Yesterday afternoon, while the House Republican leadership was busy securing votes for the 2011 budget deal forged last week, a small group of House Democrats met to discuss with the press and the public their ongoing participation in “Hungerfast,” a nationwide hunger strike (which supposedly has over 36,000 participants) protesting cuts to federal food and nutrition programs.
The fasting gang of five included Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, Marcy Kaptur of Ohio, Donna Edwards of Maryland, and Barbara Lee and Lynn Woolsey, both of California. Joining them in DeLauro’s small office on Capitol Hill was Ritu Sharma, the president of Women Thrive Worldwide, who helped organize the nationwide fast in protest to budget cuts to federal food and nutrition programs.
“We are doing this because we care about what is happening to the poorest women and girls around the world who already only have a cup of rice to eat every day,” Sharma said. “What this Congress is proposing is basically taking away that cup of rice.”
If women and children around the world and right here in America can’t eat because of these cuts, the congresswomen figure, they won’t either. Barbara Lee told me she had been fasting for nearly a week. “I’ve had water, and that’s it,” Lee said.
Donna Edwards plans on starting her weeklong fast on Friday. How long does she expect to last? “We’ll see how far I make it,” she laughed.
Other fasting members are taking it one day at a time, passing the fast baton to each other daily until Easter.
“For myself, I fasted yesterday, and I’m able to eat today,” said DeLauro. “It’s not like others. They don’t eat, day in, day out.”
“I’m proud to stand with my colleagues here today, joining in this fast,” said Marcy Kaptur. “I fasted yesterday. I’m very proud of my colleagues.”
Although the congressional fasters will be able to survive these cuts, others, they say, won’t be so lucky.
“There are cuts [in the budget] that will kill, literally,” said Sharma. “Women and children will die as a result of these cuts.”
“This fast will last as long as it takes,” Sharma went on. “When we launched this fast on March 28th, we committed to continue to fast until we have successfully protected programs that help the poor through the fiscal year ’13 budget.”
All of the congresswomen admitted that the federal deficit has to be brought down, and several prominent Democrats have said that everything needs to be on the table. So what would be a satisfying amount of money to these food and aid programs, an amount that would stop the hunger of the thousands of activists around the country?
“The number that I’d like to see are no cuts to these programs,” Sharma said.
What about increasing money for food programs from last year?
Lynn Woolsey smiled. “Wouldn’t that be nice?” she said.