For the last 17 years, the Abolitionist Action Committee has been holding a four-day fast and vigil outside of the Supreme Court from June 29-July 2, and it is aptly named “Starvin’ for Justice.” The vigil starts on the day Furman v. Georgia was decided in 1972 (temporarily banning the death penalty) and ends on the day in 1976 that Gregg v. Georgia overturned Furman, and its purpose is to protest and petition for the abolition of the death penalty. Three weeks prior to this event, I got an email from another intern asking me about information about it to put into a newsletter, and once I was done doing some research I was so intrigued I signed up. I participated fully – I only drank liquids, I slept in front of the Supreme Court, and I tabled and handed out pamphlets in the DC heat, while still going to work and school. It was one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever partaken in. Below is a summary of my experiences, and I hope that by reading this you will be inspired to sacrifice something small for a cause you love.
On the night of June 28, I walked into a private room at the Capital Brewing Company to enjoy my last meal before four days of fasting. I came alone as I knew no one, and slowly realized that most of these people had been coming for years – they had friends, connections, stories and inside jokes – something I lacked. But as I enjoyed my black-bean burger and French fries, people noticed I was a newcomer and introduced themselves to me, and I began to ease up. As the clock slowly closed in towards midnight, the group began their walk to the Supreme Court for the vigil’s kick off.
At 12:01am, the anniversary of the decision of Furman v. Georgia, the fast officially began. As we stood in a circle in front of the Supreme Court, we went around one by one and said whom we are and why we were there. People were from all over – Washington, California, Connecticut, South Dakota, France, Sweden, and London – and each had their own personal reason for participating. It was then I knew that this week was going to be something to remember.
Throughout the week, I still had classes and work, so my ability to participate was limited, but when I found time, I used it to the fullest extent. If I was not sitting at the table to answer questions or holding up one of the banners, I was handing out pamphlets. The interactions were great. I talked with tourists, Washingtonians, and people who work on Capitol Hill – sometimes I had great reactions, most were apathetic, and I got the occasional person so ardently in support of capital punishment, they felt the need to emphatically tell me.
Around 6:00pm when the crowds wound down, the teach-ins would begin. Every night for two hours, the abolition teach-in would bring in a wide variety of speakers who for one reason or another were opposed to capital punishment. In addition to the activists and community organizers who came to speak (our own Laura Moye was amongst them), I got a chance to hear from death row exonerees, family members whose loved ones were on death row, and murder victim family members. I will admit that I did wind up crying at most of the stories mainly because the ability of the human heart to endure and forgive is sometimes overwhelming. These stories put a face and humanity to capital punishment and the people it affects.
On the morning of July 2, the anniversary of the Gregg v. Georgia decision, I woke up in front of the Supreme Court after staying there overnight. As I came to, at 6:30am I might add, I realized what I have been doing for the last four days. I realized that I believed in something so much that I was willing to sacrifice food for four days and my free time to educate the masses about what I believe to be a grave injustice. Every minute of sacrificed was worth it because I helped spread the message of abolition to anyone who was willing to listen.
At 12:01am, July 2, 2010, I filled up my plate with food in front of the Supreme Court, and with every fork-full I ate I became fuller with a sense of accomplishment.