Activists Stage Hunger Strike, Call for Troops to Come Home

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Tuesday August 08, 2006

For septuagenarian Jane Jackson, fasting is a way of life. 

Jackson, together with co-faster Ivan Olsen, a Bay Area artist and activist, is on day 36 of a hunger strike demanding that U.S. troops be brought home from Iraq. 

Standing in front of the Ron J. Dellums Federal Building in downtown Oakland, Jackson and Olsen have a simple message for all the rush-hour commuters: “Bring Bay Area troops home. Iraq is not where they belong.”  

The fast in downtown Oakland is being organized in solidarity with the Troops Home Fast currently taking place in front of the White House. 

“We have made a commitment to bring the troops home in 2006 and to take non-violent steps for a comprehensive, concrete and rapid end to the U.S. war and occupation in Iraq. It was Gandhi who said that it is a small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission who can alter the course of history. Gandhi also said that ‘First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.’ That is the day we look forward to,” said Jackson. 

Jackson, a resident of Oakland, came to the city in 1973 on the insistence of the Black Panthers in order to campaign for then mayoral candidate Bobby Seale. She remembers fasting for seventy days in Washington, D.C., the longest so far, to support disabled children’s education rights during the 1982 Reagan administration. For her, fasting for a cause is more than an occupation, it’s a “labor of love.” 

In 1976, Jackson also participated in bringing civil rights to the disabled community through a demonstration at the Federal Building in San Francisco.  

“It is sad, but the truth is we are still waiting to see civil rights in its entirety become a reality for the disabled community in our cities. I want to draw attention to the fact that the money that is going towards the war can be used to help the disabled, the poor, and the starving. To fulfill basic needs such as education and food,” said Jackson. 

Olsen and Jackson have both been off solid food for the last 36 days. A concoction of warm water, lemon juice, maple syrup and cayenne pepper is what their daily diet is made up of.  

“Dick Gregory, another long-term faster in Washington, D.C. told us that the cayenne pepper helps to flush out the toxins. It’s sort of a cleansing drink and helps to keep us on our feet,” said Olsen. 

Olsen and Jackson keep their weekday vigil from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and join other demonstrations on the weekends. 

“What makes us sad is the lack of interest from people. There are those who continue to be surprised by the fact that we are fasting for 36 days, but that’s about it,” Olsen said. “We hope that there will be a change of attitude, that people will start thinking about how to bring a stop to the war and actually make it happen. Until then we will continue to fast.”