BY BRENNA DAVIS | October 27, 2021
A Jesuit university and high school alum is on day eight of a hunger strike outside of the White House in hopes that President Biden will make good on his campaign promise to pass climate policy that matches the urgency and the scale of the current climate emergency. Paul Campion, a 2019 graduate of Loyola University Chicago and 2015 graduate of Gonzaga College High School, along with four other members of the Sunrise Movement, have been subsisting on only water for the past week to bring attention to the need to pass massive climate legislation.
Campion said, “Biden and Congress have been working on the Build Back Better Plan for many months now, and in particular, Biden has said that this is where he is going to pass his main climate agenda. Obviously we need federal action on climate change. In trying to get Joe Manchin (D-WV) on board, he has watered down all the climate pieces—making them weaker, with less funding. We are feeling the urgency of that.”The group of five hunger strikers, ranging in age from 18 to 26, demand that the Biden Administration pass a bill that meets the full scope of the climate crisis, fully funds a Civilian Conservation Corps, transitions to 100% clean energy, and directs 40% of climate and clean energy investments to frontline communities.
As a student at Gonzaga College High School, Campion attended the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice. As he reflected on the role that his faith plays in his advocacy, particularly leading up to this hunger strike, Paul remembered large family dinners growing up. “We would have family dinner almost every single night. It was a core part of our rhythm. One day my dad didn’t take a plate of food at dinner. I asked him why he wasn’t eating. He said it was Ash Wednesday and that on Ash Wednesday we fast and prepare for this season and think about the question, ‘How am I making the world a more loving place through my actions?’”
“That was my first introduction to fasting as a spiritual practice,” he continued. Campion also cites his Jesuit high school education as highly formative, particularly the concept from a quote from St. Ignatius above the school’s entrance: Love ought to show itself in deeds more than words. “In many ways that’s how I try to live my life,” he explained.“For me, this hunger strike feels like another way of me doing that. Of building a loving world through my actions—in particular calling on Joe Biden, Joe Manchin, and Nancy Pelosi, who share the same faith tradition that I do, particularly calling on Biden, who said he was going to be a climate champion and pass policies and be the leader we need, to put those words into action.”
Campion said that not eating has been taxing on their bodies as they continue to fast under the supervision of a doctor, and one of his friends was hospitalized for a period of time during the strike. However, Campion stated, “The suffering that the five of us are experiencing is nothing compared to the suffering that is happening at scale with the climate crisis right now, and that will increasingly get worse if Joe Biden continues to listen to Joe Manchin and instead of the youth and common sense. We need to demonstrate the courage that he needs right now.”
The timing of the strike is leading up to the October 31st deadline set by Nancy Pelosi to pass the Infrastructure Bill and as world leaders plan to meet at COP 26 in Glasgow, Scotland beginning November 1. Reflecting on the upcoming world summit, Campion said, “It is important for [Biden] to show up [at COP 26] with a climate policy that can demonstrate commitment. No American president yet has any right to claim climate leadership due to the legacy of our lack of climate action.”
When asked about the planned length of the strike, Campion said, “It is an indefinite hunger strike. We are here until Biden delivers on his climate justice promises. Every day they don’t deliver, more people suffer. The crisis gets increasingly worse. ”
Finally, when asked about how he remains hopeful when so much hangs in the balance, Campion shared that, “One of the principles of the Sunrise movement is we shine bright. Changing the world is a fulfilling and joyful process and we let that show. It’s part faith and part being in community with other people and finding our collective power—having joy of being with other people and doing the work together to move out of a place of hopelessness and despair because there is so much to win.”
You can follow live updates about the hunger strike at Paul Campion’s Twitter account: @_paulcampion.
Brenna Davis is director of Education for Justice and environmental initiatives for the Ignatian Solidarity Network. She graduated from Boston College in 2010 and served in Cleveland as a Jesuit Volunteer. She previously taught theology, coached cross country, and served as main office coordinator at Saint Martin de Porres, Cleveland’s Cristo Rey High School. During her time there she was the self-proclaimed assistant to the director of facilities in all sustainability initiatives on campus. She is a certified spiritual director and a Cuyahoga County Master Recycler.