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MADISON — A solitary man sits on the steps of the state capitol, holding a sign that says he's more than four weeks into his hunger strike. The man, an unemployed motorcycle mechanic, says he's willing to die so others won't suffer the deleterious effects of Gov. Scott Walker's union busting "budget repair" bill.

Unfortunately, most of the mainstream media has ignored the hunger strike, but Matthew Schauenburg is not deterred. He will continue to limit himself to water, a potassium supplement and a no-calorie sports drink until Republicans withdraw the bill and have an open forum on proposed spending cuts.

Pat Schneider, a columnist with the Capitol Times, noted that coverage of Schauenburg has been virtually non-existent:

For a hunger strike to be effective -- for the sacrifice to hold any power to sway public opinion and policy makers -- it has to play in the media.

The thing is, even as mainstream media from near and far swarmed the Capitol at the peak of the protests and coverage by traditional state media outlets of the showdown between labor and the Republican Party continues unrelentingly, Schauenburg has been mostly overlooked.

That's the accusation in new media, where bloggers and social media posters ask why mainstream news outlets are ignoring him.

So Schneider went to the capitol and spoke to Schauenburg, 42, about why he's doing this and also why everyone else is ignoring the story.

At stake, he says, are farmers losing health care, disabled people being forced from their homes and senior citizens dying from lack of medication if subsidies for prescription drugs they can't afford on their own are eliminated.

"It's better for one person to suffer and possibly perish now, in an effort to save tens of thousands of Wisconsin families possibly being forced into the same situation," he says of his resolve. Once a union member himself, he's also a huge supporter of organized labor, he says.

Schneider observed that various social media outlets have stepped in to cover the story.

Schauenburg has been blogging about his experience here, and there's a Facebook page dedicated to his protest.

A number of citizen journalists have documented and shared news of his hunger strike, like this story on Politiscoop, and there are video interviews with Schauenburg up on You Tube.

His story has been featured on Wisconsin Radio Network, a news service for radio stations around the state, and improbably, the Rochester Citizen out of Rochester Hills, Mich., has chronicled Schauenburg's protest, in a story picked up by Democracy Underground and elsewhere.

Closer to home, the Badger Herald, UW-Madison's independent student newspaper, published a story that quotes a Teaching Assistants Association leader saying they would never encourage their members to take such extreme actions.

Schauenburg actually apologizes for giving some non-sensical responses to a long series of questions from an out of town reporter, but given his condition (he passed out recently), it's quite understandable:

I took a call from Atlanta and agreed to do a phone interview with Mike Malloy which occurred about ten minutes later.  And I completely stunk it up.  He was asking me some very simple and basic questions and my brain just absolutely refused to lay along.

When asked about my plans, in regards to maintaining the hunger strike during what seems likely to be a lengthy appeals process of Walkers BRB in the courts, I stammered out some half-ineligible answer.  All the while the words were in my head ROLLING HUNGER STRIKE, ROLLING HUNGER STRIKE but somehow I just couldn't spit them out.

I made myself and the movement look bad to the national radio audience and that just stinks!  I shouldn't have agreed to do an interview when I was already pushed beyond my limits.  I apologize to Mike Malloy and all those who support the cause in Wisconsin and around the nation and world.  I dropped the ball and I strongly regret it.  If circumstances dictate that the hunger strike needs to go on past this coming Monday I believe I will refrain from doing any more live interviews.  Our cause is to important to be giving ammunition to the other side by my speaking out when I'm half incoherent.
Once again my apologies Wisconsin.

Schauenburg is probably right that Republicans would seize on his jumbled responses and issue some kind of ad hominem attack. After all, it's in the GOP DNA. They've gone after kids when attacking SCHIP; they've mocked Michael J. Fox's Parkinsons; and they've said horrible things about our President, First Lady, and Malia and Sascha.

Schauenburg cites the example of Mohandas K Gandhi for his impassioned protest:

The hunger strike is a time-honored means of political protest. Asked about his inspiration, Schauenburg mentions -- while stressing that he does not put himself in the same league -- Gandhi, a pioneer of non-violent protest who went on hunger strikes in the 1920s and 1930s to protest British rule of India. He also points to Bobby Sands, the Irish Republican Army leader who died in 1981 while on a hunger strike in prison.

As over-the-top as the tactic may seem, hunger strikes are still used as a way to demand change. Prisoners in Kyrgyzstan jails have done so seeking better conditions, as have Venezuelan students opposed to funding cutbacks and religious leaders in the United States alarmed at proposed federal budget cuts to programs that help poor people.

Supporters from as far away as Bangladesh have reached out to Schaunburg:

"To think the Third World is trying to send their support to the greatest state of the greatest nation on earth says a lot about the solidarity of people in general and the solidarity of union workers. It's a great statement about the terrible position Gov. Walker has put the sate of Wisconsin in. The world is reaching out to us," he says.

The situation confronting Wisconsin union members without collective bargaining or residents who would lose critical assistance under the Walker cuts may not be a hardship on the scale that the people of Bangladesh have suffered. But many voices have been raised in concern about the impact of Walker's policies on families supported by state jobs, workers private and public, and the safety net that protects our low-income and out-of-work family members, friends and neighbors.

Still, Schneider was wondering out loud, if this tactic is actually effective, and also, why so many people, herself included, are predisposed to walk away and ignore Schauenburg.

There's a whiff of my own squeamishness about Schauenburg's undertaking in those remarks. Does it do any good for someone to starve themselves for a cause? For this cause?...I don't see that what he might gain from this matches the risk.

Despite this, Schneider says the payoff for Schauenburg could come as early as Monday when the group We Are Wisconsin plans a National Day of Action and asks supporters to stand with Schauenburg.
Updated by Dirk McQuigley at Sun Apr 03, 2011 at 09:44 AM EDT

Schauenburg thanked his supporters and also answered a question about why he is doing what he is when there are worse things going on in the world:


Now that I have a little time on my hands to reflect on all that has been going on recently I decided to google my name this morning and see what people have been saying about the hunger strike.  It was stirring to hear about the different fasts going on around the nation to show dissent for different class war agenda's around the  country.  Then I noticed a couple of sites and postings from people who are obviously quite opposed to my hunger strike and the unions/people's cause.  So to address that quickly I would like to say to the haters out there at this time:


Yes I agree with the point that there are worse things happening in the world.  But I  don't see how initiating a hunger strike in opposition to a tsunami would be very effective.


Yes I agree that there are worse examples of government human rights abuses in the world.  But I don't see how flying to Libya and starting a hunger strike in the middle of a battlefield would be very effective.


Yes hunger strikes are physically devastating.  But I don't see how people can keep quoting this rule of 3 about me.  After 3 minutes without air or 3 days without water or 3 weeks without food, anyone will die!

I don't think there is a single medical professional out there who will tell you that a person on hunger strike will automatically die after 21 days at precisely midnight.  There are numerous health factors involved in such things.


Yes I know independent/rational thought is a complicated thing and that the haters are being simple.  Which is why we shouldn't let emotions overcome logic and hate the tea partyers and nay-sayers.  They are not the enemy but rather more like our little brothers and sisters with developmental disabilities.


Updated by Dirk McQuigley at Sun Apr 03, 2011 at 09:45 AM EDT

Now that I have a little time on my hands to reflect on all that has been going on recently I decided to google my name this morning and see what people have been saying about the hunger strike.  It was stirring to hear about the different fasts going on around the nation to show dissent for different class war agenda's around the  country.  Then I noticed a couple of sites and postings from people who are obviously quite opposed to my hunger strike and the unions/people's cause.  So to address that quickly I would like to say to the haters out there at this time:


Yes I agree with the point that there are worse things happening in the world.  But I  don't see how initiating a hunger strike in opposition to a tsunami would be very effective.


Yes I agree that there are worse examples of government human rights abuses in the world.  But I don't see how flying to Libya and starting a hunger strike in the middle of a battlefield would be very effective.


Yes hunger strikes are physically devastating.  But I don't see how people can keep quoting this rule of 3 about me.  After 3 minutes without air or 3 days without water or 3 weeks without food, anyone will die!

I don't think there is a single medical professional out there who will tell you that a person on hunger strike will automatically die after 21 days at precisely midnight.  There are numerous health factors involved in such things.


Yes I know independent/rational thought is a complicated thing and that the haters are being simple.  Which is why we shouldn't let emotions overcome logic and hate the tea partyers and nay-sayers.  They are not the enemy but rather more like our little brothers and sisters with developmental disabilities.

I'm sure the last sentence will have Sarah Palin clutching at her pearls as she sits on the fainting couch.

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