By Will Norton-Mosher

Mark Valen is a third-year sustainable social networks major with tan skin, pitted cheeks, and bristles of brown hair poking out of his face. He has calluses on his hands from working in his backyard garden, planting and growing squash, corn, and three kinds of beans, citrus, and berries. He makes his own food. But for now he refuses to eat.

He and eight other students from UCSC have been on a hunger strike, in conjunction with 42 students from across the state, since May 9. For the last eight days they have camped in front of the Baytree Bookstore.

Valen and the other students have kept themselves from eating solid food for eight days because they want the University of California system to sever connections to the Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore labs.

The Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore labs were the birthplaces of the Manhattan Project and the hydrogen bomb. This March, an interagency committee of executives from the Departments of Defense and Energy announced the Lawrence Livermore facility would begin manufacturing “pits,” the cores of nuclear weapons, to replace the centers of old weapons. This announcement motivated the hunger strike.

Valen explained the creation of nuclear weapons not only threatens the future of the human race and all life on earth in case of deployment, but also allows countries with nuclear technology to exert influence over other countries.

“Just by having nuclear weapons, our country has been able to enforce economic policies, using the threat of nuclear annihilation,” Valen said. “And the creation of nuclear weapons itself kills millions of people worldwide.”

Valen moves slowly as he speaks. The bones in his wrists have begun to poke out. So far he has lost over ten pounds, and the tips of his fingers have cracked open and refused to heal. Tomorrow he will travel with the other hunger strikers to the University of California San Francisco (UCSF), to protest during the UC regents meeting.

“I’m breaking my fast when the UC regents withdraw from their contracts with the nuclear weapons labs,” he said.

“For me, hungerstriking is a way to connect physically with what I feel emotionally and what I know mentally,” he said. “The damage that I’m doing to my body is nowhere near the devastation that entire cultures and generations have faced because of the nuclear weapons complex.”

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Janine Carmona sits on a bench in the Baytree Bookstore; she has not eaten anything in eight days and she refuses to walk. She is a third-year student, and she still goes to class even though she has trouble concentrating because her caloric intake hovers between zero and two hundred calories per day.

“It takes calories to make you pay attention,” she said.

Carmona is one of the hunger strikers who have been camping in front of the Baytree Bookstore. Carmona, a petite activist, has been having trouble with the hungerstrike. She was not eating solid food, but had to drink juice because her body could not handle the lack of nutrition.

She sits on a bench, Joe’s Pizza and Subs still open. The smell of pizza came on the wind. She said that fasting gave her a unique look into American culture.

“Food is really kind of ingrained in our culture, and you notice it more,” she said. “Food. All the time. People eating. Everywhere.”

Mark Valen, another hunger striker, sat down next to her and held her hand.

She said that fasting was a personal and nonviolent way to respond to what was happening.

“It’s a tactic that we haven’t used before,” she said.

She spoke about the enormously destructive power of nuclear weapons and how they destroyed communities by creating uranium mines, testing sites, and taking money from other programs.

“We’re not doing this because it’s easy,” she said. “It’s been really rough.”