By JOHN MAYO
Longtime White Salmon resident David Duncombe will be returning to Washington, D.C., on Sept. 1, in another effort to raise awareness of the importance of canceling the debts of Third World countries. He will begin another long fasting period on the same day.
Rev. Duncombe, 79, will will spend his days visiting with Senators, Representatives, and their staffs -- and slowly starving himself while doing so.
Readers of The Enterprise will recognize Duncombe's name from his many letters to the editor regarding issues of peace and justice.
This will not be Duncombe's first foray into fasting or lobbying Congress. In 1999 and 2000, he fasted for 45 and 50 days respectively, and walked the halls of Congress speaking with Senators and Representatives about the horrific effects of debt service on developing nations. Duncombe's efforts during this time were partly responsible for the passage of a bill that eliminated $435 million in Third World debt. The bill later was signed into law.
Duncombe has been working on hunger issues specifically since his retirement as a chaplain. Along with his work for the local food bank, he has been sponsored in his efforts by Bread for the World, and later the Jubilee USA Network movement to eliminate the debilitating global debt of impoverished nations.
The Jubilee network information shows the crippling effect of debt on developing nations often has a direct effect on the populations of those countries. Developing and Third World nations often have little choice other than to take on tremendous debt loads in order to receive funds to help in development. These debt payments go to wealthy nations and global institutions, often at the expense of providing basic services to their citizens.
According to the Jubilee Network, for every dollar of aid African nations receive, they pay $2.30 in debt service. Recently, debt cancellation allowed Zambia to hire 4,500 more teachers and eliminate fees for rural health care. Many African nations, racked with an AIDS epidemic, still spend far more on excessive debt service than they do on health and education.
Duncombe finds fasting to be very effective in several ways.
"There are two reasons why I am fasting," explained Duncombe. "The first is personal and based on my religious faith. God has given us a world of great abundance to share with one another and we have not shared. I have lost my desire to eat when others cannot."
The second reason Duncombe gives is his ability to help the members of Congress to see the face of hunger.
"I am, in my starvation, representing millions of faceless, voiceless, and powerless people, thousands of whom are dying each day. I am no statistic hobbling in to their offices. I can not be dismissed and forgotten as a meaningless number. I am a person and will remain a person to whomever tries to put me out of their mind or memory."
Duncombe was born in 1928 in New England. He served in the U.S. Army's mountain infantry division during World War II and remained on active duty during the Korean War.
After leaving the military, he earned an undergraduate degree from Dartmouth and eventually a Ph.D. from Yale Divinity School.
For most of his career, Duncombe has been involved with civil rights and justice issues. In 1965, Duncombe was asked to lead the security detail for Martin Luther King's historic march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala.
When Duncombe leaves the Columbia River Gorge for Congress on Sept. 1, it will be the 20th anniversary of his first fast. That 40-day fast was part of a protest action against the Concord Naval Weapons Station, the origin of many of the munitions sent to support the Contras in Nicaragua. The protest at the Concord Naval Weapons station became the longest continuous protest in the history of our country. Duncombe was almost killed when a munitions train ran through the protesters. David was able to jump out of the way, but a fellow protester was run over and lost both legs.
Duncombe has no illusions of the risks of fasting, especially at this point in his life.
"It has to be risky," he said, "in order for a political action like this to work, people must know that you are serious and that you are risking something very precious."
The specific bill in the House that Duncombe will be lobbying for is HR 2634. In short, it is geared "to provide for greater responsibility in lending and expanded cancellation of debts owed to the United States and the international financial institutions by low-income countries."
Duncombe sees little chances of it passing this year due to procedural issues, but will go ahead with the fast to keep the issue alive and in front of decision-makers.
How long will he fast this time? Duncombe said his fast will be open-ended, but when he can longer find the strength to call on members of Congress in their offices, then he will know it is time to quit.
The Capitol Hill complex is very large and most days Duncombe expects to walk six or seven miles a day.
Duncombe is not alone in this fast. He reports that 20,000-30,000 other people have signed up to take part in a rolling fast while he is Washington. They will fast for a day or two to show support for the Jubilee movement.
Those wishing to sign up to particiapte in this "rolling fast" can do so at www.canceldebtfast.org.
Members of Duncombe's home church, Bethel Congregational United Church of Christ in White Salmon will partake in fasting with him and accompany him on some of his rounds. The White Salmon church will also hold a time of prayer and support for David, others fasting, and those who suffer around the world from poverty generated by the international debt crisis. This will occur on Sept. 8, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. There is no "service" being planned -- just time for music, silence, and prayer.
For more information on Jubilee and debt relief, go to: www.jubileeusa.org, or call Bethel UCC at 493-1747.