You have fasted before. Can you tell us more about that experience?
In 2000, we did a hunger strike with union members, television engineers and anchors in Fresno, California. We started out thinking we would do it for a week; we went for 43 days. Back then there was not a lot of information available at first, but we found a few people who had done it before-mostly in a religious context-and from their experience and their support, we learned how to do it and keep it going.
What did these people tell you that helped with your fast?
The first thing that was important to us was to know that you could do it, you could survive. It was a juice and water fast, it was not just water. And we also took vitamins. People told us that we should be sure to take vitamins and drink massive amounts of water. We were drinking about 6-9 liters of water a day per person, really huge quantities, especially at first because your body is not used to the change in fluids, the change in not eating. Along with taking multivitamins we also took bee pollen, which is a natural energy available in pill form, and then from time to time we would have wheat grass: the juice that you can get at a health food store. It is a great way to detoxify your body, tastes a little bit like drinking lawn, but that's okay. And then we would drink juices: canned juices, or fresh juices if we could find a juice bar to make them for us.
Really, after the first few days we were not hungry. We discovered that you have to keep your fluids up, but you tend to forget about eating; you don't have to use the time to eat, and you don't have to stop to eat. Of course, it also means you don't have meetings with people over meals anymore, so it really changes your life.
We would drink a lot of juices, keep our fluids up, but we had some people who didn't believe that we were actually fasting. We started out with eight of us. After about three weeks one guy was having some heart problems and health problems and he said 'what should I do?' and I said 'you should stop. Your cardiologist says you should stop, you stop." But then members of the community stepped up, and replaced people who had to stop. So, I think that's something that's important for people to know about a fast: you don't have to be on it from Day One to participate. As people find out about it and they want to help they can step up and fast for a day, fast for a week, or join you as the fast continues.
What happened when the fasting ended?
We ended our fast by having a great feast on the sidewalk in front of the TV station where we had just won this great contract. It was ceremonial. It was Lent, so it was a very light meal of fish soup and a bit of tortilla. But the idea was that you slowly go back to eating; you don't just go out and have that hamburger because though it might seem like a great idea, it took quite a while-and I mean months-before I could tolerate really greasy things, like French fries or a hamburger or something like that. But in terms of going back to food, I went back to fruits and vegetables in a solid form, and then I eased back into more protein, milk, and more solids and I really had no adverse effects.
And just in terms of mechanics, one thing that I would recommend is that-because in this culture, people don't tend to believe that people are really doing a hunger strike or a fast-is that people should publicly weigh themselves in the beginning, and then once a week. You don't lose as much weight as you think you might. You lose some for a while, and then your body doesn't lose as much weight. Over the 43 days, I lost 30 pounds, so I went from 170 to 140 pounds, or thereabouts, a little less. And I recommend that people do that, so they know how much they've lost if they have to be asked medically, or so they can just know for themselves, or so you can talk publicly about how much weight people have lost.
Why did you pick a hunger strike, a very radical action, for this particular struggle?
The struggle was one to get a first contract for workers at a Spanish language TV station, so the culture of the Hispanic people, many of them families of farm workers, went back to the tradition of Cesar Chavez doing hunger strikes in the grape boycotts and the lettuce boycotts in the years before, and the idea that you really put yourself on the line. If you google the subject and start looking into hunger strikes, they're not uncommon even today in Latin America. Here, in the US they're very, very seldom used, and a lot of people don't know the tradition, have never heard of it being done and therefore are surprised when people use it. And that surprise element, and the fact that we were putting our bodies on the line to get a contract was an important pressure for us. It worked to get people's attention that these were workers who were being severely underpaid and were willing to do a hunger strike to make the point. It was very effective from the point of view that the television network had to hire a Public Relations firm just to put out press trying to counter what we were doing, and they were sending us letters insisting that we eat, ordering people to eat, and they were astonished that people wouldn't and that we were sticking to our resolve.
While today we are very accustomed to the idea of a bracelet or a wristband as popularized by Lance Armstrong and the Live Strong bracelets, we wore a bracelet that had the details that we were on a huelga de hambre, a hunger strike, and the date that we had started in February. I would recommend doing that because it was a visual sign of what we were doing. And it also reminded me why I was going about this. In the 6 weeks that we were involved in that hunger strike, the only thing I ever ate was communion wafer every Sunday, and it was a spiritual part of what I was doing, of the resolve of standing together with a group of people. For them sometimes it was easier, because they were all together in Fresno, but I would go home to Los Angeles, I would cook food for my kids, I would have one of the kids come in and taste, so that it was properly spiced and salted, and I had the wrist band to remind me of what I was doing in solidarity with them. And I think because you're going to end up with people doing this all over the country and maybe all over the world that that would be a good idea to have a visible sign of support. And people can pick it up or join with it as they hear about it and start doing it.
Did the fast transform you personally in any way?
I think it really did. Now to put it in perspective, I think I count it- as I look back over the last 10 years of my life, it goes along with the pilgrimage that I walked for 500 miles across Spain: it was a very empowering, strengthening experience. You know a lot more about yourself once you have done something like that. And it definitely was a unifying experience for all of the people who worked together to get that contract. It is something that has become: "Oh, that was before the hunger strike," or "That was after the hunger strike": it's that much of a marker in my life.
You've committed to fast during the Troops Home Fast. Can you say why?
I'm committed to fast during this hunger strike because it's time to raise the visibility and the ante. While I spend every day with pink fingernails and a button to publicize my opposition to this war and my call for peace, it's essential that we get more serious and raise the ante and the visibility, and get more people participating in our opposition to the war.
How long do you intend to fast?
A month or two. I think that clearly I know that a month and a half, or six weeks, is well within my capacity in joining in this. And I know that I could have gone longer the last time. So two months is very doable.