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Hunger strike may be ABQ activist’s last stand

Longtime activist Sally-Alice Thompson tells a crowd in Downtown Albuquerque on Tuesday that she is embarking on a hunger strike to empathize with the hungry children who are suffering in Venezuela, Cuba, North Korea, Iran, Gaza and Yemen because of U.S. policies in those regions. Her protest — Fasting Against Sanctions and Sieges, or FASS — began Sunday. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Few activists in Albuquerque, perhaps in the country, have done more for their cause than Sally-Alice Thompson – or for as long.

For much of her 95 years, Thompson has fought for a world where there is no more fighting and where peace and justice are attainable not just by the elite but by all.

From Moscow to Santa Fe, she has marched, hoisted signs, waved banners, stuffed envelopes, buttonholed politicians, held hands, raised fists, spent her own money, spoken out and sung out for nuclear disarmament, equality, freedom and no war.

Despite her advancing years, she has refused to retire from her activism. Just five years ago, at age 91, she walked for 13 days from Albuquerque to Santa Fe in support of MOP, or Money Out of Politics.

And still the world in many ways seems as angry and turbulent as ever, perhaps even more so.

So Thompson believes she has more to do before she leaves this world.

But those who know her worry that her latest protest could hasten her departure, that the fight she is undertaking will kill her.

So be it, she says.

Kathleen Burke takes a selfie with Sally-Alice Thompson, left, during Thompson’s news conference announcing her hunger strike Tuesday. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Journal)

“I don’t have more than five years to live, and that’s the maximum,” she tells me on a hot Tuesday in Downtown Albuquerque, moments before she takes a microphone to tell the crowd that has gathered about her latest cause. “What difference does it make how much longer? What I can do before then matters more.”

At noon, just as workers are pouring out of office buildings for lunch, she tells the crowd she is now on her third day of a hunger strike.

A fan of acronyms, she has dubbed this protest Fasting Against Sanctions and Siege, or FASS, and its purpose is to raise awareness, enrage the masses into action, force U.S. policy changes and empathize with the babies and children who are collateral damage of those policies around the globe.

Specifically, she points to the suffering and starvation – the “genocide,” she says – of children in Venezuela, Cuba, North Korea and Iran, each under U.S. sanctions that, whether you agree with them or not, are harming the smallest and most helpless in those countries. U.S.-enabled sieges that prevent food and other supplies from entering Gaza and Yemen are also inflicting harm on children there.

“If hungry children, who need nourishment to develop their bodies and minds, are going hungry, then so must I,” Thompson wrote in a message posted on social media Monday that spread quickly through the community. “These sanctions and sieges must end!”

Thompson’s decision, which she initially announced Sunday at a Unitarian Universalist fellowship meeting, was met with concern. She is four months shy of her 96th birthday. She is frail, her hunched, bony body revealing no sign of fatty reserves.

“One of the members of our group put it well when she said that yes, this is life-threatening to Sally-Alice and will most likely result in her death,” Patty Kuning said. “But maybe she’s just ready and wants to make her death as meaningful as her life. We have all begged her not to do this. We need her to be our voice, to hold signs up at street corners, to speak out against the oppressed, to sing her inspired songs. But she will not budge.”

Others who know Thompson know that once she commits to a cause, there’s no stopping her. So if this is her choice, they will support it in hopes that it does some good before it does her in.

“She’s taking one day at a time, but I got the impression that if there’s a large enough response and she feels that her fast has increased awareness she would be willing to stop it,” said Nancy Harmon, who is writing a book about Thompson’s illustrious life. “She talked about friends who didn’t seem to be aware of the suffering U.S. policies are inflicting on so much of the world. Even if two or three people wake up, she said, she thinks it will be worth it.”

Thompson tells me she feels fine. She smiles, and I wonder how many more times I will get to see that.

She is drinking fluids – sparkling grape juice, coconut water. She dreams of a warm bowl of minestrone. Mostly, she thinks of the children she is fighting for.

“The short remainder of my life is inconsequential,” she tells the crowd. “The remainder of the lives of these children may be very important. If allowed to develop normally, who knows what they might become? Some of them might be great composers. Or maybe a talented playwright. One can only speculate, because they’re dying of starvation. Those children have a right to live!”

Cheers erupt from the crowd, many from local activist groups that have gathered here at noon Tuesdays at Fourth and Gold SW since 2016. Already, some of them have pledged to fast a day or two, a meal or more, as Thompson has requested, in solidarity with her and in opposition to sanctions and sieges.

One woman tells me, “I admire her, but I’m scared to death for her.”

With that, the crowd begins singing a version of “Let It Be.” And so they will let Thompson be to do what she feels called to do, as if it could be any other way.


UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, jkrueger@abqjournal.com or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg.

 

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