Posts Tagged ‘Food Not Bombs’


 

by Keith McHenry, author of Hungry for Peace and primary author of The Anarchist Cookbook

Even though I have shared meals with the hungry for over 36 years, I find it shocking that today, in 2017, so many people are coming to eat with Food Not Bombs.

The National Center on Family Homelessness reports there are “2.5 million children in America that are homeless each year.” A society that lets millions of children live on it’s streets is a society that is collapsing.

To address this crisis we need to change our local and national priorities. That is why Food Not Bombs shares its meals outside: to encourage public dialogue about redirecting taxes from the military to providing real security for our people in the form of housing, education, and desperately needed services.

But instead of a humane, sensible response to homelessness, the Santa Cruz City Council has turned instead to making it illegal to be homeless via its law against sleeping outdoors. To make matters worse, a year-and-a-half ago, the City Council closed down the only homeless shelter in our city.

Anti-homeless architecture is also common in Santa Cruz. This includes installation of high frequency sound “Mosquito Boxes” in parks (activated after closing hours), removing planter boxes and free speech zones on Pacific Avenue, replacing the City Hall lawn with gravel and rocks, and now the ugly chain link fencing at the historic downtown post office.

These policies contribute to the death of homeless people, including 53-year-old Micheal Mears who died of hypothermia on February 17, 2017. Medical staff told his sister Jenny that his body temperature was 70 degrees when he was found on Potrero Street.

Anarchist Cookbook front coverAnother response to homelessness is to pass laws seeking to end sharing of meals in public in the hope that hiding hunger and homelessnes will reduce pressure to fund programs to help the poor.

To justify laws against sharing meals outside, advocates of repression cite a theory claiming that “street feeding” keeps people homeless.

One of those seeking to drive the homeless and groups that share food outside out-of-sight is Janet Fardette. In her 2009 Sentinel letter, “Time to take back downtown Santa Cruz,” Ms. Fardette writes, “Our city no longer belongs to us. It has been taken over by drug addicts, homeless, panhandlers and the like.”

I can understand that it must be frustrating for property owners to see an increasing number of people living outside. They worked hard to obtain their homes and businesses, and the growing number of people living outside must be disheartening, and does nothing to improve the value of their property. Still, does it really do any good to hide hunger and homelessness? Will that make these problems go away? Wouldn’t it be better to help suffering people than to persecute them.

The campaign to stop Food Not Bombs’ free meals includes an online petition, and phoning and e-mailing local officials. Ms. Fardette suggests in a February 13, 2017 e-mail that officials look into “Robert Marbut’s widely successful” theory — mentioned on the NPR report, “More Cities Are Making It Illegal To Hand Out Food To The Homeless” — that “Street feeding is one of the worst things to do, because it keeps people in homeless status. I think it’s very unproductive, very enabling, and it keeps people out of recovery programs.”

Marbut’s “solution” focuses on “correcting” the behavior of those living on the streets, treating people as though they were naughty children. Marbut doesn’t even consider a failing economic system, gross disparities in wealth and income, and the obscene price of housing in neither his analysis nor his “solution.” In short, he posits that it’s the homeless person’s behavior that keeps him or her from paying for housing.

Blaming the victim isn’t working. Hundreds, probably thousands, of people still live outside in the cities that have adopted Marbut’s program and many in those cities still rely on Food Not Bombs and other groups that provide free meals.

Those who would like the homeless to disappear from Santa Cruz are lobbying to adopt Marbut’s “solution” and drive Food Not Bombs from public view. In short, they want to adopt Marbut’s “stick” but in all likelihood not adopt his inadequate “carrot.” The $5,300 a month that might be spent on Marbut’s consulting fee could be much better spent on maintaining 24-hour bathrooms.

Food Not Bombs is not a charity. We share vegan meals in visible locations with signs and literature promoting change in society, change that will mean that no one is forced to live on the streets or to depend on soup kitchens.

We can end homelessness if we divert even a small fraction of the billions wasted on armaments, and insted use it to provide real national security in the form of affordable housing, jobs for anyone who wants one, and access to quality education and healthcare for all. A living wage (a net boon to the economy) would also make it far easier for people to get off the streets. Blaming the homeless for their condition is clearly not working.

Sign the petition
https://www.change.org/p/support-the-right-of-food-not-bombs-to-share-free-food-info-and-ideas-in-public-spaces-in-sc?source_location=minibar

Keith McHenry is a co-founder of the Food Not Bombs movement.



by Keith McHenry, author of Hungry for Peace

Even though I have shared meals with the hungry for over 35 years, in a time of ever-rising profit and productivity, the numbers of the hungry and homeless have risen, not fallen, over that time. In many of our cities, it feels as if we’re still living in the Great Depression.

The National Center on Family Homelessness published a study in 2014, based on a calculation using the most recent data from the U.S. Department of Education and the 2013 U.S. Census, which found that “2.5 million children in America—one in every 30 children—go to sleep without a home of their own each year.” A society that lets a over two million children live on it’s streets is a society that is collapsing.

The most common government response to the suffering of those being forced into homelessness is the passage of laws against being homeless. Laws against sleeping, sitting, asking for money, living outside, or what officials call “quality of life crimes” make this bad situation even worse, and make the lives of homeless men, women, and children even more miserable.

Another aspect of this punitive response to homelessness is passage of laws prohibiting the public sharing of meals with the hungry. The hope is that hiding from public view the problem of homelessness will make it go away. This is an all too common tactic in cities across the country. Over 70 have passed laws that ban or place restrictions on the public sharing of meals. Orlando, Florida has a twice-a-year limit per park on providing free meals to the hungry. Ft. Lauderdale restricted the meals by requiring a permit and making it illegal to provide meals within 500 feet from any building, and provide toilet facilities, essentially eliminating all possible locations and making it impossible to comply with the permit restrictions. To justify all this, municipal authorities are citing a new theory that claims that “street feeding is unproductive, very enabling, and it keeps people out of [substance abuse] recovery programs.”

One of those seeking to drive the homeless and groups that share food from public sight, and to make public food sharing impossible, is Janet Fardette, founder of the Leveelies — a group of volunteers that pick up trash along the San Lorenzo River levees in Santa Cruz, California. In her 2009 letter to the local paper, “Time to take back downtown Santa Cruz,”  she wrote, “Our city no longer belongs to us. It has been taken over by drug addicts, homeless, panhandlers and the like.”

One can understand her annoyance. It must be frustrating to property owners to see an ever increasing number of people seeking shelter in doorways, sidewalks, and along the
levee. Seeing people living outside, near or on their properies must be disheartening.

What’s not so understandable is the attempt to hide the homeless from public view without doing anything to address the root causes of homelessness or doing anything to aid the homeless.

As part of her campaign to drive the “homeless problem” out of sight–including an online petition, phone calling local officials and the police, and speaking out during the public comment portion of a board of supervisors meeting–Ms. Fardette suggested that officials look into “Robert Marbut’s widely successful” theory, mentioned in the NPR story “More Cities Are Making It Illegal To Hand Out Food To The Homeless” that feeding homeless people helps to keep them homeless.

Marbut puts it this way: “Street feeding is one of the worst things to do, because it keeps people in homeless status. I think it’s very unproductive, very enabling, and it keeps people out of [substance abuse] recovery programs.”

Marbut’s proposed way to end homelessness focuses on correcting the behavior of those forced to live on the streets, treating people as though they were naughty children. A failing economic and political system with low paying jobs, high rents, underfunded education, and little access to both physical and mental health services isn’t the culprit. Rather, as outlined in his “Guiding Principles” for solving the problem of homelessness, it’s the homeless peoples’ bad behavior that keeps them from being able to pay for housing.

Marbut’s “Guiding Principles” include:

* “Positive behavior should be rewarded with increased responsibilities and more privileges. Privileges such as higher quality sleeping arrangements, more privacy and elective learning opportunities should be used as rewards.”

* “Too often there are no consequences for negative behavior. Unfortunately, this sends a message that bad behavior is acceptable. Within the transformational process, it is critical to have swift and proportionate consequences.”

* “External activities such as ‘street feeding’ must be redirected to support the transformation process. In most cases, these activities are well-intended efforts by good folks, however these activities are very enabling and often do little to engage homeless individuals. Street feeding programs without comprehensive services actually increase and promote homelessness. Street feeding groups should be encouraged to co-locate with existing comprehensive service programs.”

The last Guiding Principle is  “Panhandling Enables the Homeless and Must Be Stopped.”

Marbut’s program might not be as successful as those who cite him hope. The Rivard Report’s February 10, 2016 article and video, “No End in Sight for Homeless Camps in San Antonio,” claims that Marbut’s theory has not been as effective as promised even in his own home town. After ten years of implementing Marbut’s program via Haven for Hope of Bexar County, there are still thousands of people living outside.

Those promoting his approach may have big hearts, and if Marbut’s theory worked it would be great. But Marbut’s theory is not working for most people in the cities that have hired his services.

The Associated Press cited a case in point in a September 2011 story on homelessness in St. Petersburg, Florda:

“St. Petersburg’s struggles with some of the most rampant homelessness in the country reached a crescendo when police officers with box cutters slashed up a makeshift tent city near downtown.

“Enter Robert Marbut, a former San Antonio councilman and White House staffer who came to town last fall wielding what he likes to call a “velvet hammer.” City leaders hired the $5,300-a-month consultant after buying into his idea of forcing the homeless off the streets but taking them someplace better — a sprawling, one-stop complex where people could be housed, fed and start to get help with mental illness, addictions and the other problems that put them on the streets.

“More than a just big shelter, it would be a ‘transformational campus’ like the one Marbut helped establish in San Antonio.

“Marbut was the architect and first CEO of a similar shelter compound in San Antonio called Haven for Hope. The 22-acre, $100 million complex with room for about 1,000 was built with private and public money. It opened last year and is filled to capacity.”

This means that some, probably a great many, are not being helped on Marbut’s home turf. They’re still out on the streets — and hungry.

The Tampa Bay Times reports that “St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster has said the city will eventually begin arresting homeless people who sleep in parks or on public rights of way, with Safe Harbor [a ‘transformational’ jail] an eventual destination for them.”

Riann Balch, head of Phoenix’s Human Resources Department, launched a program in September 2016 called the “Street Feeding Collaborative,” asking local churches to stop “street seeding,” because there are “better ways to help [the] homeless.”

Balch told AZ Family, “'[Our] mission is to educate faith and community-based groups about why street feeding can do more harm than good.’ Balch said that giving someone a meal will encourage them to stay on the street and wait for another one.”

It is clear that blaming the victim isn’t working, especially given the inadequate, underfunded programs to help the homeless. Hundreds of people still live outside in St Petersburg, Ft Lauderdale, San Antonio and the other cities that have adopted Marbut program, and
many homeless people still rely on the outdoor meals shared by Food Not Bombs and other groups.

While it is great that some people in some cities have transitioned into homes through the shelters and programs inspired by Marbut, the number of people living on the streets in those cities has continued to increase.

Those who would like the homeless crisis to disappear from Santa Cruz are lobbying officials to adopt Marbut’s approach and drive Food Not Bombs and its free meals from public view. (The $5,300 a month they might spend on hiring Marbut could be much better spent on maintaining 24 hour bathrooms. That would improve the lives of the homeless.)

Food Not Bombs is not a charity. We share our vegan meals in the most visible locations possible with signs and literature encouraging the public to support social and political change so that no one is forced to live on the streets or depend on soup kitchens for food. We can end homelessness if we just divert some of the hundreds of billions of dollars spent every year preparing for war, and instead spend that money on the real national security of a living wage, affordable housing, guaranteed work for those who want it, and high quality education and healthcare for all.

Blaming the homeless for their condition is clearly not working.

Keith McHenry is a co-founder of the Food Not Bombs movement and the author of Hungry for Peace and The Anarchist Cookbook.

To reach Keith go to www.foodnotbombs.net.

_____
More Cities Are Making It Illegal To Hand Out Food To The Homeless

St. Pete making progress with legions of homeless

No End in Sight for Homeless Camps in San Antonio

“Janet Fardette: Time to take back downtown Santa Cruz


 

hungryby Keith McHenry, Food Not Bombs cofounder and author of Hungry for Peace and The Anarchist Cookbook

“The president-elect is the most dangerous man in America. The question now, for which there is as yet no answer, is: Who will stand up to him?” — Michael A. Cohen, Boston Globe, December 8, 2016

We the people will stand up to Trump. Not Cohen’s list of politicians and leaders who have been benefiting from the corrupt system that put Trump in power. The post-inauguration chaos could well take America and the world into uncharted territory, so creating a strategy on how to transform America into a sustainable, post-capitalist society will take imagination.

Beware of groups seeking to hijack the anti-Trump movement for their own benefit. You can become disheartened if you spend energy supporting an organization only to discover that the group, presenting itself as the “vanguard of the revolution” or as a well intentioned (and well financed) reform organization, is more interested in its own well-being, in “organization building,” than in transforming society. A lot of these groups will try to recruit you as the crisis deepens, but you don’t need them. There are things we ourselves can do to prepare, to fight back.

Forming affinity groups is an important first step. An affinity group is simply a voluntary group formed around a common goal or interest. Such groups typically have five to ten participants who meets at least once a month, sometimes as much as several times a week. An affinity group provides a space for discussing tactics, strategies, and specific actions. It also provides a place to work cooperatively on projects. Importantly, it also serves as a means of mutual support and validation, a means of overcoming the crushing isolation that keeps people alone, disempowered, and hopeless; it can provide inspiration and stir the imagination in these dark times.

The longer a group works together, the more trust and strength it will have. Many affinity groups are organized in a non-hierarchical manner, often using a consensus decision making process, and are frequently made up of trusted friends. Affinity groups provide a means of organization that is both flexible and decentralized, and that makes it easy for like-minded groups to coordinate their actvities.

Anarchist Cookbook front coverAs an example, the affinity group structure is very valuable in organizing nonviolent direct actions and protests. This process/structure was often used in nonviolent direct actions against the US War on Vietnam, and even more so in the 1970s in anti-nuclear campaigns. Possibly the most successful example using the affinity group model was the shutting down of the World Trade Organization Summit in Seattle in November of 1999.

A number of affinity groups can be formed into what activists call “clusters.” For example, in the effort to stop the Seabrook Nuclear Power Station in New Hampshire, clusters formed in geographic locations such as Boston, North Shore, and so on. All participating affinity groups would send representatives to cluster meetings, and any decisions they made then had to be approved by participants in the member groups.

For large actions, cluster representatives would meet at a spokes council to adopt or reject proposals advanced by affinity groups. This can be challenging, but if all involved seek to come to consensus on clear, simply articulated proposals, it can work, and it did work.

Where this process fails is when large groups try to come to consensus on every minor matter. We saw this problem often during the Occupy Wall Street movement. Detailed discussions of minor things is better kept at the affinity group level, or, even better, are best left to work groups. An example would be food procurement and preparation at large gatherings and actions, which is usually delegated to Food Not Bombs or another designated work group.

In preparation for the blockade of the World Trade Organization Summit in Seattle, a coalition of affinity groups called the Direct Action Network (DAN) published a “Common Agreements” document. It asked that, no matter what their views on nonviolence as a tactic or strategy, participants honor the agreement during the time of the action. The Common Agreements were: ”Refrain from violence, physical or verbal; not to carry weapons, not to bring or use illegal drugs or alcohol, and not to destroy property.

Nonviolent direct action preparations were really important in the success of the blockade. Author and activist Star Hawk wrote of the preparations saying:

“In the weeks and days before the blockade, thousands of people were given nonviolence training — a three hour course that combined the history and philosophy of nonviolence with real life practice through role playing in staying calm in tense situations, using nonviolent tactics, responding to brutality, and making decisions together. Thousands also went through a second-level training in jail preparation, solidarity strategies and tactics and legal aspects. As well, there were first aid trainings, trainings in blockade tactics, street theater, meeting facilitation, and other skills.”

One possible reason the direct actions to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock succeeded (at least for now) is that the Native American elders had a common agreement worded much like that used during the WTO protests in Seattle, and that they asked everyone interested in participating to take a three-hour Nonviolent Direct Action Preparation.

There are several resources to help organize nonviolent direct action preparation in your community. One is “Preparation for Nonviolent Action” posted on the Vernal Project website. The War Resisters League website has a good resource, “Nonviolence Training: Nonviolent Action Preparation 4 to 5+ hour agenda.”  And there may also be experienced facilitators in your community who can help with nonviolence training, but you can also organize your own nonviolence preparations.

If thousands of us dedicate ourselves to forming affinity groups and organizing nonviolent direct action preparations, it could provide a solid foundation for opposing whatever Trump and corporate capitalism will deliver.

No matter what horrors the Trump period brings, we need to prepare for a long struggle. Don’t mourn, organize!

 


Anarcho-Syndicalist ReviewAnarcho-Syndicalist Review just published a nice review of the new Anarchist Cookbook in their Fall 2016 issue. Here’s the full review:

___________

The Anarchist Cookbook, by Keith McHenry with Chaz Bufe. See Sharp Press, 2015, 154 pp. [8.5″X11″], $19.95.

This book was released as a refutation of the earlier book of the same title, which (in addition to its bad politics and dangerous recipes has repeatedly been used by police to entrap people on terrorism charges. Its first 89 pages briefly discuss anarchist theory and ‘recipes for social change’ such as organizing events (a practical, detailed section that any novice should find helpful), blockades and occupations. Part III opens with a discussion of the politics of food before offering 24 pages of vegan recipes, many suited for large crowds. Chris Hedges’ introduction offers a sympathetic appraisal of the anarchist tradition, stressing (as does the book as a whole) the movement’s fundamentally nonviolent nature.

Anarchist Cookbook front coverThe book is grounded in Food Not Bombs’ practice of activist feeding, but also draws on See Sharp’s library of anarchist pamphlets. Part One distinguishes anarchism from terrorism, primitivism, chaos, rejection of (non-coercive) organization, amoral egotism, and the right-wing has co-opted as capitalist-friendly ‘libertarianism.’ An excerpt from the classic You Can’t Blow Up a Social Relationship reminds us that revolution is fundamentally about organizing people to create a new society.

The practical nature of the book emerges in its second half. There is extensive and sensible discussion of provocateurs and informants, some of who have lured FNB volunteers into long prison terms. Brief chapters offer steps on organizing meetings, a consensus flow chart (FNB has always been fond of this profoundly anti-democratic decision-making process), promoting local events, and convening a gathering. There are useful tips for novices on public outreach, such as how to pack a literature table’s contents, and why rocks (police can accuse one of stocking them as weapons) are not as good as rubber bands to secure flyers.

McHenry believes that conscious eating brings people together to live more lightly off the land. Community is formed as we meet and eat together. So he offers recipes for small groups of five or six, many of which can be expanded to feed 100. The recipes are generally simple, hard to mess up (necessary if volunteers unused to working with each other are doing the cooking), and filling.

__________

Anarcho-Syndicalist Review is always well worth reading. The cover article in this issue, “The Cult of Che,” is worth the price of the entire magazine. Subscriptions are $15 for three issues. and the address is ASR, P.O. Box 42531, Philadelphia, PA 19101. Their web site is at http://www.syndicalist.us.

 


We put up our 1,000th post about three weeks ago. Since then, we’ve been looking through everything we’ve posted, and have been putting up “best of” lists in our most popular categories.

This is the ninth of our first-1,000 “best of” lists. We’ve already posted the Science Fiction, HumorMusicInterviews, AtheismEconomics, Science/Skepticism, and Addictions lists, and will shortly be putting up our final “best of”: Religion.

Here, we’ve folded three categories (Anarchism, Libertarianism, and Politics) into this post because of the relative paucity of posts on Anarchism and Libertarianism. We hope you’ll enjoy at least some of these posts.

Anarchism

Libertarianism

Politics


First up, Al Perry has a new one on Youtube, Barrio Cucaracha, which gives a good musical and visual impression of his neighborhood, half a mile from the University of Arizona. I live a mile-and-a-half farther away from the U than Al, and my neighborhood is pretty similar, except that the infestation of U of A students and the mini-dorms in which they lurk hasn’t reached this far north.

On a more serious note, there’s a good article on Muckrock.com about the FBI surveillance and infiltration of Food Not Bombs. Your tax dollars at work — paying for the political secret police to monitor and disrupt a peaceful political group explicitly committed to nonviolence.

If you’ve ever had any doubts about anti-“hate speech” laws being a bad idea, look no further than Spain, where three feminists were recently indicted in Seville “for ‘making a mockery’ of Catholic religious traditions after marching with a two metre plastic vagina ‘in the style of the virgin’, according to court documents.”

For the best antidote to Islam (and to PC apologists for it), look no further than the many ex-Muslim atheists on Youtube. One good one is IntrovertedSmiles; his video Things Muslims Should Know About Apostasy is a good introduction to the work of these brave people.

The New York Times, which we generally dislike because of its right-wing, corporatist bias (google “Judith Miller Iraq War New York Times” for the most egregious example of such bias), has, amazingly enough, a good article about the media-fueled hysteria surrounding The Assault Weapon Myth.

Finally, if you’re in the mood for a deeply disturbing, sick but funny article on sex, you won’t do better than attn.com’s piece, This Japanese Company Is Taking Masturbation Tech to Extreme Levels. The nightmare-inducing video loops in the article are not only NSFW, but NSFA (Not Safe For Anyone).

 

 

 

 

 


In the mid and late 1980s, I worked at Typesetting Etc. in San Franscisco. We shared a large second-story corner office on 7th Street with Processed World magazine, a block from the worst part of San Francisco’s skid row, 6th Street. The location was an exercise in contrast. The office and the building it was in (the Grant building) were gorgeous. High ceilings, wainscoting, wrought iron banisters, marble stairs, tiny hexagonal white tiles on the lobby and hall floors.  If anything, the office itself was even nicer: carpeted floor, antique radiators for heating, wood-casement picture windows that extended nearly the full 12 feet to the ceiling. And it was ungodly cheap.

The reason? The location. We were right across the street from a notorious heroin-dealing bar, catercorner to the Greyhound station, and everyday we would see unbelievable scenes of degradation just by looking down from the windows. It was routine to look down and see homeless people pissing in the street or on the sidewalk, and occasionally we’d see a homeless person taking a dump between parked cars.

Food Not Bombs in Golden Gate ParkAt the time, the San Francisco city government and the city’s cops were locked in a years-long battle with Food Not Bombs, trying to prevent the group from serving free food to the hungry and homeless.  Over the course of that campaign, they arrested hundreds of people for serving or attempting to serve food, and they wasted at minimum hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars, more likely millions.

In the midst of all this–in the dim, dark, pre-desktop publishing days when we still worked with cold type, vertical cameras, and light tables–a bubbly, bearded type walked in and asked us to do some free work for Food Not Bombs. This was a fairly typical request, as we did free or drastically discounted work for what seemed like half of the leftist political groups in town. (To support this, we also did a fair amount of commercial work, mostly for theater companies; the Church of $cientology was just down the street, and we even did occasional work for them at special Church of $cientology rates.)

In any event, the bearded, bubbly type turned out to be Keith McHenry, one of the co-founders of Food Not Bombs, who had moved to San Francisco a few years before, and was leading the Food Not Bombs campaign.

Since then, Keith and I have been friends, and over the years See Sharp Press has published the second edition of Food Not Bombs, the group’s original manual (1998); Hungry for Peace, Food Not Bombs’ new manual (2012); and most recently the new (2015) Anarchist Cookbook, which I co-authored with Keith, which advocates nonviolent direct action and is the antidote to the infamous 1971 bomb- and drug-making manual of the same title.

In the same period, Food Not Bombs expanded from single chapters in Boston and San Francisco to hundreds of chapters worldwide.

Food Not Bombs served its first free meal 35 years ago today.

Here’s Keith’s remembrance of the founding of Food Not Bombs.

* * *

hungry

The Beginning of Food Not Bombs

by Keith McHenry

During the late 1970s, I was active with the Clamshell Alliance and the Coalition for Direct Action and participated in a number of protests at the Seabrook nuclear power station construction site in New Hampshire. Those protests brought the eight of us who started Food Not Bombs together. One of us, Brian Feigenbaum, had been arrested at a protest, and we started to hold bake sales outside the Student Union at Boston University and in public places like Harvard Square to raise money for his legal defense.

Several of us decided we also needed to build opposition to Seabrook in the Boston area, Boston being the largest city likely to be effected by a nuclear accident at Seabrook. At about the same time, several of our friends discovered that many of the board members of the First National Bank of Boston sat on the boards of the companies building and buying Seabrook Nuclear Power Station.

The bank was using depositors’ money to fund this dangerous project. We decided to start a campaign called the First National Bank Project with the intention of bringing the effort to stop the nuclear station to the people of Boston.

I designed a flyer diagraming the interconnections of the bank’s board members with the nuclear industry. Several on the First National Bank of Boston’s board also sat on the boards of military contractors such as Raytheon as well as on the boards of companies such as Babcock and Wilcox that were profiting from the construction of the nuclear power station. The flyer showed this complex web.

Our first action was outside the Bank of Boston’s headquarters. I was the only one in the group who owned a suit and tie in the group and so was picked to play Bank President Richard Hill in a skit.

Dummy 3 flat 72-smallThe eight founding volunteers of Food Not Bombs met and decided to support the First National Bank Project campaign with food. I recovered boxes of organic produce at my job at Bread and Circus Natural Grocery in Cambridge. We’d previous been collecting such food and delivering all of it to the people living at the projects on Portland Avenue. Following the launch of the First National Bank campaign, we agreed to use some of the food for the campaign.

The second action organized by the First National Bank Project was  held outside the annual stockholders meeting of the bank on March 26, 1981. By then, we were calling ourselves Food Not Bombs, and we decided to make a huge pot of soup out of some of the produce I was recovering. We dressed as hobos from the Great Depression era and organized a soup line outside the Federal Reserve Bank at South Station.

As we were preparing the pot of soup, we became concerned that there would not be enough people to finish all the food and that we had also not done enough to draw the number of protesters needed to make the meal resemble a Depression era soup line. We thought of a solution. We’d tell the homeless people at the Pine Street Inn homeless shelter about the lunch time protest. Two of us drove over to the Inn at about midnight. The staff was happy to let us speak to the men. I made a brief announcement about the purpose of the protest and said that we would be providing a free meal. They were excited more about the protest than the meal.

The next day Food Not Bombs arrived outside the Federal Reserve Bank dressed as hobos. One of us had a cloth tied up as a bag and filled it with crumpled paper and hung it off a wooden broom stick to look like the bindlestiff one would see in movies from the depression era. Many of the men we had met at the Pine Street Inn were already waiting for us when we arrived. We set up a literature table with information about Food Not Bombs and the flyer I had produced about the policies of the Bank of Boston. We tied a few balloons to the mirrors and door handles of our van and set out the 60-quart pot of soup, paper bowls and a few loaves of bread.

The men from the inn gathered and made a line down the sidewalk towards Canal Street and South Station. A business man stopped to tell us he was shocked to see the line. “I have only seen soup lines in movies. I sure hope this does’t become a necessity.”

We shared the soup with not only the many homeless that came, but also business people who were walking pass. We also talked with a few stockholders who stopped to share their anger at the bank’s policies. Several of those from the inn suggested we do this every day.One of them told us, “There isn’t any food available for us during the day. We get coffee and donuts before they kick us out and donuts and coffee when we return for the night, but there aren’t any food programs in Boston that provide cooked meals.”

The economic policies of the Reagan Administration had only just begun to wreak havoc on working people, and very few Americans were homeless.. By the end of the Reagan Administration the homeless population had grown from less than 100,000 mostly homeless vets to over 750,000 people, including many families.

That evening while cleaning up from our first soup line we decided to quit our jobs and dedicate our time to food recovery, grocery distribution, and the street theater of sharing vegan meals while conveying a radical message. Maybe we could slow Reagan’s economic policies of deep cuts in public housing, education, food, and social welfare, and the redirection of federal taxes towards the expansion of the military.

We started a daily routine of recovering produce, baked goods, and tofu donated by local shops, and delivering it to community rooms at public housing projects, shelters, and to others in need. Each evening Food Not Bombs volunteers would set up a literature table along with a table of vegan food at Harvard Square, the Park Street Station, and other public locations. Often people would drum and play other instruments, and at times we would organize puppet shows and other theatrical activities during the evening meals.

"Danger Money" graphic by Tomasz StepienEight years later, after eight years of President Reagan’s bank-friendly policies, the Food Not Bombs theatrical soup line of March 26, 1981 had become a soup line of necessity.

The 1981 soup line outside the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston was just a theatrical memory of the Great Depression. For over two decades it’s been a necessity. I delivered produce to Occupy Boston outside that same bank in 2011. The capitalist political and economic system continues to produce the poverty, hunger, and suffering that is a
natural outcome of a sociopathic system of institutionalized greed.

The eight of us were very optimistic that crisp March day in 1981 believing we could change the world. And yes, we accomplished much more than we could ever have imagined. At the same time, we could not have imagined just how much more we would need to do.