you want to sponsor a faster because we’ll have fundraising for a part of the money to go towards immigration organizations to support those families in need,” Davis said.
There will be an opportunity for people to upload their stories during the cyber event and various opportunities for people to participate.
“We’re trying to reach everyone, and it’s something not a lot of movements have done in the United States,” Davis said.
Davis said the goal is to bring justice to the families that were separated and suffered pain.
“That’s what we want, for the families that were separated to be reunited and released from incarceration and we want the families to receive support and justice for the trauma inflicted,” Davis said.
Paul Grimsrud, one of the Ashland fasters, said he’s been experimenting with fasting and that this is something he can do to raise awareness.
“We can write all the letters and vote for whom we want,” Grimsrud said. “But this is something we can do now.”
Rae Steward, an Ashland native, is one of the national organizers and a local organizer where she now lives, Santa Cruz, California. She said Santa Cruz had about five fasters and 75 participants, Sacramento had five fasters and Oakland had seven.
She said they have one main demand — that’s the reunification of all the separated families — but they would also like to see amends from the government made for those who have suffered.
“That may look like just starting with asylum and then an offer in the court for the families that have been traumatized,” Steward said. “Many Americans have not forgotten about this, we’re going to keep fighting for this cause until all reunifications have happened and some sort of amends are made.”
Kavi Chokshi, one of the Portland organizers and fasters, said hundreds participated in the Portland events, and added that he feels very strongly about fasting because of his Indian heritage.
“I’m originally from India, so the idea of fasting is very powerful to me, knowing that Mahatma Ghandi was able to use that to help India to freedom,” Chokshi said. “So that’s always been something I think is a very powerful tool people can use to really bring attention to injustice.”
He called the family separation events at the border “un-American.”
“The fact that there are still children separated from their parents this far out from the deadline, more than two weeks, almost three weeks now … we want to make sure that this is not forgotten,” Chokshi said. “We want justice and for people to be held accountable for the fact that this happened in the first place. This should never have happened … This is something that’s bipartisan, it’s not really political at all, it’s just wrong.”
To participate in Ashland’s #Hungry4Justice activities or for more information, visit its Facebook event page at www.facebook.com/events/300270023851942 or contact Davis at 541-890-1715 or
Lauracdavis27@gmail.com. For more information on national #Hungry4Justice events, go to www.solidarityhungerstrike.com.