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Cambridge XR hunger strikers ‘putting health on line’



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Donald and Tilly outside Guildhall talking to passers-by, including a member of Silent Rebellion, right, which took place at the Grand Arcade on Saturday. Picture: Mike Scialom
Donald and Tilly outside Guildhall talking to passers-by, including a member of Silent Rebellion, right, which took place at the Grand Arcade on Saturday. Picture: Mike Scialom

Two Cambridge-based Extinction Rebellion (XR) hunger strikers have taken part in an international appeal by the climate emergency group and completed their seven-day fast today (November 24).

Preferring to be known by their first names, Donald and Tilly began their seven-day hunger strike on Monday (November 18). They have sat outside Guildhall every day - Donald for six hours a day, and Tilly when she hasn’t been at lectures.

“A friend had to drop out for health reasons so I was like, ‘I’ll do it’,” she says. “So I mentioned it at the general meeting and Donald was keen to do it.”

“Yes,” says Donald, a Cambridge-born paramedic by training.

“I was very glad,” says Tilly. “It’s a global action. In London, Cardiff and Edinburgh XR protesters are occupying the offices of seven major parties in the UK, demanding an interview which will be filmed and shared and asking them to sign the three XR demands, stressing the citizen’s assembly. People in 30 countries are taking part.”

After six days the duo are only just holding it together.

“I don’t really feel very human any more,” says Tilly. “I’m several steps back and underwater.”

“It’s the sixth day,” says Donald. “We’re aiming at seven. That’s if you don’t count the four days of diminishing food consumption before and the five days after that it takes for reassimiliating food after.”

“It’s more than just having something to eat,” Donald, left, says. “Snacking is a crime against cooking.” Picture: Mike Scialom
“It’s more than just having something to eat,” Donald, left, says. “Snacking is a crime against cooking.” Picture: Mike Scialom

The point of the exercise is to raise awareness about one of the aspects of the incoming climate emergency - their own, as much as other people’s.

“We’ve had some good interactions,” says Donald. “Obviously we’ve still had some flat earth syndrome out there, some people just don’t want to believe the science, and the government isn’t helping. But overall it’s been pretty positive.”

“It’s not just about raising awareness in others,” adds Tilly. “Extinction Rebellion is disruptive, but it’s also about self-disruption and to test yourself. A lot of people say: ‘I don’t like Extinction Rebellion blocking roads so I really support what you’re doing here.’ What this is about is putting your health on the line.”

Donald was in London for the XR international rebellion which saw police - possibly illegally - ban the protests, and his view is subtly different.

“I’d love to not be standing on the tarmac getting hassled by the Met,” he says. “But I feel, as a member of the human race, I can’t allow this to go on. It’s an unsustainable system and it’s got to change.”

How?

“We don’t have a bill of rights. People aren’t protected in this country. If you want a fairer government you need to protect the few rights that remain - for me it’s proportional representation. As much as I want not to hear some people, it’s a democracy and every vote should count.”

“You need that intellectual stimulation for a democracy,” Tilly says. “You need to have the ability to discriminate and even if it’s [Brexit Party candidate] Peter Dawe - you should know there are these people are out there. It’s vital for politically engaged citizens to listen to other points of view.”

“It’s more than just having something to eat,” Donald, left, says. “Snacking is a crime against cooking.” Picture: Mike Scialom
“It’s more than just having something to eat,” Donald, left, says. “Snacking is a crime against cooking.” Picture: Mike Scialom

The hunger strikers are nearing the end of their vigil, and it’s not getting any easier. The lack of sleep isn’t helping but Donald is being supported via a WhatsApp group with fellow hunger strikers.

“I like to look at it daily, it’s what gives me inspiration. It’s day five and six and people’s emotions are starting to come out.”

“I’m starting to feel very alien,” says Tilly. “Tomorrow is when we start eating again. Eating has real community spirit, it brings people together, it’s such a bonding experience. Within my lifetime people will be killing each other for food and it’s so hard to wrap your head around.”

So if it’s not food that keeps this epic feat going, what does?

“Banter is what fuels this, what keeps me from falling over,” retorts Tilly.

The Foodless Feast on Sunday (November 24) brought the hunger strike to its finale.



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