Effort to hide the hungry continues across the United States.

October 7, 2013

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.

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 retune to work on Monday.

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.

After making nearly 1,000 arrests the authorities realized that the most effective method to reducing our visibility was to discourage the display of literature, signs and banners. One very vocal volunteer started an email campaign in 1997 suggesting Food Not Bombs would feed more people if we removed the banner and flyers. He also offered to post my first book on the web. I had moved to Lawrence Kansas at that time to volunteer with the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee. The volunteer flooded the original Food Not Bombs list serv with messages about our need to become a charity and end our effort to change society. It was not until I received an email from food activist Sandor Katz
asking to use a section of the book “Food Not Bombs – How to feed the hungry and build community” in his book “The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved” that I discovered that the volunteer had edited my online book to remove the social change aspect from the text. The section of my book that Sandor Katz emailed to me was clearly not my work so I asked him where he found it. He directed me to the website where I discovered that my book had been radically changed.

People became so frustrated with his constant posting on the subject they left the list and in a year it was abandon and closed down. In 2003 a journalist from Australia flew to the United States to film Food Not Bombs. She wished to film the group in San Francisco because it was so famous. We drove to San Francisco and joined a volunteer who was cooking in an apartment in the Haight District. While waiting for the pot of soup to cook he told me that there had been a box of literature and some banners left in a closet and wondered if I would be interested in taking them. I suggested he could use them at his meal but he said it was too much work. He explained that items had been placed in the closet by the past volunteer who turned out to be the one that altered my book and waged the campaign to be less visible. We traveled to United Nations Plaza to film the meal. Eight or nine people wondered up to enjoy a cup of soup. Four or five young people stood near by. As someone came for soup they would give them a flyer about their church service and talk with them about being saved. The filmmaker was disappointed having traveled so far to video tape the group that had made history and was sharing meals twice a day seven days a week to several hundred people each meal.

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
1-800-884-1136
http://www.foodnotbombs.net
The October 5th ticket – http://www.foodnotbombs.net/october_5_violation.html

http://blog.foodnotbombs.net/effort-to-hide-the-hungry-continues-across-the-united-states/

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