Food Not Bombs has participated in hundreds of events over the years, and each one was unique. We do not have space in this book to tell every story; therefore, we have identified one peak event from three "eras" in our history: The Food Not Bombs Free Concert for Disarmament on May 2, 1982, from The Cambridge Collective Era (1981-1982); the first American Peace Test (APT) Nevada Test Site Action on March 10 to 17, 1988, from The Affinity Group Era (1984 to 1988); and, the Labor Day arrests of Food Not Bombs-San Francisco in Golden Gate Park on September 5, 1988, from The National Organizing Era (1988 to 1991). During the first few years, we were a collective with a totally shared economy, living and working cooperatively in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Later, we evolved into affinity groups of like-minded activists who lived close to each other and did the day-to-day Food Not Bombs work. Still later, we became a loose network of autonomous organizations all across the country. The following is a recollection of events which took place during each of these era.
On the day we had planned to hold the Free Concert for Disarmament, we got up extra early. As we had every morning for the last year, two members of the collective would leave the house with our four dog friends who also lived with us and pile into our '67 Dodge van. The first stop was always the bakery in Harvard Square. The manager there insisted we arrive at their door no earlier than 7:30 am and no later than 7:35 am, exactly. If we were even a few minutes late, the manager would have already put the left-over muffins and bread into the trash compactor. During our first year, we only missed five days, and three of those had major snow storms. As we were driving, we began to reminisce about the first time we collected food for our first action, the soup line at the First National Bank of Boston stockholders' meeting, outside the Federal Reserve Bank in March 1981.
As nuclear-power protesters, we wanted to do street theater that would remind people of a 1930s-style soup kitchen, to highlight the waste of valuable resources on capital-intensive projects such as nuclear power while many people in this country went hungry and homeless. At first, we thought we would have actors play the homeless, but then we realized we could get people who actually were homeless to participate and make an invitation we could distribute at Pine Street and other shelters. We collected day-old bread from a bakery and some fruit and vegetables from the local co-op on the morning of the stockholders' meeting and cooked a huge pot of soup. We set up a table at the Federal Reserve Building, and to our surprise, over one hundred people showed up for a meal. This action was sponsored by a task force of the Clamshell Alliance to highlight how the directors of the bank, the nuclear utilities, and the building contractors were all interlocked, that is, they were all the same people. We weren't sure that we wouldn't be arrested, but we did it anyway. It was a tremendous success. Even some sympathetic stockholders stopped by and donated a dollar or two.
Our second street theater action was on August 20, 1981, outside a weapons bazaar at Boston University. The night before, we spray-painted the outline of ≥dead≤ bodies on the ground, stenciled mushroom clouds with the word ≥Today?≤ and wheat-pasted ≥War is Murder for Profit≤ posters along the route that the weapons buyers and sellers would take from their hotel to the conference hall. The day of the bazaar, we distributed free food and flyers protesting this profiteering from weapons of mass destruction. This literature also had the mushroom-cloud stenciled on it, and we held signs that were also stenciled. Samuel Day of The Progressive wrote a great article about the contrast between the free meal outside and the ninety-dollar lunch he had with a general; he also mentioned that the general made sure that he didn't step on the spray-painted bodies.
After reminiscing and collecting the bread at the bakery in Harvard Square, we proceeded to Fresh Pond, the only park in the city of Cambridge where it was legal to allow dogs to run off the leash. Our four dog friends, Jasmine, Arrow, Sage, and Yoda, were very important members of the collective. They made sure we got up every morning to do our food collection and take them for their walk at Fresh Pond, and they also played an important role in bringing the collective together in the first place. Jasmine had a litter of puppies in the summer of 1980. Three of them were adopted by friends who, at the time, all lived in different houses in different neighborhoods; but over the next year, these friends became closer, in part because of the relationship of the dogs, and eventually all moved in together as the founding members of the Food Not Bombs collective. Hence, Jasmine and three of her puppies ended up living together. And every day, someone in the collective would go with the dogs to Fresh Pond for a walk. Sometimes everyone in the would go for these walks and we would spend the time thinking about and planning the future of the collective. It was at one such walk that one of our most elaborate plans for a series of actions was developed.
Food Not Bombs planned a series of three protest marches from Cambridge City Hall to Draper Weapons Research Lab of MIT in the summer and fall of 1981. We designed these marches to highlight how the international politics of nuclear war directly affected local politics, specifically, that the diversion of resources from human needs reduces services for the people of Cambridge. It was not a coincidence that our house was half way between City Hall and Draper Lab. The first march was on Hiroshima Day, Aug. 6. Food Not Bombs provided food and organized a speak-out in the triangle of public land at the entrance to Draper Lab. To dramatize what would happen if a one megaton nuclear weapon hit Draper Lab, we burned a copy of the Boston telephone book, pointing out that all the people in it could be vaporized in less time than it takes for it to burn. The next march was on October 10 and was called Music and March to End the Arms Race. Again, we marched from City Hall to Draper Lab, but this time General Duffy, the president of Draper Lab, met with us in advance. Other groups which had protested at Draper Lab had been arrested for stepping off the sidewalk onto Draper Lab's property, and we were requesting permission to gather and serve food right in the courtyard on that property. We assured him we would be nonviolent and had a nice talk with him about peace and nuclear weapons. He assured us that he wanted peace as well, and that nuclear weapons were necessary for peace in our modern world. As we were in apparent agreement on the need for peace, he agreed to let us protest on Draper property, and so we did, with all the employees looking out their windows at us and our banners, posters, and food table.
Before the next march, which was called the Walk For Peace, we tabled in Brattle Square in the snow to educate the Christmas shoppers about the dangers of nuclear weapons being developed right here in our town. At that time, in 1981, many people were not yet aware of the danger or that it was going on right in our backyard. We were very familiar to all the city councilors by this time, and we were able to have this walk co-sponsored by Cambridge City Council. On December 20, 1981, it was only 4 degrees outside, but we marched from Cambridge Commons and past City Hall to Draper Lab anyway. To our amazement, 75 people showed up to march. We made a huge white dove out of bed sheets and sticks which took several people to carry. This Peace Dove lead the way.
Our walk around Fresh Pond was on the day of the free concert was invigorating, as usual, and we were able to review our plans for the concert later that day. From there, we drove to Bread and Circus, an organic food store, where we loaded boxes of produce and buckets of tofu set aside for us. It never ceased to amaze us how much food we were able to recover. We had a network of several neighborhood grocery stores which we would visit, and while we were making the rounds, we got to talking about how this collection network had grown and how that allowed us to feed large numbers of people for very little money. This got us to thinking about the first very large event we fed.
The day before Halloween, October 30, 1981 Vice president George Bush was speaking to the stockholders of MIT. We made our first Food Not Bombs banner for this action, and we set up our food table. There were the usual speeches, and the crowd was several thousand people in costume. After the speeches, we marched onto Massachusetts Ave. and stood outside the building where Bush was speaking. We chanted and beat on drums; we were so loud he had to cut his talk short. We brought a puppet of Bush, which we burned in effigy, and someone burned an American flag. Soon, the wooden police barricades became a bonfire in the center of the road, and people continued drumming, dancing, and chanting until after Bush had gone.
We unloaded the produce and bread at the Food Not Bombs house and started washing what we needed to cook. About six people were already cutting vegetables and stirring large pots of soup, and we had a whole crew just preparing food while another crew was assembling the stage and the sound system at the park. The Land of the Younger Self was also being created. This was a make believe land for everyone who wanted to play like a child for the day. It had a bubble-making, face-painting, and a creative play area. Vendors with crystals, scarves, and tie-dye clothes also displayed their wares. The food soon arrived and was placed with the literature table next to the stage; when the music started, people gathered from all over the neighborhood. Everyone came.
The concert started with Dawna Hammers Graham performing on stage and an exhibition of martial arts happening on the far side of the park. People of every size, shape, and color came to the call of the music. As the reggae band One People rocked, people danced and had a great time. Lost Time Inity, Anni Loui and Company, and Jane Albert all performed. By the time the Art of Black Dance and Music was to perform at the end of the day, it had become cloudy and started to rain, but, it was still a tremendous success for all involved: a peaceful concert at which thousands of neighbors danced and had fun, with plenty to eat, all for free from Food Not Bombs.
In the days following this concert, our organizing was focused towards building momentum for a giant disarmament rally on June 12, 1982, in New York City's Central Park. On May 12, we served food on the Rainbow Warrior at a press conference related to this upcoming event. (This was the same Rainbow Warrior that the French government bombed and sank when Greenpeace was protesting nuclear testing in the South Seas.) Much of the food for the New Englanders For Peace Rally in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, on May 16th was shipped by Rainbow Warrior and, at this rally, outside the fence at Pease Air Force Base, we prepared and cooked food in the middle of a big field with only a hose for running water. We served an incredible number of meals, and we brought so much food that at the end of the day we were giving out bags of left-over fresh produce. During the last song, people danced holding carrots to the sun. The whole week before the June 12 International March For Nuclear Disarmament in New York, Food Not Bombs staffed tables on the Avenue of The Americas from mid-morning to 2 A.M. the next morning. We met activists from all over the world, and as everybody knows, over one million people attended that rally to protest nuclear weapons. When asked by a reporter if this large demonstration would make a difference on U.S. Policy, Alexander Haig, Secretary of Defense at the time, responded: "Let them protest all they want, as long as they pay their taxes!"
In the spring of 1988, the San Francisco Food Not Bombs which had just started, and Boston Food Not Bombs met in the dark of night under the dessert sky in Nevada. We were at an encampment called Peace Camp, and activists from all over the world were meeting here to take nonviolent direct action against the nuclear weapons testing going on across the dessert. Sponsored by the American Peace Test, this would be the the first joint action by Food Not Bombs groups from across the country.
The next morning, we loaded equipment into our truck and drove from Peace Camp to the main gate. We set up, while the Wackenhuts (a private army hired to "protect" the test site) amassed before the gate. They looked as though they wanted to arrest us any minute. However, we knew it was still early and the action had not yet begun. We prepared a breakfast of miso soup and rice and beans for the activists who would soon gather here. With the adrenaline running high, we thought back to a similar event at which Food Not Bombs had fed large numbers of activists preparing to challenge government-war making by nonviolent direct action, at the Federal Building in Boston.
In the spring of 1985, the U.S.-backed government in El Salvador was massacring civilians and the contras were terrorizing Nicaragua. Congress was preparing to vote on sending still more tax dollars to these murderers, so the Pledge of Resistance, a national organization committed to resisting U.S. military intervention in Central America, was planning actions to stop further bloodshed. Many of the volunteers in Food Not Bombs were active in the Pledge of Resistance. If Congress voted in favor of sending more aid, we planned to shut down by occupation the J.F.K. Federal Building 24 hours after that vote. Because we would only have short notice, Food Not bombs took a risk that the vote would happen on May 6, and we printed thousands of posters announcing the May 7 action. The vote did occur on May 6; the Pledge consented to the action, and our posters hit the street. We arrived the next day, with our food and literature tables, and the crowd quickly grew. Before long, over 500 people had entered the lobby of the Federal Building and thousands more were chanting and showing their anger outside in the plaza. People sat on the floor and filled every inch of the lobby. As others climbed over the protesters to get into the building, the protesters sang and spoke out against Contra aid. The police tried to convince us to leave, then threated us with arrest. However, we were solid in our resistance and refused to leave. A very powerful speak-out was held by the protesters while occupying the building. When the building was closed at 6 p.m., the police started the arrests. Outside, supporters cheered and Food Not Bombs continued feeding the people. Over 500 activists were arrested that day in one of Boston's most successful nonviolent direct actions and our food support helped make it possible for the protesters to stay at the building all day and most of the night.
After a nervous morning preparing miso soup under the intense scrutiny of the Wackenhuts, the first activists started gathering at the main gate. There was uncertainty in the air about what the Wackenhuts' reaction would be, as we were in the desert far from the public eye. Drinking hot miso, a cold, anxious affinity group huddled around our table while building up the courage to act. Busloads of workers were beginning to rush past us and through the gate into the Test Site, and we could see many more buses in the distance speeding towards us down the highway. Suddenly, an affinity group walked onto the road, and the string of busses came to a halt. The Wackenhuts ran out and started roughly grabbing and dragging the blockaders off the road, but as soon as they cleared the first affinity group, another affinity group filled the street. Before long, 30 or 40 vehicles were backed-up from the gate, up the ramp, and onto the highway Some were arrested and placed in the pen awaiting transportation to Beatty, where they would be booked and released. Others were just beaten and thrown from the roadway. But our action was making the busloads of workers late to their jobs of preparing nuclear weapons tests, a nd just like at the Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant, the cost of nuclear testing was slowly rising. The blockade continued for over an hour as many affinity groups took over the street. Later, all of us were excited about the success of the first day of our week-long action. As we cleaned and packed up our table, and headed back to Peace Camp across the highway, we reflected on the wide variety of actions Food Not Bombs had been involved in over the past few years.
The Boston Pee Party was a funny example. During the time just before the Boston Pee Party on October 29, 1986, we were confronted by a crazy array of issues. Reagan had kicked the general level of national repression to heights by demanding widespread, mandatory drug testing, using the "War on Drugs" as an excuse. One of the members of Food Not Bombs worked as a technician in a lab responsible for drug testing and knew just how unreliable those tests really were. Innocent people were losing their jobs, and the media was awash with stories about the menace of drugs and the need to cast aside civil liberties to win this "war" at any cost. It occurred to us that political activists would make an easy target for this hysteria, so we planned to respond to this repression by "flooding" the White House with urine samples. However, we dropped this idea for fear we would all end up in prison. But it was too good to be forgotten, and several weeks later we were back to planning the Boston Pee Party at the federal building. We designed a flyer announcing a "piss-in" on October 29 but because of the War on Drugs hysteria we didn't include a phone number, so that no one would get harassed. We obtained a supply of jars like the ones used in hospitals to collect urine, and our flyer had the White House address on it so people could mail their urine to Reagan from the privacy of their own home. For those who came to the Federal Building protest, we had jars and printed address labels so people could mail the samples directly from the protest. We mailed numerous jars of urine to the White House that day, although we never really knew how much urine was mailed nationally. However, Abbie Hoffman heard about our action and mentioned it in his book Steal This Urine Test. Only the White House really knows the success of our "piss-in" urine-testing protest action.
We could see our results in the Nevada desert, however. The next day, an ad hoc affinity group formed during breakfast. It was composed of members of Food Not Bombs and several others, they named themselves the Jackrabbit. This affinity group planned to escalate tactics by attempting to cross the dessert undetected and enter the town of Mercury, a city consisting entirely of technicians and scientists devoted to nuclear weapons testing, about eight miles into the test site from the main gate. At the daily Peace Camp strategy meeting the night before, the "leaders" had discouraged "back country" actions like walking across the dessert to Mercury because they felt it was too dangerous. The authorities had told them anyone caught entering Mercury would be charged with a felony and face six months in jail. We felt that if they didn't want us there, then it was exactly where we should go; besides, what were they hiding? So the Jackrabbit affinity group piled into a van and took the highway north to a pass between two prehistoric, treeless mountain ranges.
By now it was daylight and we feared we might be seen, even up in the mountains, by one of the surveillance helicopters. When the Highway Patrol was out of sight, the driver pulled off the road, and seven of us jumped out of the van, ran down a slope, and climbed under the barbed wire fence marking the boundary of the test site. We carried water, fruit, and of course, carrots, and we raced straight up the side of a steep rocky cliff. Our path wove just north of the crest of the ridge so we would be out of the Wackenhuts' sight down in the valley around the main gate. The flower and wildlife up there among the rocks were beautiful and brightly colored, and inspired moving conversations about the contrast between this beauty and the nuclear destruction occurring right at the end of this mountain range. As we walked, we would stop and place stones in the shape of peace symbols. It was so beautiful we wanted to forget that our presence on this ridge was a protest against nuclear testing and just enjoy our hiking trip, but we were rudely reminded when a surveillance helicopter flew overhead. We quickly jumped down onto a ledge behind some high rocks. The Wackenhuts in the helicopter didn't seem to see us, but we weren't too sure. We decided to head for the valley floor and get as close to Mercury as possible before we were caught. When we got to the valley floor, we found an marker for an old ground zero caped in clay. We put it in the center of a giant peace symbol made of rocks. As we made the long hike across the dessert to Mercury, it became clear we had not yet been spotted.
During the afternoon, we happened upon a building that seemed like it was supposed to represent a house just outside the blast area, and several hours later, we came to a white water tank sitting at the edge of the town of Mercury. Not far away, we could see two guys in a pickup who looked like they were hiding behind the tank and drinking beers. We were trying to decide what we should do when we got to into Mercury when several white pickup trucks sped over to where we were. Men with machine guns jumped out, surrounded us, and ordered us to lay on our stomachs. They frisked us, handcuffed us and put us in one of the vans.
As we were being transported out of Mercury, we passed by an amazing array of "Star Wars" weapons. We commented to each other about them, but were told by the guards to look straight ahead and not to look at or talk about these weapons. We all stared at the weapons anyway, and talked about how their sinister appearance was a clear reflection of the mentality of those who would think building nuclear bombs was a good idea. Just like prisoners of war, we finally were ordered out of the van and march at gun point into the "cage," a large fenced-in area of the desert divided into men's and women's sections near the main gate. It was cold and getting dark, and our food had been confiscated. Once imprisoned and without food our conversation naturally turned to protests that involved fasting.
The Veterans Fast For Life came to mind. This was one of Food Not Bombs most empowering events that we ever had the privilege to attend. Veterans all over the country planned to fast and hold rallies. In Boston, they made an encampment on the Boston Common with tents and banners, and they were highly visible and outspoken. With our biggest banner, we went to the common to support their protest against the secret U.S. wars in Central America. However, this time we didn't bring our food, because we wanted to honor the veterans who were fasting. Because we were well known by the people living on the streets around the Common by this time, they would come up to us and ask where our food was. We told they about the fast and they were shocked. They had never seen Food Not Bombs tables without food.
Back in Nevada, as we sat in the cage, our supporters outside the main gate were busy. We could see a crowd that had gathered at the main gate earlier in the day; more blockade actions across the road at the main gate had resulted in many arrests and, consequently, more people in the cage. Food Not Bombs had been there feeding the crowd all day. Now that the day was coming to an end, the supporters who remained were drumming and dancing in celebration of another successful day of protest. Suddenly, inside the cage, oranges and apples started falling from the sky. We looked across the desert to our friends outside the fence, and they were throwing food to us from this incredible distance. Then, spontaneously, a person from the crowd high-jumped over the fence and came running towards the cage. With the Wackenhuts in hot pursuit, this mysterious person ran up to the fence around the cage and climbed into our prison before the Wackenhuts could grab him. On his back was a bag of food for the us. While we ate and waited for the sheriff's department to take use to Beatty for booking, we told the story about another time the police tried to stop us from feeding people during our protests outside the World Series at Fenway Park in Kenmore Square, Boston.
The victories of the Boston Red Sox looked like they might be a big loss for the poor and homeless of Kenmore Square. The local business association was seeing dollar signs with each Red Sox win. The "bums, punks, and other undesirables" would have to be cleared from the square if business was to succeed. The business association, on the advice of the Boston Police, sent out a newsletter demanding that merchants lock their dumpsters; turn in those businesses that did not; post signs asking customers not to give money to beggars; and report all sightings of undesirables, punks, and bums to the police. They were encouraged to make notes on the time and location of each incident, and, if possible, get a photo to include with your notes to the police. In a few days, the cops were telling people to leave town or face arrest. We wrote a letter of protest to the business association, the police, and the newspapers pointing out that homeless people had the same rights as everyone else and this discrimination was leading down a dangerous road. Who would be the next victim of this kind of fascist logic? Food Not Bombs started sponsoring "welcome to Kenmore" meetings with free food in the park with the idea of introducing the business people to the homeless people who lived beneath the overpass, inside the doorways, and in the back alleys of Kenmore Square. The press came, the homeless came, but of course, the business association members did not. After several very visible demonstrations and embarrassing press coverage that exposed their illegal intentions, the business association withdrew the newsletter and quietly dropped the issue. From most reports, the only increase in robbery in Kenmore Square during this time came from the businesses that jacked up their prices to cash in on the World Series.
They did not drop the issue in Nevada. Ultimately, we were all taken to the town of Tonopah in the sheriff's buses and booked there. This was a three hour drive from the main gate, one way! With the hundreds of arrestees and hundreds more supporters arriving to retrieve them, we overran this small town out in the middle of the dessert. There were so many of us, we completely consumed all the food at one restaurant. The people working there that night could not recall ever seeing a line at the door, not even on New Years Eve, their traditional biggest night of the year. We broke the record for their busiest night ever. It was like one big party all over town for several hours, without any incidents. Finally, after everyone was released from the school gym where the booking took place and almost everyone had a hot meal or a cold drink, we managed to find rides for all and headed back to Peace Camp.
By the summer of 1988, there were Food Not Bombs groups operating in Boston, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., but, the event that actually catapulted Food Not Bombs into the national, and even international, spotlight was the Labor Day arrests in Golden Gate Park. The following stories are about the four weeks preceding Labor Day, during which time Food Not Bombs volunteers had been repeatedly arrested for feeding the homeless. By Labor Day, support had grown to the point where over 700 people came along with hundreds of homeless folk, police, and press. The event made the news all over the world.
The past several weeks had been crazy, with reporters interviewing us; city officials supposedly offering us a building to use for cooking and serving (it actually wasn't available or theirs to give away in the first place); and the press misrepresenting all of it so that we looked uncooperative and implying that we had sinister intentions. And of course, there were all the arrests to deal with. Labor Day was a Monday holiday, so we needed to cook an extra-large amount of food to serve at lunch. Each successive Monday, we had been attracting larger numbers of homeless and supporters, not to mention police, in response to all the press coverage and controversy of the previous arrests. Thinking back to how innocently we stumbled into this bizarre situation is mind numbing.
Although we had been serving free food in Golden Gate Park every Monday since May, the police stopped by our table on the first Monday in August and told us we couldn't serve food there. We told them we believed we did not need a permit to give away free food, that it was a constitutionally protected activity, but that we had written the Parks Department anyway. We told the police we had hand-delivered a letter on July 11 asking for a permit but had not yet received an answer. The cops left, but as we were loading the last boxes at the end of our day, two cops came up to us and demanded to know "What are you doing here?" and "Do you have a permit to be here?". We told them that we were just leaving. At that point, the police started giving us tickets for things we weren't even doing, like not having our seat belts on, driving with a broken tail light, and other things we couldn't even figure out. We were legally parked with the engine off, and we were getting moving violations. We knew we were in trouble. While signing the citation, the person sitting in the driver's seat was punched in the face by one of the cops for making "inappropriate" comments. The cop opened the door of our truck, pulled him out, threw him on the hood of the vehicle, and handcuffed him. A police wagon arrived, and he was taken to jail. An hour later he was released without charges.
We realized next Monday's regular lunch might be visited again by these same two cops and we felt apprehensive as we cooked our huge pots of miso soup. We loaded the truck, drove to Haight and Stanyan, and unloaded with the help of those who had come to eat, setting up along the sidewalk. A line formed, and we began serving our food. Within minutes, police vans and cops on horses started coming from every direction. Two long lines of riot police, with riot sticks and helmets, marched out of the woods and surrounded the tables and volunteers. The captain in charge ordered them to arrest the servers. Nine of us were handcuffed and lead to an awaiting police wagon, but the energy in the police van was high. Food Not Bombs could be arrested for serving free food in a public park; could this be the start of America's own "Gandhian Salt Marches."
After finishing lunch preparations on labor day, we again loaded the truck with food. We didn't want to drive directly to Golden Gate Park because we were afraid we might have all our food confiscated before we even started. We unloaded the food at different locations around Buena Vista park, a smaller park about 8 blocks down Haight Street from where we normally serve. We moved the truck out of the area so the police would be unable to tow it as a form of harassment. Musicians and speakers addressed the crowd of several hundred who had answered our call for help to protect our right to share free food with the people who needed it; and everyone was invited to help carry the boxes of food, literature, and picnic blankets (our tables had been confiscated by the police) down Haight Street to Golden Gate Park. Those who were not carrying food or equipment were encouraged to bang on pots and other noise makers as we marched. That was a popular suggestion, so off we went chanting "food not bombs, food not bombs" as we poured onto Haight Street.
The crowd, had swelled to several hundred and filled one corner of Golden Gate Park. Food Not Bombs volunteers spread out long blue tarps on the ground and set out food; but when dozens of people started serving the crowd, riot police clutching their night sticks, with the plastic visors of their helmets pulled down, moved into the park. At one point, a cop started to pound a server with his club. A Channel 5 camera operator was filming this when the supervising police lieutenant calmly walked up behind the camera operator and knocked him to the ground, cutting the operator's face on the camera. Police tried to cordon off areas by marching around the field, but the food-serving kept moving. It became impossible for the police to take control of any ground, and soon the protesters were marching behind the lines of riot police dancing and chanting in a parody of the attempt to control them. One line of protesters wove into a circle and everyone held hands and sang "Give Peace a Chance." Fifty-four servers were ultimately arrested, but little did we know this was not going to be the end of wholesale police attacks against the San Francisco Food Not Bombs.
We never would have guessed that the Mayor would want to meet with us to negotiate an end this situation, but the arrests were rapidly becoming a political embarrassment. City officials obviously had made a big mistake when they ordered the arrest of Food Not Bombs. Support was coming in from around the country, and growing. People were outraged. It was almost unimaginable that anyone in this country could be arrested for feeding the poor in a city park. The mayor, the chief of police, the city attorney, other city officials, representatives from the ACLU, and community activists met together to negotiate. Food Not Bombs' correspondence with the city showed that the police were using the Parks Department to create a problem that did not exist. There were no permits needed for this kind of activity and the city looked stupid. We decided at this meeting to meet again the next day; we also agreed not to talk to the press and that there would be no more arrests until we reached a settlement.
On the way to the second meeting, however, a Food Not Bombs negotiator was arrested for hugging a homeless Vietnam vet who was, at that moment, planning to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge because he was sick of living in the park. After 45 minutes, the police released him, and he was able to attend the meeting only because it started late. The Food Not Bombs representatives decided they were not willing to continue the negotiations because the city had proved itself untrustworthy by arresting a negotiator on his way to the meeting and by releaseding a press statement the night before that was derogatory to Food Not Bombs. We told the mayor we would continue serving free food in the park and we would leave it up to him to decide whether to order more arrests. He freaked out; he was not used to being held accountable or having his authority questioned. He needed a way out, so he offered us a six-week temporary permit. Even though it made him late to opening night at the Opera, he held a press conference to announce this "settlement" and called Food Not Bombs "pioneers in the effort to end homelessness and hunger."
In the summer of 1989, the homeless in several cities across the nation created communities for support that they called ≥tent cities.≤ Tent cities became major actions for Food Not Bombs in New York and San Francisco. These Tent Cities brought the humanity of the poor to the public eye. Mayors in both cities were in crisis because of the homeless situation, which was getting worse, and because of the violent attacks against the homeless by frustrated taxpayers. They had no solutions to poverty because they were unwilling to address fundamental failures of centralized authority. This resulted in the mayors' highlighting their own inadequate "solutions" to this dire situation. At the food tables in San Francisco, the homeless told stories about how, the night before, police came into the park, beat people, and destroyed their camps. Some were hauled off to jail. One night, the fire department came and sprayed them with water. On another night, the police drove into the park, shone floodlights on everyone, and threatened them over a loudspeaker. After three days of this, people asked us to help stop the police attacks. We moved our daily noontime food service from United Nations Plaza to City Hall. We started serving at 5 o'clock P.M. on June 28 and served hot meals 24 hours a day.
The homeless had created a Tent City across the street from City Hall in Civic Center Plaza. Tent City created hope and encouraged self-empowerment. The Mayor would threaten to send in the police, but the community would rally together. After the mayor ordered that the "residents" of the park could not use tents or sleep there at any time, there was a spontaneous march to his office where a giant Food Not Bombs banner was hung from the his balcony. On July 12, the Police Activities League moved a carnival complete with bumper cars and Ferris wheels, into Civic Center plaza. The fair was named after "Emperor Norton," San Francisco's most famous homeless person of the 1800's. When we saw the police, we feared we might be arrested to make room for the carnival, so we placed several of our buckets of soup out of sight. On Thursday July 13, at 6 o'clock P.M., the police moved in, arrested several people, and took the soup we were serving. As soon as the police left, we were back with more soup and bread, and when they walked by again, they found us serving and arrested us again. The fact that we were able to bounce right back several times was a real embarrassment, the kind of they would feel many more times in the coming years.
At noon the next day, in response to the the arrests. a large rally developed at City Hall. Food Not Bombs brought more food for lunch, and one group of people, inspired by the Tiananmen Square protests that May, came with a 15-foot tall "Goddess of Free Food", complete with a shopping cart in one hand and a carrot in the other. Again, riot police were in the wings. When the giant Food Not Bombs banner was unfurled on the steps of city hall, the people holding it were arrested. After spending the afternoon locked in a police wagon, those arrested were taken to Northern police station and were read a court order banning free food distribution. One person was then taken to Superior Court, where he got to defend himself. He called the court order "morally incomprehensible," and said: "It's going to become burdensome to taxpayers in San Francisco, because hundreds and hundreds of us will be arrested. We will in no way comply with this act of judicial terrorism". These statement would eventually become a reality. Food Not Bombs continued to exert its right to serve free food every day. Food Not Bombs continued being arrested and come right back with more food as soon as the police left.
After the arrests on Labor Day in Golden Gate Park, we all danced around what food we had saved from the police; then, those of us remaining had to get out of the area without getting arrested. We went up Haight one block, and several cops on Hondas raced up to several people about 30 feet behind us. The police smacked them to the ground with their sticks, then dragged them into the street and arrested them. We thought we might be next, so we ran up a side street and continued winding up Buena Vista hill. After we crossed the hill, we walked through back streets until we got to the Channel 4 television station. We went on the air shortly after we arrived and were asked our reason for continuing to serve free food even though we faced arrest. We explained that serving free food is everyone's right and is an unregulated activity protected by the Constitution. We then encouraged everyone to stand up for his or her rights. That brought the interview to a close.
Although the city finally issued us a health permits after these arrests, it wasn't finished trying to stop San Francisco Food Not Bombs from serving free food. We were harassed and arrested again in the summer of 1990; this pattern of harassment continues to this day. But, during all this, and partly because of it, Food Not Bombs has continued to grow and expand its program. The attention and credibility the arrests brought us were invaluable.
FOOD NOT BOMBS UPDATE
FOOD NOT BOMBS SINCE 1992
Since this book first appeared in 1992, Food Not Bombs has blossomed from groups in around 15 communities to over 175 chapters around the world. We are one of the largest all-volunteer free food distribution organizations in North America, yet we continue to be little known as we're routinely ignored by the media. During those same years, we haven't been ignored by the police. In San Francisco alone there have been over 700 more arrests since 1992 as well as numerous police beatings for "doing Food Not Bombs" or for sharing food in protest of war and poverty, and police have tried to stop chapters from sharing food in several other communities in North America and Europe. But the movement has continued to grow despite the continued repression.
In 1992, Food Not Bombs held its first international gathering in San Francisco. About 70 people attended. Food Not Bombs volunteers from Boston, Massachusetts; San Francisco, Berkeley, Long Beach, and Santa Cruz, California; Seattle, Washington and Victoria and Vancouver, British Columbia spent several days talking about their local efforts, meeting processes, and inter-group structure. Those attending the gathering also participated in protests against 500 years of conquest of the Americas by Europeans. They fed the protesters at Aquatic Park when Indian activists stopped the landing of the official Columbus Day delegation and at the anti-Columbus Day rally at Civic Center Plaza. Some activists also disrupted the Columbus Day parade on Columbus Avenue in the North Beach area.
By 1997 there had been over 1,000 arrests for sharing free vegetarian food in San Francisco. Our trucks and vans were towed dozens of times for transporting free food in violation of a court order. Many volunteers were beaten, required medical care, and faced felony charges. Women and men alike were thrown to the ground by the police, their heads ground into the pavement and arms torn and twisted. A performance artist named Paradox was choked and almost suffocated to death when police snapped his neck during his act. Robert Norse Kahn was the only Food Not Bombs volunteer convicted of sharing free food without a permit, and he spent 27 days in the county jail. These are just two of the brave, hard working people that faced arrest and police violence for volunteering with Food Not Bombs. The list of Food Not Bombs volunteers who have been beaten includes dozens of others. Keith McHenry was beaten 13 times, was held on $100,000 bail, spent over 450 days in jail, and faced life in prison because of arrests for handing out free food. He was one of the first white people to face the California Three Strikes law, which has a penalty of 25 years to life. He was hospitalized several times after being beaten by the police and had surgery to repair his face after the police clubbed him between the eyes.
The police in other communities have also attempted to stop their local Food Not Bombs groups. Food Not Bombs chapters in Whittier, San Jose, and Arcata, California; Boston, Massachusetts; Elgin, Illinois; Houston, Texas; Biloxie, Mississippi; Tampa, Florida; Salt Lake City, Utah; Washington, DC; Quebec City and Montreal, and Edmonton, Canada; Berlin and Koln, Germany; and Tokyo, Japan have also been harassed by the police. (Please forgive us if we missed any group.)
In 1995, Food Not Bombs held its second gathering. This time as many as 600 people may have attended. The gathering was held in San Francisco during the 50th anniversary celebration of the founding of the United Nations. We were arrested for sharing free food at UN Plaza near the monument to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Amnesty International and the United Nations Human Rights commission had come to our aide in San Francisco Amnesty International wrote letters to the Governor of California, the mayor of San Francisco and the District Attorney stating that if we were convicted that we would be considered prisoners of conscience and they would work for our unconditional release. The gathering had a free radio station, and there were workshops on banner making, sexism, racism, composting, cooking, consensus, future actions, puppet making and so on. This large, energetic gathering well illustrated our growth.
By 1995 there were over 100 Food Not Bombs chapters. Food Not Bombs activists helped start numerous free radio stations, info shops, community gardens and Homes Not Jails groups. We had become a worldwide social movement. By the millennium, Food Not Bombs had 175 chapters scattered around the globe.
The 20 years since Food Not Bombs began in Boston in 1980 have been difficult but rewarding–and they continue to be rewarding. We couldn"t be more excited when we learn that there is a new chapter in Poland, the Philippines, Brazil or Finland. We were overwhelmed with joy when we saw the East Bay Food Not Bombs book. It was inspiring to see the recent photo on an AOL email listing of Melbourne Food Not Bombs sharing food in Australia. Just when we thought that Dallas Food Not Bombs was history we got an e-mail detailing their distribution schedule. When Keith was helping the local group share food in front of the Brixton, England Library, two people stopped by to eat. They were from Prague, Czech Republic Food Not Bombs and were on their way to visit the Melbourne, Australia chapter. About a year later the Melbourne web site announced a benefit CD produced by both the Prague and Melbourne chapters. We could have never dreamed that our little idea would grow into a worldwide movement.
It's our hope that this new edition of Food Not Bombs will trigger the start of another 175 groups. A movement that lasts 20 years has the potential to encourage some very positive social change. This movement has such a rich foundation that its future might include actions far beyond our present activities. Because Food Not Bombs was intentionally created with few boundaries, its future is limited only by your imagination. Thousands of people have experienced the joy of sharing free food and ideas with Food Not Bombs. The first time you volunteer with Food Not Bombs will probably change your life. It certainly changed ours.
"This policy of non prosecution is very frustrating and distressing . . . there are also inherent problems if the department ceases enforcement . . . [Food Not Bombs] would no doubt, 'rub it in the face', with visible, blatant, and untimely distribution of food. It could result in a chaotic situation and set a dangerous precedent for other groups who refuse to abide by the law . . ."
- CAPTAIN DENNIS P. MARTEL
COMMANDING OFFICER - NORTHERN POLICE STATION
ON FEB. 9, 1990 IN AN OFFICIAL SAN FRANCISCO POLICE MEMORANDUM
" Many of those interviewed said the frustration and anger on all sides of the issue is likely to mount unless more money is found for services.
Without more money, they say, this fall's skirmish between police and Food Not Bombs could be just mild warnings of conflicts to come.
"If the homeless were organized, if they received some heavy leadership . . . you might have social unrest" said Harry de Ruyter, director of social services for the Salvation Army in San Francisco." You might have an uprising."
SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
OCTOBER 31, 1988
"They [Food Not Bombs] feel they can manipulate the homeless issue to set the stage for some kind of radical new social order."
MAYOR OF SAN FRANCISCO
AUGUST 26, 1988
"They [Food Not Bombs] never sell the food, but always give it away for free. Again, in over eight years, we have never had any public health related complaints or difficulties with this program. They enjoy broad- based community support. In fact, this group works cooperatively with the city in our mutual agenda of educating the public about the dangers of nuclear war and encouraging peace through nuclear disarmament."
ALFRED E. VELLUCCI
MAYOR OF CAMBRIDGE
JANUARY 20, 1989
IN A LETTER TO BEN GALE OF THE SAN FRANCISCO HEALTH DEPARTMENT (FOUND IN THE SAN FRANCISCO POLICE FILES)
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