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February 11th, 2009 Dan Green | News Stories
 

Soldiering On

One woman vows to fast to the death to keep 2,600 national guard members at home.

     
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SIGN HER UP: Michele Darr, standing in front of one of her protest signs.
IMAGE: Dan Green

Michele Darr was very cold one recent morning on the front steps of the Oregon Capitol.

Darr had slept outside the night before, when temperatures dropped to 28 degrees. But that morning of Thursday, Feb. 5, wasn’t anything new for this 39-year-old Corvallis mother of six.

Since Nov. 1, she has been on the front steps of Oregon’s Capitol building, despite a hard winter with frequent snowfalls.

Darr has been arrested three times by state police during that stretch for criminal trespassing, going once to jail and getting cited and released twice.

But she isn’t homeless, and she isn’t panhandling. Instead, Darr is protesting the upcoming deployment in April of 2,600 members of the Oregon National Guard to Iraq.

As if holding a round-the-clock vigil—with occasional breaks to take a walk or use the Capitol bathroom—on the steps of Oregon’s Legislature weren’t enough, Darr is also in the midst of her third fast.

Her first fast lasted 40 days until Gov. Ted Kulongoski asked her to eat. Darr compromised from Dec. 10 to Jan. 20 by not eating between sunup and sundown. But on Jan. 21, she began limiting herself to water and vitamin supplements in an attempt to bring increased attention to her cause.

Darr says she has friends in the military and is now vowing to fast unto death if the deployment isn’t stopped.

“These soldiers are willing to die for us,” she says. “So this is a way in which I can help to spotlight what they’re going through.”

Asked how she is doing, Darr stretches out a hand wrapped in a wool mitten, her eyes slightly glazed, and responds, “I’m hanging in there.”

Darr, a self-employed hospice caregiver, began her antiwar activism after she heard stories of single parents being sent to serve overseas while their children remained in the care of strangers at home.

“[The] separation anxiety I’ve seen exhibited in these very young people, and the pain in their eyes, was too much,” says Darr, a single mom whose six children range in age from 3 to 19. “As a mother, I recognized it and I took a stand.”

She says she has friends who are doctors stop by to check on her health, and that her family supports her vigil as a way to spotlight the effort by the peace group Camp Homebound to keep the National Guard in Oregon. Her protest has meant she has missed Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s and birthdays with her family.

She says her children’s father, Ben Hipp, is caring for her younger children.

“When she gets a calling to do something, it’s pretty hard to stop her,” Hipp says. “It’s not my ideal situation.”

Darr’s methods may seem extreme, but she is getting attention. She has met with Kulongoski, Gen. Mike Caldwell of the Oregon National Guard and state Rep. Chip Shields (D-Portland) in an attempt to stop the deployment.

Kulongoski spokesman Rem Nivens says there’s nothing the governor can do when the president calls up the National Guard.

“Legally, the governor has no ability to stop the deployment,” Nivens says.

Darr is asking Oregonians to call or email their state legislators Thursday, Feb. 12, to urge them to help find a way to stop the deployment.

“This is about keeping up the pressure on Congress and President Obama to fulfill their promise of redeployment in the near future,” Shields says. “In Oregon, our Guard members have done their job, and it’s more than past time to bring our troops home.”


FACT: Darr has lost 58 pounds since beginning her vigil on Nov. 1.
 
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