Ocean Beach Local and San Diego Occupier Continues Hunger Strike Through Thanksgiving

by on November 26, 2011 · 8 comments

in Civil Rights, Ocean Beach, San Diego

John Kenney

For most people, Thanksgiving Day is as much about the food as it is self reflection. The turkey cooked to a golden brown, mashed potatoes topped with gravy, salty stuffing, sweet cranberry sauce and a collection of pies for the tasting.

But for OBcean John Kenney, this Thanksgiving was spent sipping glasses of water and contemplating the state of politics.

Kenney has been on a hunger strike for 19 days.

He announced his intentions at the San Diego City Council meeting on Nov. 8 and has since only indulged in water and the occasional coffee. His hope is simple: to get the attention of the City Council members and begin a dialogue regarding the rights of San Diego occupiers to gather at the Civic Center.

This isn’t the first time Kenney has stopped eating for a cause. For the past 15 years, he’s abstained annually in observance of Ramadan, the Islam month of fasting. For him, getting past the second and third days are always the hardest, but the lucidity that follows is equally as intense.

“I can see things and dream things that I would never feel if I wasn’t on a fast,” said Kenney, who lives on Saratoga Avenue.

It wasn’t until 2004 that his fasting took on a political element. To protest electronic voting, Kenney stopped eating for 52 days, drinking only one glass of orange juice daily. He ended his hunger strike just prior to the November elections intending to resume afterward, but soon got the news that presidential candidate John Kerry had conceded.

“I felt someone had to do something; the only thing I could think of that an individual could do was a hunger strike,” he said of the experience.

Ironically, societal interactions as a whole have since become even more electronic. In fact, each local facet of the Occupy movement has been held together, kept informed and continues to grow largely via groups of people communicating through social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.

But Kenney’s beef isn’t with that. Rather, it’s against the ever pervasive ambition of greed among U.S. leaders, which he says grew exponentially during the era of George W. Bush, America’s greatest “commander and thief.”

“Bush almost destroyed our world,” Kenney said. “Just being an American I can’t stand it, but being a humanitarian … We have to change. We are at the last straw.”

Kenney believes that change begins at home, as demonstrated by the efforts of occupiers at the Civic Center. He cites cities like Los Angeles and Oakland, where, respectively, a resolution was recently passed and a plans for a general strike are underway in support of the occupy movement.

The advances being made at other occupy locations is in stark contrast to the response of San Diego’s city officials—all of whom have largely ignored the pleas of occupiers. In fact, during their weekly meetings, members of the City Council appear disturbingly unsurprised by public accounts of gross violations of first amendment rights during mayor-approved police raids at the Civic Center in the wee morning hours.

In an interview with KPBS on Nov. 2, Council president Tony Young states that he alone has the ability to put a resolution regarding Occupy San Diego on the agenda, but that “we will discuss the resolution only if and when I have four members of the council who will sign.”

Young also stated that he frequents the Civic Center plaza in order to talk with individual occupiers. But that’s not what the regular occupiers will say.

“I have zero respect for them,” said Kenney of San Diego’s district representatives. “They’ve totally ignored us. They could negotiate with us any time they want.”

As for Young in particular, Kenney has been playing a game of phone tag that’s involved him making most of the calls.

“He still hasn’t gotten back to me,” Kenney said. “I’ve left three more messages.”

Surprisingly, that same lackadaisical sentiment is what Kenney faces from his friends, too. Most of them, he says, don’t quite get the purpose of the hunger strike and often tell him to “just eat.” It’s a response that Kenney blames squarely on plants within the movement.

“When you really go into a hunger strike, you’re supposed to have a whole emotional network behind you,” he said. “And I’ve felt just the opposite, even from people who I hoped would be supporters. I’m sure some of them are outright plants. But, some of them, I just think they don’t understand.”

Now a mere 11 days away from what doctors would consider critical, Kenney will be on day 29 at the next Council meeting, scheduled for Dec. 6.

“I feel drained,” Kenney said. “I definitely feel more spiritual than I would, for lack of a better word. That being said, I’m less tolerant of bullshit.”

But despite the brick wall San Diego occupiers seem to be running up against, Kenney is one to see the positive changes being made as well. For example, the face of local and national politics has already been forever altered by the movement. The dialogue has changed to include new terminology: Occupy, the 99%, Mic Check! and more.

There may be a lull in forward movement, but the sleeping beast that is social and economic justice has most certainly begun to stir.

“We may have to hibernate throughout the winter, but there will be an American spring,” Kenney said.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Mike kemp November 26, 2011 at 10:38 am

Thank God for people like you. At 77 years old and not able to do much except vote with you and support your brave stand. The mayor and all elected officials will not receive my vote. Now days politics is like knots in a spider web. But all dictators soon or later fall.
Gandhi said this and was so right.

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avatar Marc Birou November 26, 2011 at 11:14 am

I am glad to see that the Council President is at least involved. I have tried contacting the Mayor (whom I actually respect) and Todd Gloria, my council member with no response. I can no longer support Todd Gloria in Hillcrest as he seems content with talking about pot holes and taking photos around town while ignoring First Amendment issues.

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avatar Lois November 26, 2011 at 1:08 pm

I am so tired of the tedious, tired, lame, unjustified attacks by police and politicians, “for health and safety reasons.” I haven’t seen any of these comments backed by examples. Maybe I am missing something?

How about the guy in the wheelchair that urinated in the bottle. Wasn’t he respectful of using the bottle instead of urinating on the hallowed ground of the Civic Center. I agree that persons in wheelchairs can still commit crimes, but if he is using a bottle, that is ridiculous. Isn’t urinating in public a citation?

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avatar Lois November 26, 2011 at 1:13 pm

Bless you, John Kenney. This is not something you are doing just for yourself. It is for the people of the 99%. Just hard for me to see you doing it.

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avatar ken keegan November 26, 2011 at 2:42 pm

Thank you, John Kenney! Thank you OB Rag for keeping us informed and illustrating the importance of the OWS movement. I hope San Diego officials wake up and align themselves with the voters. Their tenure will be short lived if they don’t. I’m sure their wealthy supporters will keep them financially happy, though. Viva la Revolucion!

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avatar jim grant November 26, 2011 at 8:41 pm

Like I mentioned
City Hall really does not care if he is on a hunger strike !!!

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avatar Lois November 30, 2011 at 4:08 pm

City Councl cares about as much as John’s hunger strike as the wall street people who looked down on the OWS drinking their champagne.

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avatar Lois November 30, 2011 at 4:30 pm

“Surprisingly, that same lackadaisical sentiment is what Kenney faces from his friends, too. Most of them, he says, don’t quite get the purpose of the hunger strike and often tell him to “just eat.” It’s a response that Kenney blames squarely on plants within the movement.

When you really go into a hunger strike, you’re supposed to have a whole emotional network behind you,” he said. “And I’ve felt just the opposite, even from people who I hoped would be supporters. I’m sure some of them are outright plants. But, some of them, I just think they don’t understand.”

I can relate to this as a Registered nurse that has not worked since 2007. (Congress has promoted the myth that there is a nursing shortage which, in their mind, justifies going over seas to fill the nursing shortage. THERE IS NO NURSING SHORTAGE.) My point is, just as John feels the people who are not supportive of him, I could scream when someone with a job tells me to “be positive.” How can a large part of the population not understand there are NO Jobs, not only in nursing, but in this country as well.

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