Responding to Community Concerns
Since the start of our hunger strike, we have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support. Our Voices article announcing the strike has been shared over 580 times. Our newly formed Facebook page has received over 120 likes in just twenty-four hours and our solidarity form has received almost 90 messages of support. We’ve had students and even professors come sit with us in Sharples and reach out to share their support and encouragement for our mission. This action would not be possible without all of those who are not striking but are still supporting the strike in some way.
Despite this support, we have also heard community concerns primarily from alums about the strike and want to take the time to clarify some areas of confusion. We do not want this hunger strike to be a site of frustration or dismay for Swarthmore – rather we want to use the power of nonviolent direct action to create community and unity in times of distress.
Issue 1: Students have tied actions to events of 1969 and to colonization, but the protests in ‘69, fights for decolonization, and this hunger strike have vastly different goals.
Response: We are sorry for any confusion about this hunger strike tying itself directly to the events of ‘69 and co-opting the students’ work. This was not our intent. We know that Black women have always been at the forefront of activism –– in fact, a Black woman came up with the idea for and is one of the core organizers behind this hunger strike. By including the events of ‘69 in our statement, we wanted to recognize the work of activists in the past and to recognize that it is because of them that we are able to do this work. Although we do believe that at their roots the two movements have similar goals and work to upend similar structures, we in no way meant to connect ourselves to their work beyond an acknowledgment of the history of the 1969 movement. While we are moved to act by our care and concern for our peers, we speak only on behalf of ourselves.
Land acknowledgements are an increasingly-used practice to recognize the reality that we are on stolen land and that most violence in the United States traces back to colonialism. We did not use a land acknowledgement in attempt to co-opt the work of Indigenous people at Swarthmore or elsewhere. We also did not attempt to speak for Indigenous people – again, our goal in providing a land acknowledgement was to recognize our own complicity in the ongoing process of colonialism and its violent history. This is, quite literally, the least we could do to recognize Indigenous rights.
This hunger strike is also by nature addressing racism in the Swarthmore community, as policing and treatment of students vary based on the race of the student, especially if that student is Black or Indigenous. The fact of the matter is, this hunger strike is about more than just us. The events of last Thursday showed us that the Swarthmore College administration has made it unsafe for anyone other than the most privileged of students to protest, but we also understand that many students have never felt safe to protest in the first place. While we do not in any way claim to speak for all students, we hope that by taking such a drastic action that we can indeed begin to build a community where all students feel safe.
Issue 2: The goals of this strike are bureaucratically impossible
Response: From what we know about administrative processes, we actually do not feel that these goals are bureaucratically impossible. That being said, understanding that the semester is coming to a close and that many of these goals cannot be accomplished in two weeks, right now we are looking for a commitment to meet our goals, not an immediate completion of the goals. However, no member of the Swarthmore College administration has reached out to us about any of our concerns. Their lack of dialogue directly highlights why we feel the need to strike, and is what makes any progress at Swarthmore bureaucratically impossible.
Issue 3: This is 5 students acting on behalf of everyone, who are you to speak for us, particularly communities of color?
Response: The biggest goal of our hunger strike is to protect students’ right to protest. While the achievement of this goal would indeed benefit everyone, we want to acknowledge that there is no individual right that does not stem from a collective right. We are not speaking on behalf of all students, but our protest, should it be successful, will protect all students whether or not we speak for them.
Furthermore, we’d like to recognize that the five students who began striking on Monday are not the only five students involved in the organizing of the hunger strike. Instead, we are the students who felt comfortable being the public faces of the strike for various reasons. Others involved in the planning had ongoing conduct processes, were physically ill, or had academic concerns that precluded them from being publicly involved at the start of the strike. Some of these individuals are planning on joining the strike and some cannot. We recognize that a hunger strike is not accessible to everyone for mental and physical health reasons – which is why we created a form with tangible ways for individuals who are not striking to show support. So far, this form has almost 90 responses.
Issue 4: What does violence mean to you and why do you use that word so much?
Response: Typically the word “violence” is used to refer to interpersonal physical violence, which is described as “direct violence.” But it’s often short-sighted to look at direct violence in a vacuum. Frequently, direct violence is caused by what we name as structural violence. Johan Galtung coined this term in his article “Violence, Peace, and Peace Research.” Dr. Bandy X Lee defines it as violence that “directly illustrates a power system wherein social structures or institutions cause harm to people in a way that results in maldevelopment or deprivation.” Thus, students (primarily students of color) being mistreated by Public Safety is structural violence. It is structural violence when the Intercultural Center and Black Cultural Center are comparatively underfunded because it hurts the students who are served by those institutions and is a manifestation of white supremacy. Structural violence is often invisible. Drawing attention to only the visible, physical forms of violence erases the harm that we experience every day as a group of students who include queer students, women, and students of color.
Issue 5: Why a hunger strike? Why something so extreme?
Response: Swarthmore has made it so that other forms of peaceful protest, including sit-ins, are seen as too aggressive and are met with threats of arrest from police. A hunger strike, however, does not lend itself to police interference and therefore breaks the cycle of the suppression of dissent that we have seen in recent weeks. Although drastic, this is a way to address that and ensure that peaceful protest is protected in the future so that students will not feel as though they need to go on hunger strike in order to not fear arrest. This is also extreme because this is in many ways a desperate act in a situation in which students feel they have no other options on the table.