Starving for Justice: Hunger Strikes, Spectacular Speech, and the Struggle for Dignity in California in the 1990s

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 00:00
Oral Presentation
Ralph ARMBRUSTER-SANDOVAL, University of California, Santa Barbara, USA
In the 1990s, Chicana/o, Latina/o students on college campuses in California stopped eating. Racialized neo-liberaliism--budget cuts, anti-immigrant measures, rising fees, and the rapid expansion of the prison-industrial complex--had sparked widespread outrage. Moreover, specific "blunders" or missteps from administration officials had further exacerbated these feelings and emotions. These students had been pushed to the edge. They had tried to redress their grievances, but their pleas generally fell on deaf ears. So they "screamed" and spoke "spectacularly;" that is, they went on hunger strikes, sacrificing their health and potentially their lives to create a dignified world. This paper examines these actions, along with their outcomes, but it also seeks to spark debate and dialogue about hunger strikes in the social movement literature. Currently very few studies have published on hunger strikes, with the exception of biographies on critical activists such as Cesar Chavez, Bobby Sands, and Gandhi. Those works--while crucial--are not generally theoretically-driven. I contend that other social movement strategies, especially those involving the body (e.g. self-immolation), can be seen as spectacular speech. Spectacular speech is not new, but conceptually it is useful for understanding how activists sometimes rely on their bodies as weapons in order to be heard and achieve their demands.