Reflections on a Seven Day Fast in Solidarity with Salvador Zamora and Martin Altamirano
The summer is often a different kind of time for ministers. We try to take vacations to renew ourselves and we often have time to study and plan. This summer I have done both, but not necessarily as I had intended.
After vacation and General Assembly in June, I began a four-week study leave in July. I had described a study leave to my congregation as a time to read and plan. What I may not have said is that it is also a time for personal reflection. Little did I know that I would be handed a life-altering experience in the middle of the month.
On July 13, I read in the Marietta Daily Journal that two Cobb County men, Salvador Zamora and Martin Altamirano, both documented immigrants, had begun a hunger strike on July 1, the day House Bill (HB) 87 went into effect in Georgia. HB 87 is Georgia’s version of Arizona’s 1070. I was deeply moved by their personal decision and conviction and visited them twice to learn more about them and their hunger strike. Inspired by them, I wanted to know how I could be most supportive of them.
Influenced by Karen Armstrong’s book on the topic, up to July 12, my personal reflection time had been to ask the question, “How Do I Live a More Compassionate Life?” (A worthwhile question that I heartily commend to you). Then, on July 13, I began a very intense two days contemplating these two men and their hunger strike. Theirs was a very serious commitment, meaning they would not eat anything until certain goals were met. With a hunger strike, one’s life is in the balance.
With the example of these two men, I began to reflect on the question “What would I die for?” I know that men, women, and children are dying every day because the United States does not have a working immigration policy. HB 87 is clearly a step backwards.
Joining them in their hunger strike seemed complicated since they had begun two weeks earlier. But what was more true is that I had neither the courage nor the conviction of these two men. Again, how could I be most supportive of them?
My decision was to join them in solidarity for 7 days, and like them, under a doctor’s supervision. Like Salvador and Martin, I would eat nothing and drink only water with honey and lemon.
I drafted a press release and held a press conference with Martin and Salvador, which was covered by Univision. My local newspaper also covered the solidarity fast. I was joined by two members of my congregation, the Emerson Unitarian Universalist Congregation, two fellow clergy (one with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference), and our partners at the Cobb Immigration Alliance. I have also requested to write an op-ed for the Marietta Daily Journal.
As I write this on day 6 of my fast (I don’t believe I can call what I am doing a hunger strike), I have gained a new appreciation for people who live with hunger on a daily basis, something I have never had to experience. I anticipate more lessons.
Serious consideration of this question “What would I die for?” is not for the faint of heart. An easier starting place is the question “To what is my life committed?” or more to the point, “How do my life and my daily choices, words, and deeds (even thoughts) reflect the values that I affirm?”
I am increasingly of the opinion that immigration is becoming the moral question of the day. Even as we make progress in the cause for GLBT rights (a struggle far from over), our nation seems to have a perpetual need to find a new group to scapegoat. Successes in the GLBT rights movement give me hope and strength when the light of meaningful immigration reform seems dim.
Blessings to you all in this important work we do.
Rev. Jeff Jones
Cobb County, Georgia Unitarian Universalist Minister