UPDATED 5:10 P.M. with comment from Gray
Adrian Parsons hasn’t given up yet.
Twenty-three days into his hunger strike, Parsons is nearly 30 pounds lighter, but it appears the powers that be are no closer to granting demands for District voting rights and self-determination. So, the 29-year-old artist says, “I have no plans right now” to quit.
Parsons today joined with three other protesters who engaged in briefer hunger strikes to announce a series of new initiatives to bring attention to the cause. The four, who met at and are allied with the Occupy D.C. protests in McPherson Square, held a news conference today outside Luther Place Memorial Church on Thomas Circle, underneath a statute of Martin Luther.
Rather than 95 theses, Parsons & Co. have three initiatives. First, they are circulating a petition titled “617,996 Americans for D.C. Democracy” calling for budget and legislative autonomy for the District, full congressional representation and, in the near term, that any budget riders involve a popular referendum rather than a direct mandate.
Second, the protesters are starting a different kind of hunger strike, a relay strike for which they hope to recruit 51 volunteers to fast consecutively for 24 hours apiece. Perfect “if you want to diet for a cause,” joked Sam Jewler, one of the four hunger strikers.
Third, the protesters want the D.C. Council to appoint a “people’s representative” to lobby Congress and monitor its intervention in city affairs — as Parsons said, “be the guy who can be there every day and talk to Congress.” Said representative would be paid via a one-cent tax on bottles of water in homage to the only thing Parsons and his fellow protesters have consumed during their strikes.
What is not clear is how the duties of a “people’s representative” would mesh or overlap with those of the District House delegate as well as its volunteer “shadow” senators and representative. Parsons said he was open to the suggestion that perhaps the shadow delegation might be paid instead.
There was some hope that Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) might appear at the news conference to support the new initiatives, but he did not, to the mild consternation of the protesters.
Meanwhile, Parsons vows to continue his hunger strike. He said he is being regularly examined by doctors and has undergone blood and urine tests to monitor his kidney functions as his body struggles to survive on muscle and fat. Parsons, who started the protest weighing about 150 pounds, said his blood pressure and his pulse have declined as his body assumes the function of “an out-of-shape guy in bed on the Atkins diet.”
Parsons said he is now trying to conserve as many calories as possible, trying to prolong his strike as long as he can before doctors tell him he is in grave danger. Parsons arrived at the conference in a wheelchair, but he stood at a podium for several minutes. Otherwise, he said, he has remained in bed at Luther Place.
He’s not even hungry anymore: “After four days, that stops, and you don’t have the hunger,” he said. “The screaming for ‘burger, Five Guys, Five Guys,’ it goes away. ... You don’t watch Netflix. You don’t troll the Internet. You just think.”
UPDATE, 5:10 P.M.: Gray said on Friday afternoon that the hunger strikers’ news conference was “never on my schedule” but he said he shared their goals and was “glad to see increasingly large numbers of people, citizens of this city stepping up.”
Asked if he’d consider signing their petition, Gray said he would have “take look at it” before committing. “Certainly if it’s things I’ve spoken to and for, I’d be happy to,” he said. Same goes for potentially joining the 24-hour fast relay: “Anything that’s going to promote the cause of self-determination in the city, I’m going to take a serious look at it.”
Gray said he appreciated Parson’s efforts to bring attention to D.C. rights issues. But “I’m very concerned about him, too,” he said. “It’s going to take a lot of work and time to be able to achieve these goals, and I want him around to be able to help us over the long haul.”