Advocates for the poor were told to stop sharing meals with the hungry in Sacramento and Santa Monica, California, Taos, New Mexico, and Olympia, Washington, on the weekend of October 5th and 6th.
Nearly every week some one contacts me about news that local authorities are threatening to stop the sharing of food in public. This was a particularly busy time for such news. At the same time hunger is on the increase and Congress is voting to cut 39 billion dollars in food stamps. There has never been a more important time to make the struggle for food justice visible.
Some officials claim they are just enforcing food safety laws but there has not been one complaint of anyone being made ill eating with Food Not Bombs. The food is vegan and shared within three hours. Not only that the food is often organic consisting of whole grains, fresh produce and high end baked goods often the best quality meals people depending on food programs ever get. In our 33 year history sharing in over 1,000 cities without one case of reported illness related to our meals it is clear food safety is not an issue. The excuse of needing permission is also false. Every state in the U.S. recognizes that food sanitation permits are only required for people and groups that would profit from cutting corners by ignoring food safety standards. Our meals are free and a gift to anyone without restriction. Not one of us is paid and has any reason to ignore food safety standards. Sharing food and ideas is an unregulated activity protected activity. We are seeking to change society by sharing vegan meals, free literature under the banner Food Not Bombs. The attempt to require permits is based on the goal of the authorities to deny us a permit and provide a “Legitimate” excuse for stopping the sharing of food in public.
Why would officials want to drive our meals out of sight? For one they do not want pressure to divert tax money on solutions for hunger and poverty from projects wanted by the wealthiest in their communities. On a national level military contractors, bankers and other corporate leaders are concerned the public will see the hungry gathered in the streets and it will highlight the fact that we have plenty of tax dollars to provide huge profits for the 1 percent yet little is clearly being done to provide for most of those paying the taxes.
The eight of us that started Food Not Bombs were profoundly influenced by our participation in the October 6, 1979 Occupation Attempt of Seabrook Nuclear Power Station in New Hampshire. Three decades later it is clear those of us who’s lives were changed by the violent military response to our effort to stop the dangers of nuclear power were tragically correct in our concern. The October 6, 2013 edition of the Washington Post reported that “Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Sunday that Japan is open to receiving overseas help to contain widening radioactive water leaks at the crippled nuclear plant in Fukushima, with leaks and mishaps reported almost daily.“We are wide open to receive the most advanced knowledge from overseas to contain the problem,” Abe said in his English speech to open the conference on energy and environment. “My country needs your knowledge and expertise.”
The dangers of nuclear power have a more direct connection to hunger than we realized in 1979 as teargas rained down on us from helicopters and the National Guard smashed us across our heads with five foot long clubs. Hundreds of millions of people depend on seafood to survive. Fish that are now highly radioactive and may not survive. On October 4, 2013 at least 430 liters of water 6,700 times more radioactive than the legal limit spilled into the ocean from the Fukushima nuclear station and the crisis is only increasing. We have no idea what impact this is having on sea and how many will go hungry as their food supply is poisoned.
This October 6th I have had the honor to participate in the Resolve to Fight Poverty Conference at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill organized by students from around the United States. Their knowledge and dedication is inspiring. The conference opened with a presentation called “The Faces of Homelessness” where three formally homeless people spoke about their lives and the hunger they faced living on the streets. We watched the film “A Place at the Table” and shared conversations about possible solutions to hunger. Brett Weisel the Director of Advocacy for Feeding America spoke just after I had received an email about the city of Olympia, Washington seeking to stop the sharing of meals by the charity Crazy Faith Outreach. The article reported that “two weeks ago the outreach hit a snag when several nearby business owners, including Pam Tuttle, complained to the city. ‘We end up with a lot of traffic,’ Tuttle said. ‘We have had problems with garbage.’ City Manager Steve Hall said after he received those complaints, Olympia police investigated and found several safety violations, including dozens of people walking into traffic and blocking cars.”
Just as the conference was about to start I get a call from one of the Santa Monica Food Not Bombs organizers. He told me that a paster Ron Hooks of West Coast Care had been trying to get the group to stop sharing their vegan meals on the downtown promenade. According to several newspaper articles Ron describes West Coast Care as a nonprofit working with the Santa Monica Police Department’s Joint Homeless Outreach Program. Santa Monica Food Not Bombs shares every Thursday evening at the Third Street Promenade long after the shops are closed.
An article in the July 11, 2103 edition of the Boulder Weekly reported that “Groups that feed the homeless in downtown Boulder on Saturdays say the city is trying to run them out of the area in yet another attempt to get rid of those the city considers undesirable.”
“But city officials insist that they support the feeding operations, and that they are just trying to alleviate congestion in the area and reduce criminal activity.”
Back in North Carolina the Raleigh police told groups that they would be arrested if they continued to share meals in public. After news of the threat was posted all over the web and it was clear that there was opposition to the closing of the meals city officials stop the police. In mid August 2013 news was posted on a number of activist website. ” This story is exploding on social media since it was posted by Love Wins, a ministry in Raleigh. Human Beans Together is another group suddenly barred by the Raleigh police from giving out food to the homeless in Moore Square on the weekends, when soup kitchens don’t operate.”
“Folks are heading to Moore Square today at 4, when Food Not Bombs is intending to do its regular food distribution — or try, anyway.”
On August 25th it was reported that “Food Not Bombs did bring food and they were allowed to distribute it. The Raleigh police stood down after Mayor Nancy McFarlane and numerous Council members intervened today with Police Chief Deck-Brown and Acting City Manager Perry James.” The article notes that “A permit to use Moore Square is apparently $800 a day.”
As I was watching the Oxfam staff prepare for that evening’s Hunger Banquet I get a text from the Food Not Bombs volunteers in Taos. The State of New Mexico Environmental Health official stopped by our weekly meal and asked if I was still in Baltimore as he handed one of our volunteers David Lewis a $500 citation issued to me for selling food at the Taos Plaza on October 5th without a permit. Another volunteer David Cortez filmed the exchange and posted it to my Facebook minutes after it happened. The same official issued me another $500 citation on June 1, 2013 crossing out the words selling writing in sharing. At the time rumor had it that a new food vendor from out of town had filed a complaint but they have moved on so it is not clear why the officials working for America’s hungriest state would issue a citation to someone who was busy participating in a hunger and poverty conference in North Carolina.
When I visited the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program website it said “Due to the lapse in federal government funding, this website is not available.After funding has been restored, please allow some time for this website to become available again.”
Just before the government shut down the U.S. Congress approved a three-year nutrition bill (H.R. 3102), with a partisan 217-210 vote, that aims to cut about $40 billion over 10 years for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and provide various reforms to the program. House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions, R-Texas, said the bill includes “reasonable changes” to address the “growing and growing and growing” amount of SNAP recipients. “There are still jobs available in America,” Sessions said. “They may not be ones you want to stay in your whole life.” Democratic congress people said that 4 million low-income people, including 170,000 veterans would be cut from the food stamp program because of the vote.
The government shit down will stop payments to over 9 million low-income women and children who qualify for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children also known as WIC. Feeding hungry children is not considered essential yet 350,000 furloughed civilian employees of the Pentagon will return to work on Monday.
On Monday October 7th I received an email from Sacramento Food Not Bombs volunteer Petey. “Well, yesterday Sacramento Food not Bombs was kicked out of the Cesar Chavez Park by the Sacramento police. We were greeted by about 15 officers when we arrived at the park when we normally do in time to start sharing the meal we created by 1:30pm. We were told that our stuff would be confiscated and we would get a summons due to an ordinance that has yet to even be passed that would prevent any group from handing out free hot meal in the park.”
The federal government and corporate leaders understand the power of groups like Food Not Bombs and work hard to reduce our influence. Officials arrested nine volunteers sharing food and information at the entrance to Golden Gate Park on August 15, 1988. The police told the media that they did not mind that we were feeding the hungry. They objected to our message stating that we “were making a political statement and that is not allowed.” They told the media that the city would provide buses to take the hungry out of sight to a military facility out by the beach and we could feed people there but we could not have banners and literature and share food where the public could see us.
I was invited to be the keynote speaker at “The Great Food Fight” in North Hampton England. It turned out that the lest expensive way to fly to Europe was through Reykjavik, Iceland so I arranged to visit the local Food Not Bombs group. We prepared the meal at a volunteers home took it to the main intersection downtown and retrieved several signs from a pub next to the serving location. One sign had the complete text of a flyer explaining about Food Not Bombs written with a marker in English on one side and in Icelandic on the other. They also provided a suit case full of literature.
People gathered to eat and soon were busy debating the ideas expressed on the signs and flyers. Before long the people were telling me about how a people started a lively debate about reform of the government or a fundamental change of society. The discussion was sparked by the statements on the signs and information on the flyers. They said the conversation continued at the next weeks meal and it was agreed that they should march on the parliament building and off they went. Word spread and many more people came to the next Food Not Bombs meal. Lunch ended in a second march. When I arrived they had just taken down the government. Several people had been arrested after removing the flag of Iceland and replacing it with a flag of the county’s discount chain Bónus with its logo of a pink piggy bank. Protesters march to the jail demanding the release of the prisoners.
The protests grew so large that prime minister Geir Haarde resigned in 2009. He was prosecuted in a special trial for bringing the country to ruin. “A court ruled that he failed to hold cabinet meetings focused on the spiraling crisis ahead of the North Atlantic island’s financial implosion, which marked one of the seminal moments of the global panic caused by the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008.” but he was spared any time in prison even though he could have been sentenced to two year. The Icelandic people started to rewrite their constitution and refused to bail out the banks. The banner and literature at our meals can mean trouble for those in power and the state knows this.
The message from nearly every speaker at the Resolve to Fight Poverty Conference came to the same conclusion. We have abundant resources. We just don’t have access to food, housing and healthcare because of policies that benefit the 1 percent and have turned what should be a basic human right into a commodity. The biggest change in perspective I witnessed was with Feed America when Brett Weisel stated that there focus was on “shortening the line for food” and working to for a society when Americans were paid a living wage and could buy the food they desired, a message Food Not Bombs has expressed from our founding. A message that has placed Food Not Bombs on the F.B.I.’s terrorist watch list.
In April 2009 C-Span aired a lecture by two U.S. State Department officials comparing “the people that share vegan meals in the parks” and al-Qaeda. The speaker concluded that the vegan meals were a greater threat to national security than al-Qaeda because the young people sharing the meals were friendly and the message was powerful. The officials feared that the public would be moved and press Congress to divert military spending to things like education, healthcare and other social services.
It really could be that simple. If every Food Not Bombs group made a point of having banners, signs and literature at meals shared at a time and location where the most people possible would visit we might inspire change. Along with literature encouraging a transition to a future free from corporate domination each meal provided a place for musicians and puppeteers to preform and a forum for the public to share their ideas and dreams who knows what would happen. Indymedia, Food Not Lawns Gardens, Bikes Not Bombs, Homes Not Jails and the Really Really Free Markets all sprang from conversations inspired by the literature and banners at Food Not Bombs.
It is no wonder the authorities want to stop our meals and have banned or limited the sharing of food in public in over 50 U.S. cities. The meals could be revolutionary. They could bring people together and end the country’s system of hunger and poverty.
Food Not Bombs
P.O. Box 424
Arroyo Seco, NM 87514 USA
The October 5, 2013 citation issued in Taos, New Mexico.
The first wiretap memo – http://www.foodnotbombs.net/wiretap1.html
Message sent to Food Not Bombs co-founder Keith McHenry on October 7, 2013
Well, yesterday Sacramento Food not Bombs was kicked out of the Cesar Chavez Park by the Sacramento police. We were greeted by about 15 officers when we arrived at the park when we normally do in time to start sharing the meal we created by 1:30pm. We were told that our stuff would be confiscated and we would get a summons due to an ordinece that has yet to even be passed that would prevent any group from handing out free hot meal in the park.
When it rains we move over to the east side of the park and across the street where there is an awning in front of three businesses that are not open on Sundays. So , this is where we moved to yesterday to actually continue with what we set out to do which is sharing the hot meal we created.
The police harassment began when we arrived at the park to try and serve the meal, continued when we moved across the street, and persisted until finally packed up. At one point a Food Not Bombs volunteer was accosted by a bicycle cop while she went to her truck to get a bread donation and then return to where we were set up – he was trying to continue to tell her that the Sacramento police do not want homeless people in the Cesar Chavez Park or even around the park. I was accosted by the same bicycle cop when I left where we were set up to walk a couple blocks and let everyone know where we were set up. Eventually – I’m guessing it was the captain stood on the park side of the street and began video taping us where we were set up for about the final 10 -15 minutes.
We moved across the street reluctantly and would really like to continue to stay in the park every Sunday at 1:30pm. Wed like to start preparing and making contacts to begin mobilizing.
Would you please give me the contacts for every Food Not Bombs chapter in northern California?
Thank you, Keith.
I hope all is well with you.
Sacramento Food Not Bombs
Is It Legal … To Feed The Homeless?
By Rachael Mason
Is it legal to feed the homeless?
Depending on where you live and how you’re planning to provide food for the needy, it might indeed be against the law to feed the homeless.
This year, Philadelphia enacted a ban on serving food in city parks, which affects local charities’ efforts to feed the homeless, reported Bloomberg BusinessWeek. “Under additional rules recently adopted by the city’s health department, those who want to feed the hungry on a sidewalk, road, or other public place outdoors must take a food-safety course and obtain a permit from the city,” reported BusinessWeek.
In Dallas, those who want to give food to homeless people must first become “certified food handlers,” reported the Los Angeles Times. The National Coalition for the Homeless maintains a page detailing the laws that affect sharing of food with homeless in cities across the country.
Examples include Atlanta, which has required all food given to the homeless must be facilitated through one of eight approved providers since 2003. In Baltimore, every food service provider—even if the food is given out for free—must be licensed. In Las Vegas, a permit must be obtained for gathering of more than 25 people gather in a city park.
What other laws affect the homeless?
In many cities, it’s illegal to be homeless, according to a report from the NLCHP. Many of the activities performed by homeless people, like sleeping on the street, are against the law.
“Of the 234 cities surveyed, the report shows that: 40 percent prohibit sleeping in public places, 33 percent prohibit sitting/lying in public places, 56 percent prohibit loitering in public places and 53 percent prohibit begging in public places,” the NLCHP said.
Why should I be concerned about the homeless?
The homeless population includes more people than you might imagine. For example, many residents of the areas hit by Hurricane Sandy still don’t have a place to live.
Every year, more than 2 million kids across the country will experience a period of homelessness every year, according to Covenant House. The nonprofit organization helps homeless kids by providing shelter and other basic necessities and works to help get them off the street.
The number of homeless young people in the U.S. continues to increase. Public schools have reported more than 1 million homeless students are enrolled, according to a June 2012 report released by the U.S. Department of Education.
When it comes down to it, helping the homeless is more cost-effective than sending them to jail. Cost studies in 13 cities and states reveal that, on average, cities spend $87 per day to jail a person, compared to $28 per day for shelter,” according to the NLCHP.
What can I do to help the homeless?
Instead of organizing your own efforts to feed the homeless, consider donating time, money or goods to established nonprofit groups in your area. You might work at a soup kitchen, collect canned goods for a local food bank or donate to an organization that hosts holiday meals for the needy. Rather than buying gifts this season, perhaps you’ll make a donation in the names of your loved ones.
Like executives did recently in Washington, D.C., you might even sleep outside for a night as part of a movement designed to raise awareness of homeless. In Nov. 2012, the group in D.C. spent the night outside Covenant House Washington. Through pledges from family and friends, raised more than $60,000 for the organization, reported the Washington Post.
To find out more about the issue of homeless, visit the National Alliance to End Homelessness’ website at www.endhomelessness.org.