Since the January 6, 2021, attack on the United States Capitol, at least 19 states have passed at least 34 laws relating to the right to vote. These laws set off a chain reaction of resistance from local organizations to national faith coalitions who all agree that voting rights attacks must be interrupted. Among the most notable is Joe Madison’s hunger strike, which began on November 8, 2021. He is 72 years old, has been on strike for now 67 days, and intends to continue striking “until Congress passes, and President Biden signs, the Freedom to Vote Act or the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act” (Joe Madison).
There is a long history of hunger strikes as a tool of non-violent political action that can cost the lives of those participating. The purpose has been to bring attention to those protesting and appeal to the consciousness of those in power. These are the extremes to which those invested in democracy are willing to go; it is a death they are willing to choose.
Similarly, on January 6, 2022, 25 Black faith leaders began a 10-day hunger strike to demand the U.S. Senate to act on the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and the Freedom to Vote Act on or before Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. While the host organization is Faith for Black Lives, led by the Rev. Stephen A. Green, many of the hunger strike participants are faith leaders who are simply committed to the cause. According to the Rev. Green, three-quarters of those participating are clergy and pastors in the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME).
Green attributes the overwhelming presence of AME clergy to the history of the AME Church being formed in the spirit of liberation and reconciliation. He names this moment a “renaissance of resistance” directly tied to the events of January 6, 2020. “The insurrection continues,” he says. “These attacks on voting rights are a continued assault on the democracy…So, our call is from insurrection to resurrection. Let us resurrect democracy and the right to vote.”
The Rev. Green was joined in the interview by the Revs. Rodrecus Johnson and Darien Jones, both AME pastors who shared their hopes toward the restoration of voting rights at the conclusion of the hunger strike. The Rev. Jones was clear that while he is skeptical of the Senate’s ability to do what is necessary for Black people, he relies on God’s power to intervene as a divine encounter in the face of great political injustice. The Rev. Johnson agreed, adding that “should there be issues , we will escalate.”
The spiritual discipline of abstaining from food that undergirds this effort is a “theo-political act grounded in historical relevance.” As Green admits, the group recognizes that “we’re up against authoritarianism and fascism” and that we are leaning on the history of “immeasurable progress and non-violent resistance being an effective action” to resist what he identifies as “tyranny.”
The historical grounding of the group spans from biblically inspired hope to the work of Civil Rights leaders whose work the Rev. Jones states is currently being undone. They are committed to the hope of realizing God’s kingdom come on earth and God’s will being done by the power of collective resistance.
The call to action made by the Rev. Green states that “as faith leaders, we are called to speak truth to power and to raise the conscience of this nation through moral resistance. This moment requires sacrifice and a deep commitment to radical love in action to redeem the soul of this nation and to protect our democracy.” Since the initial call, the list of clergy joining the strike continues to grow—the Revs. Traci Blackmon, Otis Moss III, Jamal Bryant, William Lamar have joined along with about 40 young people who gathered at the U.S. Capitol on January 13, day 7 of the hunger strike.
The group will continue to escalate efforts if the demands for voting rights are not met on or before Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
For more information on how you can participate and support, visit strikeforvotingrights.com.”
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