Kristi Richards is fasting along with nine of her Disney co-workers in the UniteHere Local 11 union, in a last ditch effort to get the resort giant's mouse ears turned in their direction. Disney wants the union representing hotel workers to sign up for the corporate health-care plan, a move that would cut into each member's paycheck. The workers want to keep their union-controlled plan that provides free care to them and their families. The fight has been ongoing for two years, but UniteHere is hopeful the fast will bring a quick resolution.
So, Tuesday morning, Richards ate eat her last meal (celery sticks and apple slices), and got ready to get hungry, predicting that she can go without food for as long as is necessary.
"For at least seven days," says Richards, "As long as it takes to make them listen."
It was the official kickoff, and all the fasters, along with some co-workers and sympathizers, stood in the Simba parking lot, next to the Paradise Pier Hotel, most of them wearing plastic blue ponchos with the words "We Are the Union" stamped across the backs. The rain stopped shortly after the speeches ended. Among the speakers was Dolores Huerta, who co-founded the United Farm Workers along with the late Cesar Chávez. Huerta stood at a podium under a tent, punctuating her words of encouragement with the now famous chant of her invention.
"¡Sí se puede!" The crowd responded in kind then added, "Yes we can!"
Richards explained her strategy. She had prepared mentally and physically for the fast through meditation and a change in her diet. She was more excited than nervous about the journey ahead. Her last meal was small because stretching one's stomach with a large meal only makes you hungrier later.
Standing behind Richards was Basema Sharaf, surrounded by a crowd holding candles and blue carnations. To Sharaf's side was a picture of her dead husband, Musa Sharaf, blown up on poster board, and a makshift shrine at its base becoming crowed with the candles and flowers that his co-workers left in remembrance.
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Sharaf's husband was a cook for Disney before he died at work after a heart attack. Basema insisted the 61-year-old was in perfect health before he took on a excessive workload created when Disney cut employees from the schedule to save money.
When the candlelight vigil, speeches, prayers, and sing-alongs of De Colores all ended, the fasters set about figuring out where to sleep. The original plan was to set up tents in front of the Grand Californian Hotel, where the protest wouldn't go unnoticed. But the rain washed that idea out. The 10 men and women wound up in sleeping bags on the union offices floor.
The following morning was dry, and everyone converged again on the Disney grounds in preparation for this afternoon's demonstration. The plan was to roll a few of Disney's large and luxurious beds out to the parking lot, and show what it takes to make up 30 of them in one day. All on empty stomachs.
The make-a-bed-athon kicks off at 5 p.m., and more events are planned throughout the week. Check the schedule here, and stick around for more updates.