We first reported on Darfur hunger striker Start Loving this past April 6th. According to recent a post on his Dying for Heroes blog, June 10th was the 102nd day of his vigil in front of the Sudanese embassy in Washington, DC. He spends 9-12 hours a day marching back and forth along the sidewalk with posters designed to awaken the consciences of passing motorists and pedestrians. You can read more about his vigil and his philosophy here and here .
Roving WCT reporter Albert Ruesga interviewed Start Loving this past June 11th. We post excerpts from that interview below.
WHITE COURTESY TELEPHONE: What kind of responses have you gotten to your blogging?
START LOVING: Very little. There are probably about 50 hits a day. I’m here all week so there’s no way I can promote it. Very few comments per se. …
WHITE COURTESY TELEPHONE: Several weeks back there was a Darfur demonstration here in front of the Sudanese embassy involving Save Darfur, church groups, and other advocacy and civic organizations. How do you feel about those efforts?
START LOVING: … [T]he Save Darfur movement has nothing to do with me, I believe, because they’re horrified by the idea of paying a big price. This is not why people come to them. They come to them because they want to feel good for having done something about the genocide, and maybe that’s paying two dollars for a green wrist-band, or maybe it’s sending in $100, putting a jar in their mother’s office so that people contribute. Well, you know, a friend the other day said there’s a place for everything. … Thanks to Save Darfur and the people who were here, close to 70 percent of the people in this country and roughly that many Muslims and Arabs around the world according to recent polls know about and are concerned about Darfur. But they’re not ignited. They can’t even conceive of “Hey, gee, whatever price it takes to stop the genocide.” …
WHITE COURTESY TELEPHONE: What would your advice be to these groups? What would you change about the way they work?
START LOVING: … Ultimately, we can’t escape selfishness. So, am I going to indulge myself with trivial passions, or am I going to satisfy the part of myself that wants to make a difference in the world? I’ve chosen the latter. Even there, am I going to do half-measures, or do I want to eliminate regrets—“By God, I did everything I could.” So out of love for my brothers and sisters in Save Darfur or Stand Now or anyone that’s watching, you know what, think about where you’re headed right now. When your grandchild says, “Gee, I heard about this Darfur thing—what did you do?” “Well, I went to a rally on September 30th.” Is that going to satisfy that grandchild? “I understand that there were half a million people exterminated in brutal ways, Grandma, and that there were two and a half million people in camps, and you and the powerful United States–you went to a rally? You wore green armbands? … This is what ‘never again’ means?” You know, none of us are going to be happy with that. But this is what we’re doing. It’s madness. It’s clinical madness.
I take no credit. I did nothing in my teens and twenties to stop the Vietnam War or to bring civil rights. I did nothing. I did nothing to stop Cambodia or Rwanda, or the Balkans, although I knew about them going on. You know, I’ve got nothing to be proud of. I simply lost my tolerance for being that inhumane. I just can’t do it anymore. I don’t want those regrets.
All of us have experienced at one time or another—maybe with that silly Coke commercial, maybe at the ball game, or maybe watching the Olympics—my gosh, we’re all just one human family. Most of us have had that experience. I have come to the wisdom that that’s where being fully alive comes from. It’s indulging that side of it. We can’t indulge our whole nervous system, it’s too big. We’ve got to pick and choose.
Based on studying King, Gandhi—a fascination with them—Jesus, Teresa, Romero, Diane Wilson, all our great literature, even our trivial movies—Star Wars—they all point to the direction of self-sacrificing for a greater good. I finally realized, you know, they weren’t kidding, they were on to something. This is where joy comes from. ... You sacrifice pleasure for the common good. But the joy that comes trumps everything I had in my privileged background. It’s just better. It’s why these people have done what they did. You know, Gandhi didn’t do this because, “Oh, jeez, this life really stinks, but I’m helping others.” No, it’s like “Jeez, I’m part of the human race!” This is what life is like. I mean this is what life feels like.
WHITE COURTESY TELEPHONE: What are your feelings about the nonprofit sector in general?
START LOVING: … The reason I came here was to try to be a sparkplug for Save Darfur, Stand Now, Genocide Intervention Network, Africa Action. How impious—I mean, I’m not getting paid, I’m not part of them, no one asked me to, no one wanted me to—but none of this matters, Darfur is my family. These people are my family … So as a brother I felt morally bound to do my best. … The nonprofits in this city, no one can describe them as fighting a war. There are probably a few heroes who work way beyond what they’re paid for …
Spirit is everything. … [I]f you’re doing it primarily for a paycheck and—oh, by the way, it’s an ethical way to make a paycheck—we’re not going to stop the genocide. We are not going to stop 18,000 children a day around the world starving to death. And you can just go down the list of all the causes of well-meaning nonprofits—it’s a total moral failure. If there is a God, if there is an afterlife, or—even better—if we just imagine that there is, and try to imagine the mind of such a creature, we are not getting pats on the back. …
WHITE COURTESY TELEPHONE: What about people in other parts of the nonprofit sector— people who do social work, who do drug counseling? Are you saying that they shouldn’t be paid for what they do?
START LOVING: … I’m trained as a counselor. I did that late in life after I’d left industry. A school counselor. And I worked for a year in a blighted school district south of Philadelphia. The only thing that is measured to be helpfully therapeutic, what works miracles, what saves an individual’s life ... : the spirit of a brother or the spirit of a sister who would give their life. It’s called a therapeutic alliance, where truly the person realizes, “This person is going to go the extra mile for me.” Our nonprofits are populated by people who could do that but we don’t create the environment where that can rise within them. We don’t hold ourselves to those standards. …
So spirit is everything. … We’ve got to realize that lives are at stake, and then we come alive. … Dr. King’s quote, “A man is not equipped to live until he knows what he would die for.” We can only be fully alive in the face of great human need. It’s what life is all about. So it’s a terrible thing. We’re serving as mercenaries and if we could reorganize our thinking, if we could shift our vision and say, “Holy smokes! We’re being paid here! We’re being equipped! We could friggin’ save the planet!” we’d still have our offices, we’d still get our money, but we would save the planet and we would be alive! It’s a tragedy and it’s an incredible opportunity at the same time.