Loyola alumnus Paul Campion and four other organizers from the Sunrise Movement began a 14-day hunger strike in Washington. D.C. over government inaction on climate change Oct. 20.
While on hunger strike, Campion said he experienced dizziness upon standing, a pain in his stomach from hunger and trouble speaking. By the end of the fourth day, one of the other organizers had to be taken to the hospital due to health concerns.
After experiencing a drop in heart rate — putting him at major risk for severe heart problems such as arrhythmia, heart failure and cardiac arrest — Campion said he had to end his strike.
“Facing that reality, I had to make a really hard decision,” Campion, 24, said. “Honestly, the decision to kind of stop was just as hard as the decision to participate and to start the hunger strike because of the impact on all the people that I love and on the campaign and on our efforts.”
Campion’s hunger strike lasted for 11 days but it took him about five days to physically recover. He said he’s regained most of the weight he lost during the strike and is able to eat whatever he wants now.
Campion — who graduated from Loyola in 2019 with a bachelor’s in environmental science — currently works as a full-time organizer for The Sunrise Movement in Chicago. One of the reasons he said he went to Loyola was because of its proclaimed commitment to environmental sustainability.
Campion said the reason he embarked on the hunger strike was to promote action on climate change with policy in line with The Green New Deal.
“We saw the hunger strike as an opportunity to tell the truth about what’s going on about the stakes of the crisis,” Campion said. “This isn’t just some story about Joe Manchin’s ego or a political insider game, but this is really about the fight for our lives.”
Recent reports have shown that climate change is moving at a more rapid pace than previously anticipated, The Phoenix reported. Climate change has the potential to negatively impact infrastructure, disadvantaged communities and global weather patterns.
Campion said the idea for the hunger strike came together after seeing how Democrats such as Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia were gutting attempts to do something about the climate crisis.
In preparation for the strike, Campion said they went on an all liquid diet, met with others who had done hunger strikes in the past, consulted with friends and loved ones and made a detailed plan.
The decision to go on strike and the planning to execute it took less than a week, according to Campion.
Campion said the point of the strike was to demand U.S. President Joe Biden take more action on climate change.
“We really call on Joe Biden to be the leader that we need him to be and simply enact legislation that would deliver the commitments and the promises and the pledges that he has done such a wonderful job saying in his speeches and in his statements, but doing an incredibly poor job delivering for his actions under his administration,” Campion said.
Campion said they decided to go on a hunger strike because they were worried the chance to do something about climate change would slip away. He said the idea for the strike came after having spent over two years politically organizing to address climate change and they wanted to do something different.
“A lot of us were feeling the fear and the anxiety of like, what if collectively as the United States we miss this moment,” Campion said “We don’t have another 12 years to waste without any legitimate action and leadership from our country on this defining issue of our time.”
Campion’s advocacy work began at Loyola where he joined the Student Environmental Alliance as a first-year. During his time, he worked on campaigns such as working towards on campus renewable energy and divestment from fossil fuels.
Despite their organizing efforts, Campion said the university decided not to implement the students’ plan. Despite Campion’s frustration, his past efforts to work towards sustainability at Loyola put him on the path to the work he does now.
Campion said a lot of the experiences he had in college were holding the university to its mission and now he’s doing the same with the U.S. president.
“The university had made these commitments and these promises to act on its mission,” Campion said. “[My experience was] trying to hold the university to actually do that, and to turn those promises and those commitments into action, in the same way of now demanding the President of the United States make good on his own commitments and promises and turn them into real policy and action.”
While Campion’s environmental advocacy work may have started at Loyola, he said his exposure to social justice really began when he attended a Jesuit high school.
Campion said it was there he first saw how his peers from Central and South America came to the U.S. seeking shelter and security and had to face “cruel” immigation policies.
During this time, Campion said he organized a film screening of a movie relating to the struggles of immigrants and worked with students from other schools to lobby members of Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform.
After seeing how problems surrounding climate change impacted issues such as immigration, he decided to study environmental science.
“It’s driving other crises and challenges like the immigration crisis,” Campion said.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) climate change is one of the factors that triggers displacement. This is due to climate change causing crops and livestock to die in areas they once lived, extreme weather patterns and limited access to natural resources.
Campion encouraged current students to get involved in advocacy and to wield the power they have.
“We have so much power that we leave on the table every day that we’re not wielding it and using it,” Campion said. “So, I would encourage others to step into that and get creative and go for it.”