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.