OLYMPIA — Lanni Johnson is a 71-year-old woman who has been sitting in front of the Capitol Building in Olympia for the past 10 days on a hunger strike.
Johnson said Tuesday that the government is taking too long to solve the problem of declining food supply for the Southern Resident orcas.
“I’m here because I believe that while we twiddle our fingers and push a lot of paper around and have many, many meetings, we are going to watch the Southern Resident orca go extinct,” Johnson said.
She sits outside from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day with a sign that reads, “Solidarity with starving Southern Resident Orcas. Breach the Dams! Now!”
Johnson and fellow supporters plan to host a larger event on the steps of the Capitol in Olympia on Friday, where they will have “ghost fins” representing the 53 orcas that have died since 2005.
Johnson cited scientists who have said the Southern Resident orcas need an increase in food supply over the next four years or they will die off.
“I mean the things that the orca task force wants to do, they’re very important, and they’re very good, and we need to do them all, but they’ll be too late,”Johnson said.
Johnson plans to continue her strike for the next seven days, bringing the total up to 17 days, which is the same amount of time that Tahlequah carried her dead calf in July 2018.
“I don’t know how much she was able to eat while she had that baby on her nose,” Johnson said. “So I thought if she could do that, then I could do this.”
The calf was the first to be born alive since 2015 and lived for less than an hour. National media outlets picked up the story and followed Tahlequah as she carried her calf around the Puget Sound region.
With all of this attention on the Southern Resident orcas, the Washington state Legislature created an orca task force in March 2018.
Johnson is tired of being ignored, which she said is one of the reasons she decided to start her hunger strike.
“Maybe if I could manifest hunger where people could see it and appreciate what it does to a person,” Johnson said.
“I mean we’re all mammals right? They’re experiencing what I’m experiencing. Right now I’m very weak.”
After not eating for nine days, Johnson was feeling weak and having trouble remembering what she was doing or why she went somewhere. Johnson did consult her doctor before beginning her protest.
This is the first major thing that Johnson has done when it comes to political activism.
“I was so motivated to do this. Once I got the idea it wasn’t anything that I could ignore anymore, I thought about it for months actually,” Johnson said. “I went to my doctor and I thought about what it meant to take 17 days out of my life, I mean I can’t do anything else.”
Johnson has been so focused on this event that she has yet to consider her next steps.
Johnson has lived in Snohomish for almost 40 years and has three sons. Before she retired, Johnson was a technical troubleshooter for a tech company.
For more information on the state task force, see tinyurl.com/PDN-orcarecovery.
This story is part of a series of news reports from the Washington State Legislature provided through a reporting internship sponsored by the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association Foundation.