Learning from experience is invaluable. Hearing about another
group's experience using specific tactics or actions can
provide an incredible wealth of information. This page is
a collection of reflections and advice from students' experience
with actions on their campus.
soon, case studies from...
Washington University in St. Louis Sit-in
Mary Washington Sit-in
University Hunger Strike
Hunger Strike Preparation and Fact Sheet
fact sheet word
doc (to make copies!!)
Strikers' reflection on the action
If you have a testimonial, or would like to write
about an action that you have participated in, please email
Also, check out the Campus Living Wage Project at
to read interviews with student activists and others involved
in past campus living wage struggles.
Hunger Strike Preparation and
Hunger-Striking: -A refusal to eat as a protest against
-Fasting as a form of passive-aggressive protest, taking
self-injurious action for which another party would suffer
Hunger strikes have been around
since Roman times. Hunger striking was used between 1917
and 1919 by American woman suffragists and also by
conscientious objectors imprisoned in the United States.
Gandhi fasted at least 14 times but never for more than
21 days. It was used again in the 1970s and 1980s by
imprisoned members of the Irish Republican Army. During the
Vietnam War, the Roman Catholic priests Daniel and Philip
Berrigan used the hunger strike in 1969 at Danbury Prison,
Conn., where they had been imprisoned for destroying draft
records. In 1970 inmates in California’s Soledad Prison used
it on a massive scale to protest prison conditions. and in
2000–2001 several hundred leftist inmates in Turkish prisons
and others in Turkey used “death fasts” to protest prison
conditions. Between 1972 and 1982, at least 200 strikes took
place in 52 countries and twenty three hunger strikers died.
Today hunger strikes are used to bring attention to
everything from labor disputes to salamanders in Tibet.
What to Expect:
If a person is healthy and well-nourished, prolonged fasting
is generally well tolerated with few and relatively minor
complications. Even though most of us never try it, our
bodies are made to routinely go as long as a month or two
without any food, surely because famines in early history
occurred and humans had to survive. A healthy, normal adult
has enough calories stored in his or her body to last up to
80 days, according to scientific research. Young adults may
survive much longer than children or older persons and women
can survive longer than men because of their greater
proportion of body fat which results from the action of
So what exactly happens? Your body needs energy to function
and prefers to use carbs (glycogen) first. For the first
few days of starvation the body uses its stores
of glycogen in liver and muscle. This is accompanied by salt
excretion with substantial weight loss. The next phase
lasts up to day 10-14, during which time glycogen
stores are exhausted and certain amino acids are
used to make more glycogen. In the final phase, most energy
comes from ketones produced by the breakdown of fatty
acids. When fat stores are used up there is
catastrophic protein use, but generally other
complications arise first.
Clarity and Emotional Highs
The weakness and fatigue that
eventually accompany prolonged fasting can be viewed
positively as wonderful quieting state. There is a commonly
described sense of "well-being" and "clear-headedness" after
the initial few days which makes the short hunger strike not
at all unpleasant. Many describe it simply as a renewed
happiness just to be alive. This high has some
physiological basis a fasting can lead to increased
endorphin levels similar to the endorphin-high experienced
by long distance running or drugs. During The Ups, it feels
as if there is an endless supply of physical energy, but
beware, energy may be fickle especially in the early parts
of a fast. Also, thoughts are intensified in this state and
excessive emotions are common and misdirected.
Fasting is most
fulfilling for people when they approach it with a purpose.
With a hunger strike, the purpose in clear, but a personal
purpose may further enrich the experience.
Many of the initial side
effects come from years of toxins coming to the surface and
though unpleasant, detoxification is wonderful for you in
the long run. Detoxification is especially intense during a
water fast and can seem overwhelming. Your body
cannibalizes on sick cells and dirty fat, releasing toxins
into the blood. Detox usually last from one to three days,
and may hit day 2 or day 28 of a fast. The greater the
quantity of toxins in the blood, the worse you feel.
-Eating will feel like a new
experience when the fast is finally broken. The flavors and
textures of food will be enhanced by super clean nasal
passages. Eating will be a brand new experience.
-You will be able to eat
healthy easier. An interesting phenomena occurs after a
fast. The years of conditioning your body to tolerate
unhealthy foods is reversed. The body is as clean as a
new-born baby. Sensitivity to unhealthy food is increased.
You will feel satisfied with smaller amounts of food and
sluggish and tired when overeating. Rich foods, full of fat,
salt, and processed sugars will cause nausea, headaches and
weakness. A handful of fruit will be thoroughly satisfying.
Because the digestive system has to work less, there will be
boundless energy to spare.
sleep is a short fast, some detox symptoms are present when
you first wake up including a coated tongue, bad breath,
puffy skin, and a foggy mind. One of the things you will
experience later in a fast is effervescent energy when
rising out of bed in the morning. No sleepy dirt or puffy
eyes; a breath sweet “as the morning mist that flows over
hills covered in spring flowers”.
Potential Drawbacks and how to deal with them:
surprised by the disappearance of hunger after a few days of
fasting. Hunger may reemerge at times, due to overly-pulpy
juices that reawaken the digestive tract.
fasting will result in weakness and lack of energy. There
can even be dips in stamina during a juice fast if you have
a high metabolism. Your expectations should be adjusted
when planning a fast. Give yourself lots of down time;
enjoy the holiday away from the hustle and bustle.
can increase due to toxins in the lower intestine. Blood
vessels that draw nutrients from the colon are very close to
the nerves of the spine. Back pain will often decrease
after elimination of the toxins. Back exercises can also
relieve some pain. A cold pack also will help.
passes through the lungs, which are an eliminative organ.
Brushing the tongue with a toothbrush using dental floss and
rinsing with mouthwash will reduce bad breath. Rinse your
mouth with plain water or water mixed with lemon juice to
relieve these symptoms.
build-up in the mouth and the absence of the washing-action
of chewing food can allow an increase of bacteria between
the teeth. The tongue becomes coated with waste. To stop
cankers, gargle with sea salt mixed with water several times
daily. Dabbing the sore with tea tree oil or vitamin E
quickens the healing process.
the perfect food for viruses. Toxins weaken the immune
system. When large quantities of toxins and mucus are in
the blood due to a fast, they can cause susceptibility to
colds. To fight a cold, continue fasting to eliminate
mucus. Increase intake of citrus juices.
fasting the body conserves energy. The heart pumps slower
and blood pressure lowers. Standing or moving quickly from
a resting position will cause the blood to flow to the legs,
causing blackouts and dizziness. To stop blackouts get down
on one knee or sit. Lowering your center of gravity will
instantly stop a blackout. Blackouts are more frequent
during water fasting.
juices have a laxative effect which is more pronounced after
water fasting. Diarrhea early on is a natural consequence.
cause muscle tightness in the neck and shoulders. This can
result in tension headaches. Massaging the neck and
shoulders will help relieve the tension.
may become tight and sore due to toxin irritation. The legs
can be affected, as toxins accumulate in the large muscles.
A self-massage, hot baths, stretching and exercising will
help to release the toxins.
is released too quickly by the lymph glands some of the
toxic overload is taken by the liver and secreted with bile
into the stomach. This causes nausea. Drinking water or
carrot juice will dilute the bile and toxin mixture, helping
to flush it from the system.
The elimination of toxins can
irritate damaged nerves. Light exercise will help relieve
problem-free skin may have a few days of pimples or boils.
A pallid complexion is also a sign of waste in the blood.
When cleansed of mucus and toxins the skin will be healthy,
soft and unblemished.
is normal during water or restricted juice fasting. Very
few people receive enough rest, so enjoy the extra sleep; it
may be as healing and rejuvenating as the fast itself.
striker may be more susceptible to cold since the body has a
harder time keeping warm and trying to conserve energy at
the same time.
Be sure to nap during the day
if your sleep at night is lighter
After Week 3, or whenever weight loss exceeds 18 percent of
the starting weight. The body tries to compensate by slowing
down its metabolism, entering "starvation mode." Still, once
fat stores are entirely depleted, the body has no choice but
to mine the muscles and vital organs for energy. The striker
simply wastes away as his body, quite literally, consumes
itself. There are major risks to fasting, including death.
is a risk in voluntary total fasting, as individuals
may lose their feelings of thirst and hunger.
One study showed 77% of hunger strikers to be clinically
depressed at the time of admission to hospital,
measured by an independent psychiatrist, although
they also demonstrated features similar to those
of the post-traumatic stress syndrome.
from loss of cardiac muscle.
Fasting becomes dangerous after just three to five days, at
which point the body begins breaking down fat in order to
produce energy. When the liver is reduced to breaking down
fat (in lieu of the usual glucose), it produces ketone
bodies, a toxic byproduct. These can be excreted through the
urine, and a particular variety known as acetone can be
expelled through the lungs. (Acetone makes a person's breath
smell like pears.) Ketone bodies can also be oxidized by the
brain in order to make the fuel it needs. But when ketone
bodies become too numerous in the bloodstream, they can
cause this potentially lethal condition that afflicts some
Don't fast if you have health problems, especially an
infection, advanced cancer, a compromised immune system,
diabetes, ulcers, liver, kidney, heart, or lung disease,
epilepsy, arthritis, schizophrenia, severe asthma,
hypoglycemia or other serious illnesses.
Conclusions from studies recommend independent medical
monitoring after a weight loss of 10% in lean
healthy individuals.If the pre-hunger strike
weight is unknown, a maximum of 10 days' hunger
strike, or a body mass index of less than 16.5 kg/m,
should be the trigger. Major problems arise at a
weight loss of about 18%.
Anyone who takes
prescription or recreational drugs regularly should not fast
without medical supervision. Withdrawal symptoms can develop
quickly during fasting.
In order to lessen the
shock to your body, drink lost of juice and eat mostly raw
fruits and vegetables the week before the fast… so that the
detoxification during water fasting will be less
You also need to
If you decide to go on a
hunger strike, don't eat anything. A little food just makes
you stay hungry and protein-only fasting is dangerous.
Drink two liters of
fluids every day, supplemented with one-quarter to one-half
teaspoon of salt if possible.
Stay warm and avoid
unnecessary physical exertion.
If you feel sick after
three or four days, insist on seeing a doctor immediately
(safety and strategy tip)
Even if you feel good,
insist on getting medical supervision after fasting for 14
days. It will help unnerve the authorities and ensure you
What and how to drink?
#1 rule: Drink to you heart’s content!
The best water is distilled, secondly, spring or filtered.
Interestingly enough, one may not feel thirsty within one or
two weeks of fasting and may find it difficult to drink
adequately after four or five weeks of fasting. One should
try to drink at least two liters of water per day, even if
you don't want it, in order to stay well hydrated. The body
will need less water, though, as the fast continues, and by
two or three weeks, one to one and a half liters per day may
The juice of fruits and
vegetables are filled with healing and cleansing properties
that allow the body to gently and safely detoxify. Fruit
and vegetable juices are the cleansers, energizers,
builders, and regenerators of the human system. A
combination of either fresh raw fruit or vegetable juices
will supply all the enzymes, vitamins, minerals, protein,
and fats critical to increased vitality! Juice fasting
works because it does two things: removes toxins and
Try to stay away from dead,
bottled juices, for some unknown reason they can cause
hunger and are far less sustaining. Allowing the digestive
system to rest is essential in healing. For this reason,
juice fasts are more effective in healing when the intestine
is empty of fiber. During a juice fast, it is best to use a
strainer to filter the pulp from vegetable and fruit juices.
Also, be careful not to drink too much acidic juice in the
Frequently Asked Questions:
Should I continue with my medication?
It is wise to consult your
doctor regarding the effect of fasting combined with your
medication. Many do successfully fast while on medication.
If you must take medication and intend to fast then we
advise you to juice fast. The vegetable juices will help
protect the stomach from harsh medications. Do not water
fast while on medication.
How much weight will I lose?
Weight loss can initially be as
high as 3-4 pounds per day, much of it water, but as the
fast continues, the average loss will be 0.5-1 pound per
day. If you are thin or at average weight and you fast for
30 days on juice or 10 days on water, ribs will show, face
will become gaunt, friends and family will notice. But the
body will quickly normalize its weight in about 10 days
after the fast. It is very important not to try to gain
weight too quickly. The body can rebuild only at a set
Can I exercise while fasting?
During water fasting, weakness
is the normal state and as much rest as possible is
advised. If you feel a rush of energy save it for a time
it’s really needed. Some experience an abundance of energy
making exercise easy and fun. Exercise oxygenates the
blood. The pumping action of the muscles flush the lymph
and cells of metabolic waste. If you experience energy
loss, limit yourself to stretching exercises, light walking
or deep breathing. Try to avoid intense physical activity
during a fast even if you feel energetic. I say this from
personal experience; the energy can be fickle. Overdo it
and you will feel tired and weak for the next day or two as
the body tries to recover the glycogen reserves in the
What about protein and
not worry about vitamins and minerals, as the body stores
enough for many weeks or months. Your body has sufficient
protein reserves for a 30-day water fast or longer.
Enemas and Laxatives!?
It is recommended that at the
beginning of a fast you use either laxative or enema (it’s
up to you if you really want to do this) to help clear your
colon. Prune juice or senna teas are natural and safe
laxatives and are very useful at the beginning of a fast.
How long can a
A healthy, well-nourished man
can live from 50 to 75 days without food, provided he is not
exposed to harsh elements or emotional stress. The 60-day
figure that is commonly quoted as the absolute limit assumes
that the striker is a healthy adult with approximately 24
pounds of fat on his or her frame. Someone with a higher fat
content might be able to last longer, since that person's
body could delay turning to the vital organs for fuel.
Physiologists generally agree that no human being can
survive losing more than 40 percent of his body mass, though
currently there is a man in California who has lasted 123
days and surpassed the 40% limit.
Breaking a Fast:
When breaking a fast, care must
be taken to start slowly with juices and bland soups, and
then progress slowly with frequent small meals to vegetables
and finally normal (vegan, of course!) food. Eating small
amounts of raw fruits and vegetables for the first five or
six days will allow the body to gently wake up the digestive
system. The body will continue to detoxify and cleanse
during this period. Any toxins that have accumulated will
begin to move due to the sweeping action of the soft fibers
of fruits and vegetables.
For six days gradually increase the amount of raw fruits and
vegetables in your diet. To break a fast and gorge on meat,
bread or junk food will be disaster. Jarring the system this
intensely when the digestive system is in a sensitive state
can cause stomach cramps, nausea and weakness, negating much
of the benefits of the fast.
Eat slowly and chew your food well.
Do not overeat!
Make juices during the breaking period.
When breaking a fast over ten days, the break-in period
should be extended one day for every 4 days of fasting.
Try to avoid foods known to
cause or aggravate diarrhea in the starved condition, such
as fats and fried foods. If you get sick with vomiting,
severe abdominal pain or diarrhea, a doctor should be
consulted right away. Ingesting carbohydrate after fasting
will also cause a reverse of the initial salt
loss, causing measurable weight gain and
swelling. Cardiac problems are potential hazards of
Fasting can also deplete the
beneficial bacteria because of the large quantities of
toxins dumped from the lymph glands into the colon and the
absence of food that the bacteria thrive on. To replenish
your system-- On the day before you break the fast, before
eating, mix one tablespoon of yogurt or 2 capsules with
one-half cup of water. It will take four days for the
bacteria to reproduce themselves into a healthy culture.
militant, direct-action publication of grassroots animal
liberationalist and their supporters)
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reflection on the action
reflection on the 2005 georgetown hunger strike for a
We mean this to be a reflection on the
direct action taken by the Georgetown living wage
coalition. We’ve included a preparation packet put together
by our health coordinator, a list of questions we asked or
wished we had asked ourselves, and a longer reflection on
the action now that we’ve finished, won, and begun to move
on. Hopefully this will be helpful to other campus and
non-campus groups considering a similar action in their own
questions and considerations
deciding on the action
µ Is our campaign ready for escalation?
µ How have we built up to the point where we are now, and has it
µ What other kinds of creative direct action could we take, and
what are the merits of each (a hierarchy of possible
µ How willing are folks to be arrested, and is this important for
this action? Do we have the capacity for legal training and
support for this? What are the risks involved, and are
certain individuals more at risk than others?
µ What kind of action is most appropriate for our campaign,
considering our community’s history of response to actions,
possible media attention, campus and community support,
worker involvement, and size of core group?
µ How does the group feel about the ethics of the action? Have all
actively expressed that they are comfortable with it?
µ How will we escalate further if our action does not achieve the
preparing for a hunger
µ Who in the larger community has engaged in a similar action whom
we could contact for advice and support?
µ Set aside several weeks for preparation, including physical and
mental preparation, and discussions around the following
- definition of individual end
points for strikers
- past issues with food or eating
disorders or depression, and how folks with a history of
food issues can healthfully participate and have the support
network they need
- differences between water and
- who will make up the support
staff, what will they do, and how will the group make sure
they stay fed, rested and healthy?
- who has health insurance?
- who had other past medical
-who will make up the health
team, and how will we regulate the health of the strikers?
µ Messaging of campaign
-spokespeople (who are they, why,
how will they be prepared, and do we have a diverse
representation of the campaign and people it aims to
-spin of strike ( focus/non-focus
on health and weight loss, ultimatums, ethics, faith)
- clear answer on why it came to
µ Who will bottomline media, the space/center of operations,
media, negotiations, campus outreach, community outreach,
health, legal support and morale, and what will they do? Do
we have enough committed people to fill these roles without
asking strikers to take on tasks they will be unable to
µ What will be the focus of this campaign, and how will we respond
to inevitable media focus on us and our health instead of
the issue at hand?
After the action
will we make sure strikers physically and mentally end the
µ How will we engage the larger community on issues that may come
up during the action, such as its ethics and effect on
students vulnerable to or affected by eating disorders?
reflection on the georgetown hunger strike
why a strike and how it won
living wage campaign had been going on for 3 years. This
consisted of nearly constant communication and committee
work with the administration, continued building of
relationships with workers, campus and community outreach
and public actions. It had been long enough for GU to commit
to a policy (see longer manifesto of sorts, “why hunger
administration and the campus press expected a sit-in. As
the Georgetown Solidarity Committee (GSC) had succeeded in
signing the university on to the Workers Rights Consortium (WRC)
with a sit-in, it seemed to most like the logical next step.
Because we had no element of surprise, we needed to engage
in a different kind of direct action. Georgetown is also a
Catholic university and is very sensitive to its public
image. Fasting and hunger strikes have a long Catholic
tradition, and we initiated our strike at the start of Holy
Week leading up to Easter. The metaphor and timing was
brilliant. The Catholic and religious communities in support
of us took the action to a new level, many even fasting with
us during the entirety of Holy Week. At one point 300 Rabbis
across the country were prepared to fast with us, but we
ended up winning the day before their planning solidarity
fast. We attribute much of our success to the powerful
connection to faith and fasting, but to many other things as
strike was perfect for the media. They were entirely unable
to portray us as violent, rowdy, disruptive students- we
were always the good guys. We put priests ans rabbis on
stage up next to workers and hunger strikers, and no one
could articulate a reasonable argument against us and the
cause. The strikers were also readily accessible for rallies
and media attention, which helped our messaging and public
image immensely. Media wins campaigns, and by day five they
were calling us instead of the other way around.
also easily made a space for solidarity actions.
Individuals, campus groups, alumni, workers, unions, labor
and faith leader and supporters abroad could engage in 24
hour solidarity fasts and put the message out in their local
media as well as add to our public list of solidarity
fasters. People could give up a meal a day, give up snacks
or meat and still feel ownership of the action and the
campaign, feel like they were an important part of it and
inspire them to come to rallies, staff the space or just
talk to friends about why they didn’t eat lunch that
afternoon. We found solidarity actions to be key in many
ways, and they can take many forms depending on the specific
The strike was
the center of constant activity. We knew that quiet, dead
stretches of time would be dangerous for hunger strikers,
who needed regular encouragement and stimulation. We also
needed to apply continual pressure on the administration so
that they knew we weren’t going anywhere. We made it
abundantly clear to decision makers that we were only
getting stronger. Every day consisted of a set routine. We
held rallies at noon, after which hunger strikers or rally
speakers would visit the president and senior vice
president’s offices either politely or disruptively,
depending on our goals that day. Vigils took place at 6 pm,
and evening events from 6:30-8:30 pm. Evening events
provided a space for students to support us and speak out,
or to educate anyone who would come. We had a capella
performances, open mic music nights, documentary screenings,
dance performances, and a repeat performance of the living
wage play, “Catholicism Wow, Living Wage Now!”. Hunger
strikers and support staff held separate meetings at 8:30,
and general meetings took place at 9 pm.
how we prepared
We consensed on the hunger
strike as our first direct action two months before it would
start. We were prepared to escalate to more disruptive
actions if the hunger strike didn’t end up being successful,
and liked the hunger strike because it gave us room for that
escalation, if it was needed. At that point we designated a
nursing school student member of the campaign as our health
coordinator. She researched and produced preparation
literature for hunger strikers, who committed to the action
by about two weeks beforehand. Some people added on last
minute, however, and she and the health team were
responsible for easing them into the action as healthfully
as possible. Strikers decided ahead of time what they would
be taking in, whether it was only water, or juice, honey,
caffeine-free tea, etc.
We had a week of spring
break before March 14th, which was our deadline
for the administration to commit to a policy. This was a
difficult week for us to organize. People in Washington DC
were scrambling to set up last minute preparations for
rallies, worker involvement, banners, literature, etc. It
was too much work for the crew who stayed behind, because
folks who left town could accomplish a limited number of
tasks away from campus. During this week we finalized
bottomliners for working groups, who were responsible for
making sure all tasks assigned to their working group were
completed. These included media, health, worker outreach,
campus outreach, community outreach, faculty, jesuits, faith
outreach, rally coordinator, space-coordinator, evening
events (teach-ins, documentaries, performances, open-mics,
etc), evening vigils, and morale.
what we could have done better
The action was
unsustainable in many ways. Everyone involved realizes how
incredibly lucky we are that we were able to pull the
campaign off before Easter break, because as we were running
it it could not have continued as it had much longer. We
could have had a smaller group of hunger strikers (we had
26) who were truly prepared and committed to hold out until
either we won a policy or they were hospitalized. Because
our preparation fell short and communication between hunger
strikers before the action was limited, many intended to
break their fasts over break and come back either as support
staff or solidarity strikers. There would only be 4
strikers out of 26 after Easter, and the campaign would have
to change its messaging and tactics. This was a weakness. We
were in the middle of planning a lock-down outside the
president’s office before the administration caved.
Strikers were also too physically active, and as a result
lost weight and got weak quickly. With fewer strikers, more
dedicated folks could have accomplished the tasks that
strikers took on instead of resting.
Meetings could have better
planned to take into consideration the declining energy of
hunger strikers. By 9 pm many were unable to concentrate,
fully participate or even attend and be a part of important
conversations. As a result many felt unable to take part in
decisions about their own bodies and how long the strike
would go on. People who joined the campaign for the fast
were not always in the know about how the group was going to
move forward and were often not a part of the process of
strategic decisions. It was also expressed that events
planned during meal times were difficult for support staff
and supporters to attend.
We could have done much
more preparation around body image, food issues and
depression as they related to the action. We did not make
space for conversations about eating disorders prior to the
action, but they consumed our debriefing session. Several
hunger strikers are having a difficult time eating
healthfully or feeling healthy about gaining weight back.
Other students experienced flashbacks to psychological
problems, like depression and bi-polar disorders. Students
unconnected to the campaign were emboldened in their own
eating disorders because of the public focus on not eating
and weight loss. We hope to hold a campus-wide event to
facilitate a workshop or conversation on these issues as
they relate to the hunger strike and activism. We discovered
parallels in hunger striking to eating disorder mentalities
as they relate to our and others’ attempts to control a
situation over which they have little control.
campaign we held public weigh-ins and publicized how much
weight strikers were losing each day and losing
collectively. Instead of this focus, we could have more
responsibly focused on what strikers were gaining, for
example, instead of losing. Many have expressed that we
could have been equally as successful without the harmful
focus on weight-loss.
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