May 24, 2013 – Thirty three years of Food Not Bombs taking action to end hunger, poverty and war.

Several thousand determined anti-nuclear activists made our second attempt to occupy the construction site of the Seabrook Nuclear Power Station in the marshes on the coast of New Hampshire on May 24, 1980. Surprising considering how brutal the authorities had been when we tried to take down the chain link fences and take the site the October before. A young law student Brian Feigenbaum was arrested on charges of assault of a police officer. As a designated media spokesperson he gave an interview where he was identified on TV, radio and news papers possibly the cause of his being targeted .

The context for mass actions in 1980 has largely been erased by corporate media and government leaders. Concern for the dangers of a nuclear crisis were growing. The Three Mile Island Nuclear station started to melt down on March 28, 1979. Ronald Reagan was running for president against President Carter,  John Anderson, Barry Commoner, the first openly gay candidate David McReynolds, Vermin Supreme  and a host of others. Students were holding 52 Americans, mostly intelligence officers at the U.S. Embassy in Iran. Every daily paper noted the number of days they had been held on its masthead. The torture and murders by America’s dictator Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was of coarse never mentioned. Just one month before the May 24th action at Seabrook thousands of protesters blocked north side of the Pentagon in a protest against America’s drive to expand its nuclear arsenal. I remember waking to news that eight members of the  Delta Force died during an attempt to rescue the hostages. We marched on the Pentagon that afternoon where I was arrested with my partner and hundreds of others. The United Sates had deployed Pershing nuclear missiles on trucks that drove through the streets of Europe. The Neutron Bomb, a nuclear weapon that killed with radiation while leaving buildings unharmed was also being deployed.

While the media was distracted with the presidential election and the hostage crisis the United States was waging several wars in Central America deploying death squads in El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and a Contra Army in Nicaragua. I helped organize a teach-in at a college on the Fenway. Not long after the teach-in we learned that Maura Clarke, Jean Donovan, Ita Ford and Dorothy Kazel were abducted, raped and shot to death on the night of December 2, 1980 as they left the San Salvador Airport on their way home. I had taken them to Logan Airport on their journey to their brutal death.  The U.S. killed over 80,000 El Salvadorians in a war forgotten by most Americans. I participated in the occupation of the Federal Building in Boston where 500 people took over the lobby refusing to leave. It was one of the first times we delivered food to protesters risking arrest and arrested they were once the building was closed for the evening. President Carter spoke of a need to develop sustainable energy heating the White House with solar hot water but at the same time his administration was secretly waging wars all over the world, increasing the U.S. nuclear arsenal and implementing registration for a military draft among many other policies that could be considered war crimes. Yet he would turn out to be much better than the B-actor Reagan that followed.

As we prepared for the May 24th occupation attempt the Coalition for Direct Action at Seabrook organized “Free State” a camp along the shoulders of US route one. We surrounded the 35 acre construction  site many of us duct tapes foam around our limbs and torso and wore bike helmets knowing that the National Guard and Sate Police would be brutal and they were. Tear gas was dumped on us from helicopters, water cannons sprayed us with rock salt and pepper spray. The local dinner had to be evacuated because of the heavy fog of tear gas.

That afternoon the police waded into a crowd of protesters resting outside the main gate and arrested media spokes person Brian Feigenbaum on charges of assault of a police officer claiming he threw a gaff hook at a State Trooper. Jo Swanson was sitting with him when he was arrested so she started to mobilize her friends to help. Before long  Susan Eaton, C.T. Lawrence Butler, Mira Brown and myself had formed a defense committee.

Once we freed Brian it was time to raise money for his defense fund. He was in his last year at Boston University School of Law. A conviction would end his career so we started to bake cookies, muffins and brownies which we sold outside the law school, the student union and outside subway stations at Park Street and Harvard Square. We started a moving business called Smooth Move helping people take their belongs from one apartment to another for a small fee. One customer was discarding a copy of a popular poster that said “It will be a great day when our schools have all the money they need, and our air force has to have a bake-sale to buy a bomber. ”

This gave us the idea to buy some military uniforms from the surplus store in Central Square Cambridge. The next day we dressed as air force generals took our bake goods to Harvard Square with our poster and told people we were holding a bake sale to buy a bomber. It was amazing. While we didn’t really raise much more money we found that people were much more interested in talking with us about our desire to end nuclear power and the arms race.

While we were busy moving furniture, selling bake goods and organizing against war we made a number of trips up to New Hampshire to support Brian at his court appearances. The time came for the arresting officer to identify the assailant. One of us sat next to Brian’s mother while Brian sat in the back of the court room with his reading glasses writing in a legal pad. Sure enough the officer couldn’t figure out which one of the bearded long hairs was Brian so the charges were dropped.

Along with all the other projects I was doing I had a job trimming produce at Bread and Circus Natural Grocery near Central Square. They were one of the first commercial organic grocery stores in the states. I had been a volunteer at the Boston Food Coop so they hired me. It was sad seeing that people didn’t understand the value of organic produce so they would leave it in the bins. I started to take the discarded produce to the projects on Portland Street. The families living in public housing were so happy to see me arrive and before long we became friends. One day as we sat on the steps of one of the brick buildings we started to talk about the new glass structure towering over their homes. We could see people sitting at desks and they most likely were able to look down on us. One of the residence told me that they were designing nuclear bombs. One day I visited the lobby of the glass tower. It was called Draper Lavatories and they designed the guidance system for intercontinental nuclear missiles, very important work at the time with the nuclear threat building. The new missiles could carry multiple war heads, 200 to a missile each with the nuclear power enough to take out millions of people with each bomb.  The people designing systems for war were housed much better than the local families living across the street in the shadow of Draper Labs so we started to call our project Food Not Bombs.

That November Ronald Reagan won the presidential election claiming he would divert funding from education, healthcare and other social programs to fund Star Wars and other military programs. As soon as we learned he had won the election we rushed outside and spray painted slogans against Reagan all over Cambridge and Boston. It seemed that he would launch a nuclear war as soon as he came to power. After hours of writing on every bank and transnational corporation we could the sun rose and we found ourselves at a diner on Massachusetts Avenue too tired to spray another wall. Breakfast gave us some perspective. We realized we needed to have a plan that we could survive and would also be effective. Our Food Not Bombs project might just be the best idea. We were already having some impact with the bake sales and we were building relationships with people at the projects.

We knew regain was a friend of big banks and we had begin to investigate the Bank of Boston and learned that they were investing in nuclear power and nuclear war. Its board of directors sat on the boards of the Public Service Company of New Hampshire that was building Seabrook Nuclear Power Station. they also sat on the boards of the companies building the power station and companies building nuclear bombs while at the same time they were refusing to invest in the south End of Boston, Roxbury and other poor neighborhoods. We learned that the Bank of Boston would be holding its annual stockholders meeting at South Station on March 26, 1981.

I designed a brochure based on information collected by my friends to show that there were inter connections between the board members of the Bank of Boston and the other corporations involved in every aspect of the nuclear industry. We decided to organize a street theater acton outside the stock holders meeting dressing as hobos, preparing a huge pot of soup and setting up a sup kitchen at South Station. Our message would be that the policies of the Bank of Boston could lead to a  time like the Great Depression if they continued. If we failed to stop the bankers and Reagan we would see a return to soup kitchens. While we were cooking the soup we realized we might not have many people at the event and our huge pot of wonderful organic food might go to waste.

The idea arose that we could speak to the men at the Pine Street Inn on the South End. While there were very few homeless in America in the early 1980’s there would be at least some people who might want our soup at the inn. I drove across town and spoke with the management. Even though it was midnight they thought the men would be happy to have a change in their routine and let me talk to the 30 or so people sleeping on benches and cots. I gave a speech about the need to protest the Bank of Boston and explained that we would be bringing food. The less sleepy residence applauded our efforts agreeing that the would love to attend a protest, something they hand’t done since the Vietnam War days.

The next day we set up on the sidewalk outside the Federal Reserve Bank dressed as hobos and before long the guys we spoke with at the Pine Street Inn arrived. Soon after we started sharing the soup and literature stock holders passed by on their way to lunch. Some expressed disgust at our action but a few stopped to share news of bank corruption we had not even considered. Since we were across from South Station business people started to arrive. The men from the Pine Street Inn suggested we set up a soup kitchen every day since there was no place for them to eat. The business people expressed shock at our meal. Those that survived the Great Depression shared stories about the soup lines they stood in as children.

Our theatrical soup line was so inspiring we decided to quit our jobs and spend all our time collecting discarded food to deliver to people in the projects and share with the public to warn that America could see a time when people had to live on our streets and eat at soup kitchens.

I gave two weeks notice and asked if I could continue to take the surplus produce to the hungry. Before long the eight of us were collecting food from the Cambridge and Boston Food Coops, local bakeries and Hay Market. We had a regular weekly route delivering food to public housing all across the Boston area and every afternoon we set up our literature and food tables at  Harvard Square, Park Street Station and other places in Boston and Cambridge. We also provided meals at protests from New Hampshire to Washington D.C.

Thirty three years later Americans are seeking food at Food Banks and soup kitchens. Several million of us liven the streets or backs of cars. Over half of our taxes pay for the military as Congress cuts the food stamp program forcing millions to face hunger. The 2010 census sowed that one in two Americans were struggling to survive. Poverty suicide is at an all time high.

At the same time Food Not Bombs has grown from eight college aged kids busy reaching out to the public in New England to tens of thousands of activists organizing and providing much needed meals to the hungry in over 1,000 cities around the world. I just visited Food Not Bombs groups in Mexico, the Philippines and Indonesia where I learned so much. For example Food Not Bombs is taking action in over 100 communities in Indonesia working to stop mining, development and human rights abuses. The activists in the Philippines were not only providing food they held art and music classes. Volunteers in Manila were addressing the causes of climate change building bridges and organizing forums. They also organized a solidarity action occupying the National Park on Manila Bay. Over 300 people participated.

While Orlando Food Not Bombs was being arrested for sharing food at Lake Eola Park we were also helping organize the October occupation of Freedom Plaza. As the Mayor was giving into to world pressure we received emails from Ad Busters calling for everyone to Occupy Wall Street. By September 17th Food Not Bombs volunteers were helping provide food in New York and before long we were helping set up kitchens at occupations in hundreds of cities. After cooking in Chicago, New York City, Washington DC, Philadelphia, and many other cities I arrived at Occupy Boston with a van load of fruit donated by farmers in Western Massachusetts. AFter helping with breakfast I staffed a Food Not Bombs literature table. Several people arrived surprised. ” Wow so cool, we volunteer with Food Not Bombs in Johannesburg. Do you know where that is?” “South Africa?” I suggested. “Yes, South Africa!.” I pointed across the street. “Do you see that yellow fire hydrant over there?” ‘Yes” That is where Food Not Bombs shared its first meal. We organized a soup kitchen to protest the policies of the Bank of Boston saying that if they were not stopped Americans could find themselves standing in line to eat at soup kitchens.”
This mooring I received a call from Omaha Food Not Bombs asking about the legal issues related to their sharing literature and food at the protest against Monsanto on May 25th. Just as I was writing this I had a message from Kram from the Philippines that “were preparing for tommorows anti monsanto campaign.”  How fitting that Food Not Bombs would be taking acton to protect our food and resist the privatization of seeds. My local Food Not Bombs group is taking part in the Taos March Against Monsanto with puppet shows at the farmers market before marching to our weekly GMO free meal at the Taos Plaza. After words we will go over to the Food Not Bombs Free Skool to garden and sing around our campfire. Food Not Bombs activist from Tasmania, Edinburgh, Orlando, Fort Lauderdale and other parts of the world will be joining us.

Happy Birthday Food Not Bombs!
Keith McHenry






Congress: From “Starving the Beast” to Starving Real People
New budget proposals tighten belts by emptying stomachs

Senate Accepts Deal to Kick Formerly Incarcerated Off Food Benefits