Expanding the Definition of Human Expression

by Elizabeth Hoover    /  May 14, 2010  / 3 Comments

As of this writing, Cuban dissident Guillermo Fariñas has completed more than 100 days of a hunger strike to demand the release of 26 prisoners of conscious who have health problems.

His protest began after his friend Orlando Zapata Tamayo died in prison following more than 80 days of fasting. Fariñas claims he was arrested and beaten on the way to his friend’s funeral.

I first learned of Fariñas’ protest on Yoani Sánchez’s blog. He was less than one month into the strike, but Fariñas’ body already showed the effects of starvation. Now he is terrifyingly thin.

Fariñas lives in a country where people who speak-out against the government are routinely brutalized and jailed. Unable to protest with his voice, he uses his body to express his dissent and petition his government.

Sánchez wrote, “When this kind of protest, a protest of empty stomachs, happens in a country we have to question whether they have left citizens any other way to show their lack of consent.”

A similar sense of desperation drove Liberian activist Leymah Roberta Gbowee to organize a sex strike to end the civil war in 2003. She encouraged the nation’s women to withhold sex from their male partners until they put down their guns. She even offered to pay prostitutes for lost wages.

Gbowee continues to work for peace. Mostly recently, she spoke at the Daily Beast’s Women in the World summit. There she urged Michelle Obama to convene a summit of African First Ladies to address the issue of sexual violence.

As an editor and writer, I tend to associate free expression with writing. But these activists have challenged and expanded my ideas of what constitutes “expression.” I have come to see the body as a site of articulation that is as powerful as the written or spoken word.

This idea raises difficult—and exciting—questions for me in terms of how we can protect and promote this type of expression on Sampsonia Way.

What other examples do you know of of body protests? Please use the comment field below.

Click here to read Elizabeth’s bio.

About the Author

Elizabeth Hoover earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Indiana University, where she received a Project on African Expressive Traditions grant and the Won-Joon Yon Scholarship for Racial Tolerance. She has written for American Heritage, Life, and Poets and Writers. Her criticism has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. She has published poetry in The Adirondack Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, and the Atlanta Review. Recently, New Letters nominated her for a Pushcart Prize. Hoover is a former associate editor at Sampsonia Way.

View all articles by Elizabeth Hoover

3 Comments on "Expanding the Definition of Human Expression"

  1. Christian May 17, 2010 at 4:23 pm ·

    Just want to say what a great blog you got here!
    I’ve been around for quite a lot of time, but finally decided to show my appreciation of your work!

    Thumbs up, and keep it going!

    Cheers
    Christian

  2. Adam Fajardo May 19, 2010 at 12:56 pm ·

    Hey Elizabeth,

    Just read your blog — thanks for sharing those stories.

    If you’re interested in ways people used their bodies in protest, you might also check out the “filth protest” at Armagh Prison (in Northern Ireland).

    Here’s a link to an article (chapter 4):
    http://books.google.com/books?id=aCH6zsDB5mkC&printsec=frontcover&dq=violence+and+the+body&ei=ABj0S4PjJqKwMtWiyegF&cd=1#v=onepage&q&f=false

  3. admin May 19, 2010 at 4:59 pm ·

    Hey Adam,

    Thanks for reading the article. I just gave the book a quick breeze through, what a good resource. Thanks for sharing and I’ll be sure to read it more throughly soon. I’d love to see any other resources you may have in the future.

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