Human rights activist Dick Gregory met with members of the Occupy D.C. movement on Dec. 17, to aid those fasting for full democracy and push for residents’ demands for D.C. statehood.
On Dec. 8, Sam Jewler, Adrian Parsons, Kelly Mears and Joe Gray from Occupy D.C. began a fast refusing food and consuming only water and vitamins in an indefinite hunger strike. The group felt it was a necessary commitment to expedite congressional action toward democracy for the District. Mears dropped out recently due to health problems.
Gregory, 79, is well known for several hunger strikes and fasts for human rights causes and was sought by the group for advice. The three-hour long meeting ended with Gregory joining the fast and adding an additional demand to those posed by Occupy D.C. protestors – D.C. statehood.
“First of all let me explain that you are not on a hunger strike because it requires the total abstinence of food and water. You are on a fast where you drink water to stay alive,” Gregory told the group. He made lots of day-to-day suggestions based on his experience.
Parsons, wrapped in a blanket, said how he was humiliated by health care providers in an emergency room when he was brought to the hospital by police after he was arrested in a protest on Dec. 15.
Gregory told lots of stories about his experiences with groups and people on fasts and hunger strikes. “If you are in this to die, then I’m not going to be a part of this. I want to live. I want you to live and I will help you get through this.”
Sitting in a warm and well-lit room, the group detailed their demands:
The insistence that Congress (all parties) pass the H.R. 266, the District of Columbia Equal Representation Act of 2011 to end taxation without representation and give voting representation in both the House and Senate.
Congressional passage of the D.C. budget autonomy bill free of policy riders.
Elimination of congressional review of District laws.
“We thought that our demands should be something that wouldn’t take long to acquire,” said Parsons.
Gregory said he got involved for humanitarian reasons. “There are many things people don’t know about fasting. It places you on the human body’s operating table.”
On D.C. statehood: “More D.C. residents should come out and support statehood if they truly want it. The statehood movement must surround the group with love and peace. Eventually, they will come around,” said Gregory.
Anise Jenkins, president and executive, Stand Up! For Democracy in D.C. Coalition, said the group could benefit from input from Gregory. “Dick Gregory’s involvement is huge,” said Jenkins. “We will continue to commit our organization to full citizenship rights until D.C. becomes the 51st state in the union.”
Lawrence Harris, another member of the DC-8, said Gregory’s support brings the fast full circle. “I, wholeheartedly, support adding D.C. statehood to this endeavor at some point. We can’t afford to have representation for a brief period and taken away years later.”
Keith Silver, close confidant to Gregory, said the movement has been focusing on creative ways to keep the issue of D.C. statehood at its center. “We will stay the course. D.C. has the burdens of citizenship but not the benefits,” said Silver, an advisory neighborhood commissioner.
Gregory successfully completed an eight-day total abstinence, an 82-day water fast and a two and a half year juice fast against the Vietnam War.
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