Everybody has an opinion about everything, but surprisingly few of these people bother to get informed. They adopt opinions, rather than form them. I tell my students to get the information, to think, and then have an opinion. What matters is not what opinion people conclude, but that they conduct the process.
At the moment, here in Canada, the nation is watching as a First Nations chief is on hunger strike. People have strident opinions about aboriginal peoples. People have strident opinions about hunger strike. Rarely do they know what they’re talking about on either subject. They have visceral responses, prejudices, pro or con. I hear university students complain because aboriginal students supposedly get free post-secondary education, and I understand the frustration, but I point out to students that if such a system were in place and working, then post-secondary classrooms would be filled with aboriginal students. They’re not.
I watch Theresa Spence’s journey with great interest, and I cannot help but watch it against the backdrop of the Irish hunger strikers of the 20th century, thousands of them, who used the shaming strategy of hunger to move people and governments. Their situation in many, many ways was the same as that of Canada’s aboriginal people. In my opinion, not all hunger strikes are created equally. Some are never intended to go beyond a week or two, openly designed for raising awareness, getting some publicity. Some, such as Bobby Sands’, are undertaken with the knowledge that death will be the conclusion.
I don’t know if any of the twenty-two Irish hunger strikers who died between 1920 and 1981 could have found another way. I don’t know enough about every case to cast judgement. I do know enough about the 1981 strike to understand how and why the decision was taken. I know enough to admire the courage and conviction. That doesn’t mean approval. What astonishes me is the absurdity that people in power refuse even to consider and talk in sincere, respectful ways. They don’t think it through, either. They just have an opinion. And it’s always about power, never about lives.