At noon on July 29, in the mini park located on Main Street between Oak and Palm in downtown Ventura, a number of local activists are planning to skip lunch — in fact, many of them will deny themselves any sort of food for at least 24 hours. In protest of the war in Iraq, members of peace organizations throughout Ventura County will begin a weeklong fast, and in doing so they’ll hook up with the nationwide “Troops Home FAST” hunger strike which activist organization Code Pink began in Washington, D.C. earlier this month.
So, what does not eating have to do with bringing our troops home from Iraq? Betty and Norman Eagle, longtime activists and members of the Peace Coalition of Greater Ventura, say it’s all about exposure. “There have been plenty of famous fasts: Mahatma Ghandi, fasts for women’s suffrage and many, many others,” Betty explains. “I don’t know if it’s getting enough publicity. Our purpose is to try everything, because we have to do something.”
Craig Christensen, chair of the Peace Coalition of Greater Ventura’s Steering Committee, agrees with Betty. “Right now, it’s so important for the peace movement to communicate what’s clear about the public being fed up to policymakers. A hunger strike shows that people care enough and are passionate enough about it that they’ll stand up publicly and talk about it.”
Organizing a fast in Ventura was Betty’s idea. After hearing about Code Pink’s efforts in the nation’s capitol, where a number of activists and celebrities (Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn) kicked off a summer-long hunger strike for peace in front of the White House on July 4, she thought Ventura should lend its support. “We want to keep the issue alive and in the public eye. If people respond, it’s worth it,” she says.
And in the public eye it will be. On July 29 at 11 a.m., war protestors will meet in Plaza Park (across the street from the mission) and then participate in a walk through downtown Ventura. At the end of the walk, fasters and supporters will meet in the mini park to eat a final snack and start the fast. Volunteers and fasters will be manning a booth in the park for the rest of the week, from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. through August 4.
And before anyone starts worrying about the health of the fasters, it’s important to note that the fast will be a “rolling fast” — meaning that a group of fasters will go without food for 24 hours and then a new group will take their place. No one will go without food for more than 24 hours.
The Troops Home FAST is the most recent in a long series of anti-war protests that have taken place in Ventura since the Iraq War began. In March, approximately 500 protestors marched up the middle of Main Street in downtown Ventura, and Betty and Norman routinely set up camp at the downtown Ventura Farmer’s Market to gather signatures on anti-war petitions and to talk to shoppers about the war.
The couple’s greatest concern is a lack of understanding on the part of the general public, and they’re hoping that, through the fast, they’ll engage a few more people. “I feel so strongly that there are people we’re not getting to. There are people who don’t like the war,” says Betty, “but they don’t understand the issues and they don’t want to hear about it. I’m amazed how many young people walk by our table at the farmer’s market and don’t ask what we’re doing. They don’t want to know.”
But Norman is not discouraged. “The resistance to Vietnam took 10 years to really take hold,” he explains. “This is just the beginning.”