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Hunger Strikers Lay It All on the Line to Stop Gas Pipeline Permits

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Activists are fasting for 18 days at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in Washington, DC.
(image by Anne Meador/Flickr)
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Vibrations from the fiddler's bow ricochet off the hot concrete canyon walls of First Street near Union Station. About a dozen people lounge on sleeping bags and lawn chairs on the sidewalk under a blue awning, sipping salt water. They toss a few bucks into a pot for a wager on who has lost the most weight since their public fast began five days ago. Fifteen pounds dropped since Labor Day wins the prize.

It's come to this. Eighteen days of virtual starvation to draw a line under the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's intransigence, its refusal to do much of anything to address controversy, protest, and mass mobilization against the stream of permits it issues to greenlight gas. In other words, rubberstamp approval for the infrastructure projects it takes to transport fracked gas from the shale fields.

The hunger strikers, organized under the name Beyond Extreme Energy, have already attended public hearings; made comments on the FERC dockets; organized petitions; disrupted Commission meetings; protested outside of FERC headquarters for two full weeks with banners, props and art displays; and blockaded its doors, resulting in more than 100 arrests.

"There are so many ways to make a stand, from talking with our friends in church to fasting," said Carolyn Shaw, 71, a retired educator from Middleton, CT, who joined the fast for four days last week at FERC.

The fast will end at noon on September 25 with a celebration after the Pope has made his speech on Capitol Hill. They will deliver copies of the Pope's Enclyclical on the environment to the FERC Commissioners. It calls climate change "a global problem with grave implications."


Lee Stewartm Sean Glenn and MacKenzie MacDonald Wilkinson feel it after several days without food.
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My impotence has been gnawing at me of late. It will go immediately the fast is undertaken. -Mahatma Gandhi, 1948
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Charles Strickler, 72, a retied dentist from Harrisonburg, VA, said he feels pretty good for having gone five days without food. "This is one small part," he said of the fast. "I don't know if it will have an effect on FERC. We need to make systemic changes."

Their ages range from early 20's to early 70's. Many people around the country are fasting in solidarity for part or all of the time. By Day 5, everyone is rough around the edges. Their brains don't work as fast, word recall is harder. The younger ones are feeling the pain more.

By the end of the eighth day, the four youngest are suffering. All of them--Lee Stewart, Jimmy Betts, Sean Glenn, and Mackenzie McDonald Wilkinson--walked in the 3,000-mile Great Climate March, but they agree: this is much more physically and psychologically difficult. "The Climate March was hard, but at least I could eat," said Lee Stewart, from Washington, DC. He's getting stomach cramps when he drinks the mildly salted water.

They lay on sleeping bags with yoga mats underneath while the last Metro train pulls out of Union Station for the suburbs.

Elder fasters peer into the future altered by climate change. They worry about the next generation, and the next, and the next.

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"I fasted [for] the imperiled future of my grandchildren, who will not know many of the beauties I have experienced in my life and will suffer from the effects of a compromised earth," Carolyn Shaw said.

Jerome Wagoner from New Jersey has three daughters, two grandchildren and "one on the way." He fears his great-grandchildren will have a bleak future. "I've started to think if we don't take effective action now, it will be irrelevant," he said.

"Observe" does not include participation or disruptive conduct, and persons engaging in such conduct will be removed from the meeting. -Order 806, "Disruptive Conduct at Open Meetings," Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (March 9, 2015)

A FERC employee thumped his heart with his fist as a sign of solidarity as he passed by. "I am not supposed to talk to you," another said over and over for 20 minutes as Ted Glick of Chesapeake Climate Action Network explained to him why they were there, told him about the pipelines and how they prime the pump for fracking.

Passersby, including FERC employees, smile or ignore them, take flyers or push them away, offer feedback or pass in silence.

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Anne Meador is a co-founder of DC Media Group, a grassroots collective of journalists devoted to covering the news and issues from the people's perspective.


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