Why This Climate Activist Is Fasting On Thanksgiving

Photo: Wikimedia

Eric Tien’s favourite dish at Thanksgiving is one his dad makes.

“He makes this wild rice with avocado, tomato, some kind of vinegar and olive oil,” he told Earther in a phone call. “And I don’t know what else. Garlic maybe?”

His family also makes green beans, squash, beets, an assortment of casseroles, and Chinese broccoli. Some years, his grandfather will roast a duck, but it usually turns out dry. All he really needs, though, are his dad’s rice dish, turkey, and mashed potatoes. He won’t be eating any of it this Thanksgiving, though.

Tien, 27, has been on hunger strike for 11 days. He and hundreds of others of Extinction Rebellion climate activists worldwide began fasting on November 17. Most people have stopped, but Tien is still not eating.

“I desperately want to eat, but I would rather have a future,” he wrote in the Guardian. So far, he’s lost 12 pounds.

Last week, Tien and other U.S. Extinction Rebellion hunger strikers occupied House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s outer office on the Capitol, demanding a meeting about Congress’ plans for environmental action. She barely acknowledged them—granted, she was likely consumed by last week’s buzzy impeachment hearings—so they decided to take more drastic measures. On the fourth day of their fast, Tien and nine others occupied stormed into the part of her office where the chief of staff and other aids sit only to be arrested by Capitol Police for unlawful entry. A picture in the Washington Post about the arrests shows Tien with his wrists zip-tied, smiling as a cop whisks him away.

Tien outside House Speaker Pelosi’s office on day three of his hunger strike (Photo: Extinction Rebellion)

Tien said he’ll keep fasting until Pelosi agrees to an hour-long on-camera meeting about the House’s plans to address climate change. Their immediate demand is that she back the Congressional resolution to declare a climate emergency.

Report after scientific report has shown us that the climate crisis demands radically restructuring the global economy. Pelosi backing the resolution wouldn’t even come remotely close to that—Congressional resolutions are non-binding and largely symbolic (and this one would almost never pass the Senate anyway). But Tien said he still thinks her support would send an important message.

“It’s a way for her to signal to the public that she’s taking this seriously,” he said, “and also...for all the moderate Democrats who maybe don’t support aggressive climate action, it gets their vote on record.”

More broadly, Extinction Rebellion wants Pelosi and other government officials to halt biodiversity loss and reach net-zero emissions by 2025 (something experts aren’t sure is possible), prioritise climate justice and a just transition, and create a citizen’s assembly on climate change and ecological justice which has input on legislative action.

“So part of this meeting would be to kind of question her and ask her what’s happening with the plans?” Tien said. “Why isn’t action happening faster?”

Around the world, thousands of young climate activists are asking similar questions of world leaders. On Black Friday, Tien and other Extinction Rebellion activists will join a climate strike in Washington, D.C. that’s one of more than 3,000 strikes planned around the world. Staging a strike on Black Friday, one of the biggest shopping days of the year, is intentional given the role consumerism plays in driving the climate crisis. Despite many brands’ attempts to label their particular products as sustainable, consumerism like the kind we see each year on Black Friday has a huge climate impact. The fashion industry alone, for instance, produces 10% of global carbon emissions.

“Every time we buy something, we are adding to the destruction of the planet,” Tien said in a text message. “Black Friday is an aberration of American culture. I hope we as a country can move away from brand names, new gadgets, and new clothes, and transition to a more regenerative culture that strives for justice for all,” he added.

He started to say more, but then stopped typing. “Fast is hitting me a little bit right now sorry,” he said.

Tien and other Extinction Rebellion activists plan to occupy Pelosi’s office again starting the Monday after the strike. But before all that, he’s got to get through Thanksgiving without eating—and he hopes others will do the same.

“Pointedly I’m asking people to join me...because I want everybody’s attention to be focused on this. I want holiday dinner conversation to be focused on this, so people become aware,” he said. “I don’t think most people understand how bad it is.”

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