Hunger Strike!*

1 June 2017

It’s been a rocky few months for the once great art of the political protest. We’ve seen the ‘cleverly-marketed-as-so-broad-no-one-could-possibly-disagree’ protests. The March for Science on April 22 is a great example—it took place because ‘science is critical to our health, economies, food security, and safety’. You can’t argue with that.

The Women’s March on January 21 took it a step further by stating ‘all issues are women’s issues’. Feel free to join the next one if you have any feelings about anything.

More ominously, we’ve seen the rise of ski-mask activism. Those who dress up all in black and think that utopia is achievable if they just break enough windows, beat up enough Trump supporters and, most of all, stop people saying stuff. Witness Milo Yiannopoulos and Anne Coulter’s cancelled Berkeley appearances, and Charles Murray and a female professor being attacked at Middlebury College in Vermont.

We’ve even seen protest used to flog soft drink. Which bright spark thought: ‘You know what the kids will go nuts for? Kendall Jenner at an amorphous protest defusing a tense moment with police with a Pepsi! What could go wrong?’

But my favourite form of nouveau-protest is the ‘stunningly-counter-productive-protest-trope’ protest. Following Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential election last year, Yale students staged a ‘primal scream’ where they all stood in the quad and … screamed. Cornell students went one better and organised a ‘cry-in’.

However, the best one of these occurred in April—back at Yale again. Local 33, a graduate student union, wanted to speed up collective bargaining negotiations with the university, so they organised a hunger strike.

My first thought was ‘Gee, that’s really using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. They’re going to risk death, not over whether their pay rise is 2.7% or 3.1%, but over the pace at which negotiations are taking place.’ I was quite impressed.

But then I read the fine print—a pamphlet circulated on Twitter revealed that the hunger strike was ‘symbolic’ and that participants could go and get food when they were hungry. Not such a heroic act of #resistance then.

On the plus side, if the hunger strikers were hungry, they could go and grab a snag from the BBQ the Yale Republican club had set up. Right next to the protest.

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