Cases Studies from major direct actions on campuses!

Intro | Types of Actions | Case Studies

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.

Coming soon, case studies from...
Washington University in St. Louis Sit-in
Mary Washington Sit-in

Georgetown 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 us at:

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 Fact Sheet

          Hunger-Striking:  -A refusal to eat as a protest against existing conditions.

        -Fasting as a form of passive-aggressive protest, taking self-injurious action for which another party would suffer blame.


Historical Perspective:

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:

Starvation 101:

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 female hormones.

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.


§                  Benefits:

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.

- Because 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: 

·        Hunger

Most are 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.

  • Weakness

Water 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.   

  • Backaches

Back pain 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. 

  • Bad Breath

Waste 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.

  • Cankers

Toxic 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. 

  • Colds and other viruses

Mucous is 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.  

  • Blackouts

During 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.   

  • Diarrhea

Fruit juices have a laxative effect which is more pronounced after water fasting.  Diarrhea early on is a natural consequence.  

  • Headaches

Toxins can cause muscle tightness in the neck and shoulders.  This can result in tension headaches.  Massaging the neck and shoulders will help relieve the tension. 

  • Muscle Tightness

The muscles 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. 

  • Nausea

When waste 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.   

  • Nervousness

The elimination of toxins can irritate damaged nerves.  Light exercise will help relieve this.

  • Skin Disturbances

People with 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.   

  • Tiredness

Sleepiness 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. 

·        Feeling Cold

The hunger 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.

  • Insomnia

Be sure to nap during the day if your sleep at night is lighter

  • Abdominal pains
  • Depression
  • Constipation
  • Nightmares


Major Risks:

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.

·        Dehydration is a risk in voluntary total fasting, as individuals may lose their feelings of thirst and hunger.

·            Clinical Depression  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.

·        Cardiac Failure from loss of cardiac muscle. 

·        Ketoacidosis. 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 diabetics.


Safety Tips

·        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 aggressive. 

·        You also need to mentally prepare.

·        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 stay healthy.


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 be plenty.


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 increases nutrients

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 morning. 


Frequently Asked Questions:

o                 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. 


o                 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 rate. 

o                 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 muscles.    

What about protein and vitamins?

One need 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 person fast??

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 refeeding.

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. 


Http:// (The militant, direct-action publication of grassroots animal liberationalist and their supporters)

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 Strikers' reflection on the action

reflection on the 2005 georgetown hunger strike for a living wage

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 communities.

µ questions and considerations µ


        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 been sufficient?

 µ What other kinds of creative direct action could we take, and what are the merits of each (a hierarchy of possible actions)?

 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 desired response?

       preparing for a hunger strike 

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 issues

     - 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 juice strike

     - 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 problems?

      -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 affect?)

    -spin of strike ( focus/non-focus on health and weight loss, ultimatums, ethics, faith)

   - clear answer on why it came to this

 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 perform?

 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

 µHow will we make sure strikers physically and mentally end the strike heathfully?

 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

The Georgetown 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 strike”).

            The Georgetown 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 well.

A hunger 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.

The action 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 action.

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.

During the 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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