UM student on weeklong fast in solidarity with Climate Strike youth

Michael Desrosier

Characterizing his individual action as an extended fast rather than a full-on hunger strike, University of Montana environmental ethics student Michael Desrosier said he prefers to ride under the radar.

“Honestly, I don’t really want to make it about me,” said Desrosier, 28. “I want to stay fairly low key about it. It’s really about the youth and the threatened and endangered species.”

Desrosier, or “MJ” as his friends call him, started his one-man, scaled-down hunger strike last Friday, when slews of Missoula youth spent their school day at three local Climate Strike rallies.

“I’m having a tough time calling it a hunger strike,” Desrosier said Monday, after nearly three full days without food. “It’s more like a fast … to support and stand in solidarity with the young people and the Climate Strike.” 

Youthful inspiration easily comes from 16-year-old Greta Thunberg, a pro-science activist who inspired millions to march worldwide on behalf of climate change and to give the powers-that-be a piece of their collective mind.

Derosier attended a faculty-led climate change panel at UM on Monday, but he’s saving his strength as his hunger strike week continues. 

“I’m trying to be as immobile as possible, so I don’t burn as many calories,” he said.  

Desrosier is not high profile or a public speaker, but his activist background seems to fit perfectly with his major, philosophy, plus a minor in environmental students – with an ethics emphasis.

He will graduate next spring. In the meantime, he’s doing whatever he can to reduce his carbon footprint by spending much of the week at home between classes and conserving his energy. 

“I was discussing with my friends where to possibly do (the hunger strike), but for the sake of simplicity, I just decided to do it from home,” he said. “By doing the fast in the first place, I wanted to do it someplace completely off the grid. But there’s still some of that.”

Specifically, his goal is to spread the word – via his low-key protest – about the following strike demands around which he and youth organizers across the world have united: 

  • A Green New Deal that immediately halts all new fossil fuel projects and transitions the U.S. economy to 100 percent renewable energy by 2030.
  • Respect of indigenous lands and sovereignty. The U.S. government must halt all resource extraction on or affecting indigenous lands and recognize the Rights of Nature into law.
  • Environmental justice for communities on the frontlines of poverty and pollution, and sanctuary for all migrants.
  • Protect and restore 50 percent of the world’s lands and oceans; stop all deforestation by 2030.
  • Invest in sustainable agriculture, not agribusiness.

A sustainable future is what his work is all about, said DeRosier.

“I think it is important in times like these to ask ourselves what is most important, and what we’re willing to sacrifice and build for a more sustainable future,” he said. “I’m simply making a small sacrifice to stand in solidarity with the youth who started this movement, as they have the most stake in the future, along with all the threatened and endangered species of the world. In no way am I trying to lead or co-opt any movement, I just wish to see the demands of the U.S. climate strike honored.” 

Friends like Caitlin Piserchia can attest for his seriousness in carrying out the extended fast, as she wrote and disseminated a press release announcing his plan. 

“MJ is kind, strong, and deeply committed to working for environmental justice, climate justice, and respect for indigenous land and sovereignty,” said Piserchia, a Missoula climate activist and 2015 UM environmental studies graduate.

Together, they worked on a fossil fuel divestment campaign in recent years. 

“I really admire his courage, willpower and willingness to sacrifice in order to give these issues a louder voice,” she added. 

While a public fast is seemingly not Desrosier’s style, but his commitment to very public sustainability causes is evident.

Previously, he participated in other environmental causes, including knocking on doors – to dredge up support for saving the Badger Creek Two Medicine area from the Trump administration and big oil development. He canvassed across the state for Montana Public Interest Research Group (MontPIRG) and was previously the group’s treasurer. 

He and MontPIRG protested in an “ongoing effort to save the Smith River in central Montana from Tintina copper mining making headway in the pristine blue ribbon fly-fishing river. 

“We collected tens of thousands of comments against the mine, gave testimony at the Helena City Council and the Missoula City Council,” he said. 

Desrosier attended the Standing Rock Reservation protests in North Dakota over the winter of 2016 with family and friends fighting against the Keystone XL pipeline construction. 

“I went there twice, maybe for a little less than two weeks,” he said. “I want to give credit to people who were literally there Day One ‘til the end and acknowledge the youth and women who started that movement,” he said. “There were some very prominent organizers: LaDonna Brave Bull Allard of Standing Rock and Tara Houska of Minnesota.”

Brave Bull Allard is a Lakota historian and activist. Houska is an Ojibwe attorney and environmental and indigenous rights advocate in Duluth, Minn. 

As organizers, Piserchia and Derosier take their activism seriously in the wake of government- and industry-led pushback on the scientific proof that climate change is happening, affecting the world’s temperature and weather patterns. 

A New Jersey native who has lived in Missoula for six years, Piserchia said Desrosier is a role model. 

“His fast is a creative way to express how seriously we should all take the issues at the heart of the global climate strike,” she said. “I hope it will inspire others to dig more deeply within themselves for the courage and willpower we need to confront the situation we’re in. If everyone took these issues to heart the way he does, we could change everything that needs to change.”

A small-scale organic farmer, Desrosier plans to return to his home, the Blackfeet Reservation in Browning, after graduation – possibly to work on food sovereignty issues – or whatever need presents itself. 

He does not plan to go into politics, but his mind is made up.

“Any time we leave the rez, it’s always to go back and help people,” he said. “I have no idea how that looks at the moment, but that’s my end game.” 

Student strikers will continue to strike until Friday, plus they will strike one Friday a month afterward. Many UM students are participating in a week of climate teach-ins and alternative classes on campus this week.