Affirmations Executive Director Dave Garcia congratulated and thanked Deb Holbrook who covered six shifts during the 100 day Hungry 4 Equality strike. Photo courtesy of Johnny Jenkins

100 Days and Still Hungry

By Crystal A. Proxmire

FERNDALE -

Troy Mayor Janice Daniels is out of the office.

That's part of the social change that was helped along by the 100 day Hungry 4 Equality Hunger Strike that ended on Election Day, Nov. 6. The movement was centered around the couch at Affirmations, where dedicated equal rights activists would sit in 24 hour shifts without having any food. Their day of striking was seen live on UStream. Posters in the front of the LGBT community center and in centers throughout Michigan brought attention to the main issues facing the gay community.

The strike educated people about six anti-LGBT politicians: State Rep. Dave Agema (R-Dist.74); State House Speaker Jase Bolger (R-Dist. 63); Troy Mayor Janice Daniels; former U.S. Senate Candidate Gary Glenn, who heads up the Michigan Chapter of the American Family Association; State Rep. Tom McMillin (R-Dist. 45); and Attorney General Bill Schuette.

Daniels lost her job as Mayor on Tuesday after Troy residents voted her out of office. The Tea Party poster child made headlines frequently for embarrassing her city. She battled the LGBT community, first by commenting on Facebook that she would not be using her I love NY handbag now that gays can be married there, and then by telling students that being gay is akin to a smoking habit. She famously de-railed a public transit project that was ten years in the making and argued with a member of the public while giving her an award.

Gary Glenn of the American Family Association was on the Hungry 4 Equality Hall of Shame for regularly campaigning against gay rights. He gave up in the middle of a failed candidacy for the Senate, although he is still behind the scenes lobbying against equality.

In addition to the Hall of Shame, The Hungry 4 Equality strike raised awareness about issues that affect the LGBT community, including the inability to be legally married and the fact that in Michigan someone can still be fired just for being gay. But the biggest achievement of the campaign was the connectivity and grass-roots organizing that it created.

"I think one of the biggest successes of this campaign is the coming together of all the LGBT community centers in Michigan. Historically, that had not been done before. As a result of us working together I really think we were able to expand our reach and ultimately connect people to LGBT community centers closest to them," said Affirmations Communications Director Cass Varner. "Many of the other centers really helped a lot with the scheduling. Because most centers don't have the space to necessarily replicate the strike in their centers, they helped gather strikers from their cities to bring here."

The strike brought a lot of new people into the center, and gave people a chance to get involved. There were challenges though. "Probably the biggest challenge was the 24 hour/100 days in a row aspect. We quickly learned that 24 hours a day for 100 days didn't care about holidays, weekends, illness or last minute challenges. It truly was an effort that every one of us had to work together to accomplish," Varner said. "There were a few days that the scheduled striker just didn't show up. Maybe it was a Sunday or a holiday. It didn't matter. We had to be constantly be on our toes and think outside the box, so we could make sure the campaign was completed without interruption. We had one striker, Deb Holbrook, who was invaluable during this campaign. She was committed to being an emergency striker who would fill in if we had a striker that didn't show up or a last minute cancellation."

Holbrook covered six shifts. "All people should be aware about the anti-gay discrimination in this state. Much of this legislation gets passed because we do nothing. Today, I'm doing something!" she said in Week 3.

And in Week 9 she updated, "Being visible during a time like this is crucial. Look at all the people we are reaching just because things are happening in Ferndale. Maybe we wouldn't have if we weren't sitting in this window. Let's hope voter turnout sees a big increase."

Turnout was strong, and all across the country people voted for candidates and propositions that stood up for LGBT rights, thanks in parts to efforts of activists like those who participated in Hungry 4 Equality.

And because of the allies who got involved. Among the allies who made Hungry 4 Equality a success was Kathleen Nickerson, mother of one of the campaign's organizers. "My daughter Megh [Hollowell] has always been my inspiration. She has shown me what strength, tenacity and courage looks like. I went to Megh and Karianne's wedding last month (which is not legally recognized in Michigan). I have never in my life seen such a peaceful and passionate love as I did that day. I could not stop starring at them, laughing with them and sneaking away to cry tears of happiness for them. I am striking today for my daughter and her wife, to fight for their right to get married in Michigan and have all the legal benefits as heterosexual couples. I will always be here as an ally of the LGBT community. I will stand up for equality, proud and courageous, just like my daughter," Nickerson said during Week 8.

Affirmations Executive Director Dave Garcia was the first striker and also the last. In a closing ceremony just an hour before the polls closed in Michigan, Garcia thanked all the strikers and staff for their dedication to the project.

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