A Day Without Yale

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2017/04/28/symbolic-hunger-striking-at-yale/


The kids at Yale are so smart they’ve developed a way to go on hunger strike … without giving up food.

They call it a “symbolic” hunger strike. They’re only eating … when they get hungry.


They are graduate students trying to force Yale administrators to enter into collective bargaining with them as a union, so they can negotiate better working conditions.

To date they’ve been frustrated. But I think they’ve succeeded. After all, they’ve already achieved better hunger striking conditions!

But we shouldn’t make light of their accomplishments. They are following an impressive array of committed activists who sought to make the world a different place.

In the pantheon of hunger strikers, from now on we’ll think of Mohandas Gandhi of India, Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov, IRA commander Bobby Sands … and the Yale Eight.

I suppose it’s possible that some of these things might not be like the others. Sure, the Yalies might not be undergoing pain, deprivation, weakness, temptation. But they are suffering in other ways. Think of the high-metabolism diets requiring frequent eating even when you’re not hungry that are now off-kilter. Think of the food-shaming and secret self-loathing when they do eat. Think of the embarrassment of gaining weight while on a hunger strike.

As they gather together outside the office of the president of Yale in 63-degree weather, you can almost imagine the solidarity in their timeless chants.

No justice, No eats!
No justice, No eats!

We might be grateful that they are expressing themselves, and not suffering in silence. Instead: No silence. No suffering.

News reports don’t make it clear, but it’s at least conceivable that one or more of them is a student of philosophy. So that leads to a question:  If a hunger striker goes to McDonald’s and eats two Big Macs, but no one’s there to see it, did it really happen?

The parallels with the other great labor movements are obvious. In 1912 textile mill workers in Lawrence went on strike in part to reduce their 56-hour work week. At Yale the graduate students endure a 56-hour work month.

In 1922 railroad shop workers went on strike to resist a massive pay cut. At Yale the graduate students get free tuition, free health insurance, and a stipend to live on.

In the 1870s the Molly Maguires wanted safety precautions like a second exit from coal mines to prevent workers from dying in underground fires. At Yale the graduate students have to wait to see a psychotherapist.

Now there’s something delicious … whoops … that might have been a micro-aggression … about one of the most comfortable left-wing institutions in America resisting a labor movement. Presumably the Yale administrators are worried about costs. Sort of like other employers are, with the exception that most other employers have to pay property taxes and aren’t sitting on a $25 billion endowment.

Both sides of this conflict seem to be suffering from a sympathy deficit. This calls for creativity and a willingness to think outside the quad.

How about students, faculty, and administrators get together and refuse to lecture, take notes, publish papers, memorize anything, or issue press releases? They could call it a Day Without Yale.

If even the thought of such a thing is distressing, imagine how powerful it would be to put it into action.

It’s time for Americans to realize what’s at stake.


Matt McDonald is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of New Boston Post.  See other columns by him here.