Arts Desk

Rockville Filmmaker Goes on Hunger Strike Outside White House


"I fantasize about lasagna a lot," says the Rockville filmmaker Chris Flaherty. Flaherty will have to wait at least a few more hours before his big meal, though.

Flaherty has been on a five-day hunger strike in Lafayette Park in support of Ethiopian political prisoner Birtukan Mideksa. At 6 p.m. today, he's calling it quits. "I'm feeling really dizzy," he says.

Flaherty is staging the demonstration across from the White House to pressure President Barack Obama to issue a statement on behalf of Mideksa, an imprisoned politician from an Ethiopian opposition party. "I just want to push him just to give that statement," Flaherty says.

Flaherty directed Migration of Beauty, a documentary about the controversial 2005 elections in Ethiopia and the reaction of Ethiopian émigrés, including some in Washington, to it. Flaherty's documentary follows Ethiopians in America who are forced by the election and related protests to become involved in American politics. "My movie is about what you can accomplish when you get involved in the system," Flaherty says. Migration of Beauty airs tonight on the Africa Channel at 8.

One Ethiopian joined Flaherty in the hunger strike for a few days, while others have been bringing him water.


But staying hydrated hasn't made sleeping in the park any easier. Flaherty says Park Police have rousted him while he's tried to sleep, insisting that he sit up on the benches. And there's not much to do in the park, this many days in. "It does get rather boring, to be quite honest," Flaherty says.

But when Arts Desk spoke to Flaherty Thursday night, his biggest obstacle seemed to have been finding a bathroom. Until then, he had been walking to hotels or a nearby emergency room. On Thursday, though, he realized he might soon be too weak to walk anywhere. "We didn't put a lot of thought to this," Flaherty says.

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  • Manor

    That poor starving man with the beer gut...

  • Beth

    I still don’t understand why pre Obama distance himself from making comments on behalf of Birtukan Medeska while he see people on hunger strike for four days including an American citizen Chris Flaherty. It doesn’t matter what kind of comment, he can still send a message through his spokesman if he doesn't want to come out. It is a shame. I personally hate pre Obama forever. I don’t care how many things he has on his table and I don't care what he says in the future. I am not proud of him any more. He will not receive my vote in future elections. I think his relationship with Ethiopian people was far better than dictators.

    Than you


  • Gary

    A noble thing to do. This Ethiopian lady is in jail for speaking her mind and run for election as an opposition party leader. That is a crime in a country like Ethiopia.
    The Obama administration recognize ann san suu kyi as a political prisoner why not for Ms Birtukan who already classified by Amnesty as a Prisoner of conscience?

  • Ethiosun

    A great man teaching how to make the American Dream universal!

  • Ambe

    I frequently visited Chris in the park during his hunger strike, and have gained a tremendous respect for this man. I was awed by how he stayed in good spirits and retained a sharp sense of humour in the face of the tremendous physical and mental challenge that a complete deprivation of food constitutes. It is, in turn, the unique courage of Birtukan to stand up to the Ethiopian dictator which inspired him to subject himself to this hardship. I felt that he wishes that Ethiopians abroad take advantage of the freedoms of their adopted countries to organise and stand up for Birtukan, and get active for the cause of democracy in Ethiopia.

  • Chris

    It is unfortunate that reporter Will Sommer failed to grasp the gravity of the situation. While interviewing me, I got the impression that Will was unfimiliar with all the intircate details surronding the issues at hand. Perhaps he was unconfident in his ability to deliver what was truly important about the story. Instead, he chose to belittle a major news item by writing a piece that appears intent on delivering comic relief.
    Considering that the Washington DC Metro area is home to the highest concentration of Ethiopian/Americans in the U.S. I feel he missed a tremendous opportunity to deliver a a story that has immense World scope and urgency.With the Ethiopian elections rpaidly approaching, this is a major news item. I would suggest for Will to do his homework and deliver something better to City
    Papers readers.