Fasting

posted by Mike on June 20th, 2005

Jim Fussell has updated his essay Fasting as a Method for Opposing Genocide in Darfur. It lists some of the people who’ve fasted on this issue and considers the purposes of political fasts:

In fasting in response to genocide the gravity of the response begins to suggest the magnitude of the crisis. Public fasting causes spectators to become witness to nearby suffering, reminding them of a greater suffering occurring at a distance. Fasting has the power to rouse the onlookers from apathy to action.


Fussell mentions Gene Sharp in his essay. Those who think nonviolent resistance is futile in truly brutal situations should read Sharp’s books for instances when the Nazis, Soviets, and others caved in to nonviolent protestors.

Comic Dick Gregory, known for his political fasts:

When you go on a long fast, your friends really think you are going to die. They don’t say anything, but they start treating you differently. Like, they don’t loan you money anymore.

Gandhi wrote quite a bit about fasting:

This fast is not a show but a sincere prayer to the Almighty that we may receive proper strength and proper wisdom in going through these struggles.

Ammon Hennacy, Christian Anarchist, wrote in The Book of Ammon:

The subject of fasting is difficult for many Americans to understand. I claim to be a One Man Revolution, yet I get ideas from others. I began my fasting in 1950 without reading in detail of Gandhi’s opinion on the subject. My experiences in solitary in Atlanta in 1918-19 had taught me to really love my enemies. Therefore when I had fasted I had the most kindly feeling toward the tax men and officials. My fasting and picketing was not to discomfort them or trip them up, but to wake up and encourage the timid pacifists and anarchists who did not dare oppose the powers that be. Later I read that Gandhi had nearly died on his first fast of seven days, because he had mixed feelings of hatred toward the oppressor. On his other fast of twenty-one days his mind was clear and he got along fine.

He describes a fast in 1958:

Dave Dellinger and some others had entered the AEC [Atomic Energy Commission] office in the Washington suburbs, and sitting down refused to move or eat until Admiral Straus would speak to them. They went for 7 days and had a few minutes talk with him at last. This is not good manners and is a negative fasting with which I would not take part. I explained in my picketing leaflet which had the cut of John the Baptist saying “Make Straight the Way of the Lord,” “I am fasting, not to coerce or embarass the A.E.C. but as a penance for our sinfulness in bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki and for our continued testing of hydrogen and atomic weapons in our mad race for a supremacy that means only death. I am fasting to awaken the consciences of those who are a part of the war machine, those who are half-hearted pacifists and those Christians who see no contradiction in following Christ and Caesar.”

[…]

To those who have never fasted and who are so fearful or so medically minded that the loss of a pound or a meal is a major disaster, the announcement that I would fast for 40 days as a penance for our atomic sins brought letters of protest that I was committing suicide. On the 17th day of my fast a man who works at the AEC building quietly told me that he had fasted 62 days with McSwiney, Lord Mayor of Cork, who had fasted 78 days for the freedom of Ireland and died in 1920. He greeted me kindly several times later. Nine others of McSwiney’s followers had fasted 94 days in prison and had lived. Many of the early Christians fasted 60 days in the hot desert. Pythagoras fasted 40 days before he took his exams and he would take no one as a student at the University of Alexandria who had not fasted for 40 days. Mrs. A.G. Walker, a noted Rhodesian singer, in Capetown, Africa, in 1931 fasted for 101 days to lose 63 pounds, as she was much overweight. In a supervised fast a man by the name of Succi ran up the steps of the Eiffel Tower on the 40th day of his fast. Harru Wills, the Negro prizefighter, fasted 30 days each year when he commenced training for a fight. Freddy Welsh, onetime lightweight champion of the world, always started his training for important fights with a week’s fast. The most spectacular achievement was that of Gilman Low, artist and athelete, who in December 1903, at Madison Square Garden before 16,000 people, at the end of an 8 day supervised fast broke nine world records in weight lifting, such as raising 950 pounds three times in four seconds, and raising 2,200 pounds 29 times in 20 seconds. Bob Hoyt of the Knight newspapers who wrote three articles about my fast had asked a leading nutritionist at the University here if I could fast for 40 days without injury. He replied that if I had a strong will it would not hurt me.

Also at Pie and Coffee: see Darfur Fast.

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