In a skybox at the MCI Center, local political activists Jack McHale and Tim McKinney feasted on hot dogs, chicken wings and popcorn as their last meal before fasting. Their fast is a low-key protest in response to the Bush administration's immInent war with Iraq.
McHale of Burke looked at this level of protest as ample to get their message across.
"I feel this is the last thing we can do, the reason we do something, it's the right thing to do. We're middle-class Joes," he said.
McKinney was into the fast as well, which he and McHale are calling "The Pre-emptive Fast for Peace," a play on Bush's "pre-emptive" strike on Iraq.
"Both Jack and I understand there's a problem in the world, terrorism. I don't consider Iraq as that big a threat to the United States. We're [the country] ignoring the international community here. The only way it's going to stop is if middle class United States citizens have a groundswell against the war," he said.
McKinney is a former Burke resident, who now lives in Fairfax.
After the Wizards finished off the Indiana Pacers in double overtime on Saturday, Jan. 4, their fast began. They plan on continuing on a diet of juice and water until Super Bowl Sunday, Jan. 26. That was three weeks from the Feast of the Epiphany, a Catholic holy day. Ending on Super Bowl Sunday is just a coincidence.
"We thought it was a good day to start it," McHale said.
The two have experience with protesting but are from different points of the spectrum. McKinney is a decorated Vietnam veteran, while McHale is more on the pacifist side. While McKinney has a Purple Heart for wounds he received in Vietnam, McHale had an uplifting experience in January 1991, protesting Desert Storm.
"I did a civil disobedience and was arrested in front of the White House. I was found guilty, and the penalty was time served, which was about 12 hours. I felt I had to do something," McHale said.
McKinney was in favor of the military efforts against Al Qaeda and the Taliban but wasn't sold on the connection with Iraq.
"I wasn't against our response in Afghanistan. I just don't think the administration has made a case against Iraq," McKinney added.
MCKINNEY REMEMBERED the situation after he arrived in Vietnam. It wasn't a cross-section of people that were becoming casualties. He feels that when middle-class young men and women are sent to war, that may be the factor that will open people's eyes to the situation in Iraq
"When I got to Vietnam, I was there a couple months and I realized the people getting killed were poor people," he said
"Are we really defending democracy?" he asked himself.
Both fasted before as protest in 2000 to exemplify the need to close down the School for Americas in Fort Benning, Ga., which is now called the "Western Hemisphere Institute for Security." That fasting period was only for 16 days, and they felt the five extra days is no big deal. They survived on juice and water then, and they intend to do it again. McHale lost about 25 pounds the previous time.
"There's no way this can be a failure for us. If we're doing what we think is right, it's like backing a winner," McHale said.
McKinney now works as an attorney for the Office of General Counsel in the Department of Veterans Affairs, and McHale is an executive for an international air-express courier company.
Part of their plan to publicize their cause involved an announcement at McHale's church, St. Mary of Sorrows in Fairfax. He thought that since the Catholic Church spoke out against the war on a larger scale, there was no way this church could be against it. The pastor, Donald C. Greenhalgh, got word of it and had no comment, according to his assistant, Maureen Huggins. "It was not representing the parish," according to McKinney. McHale thought it was because of the influx of people in that area that are employed at the Pentagon or by defense contractors.
"Our local parish, St. Mary's, have let it be known to us they don't support us," McKinney said.
So, instead of announcing their efforts to the parish at St. Mary's, they took their cause to Our Lady Queen of Peace in Arlington, where the pastor welcomed their announcement. They planned on pleading to the congregation on Sunday, Jan. 6.
"We got a standing ovation," McHale said.
Afterward, 120 parish members joined their movement against the war.
McKinney and McHale also plan to join the Women's Vigil for Peace, in front of the White House every Friday, to show their solidarity with the group.
McHale has a bumper sticker "Attack Iraq? No" which has drawn some reactions around Burke, good and bad. One time while at Starbucks in December, someone had an opposing reaction.
"I had people basically call me a traitor for a bumper sticker that said 'Attack Iraq? No.' It's getting to the point if you question something, it's un-American," McHale said. "We're getting a lot of positive support as well."
IN THE SKYBOX at MCI, McHale and McKinney's children and friends surrounded the activists to kick off their escapade. It is a corporate skybox that a friend loaned them for one night.
"This is kind of our last meal here, Last Supper," McKinney said, feasting on the munchies provided in the skybox.
Molly McHale, a Robinson Secondary School junior, looked at her father's fasting. At age 17, she's not really politically oriented.
"Three weeks is a long time," she said, remembering the last time he fasted. "I remember he was really weak at the end."
When faced with a political decision that hit close to her life, like changing the driving age to 18, for example, her friend Allison Hansen, described her possible reaction.
"I'd probably just complain," she said.
Fairfax neighbor Mark O'Meara is joining the fast. O'Meara owns the University Movie Theater in Fairfax. His son, Pat, a graduate of Robinson and a current student at North Carolina State, was in the skybox too. He wasn't confident his father would do the three weeks.
"I don't think he's going to make it past two days. You can't work at a movie theater and not eat popcorn," he said.