Breaking the Death Fast

A couple of weeks ago I took the unusual measure of removing two posts from this blog. They were about the activist who calls himself “Start Loving.”

His name is actually Jay McGinley, and you can read more about his background and reasons for hunger striking on DC Mic Check. (I am quoted in the article.) McGinley is on Day 37 of a hunger strike in front of the Canadian Embassy, what he calls a “Death Fast,” because he does intend to continue it until death.

My decision to remove the blog posts came from a change in assessment about McGinley’s state of mental health. Initially, I ardently believed in what he was doing–bringing attention to the most pressing problem of our time, global warming. Many participants in Occupy DC, including me, have supported him throughout his hunger strike. Not just supported but gone to extraordinary lengths in providing him water and electrolytes, carrying away bottles of urine, charging his laptops, transcribing numerous videos, editing voluminous book manuscripts, and having long conversations into the night.

Not every hunger strike is a good hunger strike. It’s only after having spent a lot of time with McGinley that I came to the conclusion that this isn’t a good hunger strike. I was slow to come to this conclusion and didn’t want to. Out of personal affection I continued to visit him until recently. The bottom line is this: McGinley is a very intelligent man but also sick, and he’s becoming more and more delusional the longer he goes without food.

You’re not going to read this anywhere else. We want to praise someone who appears to be sacrificing themselves for a noble cause, and even major press outlets like the Los Angeles Times have interviewed and written about McGinley.

But I say, stop it. McGinley’s motivation and mental state are at issue. He’s getting an enormous amount of personal and press attention for committing suicide. It’s inherently immoral to encourage someone unbalanced to commit suicide. By giving him attention, this is what we’re doing. If he’s stopped somehow before he dies, he doesn’t deserve praise. If he dies, he shouldn’t be given the status of a martyr.

I write this not only to address this one case, but also because I believe it illustrates several weaknesses we as activists are susceptible to: cultivating rigid ideological conviction, extolling personal sacrifice to the Cause or Cause’s leader as proof of devotion, and believing that utter commitment is the gateway to effectiveness. All these are qualities of cults, in which individuals can become abusers and manipulators, or become vulnerable to being abused and manipulated.

This is what I wrote about the Occupy the Vote hunger strikers last December:

When you go on hunger strike for a cause, you put your body on the line. That’s why a hunger strike, as a nonviolent tactic of protest, can be so compelling. We all know the discomfort of hunger. Fewer of us know the pain and suffering of starvation. But we can imagine. The first, most basic thing we learn to do to survive is scream when we’re hungry. On a visceral level, hunger compels us.

So when a hunger striker overrides the primal command to survive and deprives him or herself of food for days or weeks, we turn and look and wonder: What conviction is so burning that it’s worth suffering or even dying for?

McGinley and his fast were compelling. When I first met him on Day 3 of his hunger strike, he inspired me with his uncompromising idealism and purported love for humanity. He’s truly awesome in his command and synthesis of information about carbon emissions. I wanted to believe that here was a holy man who had had a spiritual vision, who was suffused with love like the name he had taken on, Loving.

I visited him often, usually late at night, and enjoyed talking with him on a variety of subjects. He always greeted me with a cheerful, “Hello, Sister!” and soaked up long hugs before I left. I charged his laptop and brought him water and cough drops. I waited patiently and watched his things while he made trips to Starbucks to relieve gastrointestinal distress. He desperately wanted publicity for the Fast, so I edited a draft of a press release and looked up contact numbers for media outlets. I tweeted quotes, wrote articles and took photos that I posted on this blog.

And who wouldn’t want to support the cause he was trying to promote? We’re experiencing the effects of climate change now, and the Republican refusal to recognize the overwhelming scientific consensus that human activity is causing it, or that it’s happening at all, is maddening. Here was someone doing something about it, putting his life on the line!

For many of us supporting McGinley, the Cause took over. It was easy to overlook inconsistencies on his part. The greatest is the gap between his stated goal–publicity–and his actions to achieve it. While he made meticulous preparations for the hunger strike, he did nothing in advance to announce or publicize it, nor to my knowledge has ever contacted media himself but left it for others to do.

He refers to eight years of being exiled and ostracized by other environmentalists and people in general, and he indicated that he decided to undertake the hunger strike relatively quickly after having a vision. The isolation he underwent and the suddenness of his resolve also makes me think that his actions are part of a death wish.

More important to him than publicity, though, is the objective of getting more people to join him in fasting to death: “But all that matters on Earth right now, is that if there are 1000 people in the US that Love Humanity more than they Love their own life, that they come and join the Death Fast, now.” His mantra is “‘Till enough are seen dying.” The wish for others to join him in an apocalyptic vision and march to death is self-evidently insane. Indeed, in emails he chides his supporters for not following his example.

As lucidity wanes, he’s sent out numerous extended email rants:

Uh, I’m so stupid, I want you burned out on this mission, when you could find joy and passion in others that isn’t in this one for you?  Uh, no.  All of them are MY  missions too!

But as a consequence of your lack of passion, joy, and your predominant dissatisfaction with all that I’m doing, attempting, delivering… it is flaming me out.  I’m losing focus, feeling the weight of your dark moods, sadness, lack of passion, lack of delivery….  As I said from the beginning, and as is always true of the Potent Activist – I can do my part.  But there is a corollary I’d forgotten – not with the weight of those opposed to the mission for whatever good reasons, appalled at my execution of my part, etc, on my shoulders.  This is a lesson we must all remember going forward on future missions.  We need to help those that are trying, and avoid undoing that help by our gripes, moans, dis satisfactions, frustrations, etc; or find another mission where we can.  We’ve all been there, right?  Someone like me looks really tough, and maybe I am, but extremely delicate at the same time, because I keep myself exactly on the extreme edge, every second.  Every breath.

He often lashes out at his greatest supporters in Occupy DC. The alternation between harsh criticism and lavish praise is manipulative. He excoriated someone for speaking to a reporter unauthorized; later the same person is “the one of strong heart, [unwilling] to turn away from decency no matter what.” At one point he made a detailed list of one supporter’s personal flaws and shortcomings in carrying out the “mission.” Now that this follower has come back into the fold, he is part of the exclusive inner circle of the Death Fast. The criticism/praise dynamic extends to Occupy DC in general as well:

The Death Fast can’t survive any more “help” from Occupy right now
In the last two days somehow this became “our” campaign.  WHAT?  You mean “we,” in Occupy, that have honestly and clearly told me they were opposed, the messaging was wrong, the target audience was wrong, that have not sustained any but the smallest contributions, haven’t joined….???????  What kind of fantasy is this?

I will not fight you.  You can take the Death Fast over in the press.  Say it is Occupy DC’s campaign.  Whatever you want.  I’ll not fight you, and I’ll keep on. 

But later:

Thanks to friends at Occupy DC I’ve made it to day 37 relatively in tact, funcitonal [sic], and I’m fairly sure now, able to get the books completed sufficiently. Wouldn’t have been possible without them.

Framing the Death Fast as a  grand “mission” (“this is the most high stakes campaign on earth right now”) enables him to play on supporters’ devotion to a cause and appeal to their sense of self-sacrifice and fears that they may be one of the faint-of-heart.

Most recently, he has begged for all but the three most committed devotees to leave him alone and let him work–making the dozens of videos he posts on his site and writing two books–claiming that they are harming the mission.

My energy, powers of focus, etc are waning, but that’s par for the course.  IF you continue to comply with my wishes and allow the uninterrupted seclusion I need, I’ll be able to do my part. 

I will not allow interference with the mission, especially now that I’m entering a very very depleted, fragile zone for me.

Still, he relies on them not to go away completely:

I PRAY, IF THERE REMAINS ANYONE I’VE NOT YET TOTALLY DRIVEN AWAY, that you immediately read the draft and provide top level comments, major suggestions, major input.

It seems that despite my best efforts… I haven’t totally done my part yet of driving everyone away.  Thank goodness. Not totally anyway, yet.

Underlying everything is a contempt that none share his true commitment and join him in the Death Fast. (“The target objective is not one you see as worth your life, or even close.”)

There’s a natural tendency to adulate someone who is seemingly making the ultimate sacrifice for the good of the planet. But that doesn’t mean we should eschew skepticism or fail to examine our motives and the consequences of our actions. Supporters are well-aware of McGinley’s degeneration, yet they’ve promoted him to the press all the more. Because the cause is important, they fail to mention to reporters the ranting emails or the apple juice he drank while in the hospital. In ordinary circumstances, this is simply unethical. When it comes to someone who is disturbed and harming himself, it becomes a serious moral breach. I feel a responsibility for contributing to it, and that’s why I’m trying to set the record straight now.

UPDATE 6/2/12: McGinley announced that he will suspend his fast to finish the books he is working on: “Unless I consume moderate calories the books will not get done. The books must get done. I’ll be taking roughly half rations, about 800 calories per day until the books are done.  Weight loss will continue, but moderated, and my mind and strength should stay sharp and strong enough to finish.”

Occupy Analogy of the Day

Photo by Gary Jackson

“Rolling Thunder is in town, 900,000 strong are moving in. This is like Occupy DC on two wheels.”

-James George, examiner.com

Images of Chicago #NoNATO

Toronto Star: Getty freelance photographer Joshua Lott arrested during Chicago NATO protests (photo by Getty/Spencer Platt)

Some of the most striking moments and photos of the last day, continuously updated.

Rove, Boehner talk Big Business to Small Business Summit

They banned the press, but we were prepared to infiltrate.

The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) was putting on a “Small Business Summit” in Washington, DC on May 14-16. The NFIB calls itself “the voice of small business” (rights reserved). That’s because they’re a lobbying group leveraging the clout of its 350,000 small business members.

Premiere guests included Republican “Architect” Karl Rove, House Speaker John Boehner, and “Meet the Press” host David Gregory. Gregory took heat for being the conference’s keynote speaker, but NBC claims that doing the gig unpaid freed him from any accusations of journalistic impropriety. (Whatever. Do we really expect much from David Gregory?)

The high-profile speakers brought the desired patina of prestige and smattering of media attention, but no media were admitted to the events as far as I can tell, given the subsequent coverage: zero. Our little alternative media group (led gamely by Occupied News Network’s Rob Brune, plus live streamers Carlisle and Chapell, and me the blogger) intended to crash Speaker Boehner’s dinner. Livestreamer Flux was colorfully dressed as Uncle Sam and unlikely to gain entry.

But our plan was foiled when, unannounced to the public, the event was held on Capitol Hill instead of the Grand Hyatt. No unobtrusively slipping through that security. (Do lobbying organizations often get to host events at Congressional office buildings, we wondered?) So we lamely stood outside on the sidewalk.

Boehner, by the way, had a busy day. He earlier threatened to hold the country hostage to another debt limit “crisis” in 2013 if the White House even thought about tax increases.

Conference attendees slowly leaked out of the Cannon Building. NFIB bills itself as nonpartisan, but its leadership and objectives are closely aligned with the Republican Party. ThinkProgress calls NFIB “one of the Republican party’s strongest allies”:

The group spent over $1 million on outside ads in the 2010 campaign — all of it backing Republican House and Senate candidates (and, Bloomberg News reported last month, “another $1.5 million that it kept hidden and said was exempt” from disclosure requirements). The group is the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit against the Obamacare law and bankrolled state governments’ challenges to the law. The NFIB has also taken stances against allowing the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases, opposing regulations on businesses, and supporting curtailing union rights.

In 2010, Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS gave NFIB $3.7 million to its PAC, Save America’s Free Enterprise Trust (SAFE), to defeat Obamacare. Key NFIB leaders were staff in various Republican administrations. The incestuous relationships and money flow make NFIB effectively function as a Republican front-group.

On Capitol Hill, these were probably the smallest of the small business owners trickling onto 1st Street. The VIPs would have been escorted to their limos behind barricades. Some of its membership is comprised of large corporations such as Sam’s Club, American Express, Intuit, AGLA (an insurance group), Bloomberg Government, and Solveras–all of them sponsors of the conference. Membership dues cost about $1,500 on the bottom end and a whopping $25,000 for upper-tier. Not surprisingly, NFIB often pursues big business interests over small business interests.

Flux Rostrum mocks Sam’s Club sponsorship of Small Business Summit

Nearly every exiting conference attendee flinched as they approached our loitering alternative media cabal. Strangely, it didn’t seem to be Flux in the Uncle Sam suit that they were reacting to. Rob and I dressed as natives to blend in in that squeaky clean-cut Republican way, Rob in blue blazer and red power tie, me in job interview clothes, suffering make-up and heels. Yet we still seemed to stick out.

I’d expect the plastic employees of NFIB to give me the “Talk to the Hand” treatment. Still, anyone else I approached to interview was even more wary. The innocent face wasn’t working the usual magic. Was it the camera and notepad setting off the danger signal?

Blowing me off is a non-story to say the least, except that it seemed like a symptom of extreme paranoia. Do even conference attendees have to be prepared to face the liberal media? Were they this paranoid last year? Well, maybe. But in the last 8 months Occupy Wall Street’s message has penetrated the public consciousness. Republican and business leadership have to take note, and they seem to be taking steps to cultivate an even greater paranoia among their flock.

It’s probably not that hard to increase fear when the seeds are already planted: They want to destroy capitalism. Occupy Wall Street is the enemy of small business, the entrepreneur. They are a threat to your success. They want to tax you into oblivion.

The fear-based Right always feels threatened, but they may be feeling the heat more than usual. Wealth inequality is the mainstay of NFIB, and they want it to keep it that way. The public gets it that politicians are bought-and-paid-for, and they’re absorbing the nature of PACs as shills for the Parties. Occupy Wall Street’s bread and butter is exposing organizations like NFIB and their lobbying power. If it can keep beating that drum, the message will strike fear into the heart of Karl Rove.

(Photos by coolrevolution.net)

Gotcha! Right-wing catches Obama, Labor and Occupy DC in the act of…something

Code of Conduct for the Occupy DC Resource Center

The right-wing media/blogosphere reveled in a gotcha moment this week. Ever since the Tea Party was discredited by the Koch Brothers’ billions and tamed by the Republican party, right-wingers have been hungry for evidence to disqualify Occupy as a legitimate grassroots upswell. They just found some to suit their purposes in Occupy DC’s move to new office space near McPherson Square.

The Washington Examiner reports:

A labor union with strong ties to President Obama is helping make the Occupy Wall Street movement a more permanent fixture in the nation’s capital, moving Occupy DC into office space the group can use to organize and grow through the presidential election.

The Service Employees International Union, one of Obama’s most vocal supporters among labor groups, is paying $4,000 a month for three offices the Occupy protesters will use for at least the next six months to plan future demonstrations, organize and host workshops.

The offices are at the Institute for Policy Studies, a nonprofit progressive group headquartered at 16th and L streets NW, amid the major law firms, trade groups and lobbying shops that Occupiers have spent the past seven months denouncing.

So a prime RWNJ (Right-Wing Nut Job) conspiracy theory is confirmed right there: Big Labor and liberal Think Tanks are underwriting Occupy DC  (and therefore, as we’ll see, Occupy in general). And on top of that, the whole thrust of the story is an insinuation: that Obama is demonstrably linked with Occupy. Plus we’ve got a couple cherries on top: Occupy DC now supports Obama, through its master Big Labor, and it’s guilty of hypocrisy. So much accomplished in a few paragraphs!

The right-wing blogosphere immediately jumped all over this. Headlines appeared like “Labor and Occupy: Comrades in Arms,”  and “Look who’s paying for Occupy’s DC Digs.” Newsbusters, which purports to expose liberal media bias, sighs, “Don’t hold your breath for the media to report on this development or examine the nexus between the left-wing Occupy movement and Big Labor.”

The conservative Examiner also took the opportunity to gleefully write a scathing editorial, trotting out every grievance it’s had with Occupy DC up to this point:

Any pretense that Occupy DC protesters are just a bunch of ordinary fed-up Americans should be put to rest this week.

This collaboration puts a new light on the protestors… It makes Occupy’s leaders’ previous attempts to distance themselves from the SEIU come off as somewhat disingenuous. On the other side, the fiction that Occupy DC and its counterparts in other cities are completely independent entities has allowed their union backers to distance themselves from protestors’ illegal and embarrassing activities even as they subsidize them.

After contributing millions of dollars and thousands of volunteers to get Barack Obama elected in 2008, then-SEIU President Andy Stern became one of the most frequent visitors to the White House. Occupy DC leaders claim their free rent comes with no strings attached, but interestingly, their lease runs right up until Election Day.

I have to call out Examiner reporter Aubrey Whelan, who usually does such a great job on the Occupy DC beat, on the original news article. The framing of this story is sensationalism–a grabbing headline with no logical basis. SEIU supports Obama, and SEIU supports Occupy DC–therefore, Occupy DC supports Obama.

But buried a few paragraphs in is a sentence that undermines that idea:

Occupiers distanced themselves from the SEIU in the past, saying they were uncomfortable with the union’s vocal support for Obama.

So either Occupy DC has decided to support re-electing Obama–and please show me some evidence of that–or, its position remains unchanged by the association with SEIU.

Note also that the lede not so subtly juxtaposes Obama with “helping …the Occupy Wall Street movement.” Right away we get it that Obama supports Occupy.

The connection of Obama to Occupy by implication is necessarily nefarious. The assumption is that the president is tainted by association, even though mainstream Republicans whole-heartedly embraced their radical movement, the Tea Party. But the fact is, Obama doesn’t really belong in this story at all.

If we were living within the confines of reality, that is. The insinuated association of Obama with Occupy is part and parcel of the right-wing portrait of the president as an unhinged and dangerous radical. If only they could get that damning snapshot of Obama wearing a Guy Fawkes mask leading a phalanx of Occupiers in a tear gas-filled street clash with police….Well, we all know that photo exists somewhere. It’s with the birth certificate.

We Act Radio: Community-based progressive media

Ron Pinchman, Alan Rosenblatt, and David Shuster

Is the future of progressive media located next door?

Part of it may be. On a hot-for-April Saturday afternoon, people dropped in for the open house at their neighborhood radio station–We Act Radio. Just a stroll down Anacostia’s Martin Luther King Avenue–which also hosted art festival Lumen8 that day–the station’s small office brimmed over with people sipping drinks and animated by the on-air discussion blaring from speakers. Scenes and slogans from civil rights and labor history projected onto the only wall free from revolutionary banners and station-related promos.

We Act Radio went live early this year online and on 1480AM. Local vision and talent–Cliff Schecter, Kymone Freeman and Alex Lawson–started it up and attracted some high-powered friends to help it along, including former MSNBC anchor David Shuster, who hosts a 3-hour show every Saturday. Co-founder and program director Kymone Freeman calls it “the little station who could.”

It may rely heavily on syndicated programming, but the emphasis is still on engaging the community.  “We get a lot of foot traffic,” Kymone says [to Mediaite]. “We welcome it. Being on Martin Luther King Avenue is symbolic of our mission to give people a voice, to continue the work that Dr. King started.”

Kymone Freeman says Shuster has “put his credibility on the line” by supporting and hosting a show on an outspoken and upstart outlet, but Shuster disagrees, saying he doesn’t buy into the “unbiased” point of view for journalists. “Our role should be to report the facts and let the chips fall where they may. We have to follow the facts wherever they may take us,” he said.

His current boss Current TV is extremely supportive, and if anything his colleagues are envious that he gets to be so involved with the community.

The name of the station sums up the mission. “The role of the station is to say, here’s what the facts are, what can we do about it?” Shuster says. “In traditional news, we talk about the budget, politics,  but the difference here is, we say, here’s the news, and here’s what you can do about it.”

As an example, he cited the recent death of a baby left outside in the cold in DC. Instead of just reporting the incident as a tragedy, his show also discussed safe haven laws.

The Little Station That Could seems to be only one piece of the emerging network of progressive media shown on this chart created by In These Times. You know what they forgot? All the individuals efforts out there–the blogs (like yours truly), Tumblrs, Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, Livestream feeds, and news aggregators.

Why are these important? Because we’re no longer content-swallowers. We’re content-producers: dreamers, creators, observers and analyzers–and we have a voice.

(Image by coolrevolution.net)

From In These Times (inthesetimes.com)