National hunger strike rolls through Ashland
Smoke may seem to be all that’s on everyone’s minds, but for fasters in the #Hungry4Justice hunger strike currently in Ashland it reinforces the message of their fight.
Faster Dot Fisher-Smith, an Ashland resident with a long history of fasting and protesting, said the group of protesters decided to hold the events in the smoke because those who are suffering can’t change their circumstances and the whole point of the event is to stand in solidarity with the families who are suffering after being separated from their children.
The rolling hunger strike began July 30 in Oakland, California, and has moved on through Sacramento, Santa Cruz, Portland, Staten Island, Albany, Chicago, New York and finally landed in Ashland Wednesday, Aug. 22.
At least one person per day in each of these cities has served as “placeholders,” some fasting for up to three days at a time, or the length of each event in each city. The last scheduled date is Sept. 18 in Atlanta, Georgia, but, according to the #Hungry4Justice website, there are now 27 more cities signed up with future dates to be announced.
The purpose of the event is to protest the Trump administration’s separation of families at the border as part of its “zero-tolerance” policy. Children of all ages were taken from families who were both entering the country illegally and those who were legally seeking asylum. These children were placed in various housing and holding facilities around the country. A court-ordered deadline for separated families to be reunited was set for July 26, however, hundreds of children have yet to be reunited with their families, according to published reports.
The event was inspired by the fasting of detained mothers inside the Port Isabel Detention Center in Los Fresnos, Texas, who were refused the right to speak to their children.
The event in Ashland started Wednesday morning at Triangle Park on Siskiyou Boulevard at Liberty Street and continued Thursday and today with various activities. At 5 p.m. today participants will walk from the park to Pioneer Hall at 73 Winburn Way to share a community meal and break the fast. A van will be onsite to carry fasters who feel too weak to walk, according to coordinator Laura Davis.
Local attorney Yaschar Sarparast specializes in immigration and criminal cases. He spoke at the first evening rally Wednesday night on the importance of recognizing people as people no matter why they come to America. He said he feels a strong pull towards helping immigrants because he is an immigrant himself.
“I represent folks that you’re out here fighting for,” Sarapast said to the crowd. “What tumultuous times we’re in right now and it’s only going to get worse. I represent a lot of people from many countries right here in the Rogue Valley, and I’m here to tell you, don’t think for one minute that this is an isolated incident.”
He said working every day is like traveling because he has clients from all over the world step into his Medford office. He also said that immigrants are flocking to Oregon right now, because, he thinks, they realize that Oregon is largely open to diversity.
He also encouraged the group of participants to vote “no” on Measure 105, a statewide initiative that seeks to repeal a 30-year-old Oregon law that prohibits the use of state and local resources to enforce federal immigration law.
The Rev. Richenda Fairhurst from the Ashland Methodist Church said she is also an immigrant.
“Even I, a white lady, feel vulnerable sharing that information in this climate today and I’m about as safe as you can get,” Fairhurst said. “The folks who are arresting, the folks who are separating, the folks who are walking the cell blocks while the mothers fast and the children cry behind the cage-like containers that they’re kept in are, in fact, morally wounding themselves even as they inflict moral wounds on others and we have to figure out a way of how we can restore our communities,” Fairhurst said.
Sage Meadows, a music specialist with Ashland School District, performed a song she wrote for the occcasion, “The Children, They’re Still Cryin’.”
Paul Grimsrud, one of the fasters, began fasting Tuesday night at 7 p.m. while everyone else started at 8 a.m. Wednesday morning. He said the event is three days, so he wanted to fast for a full three days.
“The whole thing is just ridiculous,” Grimsrud said. “You just can’t go after people’s children — even the Mafia doesn’t allow you to go after people’s children.”
Fisher-Smith said she’s spent the majority of her life protesting injustices, from fasting in jails to protesting the Vietnam War, but it’s been many years since she’s fasted. Davis called her “The Mother of Activism.”
“It’s the first time in many years that my consciousness has woken up,” Fisher-Smith said. “This indignity, this insult to humanity was just more than I could tolerate.”
What started as three fasters turned into a larger group as people began stopping by the park and posting on the event Facebook page (www.facebook.com/events/300270023851942) that they were participating from home and work.
Davis said a world-wide cyber strike will take place Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 25 and 26. This event is open to everyone, including those who wish to participate but are home-bound for whatever reason. There will also be opportunities for those who don’t wish to or can’t fast to participate, such as by uploading their own personal stories of why they’re standing behind the cause.
For more information, visit www.solidarityhungerstrike.com. To participate in Ashland’s events today, go to Triangle Park or contact coordinator Laura Davis at 541-890-1715 or Lauracdavis27@gmail.com. A march from the park to Pioneer Hall on Winburn Way is set to begin at 5 p.m.
(Aug. 24: Story updated to correct the spelling of the Rev. Richenda Fairhurst's name and the dates of the world-wide cyber strike.)