State and local elected officials staged a day-long fast on Thursday in solidarity with the hunger strikers currently protesting massive budget cuts to Philadelphia public schools. The state district attorney, three members of the city council, six state representatives, four state senators and one U.S. congressman participated in the fast.
"As a society, if we can't educate our children, we're not worth anything," said Congressman Bob Brady, D-Penn., explaining his reasons joining the fast. He told msnbc that the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) talked him into the fast. The Philadelphia hunger strike was organized by another union, Unite Here Local 634, which represents the 1,202 noontime aides that would be laid off under the Philadelphia school district budget plan.
Thursday marked the eleventh day of the hunger strike, though only one of the original strikers remains. On day seven, four of the original protesters were replaced by a new round of hunger strikers. On day nine, the remaining hunger striker was sent to the hospital and began drinking juice on the advice of a doctor. The five current hunger strikes include two parents of Philadelphia public school students and two city employees.
"It's very uplifting to see the people in the street and these elected officials that come by to show their support," said Demetrius Jackson, one of the current hunger strikers. "It makes you want to stay out here a little longer."
Jackson said he is striking on behalf of his seven-year-old daughter, who was forced to relocate to a charter school after her school was shut down due to budget cuts. After four days without food, "all I do is keep faith in God, and read the Bible, and drink my water, and I'm just feeling great," he said.
Jackson and the four other hunger strikers rally daily in front of Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett's office. They're hoping that their efforts will compel the Republican-controlled state government to mitigate the need for local budget cuts by reinstating some of the $961 million they cut from the Pennsylvania education budget last year.
"Education should be priceless, and I'm just saying that they're putting the budget on our shoulders," said Jackson.