New York City taxi drivers have been protesting outside City Hall for weeks, in hopes to get real debt forgiveness from the city. You may remember that we previously reported on their plight, but since Oct. 20, cabbies have ramped-up their protest efforts by going on a hunger strike. Today marks two weeks of the hunger strike and with no end in sight, Epicenter-NYC reporter Andrea Pineda-Salgado talked to Augustine Tang, a New York City taxi driver who has been on a hunger strike for more than 12 days, to learn more about what it means and why taxi drivers resorted to such desperate measures to be heard. The following has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Epicenter-NYC: Why did you choose to participate in the hunger strike?
Tang: “We knew we were not going to leave until the city does a city-back guarantee (this proposal will make lenders agree to lower all medallion loans to $145,000 in return for a guarantee from the city that it will pay for any driver who defaults on a loan.) We just shut down the bridge a week prior to starting the hunger strike and then we escalated to the hunger strike because we knew during this time there’s a budget modification. I [joined] this hunger strike because of the men and women who have sacrificed so much for this. For the people who have given so much for the city, [they paid] down payments of fifty-, one hundred-, one fifty-, two hundred thousand of their life savings to invest in the city. And their lives are just ruined, they had their retirement stolen. Now they’re about to lose their homes and their jobs. How is that fair to these guys? We’re not here trying to ask for a bail out. We’re not here asking for crumbs, either. We’re here asking for a fair resolution to all this mess that’s caused so much grief throughout the years.”
Epicenter-NYC:How are you surviving the hunger strike?
Tang: “It’s strictly water, coconut water and Gatorade. We have this electrolyte mix with water that we’ve been drinking as well, too, and that’s been helping us with some energy.”
Epicenter-NYC: How are you feeling?
Tang: “Every day is just constant headaches. The first three days were pretty tough. However, the longer you go, you don’t feel the need for food, but you want food constantly and you’re continuously fatigued. You have headaches, you have blurred vision. You can’t sleep because you’re constantly thinking about food, you can’t really get up too fast. But luckily, we’ve been seeing doctors that have been coming here and that’s been providing us assurance that, you know we’re okay, checking our vitals. They make sure everything’s fine.”
Epicenter-NYC: Do you think the hunger strike is worth all that?
Tang: “Yeah, absolutely. For many of us, this isn’t a new issue. Some have been fighting for this issue for six years. For me personally, I’ve been in it for three years, ever since one of my friends died by suicide because of this issue. And so this goes beyond myself. This is more for the 6,000 medallion owners that have been affected by this. Many of these drivers are senior drivers who have lost their retirement and they’re about to lose their homes and their jobs connected to this medallion. And the city still came out and tried to tell them that they don’t deserve a better life, even though it’s a city manufactured bubble that they created.” continue reading