Bil Browning

Choi's Hunger Strike Lite: Now With More Calories

Filed By Bil Browning | June 03, 2010 3:00 PM | comments

Filed in: The Movement
Tags: Dan Choi, dignity fast, Don't Ask Don't Tell, fasting, hunger strike, James Pietrangelo

Lt Dan Choi and Capt James Pietrangelo's hunger strike - or "Dignity Fast" as they called it - has come to an end. The two men gave up after 7 days without accomplishing any of their stated goals. As one Projector said to me last night, "Shit, sorority girls go longer without food and they don't care about DADT."

dan-choi.jpegMy post yesterday about the fast asking whether or not it was a good idea quickly drew a lot of comments and reactions were mixed. The majority seemed to think that this was a publicity stunt that backfired and I tend to agree.

With demands that were impossible to meet, the only two choices for Choi and Pietrangelo were death or surrender. One of the main tactics for political organizing is to always give yourself a way to win; you have to be able to claim victory somehow. These two jumped the gun and were tweeting that they'd do it before they'd had a chance to consider the ramifications and prepare for a serious action like a hunger strike.

This begs the question: With all of Choi's recent actions - tons of media appearances, chaining himself to the White House fence and this hunger strike - many in the community think Choi's gone off the deep end. They say this has become more about his ego than a smart strategy to repeal DADT quickly. What do you think?

Choi posted a statement on his website about ending the fast. It's after the jump.

The fast of the past seven days has been a success because people have been educated to the use of fasting as a tool to bring attention to a set of clear political and social demands.

Tonight, we will end the fast knowing that the inadequacies of the 'compromise' to end 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' are well known. Our quest to end the discharges, stop the insulting study, and institute a non-discrimination policy is not over. In the coming weeks, we will prepare to resume our fast and will provide many ways for those who believe in uncompromising justice to join us.

On a personal note, we have learned a great deal about the proper planning involved in fasting. We appreciate the concerns that many have expressed. When this fast is resumed, we will be using the proper safeguards to ensure our health is properly attended to. Everyone that considers fasting for an extended period of time must also take proper precautions.

Leave a comment

We want to know your opinion on this issue! While arguing about an opinion or idea is encouraged, personal attacks will not be tolerated. Please be respectful of others.

The editorial team will delete a comment that is off-topic, abusive, exceptionally incoherent, includes a slur or is soliciting and/or advertising. Repeated violations of the policy will result in revocation of your user account. Please keep in mind that this is our online home; ill-mannered house guests will be shown the door.

JonathonEdwards | June 3, 2010 3:10 PM

I don't see a reason to believe this was all for publicity. I think that criticism comes from people with a knee jerk reaction against direct action. Saw a lot of that from comfortably middle class corporate types in the community back in the day with ACT Up.

I never for once thought that a hunger strike would accomplish the stated goals, but it did do one thing: it showed us what integrity looks like. I can't point to any of our inside the beltway leaders who display that quality so in that sense, Lt Choi has won here. Morally.

"middle class corporate types" - Unless I'm badly mistaken, Choi fits that model quite closely. Let's not pretend he's one of the proles in the military. He's educated, he's solidly middle class, and he's one of those who could afford to think of the military as a voluntary option.

As opposed to the many students in high schools and colleges across the country who are compelled to join because they're *forced* to, out of economic necessity.

Michael @ | June 3, 2010 5:13 PM

You're right: you're badly mistaken.

How? He's a west point alum, not a HS grad who enlisted b/c he couldn't find a job. There's a definite class difference, and, no, that doesn't make anyone a bad person.

He obviously didn't think this through in advance, and the way he did it was disrespectful to real hunger strikers of the past who were willing to die for their causes. Of course, this is the dude who thinks Gandhi committed suicide with hemlock, so it's no surprise that he didn't really get that when Gandhi hunger struck against British colonialism, he was spiritually and mentally ready for all that entailed.

Choi's plan seemed like:

1. Stop eating
2. Tell everyone about the stopping of eating
3. Wait a couple of days for Obama to meet demands

He should have given himself an out from the beginning, like that he'd do this for only 10 days or something, or just fast while the sun is up, or something like that. He's more valuable to the DADT repeal movement alive than dead, and caving to Obama (which he did) doesn't help people.

Maybe he should have read up on Barry Horne before the next one:

Or the Tamil liberation movement:

And Mr Subramaniam, who says he is not an LTTE member, says others may follow.

"It's bad if people go on hunger strike after me, but I can't stop them," he says.

"Doing a hunger strike is hard, it's painful, but when no-one is listening to us we can't do anything else.

"Now you are here. Before, we did demonstrations and you didn't come and report our opinions. But now you are here - after I started the hunger strike."
I ask Mr Subramaniam whether he is afraid of dying.

He says: "No, no, no, I'm not worried - because I saw many thousands of deaths of friends of mine. That means livers, kidneys and stomachs coming out, people dying, right in front of my eyes.

"When I was in Sri Lanka I was always close to death, every day."
Still, at 28 years old, he is a young man.

"But others, younger, are also dying: even children in their mother's stomachs. No-one can imagine these things," he says.

To be clear, a hunger strike might not be a bad thing here - I won't decide that for anyone.

But a hunger strike isn't "direct action" like a march or a sit-in is. It's suicide as a political statement. Do people not get that you die if you don't eat, and dying of hunger is a long, gruesome, painful death that gets media attention, which is why people engage in it?

Lt Dan Choi: yesterday's hero, today's scapegoat

and direct action activism is driven back into the closet yet again, sadly....

Rick Sours | June 3, 2010 5:36 PM

In my opinion, and this is simply my opinion, it is not an issue of can/should Lesbians and Gay men serve in our military. We are there and in sizeable numbers. We can discuss the number of individuals that have been separated
from the military due to sexual orientation. Has anyone seen a list of the "skill set' of individuals separated? (IE officers, medical doctors....need I go on).

Maybe Choi's hunger strike is needed.

Publicity stunt. Ill-conceived and delusional.

Even the note issued upon quitting Choi asserts:

"The fast of the past seven days has been a success because people have been educated to the use of fasting as a tool to bring attention to a set of clear political and social demands."

No, Dan. This stunt was ignored and that's why you quit. I figured you had a few pounds of credibility left, but you lost it all calling this a "success."

I am glad you quit because I don't believe suicide or martyrdom are healthy or effective - ever.

As you think about what to do next, please give consideration to the reality that as a community we need to change minds or inspire support. That is never done with threats or angry demands - it is done with honest conversation.

I wish you well.

Angela Brightfeather | June 3, 2010 6:29 PM


You do it your way and others will do it their way. The difference seems to be, that by them not criticizing your way they are at least howing you some respect, even if your saying very little of any substance, and you show no respect fvor their way of doing it. In fact you are down right obnoxious about it and show no respect for anyone else's way of doing anything.

Give me a break Angela. They don't have their 'way," the have a list of "famous civil rights methods" and they just keep imitating the next item on the list.

Our Movement is OUR responsibility. When would you dare disagree with a tactic of Choi or GetEQUAL? Hostages? Bombs?

GetEQUAL and Dan Choi have both admitted to not giving "sufficient thought" prior to launching these childish stunts.

I think GetEQUAL and any other group or activist owes the dozens of organizations, thousands of activists/advocate and millions of volunteers to THINK before we ACT or ACT UP. I think most adults understand this simple concept. GetEQUAL is beginning to. I hope.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | June 3, 2010 9:25 PM

Don't be a victim of Obama's wars for oil.

Don't enlist.

Don't fight.

Don't translate.

Support for enlistment and the wars is treason to the LGBT and antiwar movements.

Bring all the troops home now.

I encountered ill treatment from a supervisor early in my gender transition. I explained to an associate/friend, who had the same supervisor, that the supervisor was prejudiced due to me being transsexual. My friend gave me a great take home message I consider even now on a near daily basis prior to claiming prejudice. She told me her impression was the supervisor just didn't like me. I.E. my transsexuality was not the issue.

I bring this up since my impression of Lt Dan Choi and many other LGBT activists is the problem is not their strategy. The problem is they are not well liked. Flash back to great transformational leaders of the past such as Gandi, Martin Luther King and many others. These were fun folks to hang out with. As for many (not all) modern LGBT activists - not so much!

As an example of the importance of being likeable consider George W Bush. Despite limited intelligence and ill advised strategies he got a lot done for his conservative agenda. As air-headed as he was and no doubt remains I bet he'd be a blast to hang out with as compared to many of our current crop of LGBT activists.

In conclusion LGBT strategy is less important than having LGBT activists who are likeable. This thought carries all the way down to the local level. I'm in the Atlanta, GA area, for example. There is not a single LGBT activist here I'd enjoy chatting over coffee with. Gosh, I wonder why these activists get much less local support than they desire?

I have to say, I'm impressed by Choi's passion.

Is it the best strategy? I don't know. But being willing to stand up so strongly for what he believes in? That's something to applaud even if you disagree with him.

I just wonder why, if the GetEqual folks are studying the civil rights movements no one apparently bothered to find out about hunger strikes in the UFW movement? We had a whole group of college students here fasting for passage of the DREAM act. Those who have done this before were asked to support the fast so we were able to help them with nutrition, medical monitoring and even breaking the fast. It built a tremendous amount of community support because we were all working towards the same goal.

That for me is the missing piece. It seems that a group of people have just discovered civil disobedience and 1. the rest of us are not invited to the party and 2. they all know more than anybody else.