Hunger Striker Wants to Make Difference in Darfur

In front of the Sudanese Embassy in Washington, D.C., one man is campaigning to save the people of Darfur. Since early March, Jay McGinley — who now calls himself "Start Loving" — has ingested only liquids.

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

Here in Washington, on the tree-lined boulevard known as Embassy Row, there's a man who believes his actions can make a difference in Darfur. He inspired this commentary from NPR's Kitty Eisele.

KITTY EISELE: He calls himself �Start Loving,� but actually it's the last thing you want to do when confronted by a man determined to starve himself to death in public. The man once known as Jay McGinley is on a hunger strike to save the people of Darfur. Since early March, he's been taking in only liquids, sitting and sleeping on the sidewalk in front of the Sudanese Embassy. And he's been bothering me since I started noticing him a few weeks back on my drive home from work.

He looks like the kind of crazy protesters who normally camp out by the White House. They are people you keep your distance from. But late on a cold spring night, curiosity and a sense of guilt moved me to stop and talk to this man. Of course, I think, my guilt is the point of his self-inflicted suffering.

Whoa, is gets windy. But I'm here, so I asked him, why this cause?

Mr. JAY McGINLEY (Hunger Striker): My life for the last three years is been trying to understand how do you respond in the face of genocide? What do you do?

EISELE: It's an obvious question, one you'd also want to keep your distance from.

Mr. McGINLEY: I marched on the mall, I've written congressmen. I've vigilled(ph) something like 160 days mostly in front of the White House. Those tactics aren't working and predictably so. So I'm laying down my life to try and raise will in this country to stop the genocide.

EISELE: Now, understand, this is a middle-aged man from outside Philadelphia with no obvious connection to Africa. He left a wife and two adult children about a year ago to move to Washington and demonstrate. He says he simply read a Nick Kristof article in the New York Times.

Mr. McGINLEY: And it was - it was a hard pull into my heart that has been lodged there ever since. And...

EISELE: He rambles on about listening to your heart, about praying for Sudanese president al-Bashir, about wanting others to join his hunger strike so the Bush administration would know it had a mandate to do more to stop the violence.

Mr. McGINLEY: And it hit me about three weeks ago, we have to stop talking, we have to stop thinking, and we have to start loving.

EISELE: He recently had that phrase tattooed onto his forehead in the shape of a cross. He doesn't mention it, but he's seated about 100 yards from a statue of Gandhi, frail and naked, save for his loincloth. It's in front of the Indian Embassy. Next door, is the embassy of Ireland, which knows a thing or two about the power of a hunger strike.

Mr. McGINLEY: I think Doctor King may be said of best...

EISELE: Start loving, start clothing from Gandhi and from Martin Luther King and Mandela and part of me is whining inside, this isn't your tribe, you don't have a stake in Darfur the way Gandhi or Mandela did for their causes. At least King was trying to mobilize Americans for America, right? Who appointed you the city's conscience? But conscience isn't what he's appealing to.

Mr. McGINLEY: I mean, you stopped here to talk to me. When someone like you sees someone suffering and they don't seem to deserve it, it hits our hearts.

EISELE: And I guess he hit mine. But still, I find some nights I want to drive home a different route.

ELLIOTT: Kitty Eisele is an editor at NPR.

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