Rock Star Hydrates The Yale Fasters

Christopher Peak PhotoMelissa Etheridge, who broke onto the charts with her 1988 single “Bring Me Some Water,” carried an armload of Fiji bottles onto Beinecke Plaza on Tuesday afternoon.

The famous singer-songwriter was on campus to support the Yale eight teaching fellows who declared they aren’t eating until the university agrees to negotiate a union contract. They’re just drinking water.

After handing out the drinks and hugging the seated fasters, Etheridge shared a few words of advice.

“You are being an example to people,” Etheridge told a crowd of grad students, adding that the fast will “carry on to the very heart of America.”

Etheridge was in town to play an evening show at the College Street Music Hall.

Around 2:30 p.m., word spread that Etheridge would be making a visit to “33 Wall St.,” an encampment that’s now been occupying Beinecke Plaza for seven days. Under the plastic shelter, the fasters played “Come to My Window” and other early hits to jog their memory of the Gen-X rockstar.

Etheridge’s early work might have predated some of the graduate students, but they were still enthused a Grammy-winning celebrity cared enough to stop by.

And for those familiar with Etheridge’s raspy vocals and unabashed political views, the experience was enlivening. Julia Powers, a graduate student in comparative literature, said discovering Etheridge’s “angsty sound” as a middle-schooler helped shape her worldview. “Now she’s coming to tells us that we’re cool?” Powers reacted, smiling in disbelief.

Powers added that Etheridge had genuinely connected with the fasters — something that’s not always the case with the stream of politicians, professors, students and clergy that have passed through.

“A lot of visitors come to express support and they’re really kind. But maybe there’s a part of them that still is baffled by what we’re doing,” Powers explained. “She gets it. She’s spoken up about a lot of different causes, so I felt a certain respect and understanding from her.”

Etheridge knows what it’s like to miss food (from her days on chemo) and to be outspoken. Having lived under the spotlight, as an out-of-the-closet lesbian, breast cancer survivor and vocal left-wing activist, Etheridge shared a few lessons with the fasters about how to convey their message.

She suggested that they remember (and communicate to the media) they are not the story; their efforts to unionize their fellow student-teachers is what must be centered. “All of a sudden, you are part of a whole global discussion” — about higher education, labor organizing, racial divides — “everything in America that’s being squished up on the wall of change, you are there,” she noted.

That scrutiny is akin to how Etheridge said she felt just before going onstage — bald from chemotherapy — at the 2005 Grammy Awards. “It spoke without me saying anything,” she commented. Likewise, for the teaching fellows, “In those moments, you’ve gotta go totally inside yourself. You’ve gotta stand on your beliefs. That’s it, that’s all you have,” she added.

Etheridge asked the students what their message was. To sit at the table and negotiate, one of the fasters, Charles Decker, said.

“Do they need a table?” Linda Etheridge, the singer’s wife, said. “Because we can bring a table.”

The fasters pointed out they had plenty at 33 Wall St. Instead, Etheridge vouched to hype Local 33 — UNITE HERE’s cause at her College Street Music Hall show later in the evening. She planned to dedicate “Bring Me Some Water” to them.

‘Just the Beginning’

Later on, just after dusk, union members and their sympathizers gathered in front of the university president’s house to commemorate their first week of fasting with a candlelight vigil. Throughout, the fasters sat in wheelchairs — except for one dramatic moment when they walked up the steps of a darkened 43 Hillhouse Ave. and knocked on Peter Salovey’s door.

No one answered.

As a flame made its way around the circle of supporters, Powers told the assembled that Salovey couldn’t ignore their push much longer. “We have only just begun. All the attention we have received, the power we have exerted — this is all the beginning, and I know I am excited to see where we go next,” she said.

Hazel Carby, a professor of African-American and American studies, also announced that a petition demanding Salovey immediately begin negotiations had been circulating among the faculty. Already, 50 professors representing 21 different academic departments and professional schools had signed, Carby said.

The evening ended with a somber march to Woodbridge Hall. Silently, in pairs of two, the crowd lined up in a flickering orange tail behind the eight wheelchairs. Once they arrived on Beinecke Plaza, they loudly burst into chanting: “Salovey! Negotiate!” one call-and-answer went.

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posted by: Bill Saunders on May 3, 2017  1:25am

Who called this ‘Press Opportunity’  in…......

I think if you are going to but your ‘STAR’ behind a group of people, they should be suffering some need besides ‘undo privilege’.

posted by: robn on May 3, 2017  9:57am

Lest we forget, this isn’t about what the majority of grad students want. Its about a suburban based union seeking to expand its dominant political power from the New Haven Board of Alders (which it’s already seized) to Yale University; the end game being personal enrichment for a small group of people.

BTW…Fiji Water? Really? New Haven tap water is some of the cleanest drinking water on the planet. Why are the hunger strikers drinking water thats shipped 8000 miles?

posted by: OhHum on May 3, 2017  10:27am

The cost of an undergraduate degree at Yale should dictate that the very best professors teach the classes. The understudies and drama queens should attend their classes and write their theses. YOU choose academia, an institution where you’ll be able to put in part time hours the majority of your life an earn far more than the average middle class American working 40 hours a week. Now you’d like to make more than the average middle class American, working less than part time, while you’re learning your specialty. This certainly gives definition to “undo privilege.” BTW - to the women getting her MA or PhD in comparative literature, good luck, you’ll need plenty in the 21st century.

posted by: OutofTown on May 3, 2017  10:43am

Public demonstrations are an effective way of broadcasting your message to the world, while keeping the facts muted.  People are truly moved by faces of famished college kids, but bored to death by facts and reason. 

Broadcasters only care about entertainment value, not the reasonable reality of the situation.  “If it bleeds, it leads.”  I’m entertained by rock stars, Pink Panther boat house builders, pizza delivery, etc.  Yale administrators should just wait - and send a box of chocolate donuts daily.

posted by: Noteworthy on May 3, 2017  11:58am

I’m really glad Etheridge brought the pampered Yalies Figi Water - among the most expensive water on the planet vs. the bottled tap water at a fraction of the price. Figi Water is bottled inland on Figi in the South Pacific, shipped to L.A. and then trucked across the country. Think about that carbon footprint.

posted by: LookOut on May 3, 2017  5:32pm

NHI - why glamorize this?  A bunch of spoiled - soon to be rich (maybe already rich) kids protesting something they don’t really understand (do they realize this is union gamesmanship and most grad students don’t want a union?) and drinking bottled water trucked from across the globe.  Look closely, they are not roughing it.  Many families in tough New Haven neighborhoods have worse conditions.

The sooner everyone ignores them, the sooner they’ll stop.

posted by: 1644 on May 3, 2017  9:04pm

Lookout: Not roughing it?  You realize that these “hunger strikers” only go home in the evening.  They try to spend most of the day in their pavilion, engaging in environmentally harmful habits like drinking bottled water.  Personally, I find it ridiculous that they require wheelchairs after only a few days without food.  I served with Marines who would go days without food while carrying up to 100 pounds of gear in hot weather.  This group is very soft.

posted by: Katargyna on May 3, 2017  9:17pm

Oh the humanity. Apparently these grad students don’t befriend any of the casual employees that work for years without benefits. When I went to Southern (while working for Yale) my insurance didn’t even cover my physicals. I paid for my medical expenses with my financial aid money. After many years I could no longer afford to work as a casual hire once I had a student loan to pay off. I also couldn’t afford to not have medical insurance after I was diagnosed with an illness. I have never worked somewhere more unaware of class discrimination. The bosses, like these students, wore blinders and had a “let them eat cake” kind of attitude. I was expected to have a masters in order to get an actual job that paid $24/hr and I was swamped by debt from a cheap school. Yale is a good place to work if you’re being financially supported by someone else or if you are grossly overqualified and not in debt.

posted by: TheMadcap on May 3, 2017  9:42pm

Well look at all the bitter husks that have come to roost

posted by: robn on May 4, 2017  5:42am

MADCAP,

There’s a long sordid history of Yale academics using New Haven as a Petri dish for social experimentation; most notably urban planning/subsidized housing in the 60s-70s. Labors current experiment of ripping pages out of the Koch Brothers playbook and dropping money bombs on elections and other power seeking efforts is just another one of them; albeit one packaged in a 21st century shiny wrapper. Does it really surprise you that citizens are unhappy with the disingenuous use of democratic language and signifiers by a small minority which seeks to consolidate its own power?

posted by: TheMadcap on May 4, 2017  11:14am

Robyn that was the biggest pile of word salad ever to just say you don’t care about their concerns because you consider their concerns trivial because theyre not your concerns and belittle their attempt to actually inprove their workplace/school

posted by: robn on May 4, 2017  11:40am

MADCAP,

Then let me make it a simple diagram for you.

Labor Union—>
Political Power Grab—>
Corrupt Use of Political Influence on Employer—>
Citizen Disenfranchisement

Get it?

posted by: narcan on May 4, 2017  12:40pm

Nevermind the local small businesses and providers donating their time and resources with therapy and treatments in support of the students, stop the presses! Some lady with a guitar is handing out bottled water!

posted by: Katargyna on May 4, 2017  3:08pm

The whole country is over upper class kids crying in their beer about peas in their mattresses while their fellow Americans would never dream of having that comfortable of an existence. When you live in East Rock on a part time salary with bennies you should be grateful as to surly. People should care more about the problems facing the poor than the ones facing the royalty.

posted by: wendy1 on May 5, 2017  3:38pm

Katargyna, I enjoyed your comment and agree.  Yale school or hosp. makes you jump through hoops just to get a janitor job with not great health insurance I would guess.  And the students and faculty have little idea or interest in ghetto life here—-a big disconnect.  I was in the same boat for awhile, oblivious, and I am ashamed.

1644, thank you for your service and I’m sorry you suffered.  And yes, our kids are soft.  So am I.  I worry about these millennials surviving 2030 or even 2020.  I recommend self defense and outdoor survival training.  My husband, a marine, served on an aircraft carrier, guarding an admiral.  I couldn’t even pitch a tent without help.  I support the kids because they NEED a union.  Anyone working for Yale needs a union.

posted by: eastcoastnewspaper on May 8, 2017  8:30am

Yale University is comprised of one of the least economically diverse student bodies in the country. It is embarrassing that these students feel like they need to draw attention to their “plight” while the rest of CT suffers from low wages and increasing economic stratification. Shame on them.

For context, visit https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/projects/college-mobility/yale-university

posted by: Katargyna on May 8, 2017  6:35pm

Wow east coast newspaper That was a great link.

posted by: just my view on May 9, 2017  1:07pm

Update? Are they still fasting - haven’t seen much coverage since last week (apologize if I missed it)