In June of 2009, the Philadelphia Inquirer ran a front page article* about a man who calls himself “Start Loving.” The article detailed the path of Jay McGinley, a former business executive who left “conventional life” to dedicate himself to social activism. Over the years, he has participated in various protests and hunger strikes in Chester, Pennsylvania and Washington DC. In 2007, he held a hunger strike outside the Sudanese Embassy to call attention to the genocide in Darfur. In January, 2009, Start joined the peace vigil that has been held continuously for the past twenty-eight years in Lafayette Park, across the street from the White House. He has become one of Washington DC’s most well-known activists.
As I read the article written by Konstanze Walther, one line stood out in my mind.
“To spend a day with McGinley — bearded, tattooed, impoverished, estranged from his family — is to walk a fine line between what some call sainthood and others madness.”
Over the following days, that line continued to resonate until I finally decided I’d like to meet Start myself. After an email exchange, we agreed that I would visit him early one morning during his vigil. After spending the night at my sister’s DC apartment, I woke early to the sounds of a tremendous rainstorm. With umbrella in hand, I hopped the bus to Lafayette Park, and then walked through the downpour towards the encampment. Two policemen were guarding the gates to the White House. The make-shift tent was constructed of two-by-fours and covered with sheets of plastic. I poked my head inside the makeshift tent and found the graceful eyes of Start staring back at me.
Start invited me in and we sat for the next hour and a half talking about his life journey. He discussed his college years studying philosophy, his years as a marketing executive, and how over time, he came to believe his true happiness could only come from serving humanity. Ever fifteen minutes or so, the plastic sheeting would sag under the weight of the pooled rainwater, and Start would push up on the plastic so the water would run off the sides. As we talked, it was clear that Start had extensively studied the teachings of Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr, and Jesus. These were his heroes. At the end of our discussion, I asked Start if I could return and interview him on video, and he agreed.
In September, 2009, I returned to Washington with Debbie Roseto and Bob Loncaric and we recorded much of the interview that is now the documentary. I returned a month later and interviewed Start again. Throughout the process, Start has shown us nothing but universal love. He is always in the present moment. At one point, when we offered to buy him coffee he politely declined and explained his reasons for not wanting us to spend $3 on him when the money could be feeding those in need. He joyfully lives a life of voluntary simplicity, and each morning, he can be found holding vigil across from the White House.
*The Philadelphia Inquirer article is no longer available online, but Konstanze’s article was also run by The Times and can be found here.
If you have any questions or would like to order a copy on DVD, please email Jim Breslin at firstname.lastname@example.org.