This is such an interesting way to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr’s weekend. Police are seeking to stop Food Not Bombs in Burlington, Vermont and Santa Cruz, California. At the same time a mission in Seattle, Washington has been told to stop sharing food in public. Food Not Bombs has been sharing near the same location in Seattle on and off for over 20 years.

The first arrests for sharing food in public started in 1988 when the San Francisco police began  an eight year campaign to stop Food Not Bombs making over 1,000 arrests. Many volunteers were beaten and some required hospitalization. This followed the first eight years of Reaganomics which increased the number of people seeking food and shelter to levels not seen since the Great Depression.  Reagan era policies of diverting public spending from healthcare, education and other domestic needs towards America’s largest military build-up ever contributed to a dramatic increase in poverty.

Laws criminalizing the homeless and attempts to restrict the sharing of meals in public started first in California,  Florida, New York City, and soon to every area of the United States as the number of homeless increased.   The National Guard held workshops at bases across the United States in  November 1988 using Food Not Bombs the example of America’s “most hardcore terrorist group.” In April 2009 The United States State Department clarified their reasoning noting in a lecture that Food Not Bombs was more dangerous than Al quad since the volunteers were friendly and have been abel to encourage the public to believe that America might really be more secure if it diverted some military spending towards healthcare, education and other domestic needs.  So the Federal government implemented two tracks in it’s effort to silence Food Not Bombs. One was to disrupt the sharing of food and information to the public, the other to frame volunteers in FBI designed plots of violence or terrorism. Keith McHenry Connor Cash, and Josh Connole were among the first framed as terrorists because of their involvement with Food Not Bombs. Today Food Not Bombs volunteers Brandon Baxter,  Connor Stevens, Eric McDavid and Jeremy Hammond live behind bars as a result of the government’s campaign to silence opposition to the policies that are forcing so many to seek food at soup kitchens and food banks.

The United States Justice Department supported this nationwide campaign to develop “quality of life” laws at the end of Reagan’s administration. The Community Oriented Policing Services program of the Justice Department provided business leaders and local governments with templates on anti-homeless laws, anti- homeless architecture  and media campaigns the most popular being laws against sleeping outside or sitting in commercial areas. They also started to implement the “give a hand up not a hand out” campaign where people were encouraged to donated to charities that shared meals inside in areas where the homeless could be lured  to the low income or industrial areas of town. In 1985 Federal officials started to report  that nearly 750,000 Americans were homeless, a number still quoted today in stories about poverty in the United States. (Google  “750,000 homeless Americans” and see how this number has not changed since 1985.) It is hard to imagine that there has not been any increases in the number of homeless in the past 25 years.  This also marks the time when Food Not Bombs volunteers and some churches started to face arrest for sharing food in public.

City officials welcomes these policies and followed the federal governments lead hoping to drive the problem out of sight and discourage public pressure to increase provide services and increase taxes.  The project was designed to appear  to be locally desired, designed and implemented even though it was really coordinated and encouraged at a Federal level with workshops at state and national conferences of police chiefs, city attorneys, and mayors on such subjects “What to do if Food Not Bombs Starts in Your Community,” the sharing of “quality of life  laws” and media campaigns designed to encourage the public to believe that the poor had only themselves to blame for their problems and that once they visited the Salvation Army or local city service center they would “recover” and enter society again. Any discussion of economic and political policies contributing to the increase in poverty was to be silenced. The ideas shared by Food Not Bombs at their meal were of course to be discouraged. If not arrested the government had other methods. Informants were sent to help by discarding the banners and literature and suggest local groups change their name “to be less political.” If that was not effective informants suggested moving to a “better” location where no one would walk by and no one would ever know that Food Not Bombs was still active. That trick was done in San Francisco after the first 94 arrests when volunteers were convinced to share in some tall bushes away from the entrance to Golden Gate Park. Not one person visited the table from September 1988 to June 1989 even though before the city started to interfere volunteers had been speaking to dozens of new people every Monday as they entered Golden Gate Park.

In 2006 a number of Florida cities started to pass laws banning or limiting the sharing of meals in public. The city of Orlando defended it’s large group feeding law in Federal court winning in 2011. The city started arresting the Food Not Bombs volunteers until public pressure was too much and the mayor ended the campaign.

In September 2011 people started to join Occupy Wall Street with the message that corporate and government policies were responsible for the increase in poverty and suffering. Thousands of people occupied their public squares seeking to change society where no one would be forced out of their homes and find themselves needing find food at a food pantry or soup kitchen. After the Obama administration was able to drive most of the occupations out of sight in a well coordinated nation wide campaign of police violence and propaganda, cities started to adopt new laws limiting the sharing of food in public. Authorities seemed to have realized on key to the success of the occupations was the availability of free meals. Philadelphia, Houston, Santa Monica, Daytona Beach and nearly 40  other cities introduced new laws or started to implement past rules limiting the sharing of meals in public. A number of cities were able to use less dramatic methods encouraging Food Not Bombs volunteers to share their meals without banners or literature or by moving to a location where no one would pass by and their ability to inspire action would be eliminated.

Fortunately public pressure has disrupted efforts to enforce restrictions on the sharing of food and literature in public. We hope this will be the case in Burlington, Vermont and Santa Cruz, California which are being told they must move their meals and information to a less visible location or face arrest.  The authorities realized that sharing free food under the banner Food Not Bombs can inspire public support for change.  One successful example can be seen in the Saturday meal in Iceland where the shock of people seeking food and the discussion inspired by Food Not Bombs literature inspired a weekly march to parliament. These marches pushed the government out of power. So far Iceland is the only country to refuse to bail out the banks in response to the campaign that started as a conversation at the weekly Reykjavík Food Not Bombs meal.

It is ironic that in celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.’s holiday two of America’s most progressive cities are seeking to drive Food Not Bombs out of site. Please return to see if officials did arrest the volunteers in Santa Cruz and Burlington.


Burlington Food Not Bombs meal
Sunday, January 20, 2013
12:00pm in EST
Burlington, Vermont 05401

Come to Church and Cherry St. for free food and to help us transform the space. There’s usually produce to take away along with hot soup and coffee.

Arriving with warnings and cameras, two uniformed officers threatened Food Not Bombs workers with criminal actions today for staffing a table distributing meals to hungry and homeless people. The sergeant noted he’d be forwarding information to District Attorney Bob Lee’s office for further action and interrogated several of the workers there while photographing those eating, those serving, and those watching. I sent the following letter to Food Not Bombs co-founder Keith McHenry:
From: rnorse3 [at]

CC: …
Subject: FNB in Santa Cruz Under Attack
Date: Sat, 19 Jan 2013 22:38:32 -0800


A police officer and his sergeant superior appeared at the main post office steps today shortly after 4 PM where Food Not Bombs was doing its weekly feeding.

The officer advised the FNBers that they were “trespassing” (though the post office was open; people were coming in and out; the meal was set off too the side in an area not traveled by the usual customers; and FNB workers noted a previous encounter with Sgt. Azua had seemed to establish there were no violations of the law happening). He took a number of photos of the workers, who continued to feed people (30-40 people came through by my casual count in the hour or two that FNB was there). Santa Cruz FNB had been serving at the post office for the last month.

A sergeant arriving afterwards sought names and information from the workers and stated they were “gathering evidence of trespass” at the request of the postmaster.

Several of the workers were upset by this police intervention. A number of those served were scared or angry. The meal continued, but with significant consternation.

The police seemed to indicate they would be returning.

I would encourage you to alert other FNB activists that this is happening in Santa Cruz and they may need support against legal or extralegal police action that seems to now be on the horizon.

I’ll be playing some audio of this on my radio show tomorrow between 9:30 AM and 10:30 AM at 101.3 FM, streaming at , and archived at (about 2 1/2 hours into the audio file).

Please all in (831-427-3772) if you have any suggestions any time before 1 PM PST.

Thanks, Robert

I was so pleased to  received a call from one of the staff people at the Burlington Downtown Partnership.  He called wanting to “work with us” saying he would wave the $2 fee for doing the literature table on Church Street  but that we could not share food as ” it had caused problems in the past.”  He explained that businesses sold food on Church Street and that places like the Salvation Army would be better able to provide services for the homeless like job referral. He seemed like a nice person but did use the same exact language that has been used by officials in other cities. He didn’t know how our sharing food was a problem but said an outreach worker would call to explain.

I seemed to have really frustrated him because I explained that if we didn’t share food with our literature the impact of our message would be diminished
Every time he said he “just wanted to work with us” I asked if there was a good place on Church Street where our sharing food at our literature table would not be a problem. In the end it was clear that working with him was to not share food and send people to the Salvation Army, COTS or share food someplace out of sight.

This person will come to talk with you on Sunday to see if he can get you to stop sharing your food or move out of the area.

While he also tried to make it out that Burlington is special (just as the other city officials have claimed in every other city that wishes we would stop) and that by speaking with you you will see the logic to ending the meal or moving it to a less visible location for me I would see about doing what I could to stay where you are.

From my perspective it has never been more important to reach the most  people possible with the most impact we can about the need to change society so no one is forced to eat at the Salvation Army. Maybe it would be possible to move across the street or to the side walk at the commons I would support doing all you can to express the importance of encouraging change and suggest that it is already hard to encourage the public to consider solutions to our current economic and political problems.

The fact that this pattern is so universal across the United States and so many Food Not Bombs groups have moved to ineffective locations shows this is more than just a problem for your chapter.

I would support your efforts in any way. You may want to claim this Sundays meal or the meal after that as a rally for the right to end hunger. The staff person says he will email me so I will get you that email when he sends it. Again he might not know he was saying exactly the same thing  word for word that officials in other cities have said to explain why we should not share food in a place where lots of people pass by but it sure seems like he was influenced maybe unknowingly by those organizing this nationwide campaign. Please call me if you have any questions. – 1-800-884-1136 or email me at

This is the number and organization that called.

Burlington Downtown Partnership.
2 Church Street, Suite 2A
Burlington, VT 05401
Phone: 802-863-1648
Fax: 802-865-7252
TTY: 802-865-7142
The office is open for walk-ins Monday through Friday, 12 noon to 4 p.m. To purchase a Marketplace street entertainer or vendor license or non-profit tabling permit, contact the Marketplace office. The permits and licenses are available by appointment only. For information and to schedule an appointment send an email to permits and licensing or call 802.865.5384.

Thanks Keith McHenry
co-founder of the Food Not Bombs Movement

This a one of many public statements reflecting a nationwide campaign to drive the homeless out of site. This one is from Orlando Florida and signed by the charities such as Salvation Army that received city funding.

…though we understand the motivation of those who wish to alleviate the suffering of the homeless in our community, solving homelessness involves more than a warm meal and a place to sleep. Homelessness is symptomatic of much larger issues.

Such public feedings may well contribute to homelessness and actually keep the homeless from the     essential services necessary to get back on the road to self-sufficiency. One of the vital keys to assisting these men, women and families is providing comprehensive case-management services. This includes   access to the tools needed to attain independence, truly giving them a “hand up” to a better life.

Hey Keith,

We’re all having a good laugh here. Something about imagining the very very serious mannered bureaucrats we dealt with last week calling up New Mexico is great. We had been dreading the upcoming showdown this Sunday. One comment was something like “they couldn’t have called someone better equipped”. I’d agree. It’s a happy coincidence they called you as we were researching and looking for guidance on what to do.

Our plan now is to be prepared and establish who is arrestable before meals and do some non-violent civil disobedience if there’s lots of people around. If it wouldn’t make a strong enough statement we may retreat to the edge of the park (not the middle) and come back later to see what happens for a second time. Maybe even just wait an hour or until the next week.

Our friends on city council in the progressive party have offered to do what they can. Not sure if that will amount to anything but its nice to know they’re watching and willing to make noise in council meets. We’ll see how it unfolds.

I’m going to send your message out to the listserve if that’s cool with you.


Mission in Seattle told to stop sharing meals in public.

Food Not Bombs
P.O. Box 424
Arroyo Seco, NM 87514 USA