So it's been ten days since former mayoral candidate Cameron Whitten kicked off his "Hunger Strike for Housing Justice" outside of city hall. I know you're curious: How's he holding up? Judging by our conversation this morning, surprisingly well.
"I feel like a hundred bagels!" Whitten said cheerily, bundled up in a thick jacket and "Suicidal Tendencies" hat in the morning sun. While he isn't consuming anything, Whitten is constantly fueling himself with vitamin-packed juices, water and coconut water. Strangely enough, the one "food" item he is craving is a hearty smoothie. People have been offering him food throughout his strike, clearly unaware of the point of a hunger strike. Most people, says Whitten, just think that he's homeless.
Which, in a way, is the point. "This is the first time I've put myself in a homeless person's shoes," said Whitten. "I'm being ignored, judged and I smell funny. It's interesting." But, he says about half of the passersby stop to ask what he's doing, and, after finding out, share their own stories of homelessness or start a discussion about the housing issues he's protesting.
When he's not talking with strangers or reading his Portland history book, Whitten is observing the oddities of downtown Portland and city hall. Here are a few things he's seen:
1. A woman biting a dog's leg
2. Chinese dragons
3. A pro-choice rally
4. A Sudanese man yelling "Left Right Forward" at least four times a day
5. Sam Adams, once
"Yesterday was bad," he admitted. "It was the first time I thought 'Damn, I should be eating.' I felt like I was missing out on some cultural tradition." So far, Whitten says he's probably lost 12 pounds. The weirdest part? "My body fat feels rubbery and strange." Hmm.
Regardless, Whitten says he aims to keep the strike up until he's "satisfied with the city's results." He says that soon, if he still hears no response from the city, he'll send personal emails to the city councilors and staff involved. Said Whitten: "I'm not going anywhere."