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Indybay Feature
Food Not Bombs Marks its 40th Anniversary by Responding to the Global Pandemic
by Keith McHenry
Friday May 22nd, 2020 1:14 PM
The shock of COVID 19 and economic crisis is not the way I imagined Food Not Bombs would be marking our fourth decade. The vision of free concerts in cities all over the world has vanished and now we find ourselves rushing to support the food and safety needs of people who were already marginalized before the crisis.
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Food Not Bombs activists in several cities in Myanmar are responding to the crisis by organizing the sharing of meals and supplies in the poorest neighborhoods. Long lines formed on the streets of Sofia, Bulgaria to receive vegan meals with our local chapter. Santa Cruz Food Not Bombs has been providing drinking water, a hand washing station, books and hot meals every day since March 14th forming the Santa Cruz Homeless Union COVID-19 Relief Center when the other food programs closed. Two Food Not Bombs volunteers were arrested outside the Kursky train station in Moscow in April for violating the self-isolation law as they shared food and protective gear to the homeless.

Food Not Bombs has provided food and material support to the survivors of many crises during our 40 year history; setting up an outdoor kitchen to feeding hundreds after the Loma Prieta Earthquake in San Francisco, organizing a nationwide relief effort after Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, as well as mobilizing to help the survivors of Typhoon Yolanda, the Christmas Tsunami, and the 2019 floods in Thaton, Myanmar.

The horizontal organizational structure of Food Not Bombs facilitates a rapid response to changes in conditions such as a global pandemic. Local chapters are prepared, having in many cases spent decades building networks of solidarity with sources of food and equipment.

When eight young anti-nuclear activists including myself formed Food Not Bombs during the May 24, 1980, Occupation Attempt of the Seabrook Nuclear Power Station we never could have imagined that tens of thousands of people would eventually be volunteering to share food with their communities in hundreds of cities.

When the city of San Francisco started arresting volunteers of the second chapter for the crime of sharing food with the hungry, it sparked defiance and inspired people to form their own local groups. Food Not Bombs organized its first world gathering in San Francisco in the days that led up to the 500th Anniversary of the European Invasion of the Americas. It was at this gathering that we first adopted our three principals.

1. The food is always vegan or vegetarian and free to everyone, rich or poor stoned or sober.

2. Every group is autonomous, has no leaders and uses a consensus process that invites participation by those who rely on Food Not Bombs for food.

3. Food Not Bombs is not a charity and is dedicated to taking nonviolent direct action so that no one is forced to live on the streets or seek food at a soup kitchen.

Food Not Bombs volunteers recover food, prepare vegan meals and share their culinary gifts and literature to the public on the streets and in the parks providing regular access to nutrition and information in at least 65 countries.

San Francisco police ultimately made nearly 1,000 arrests for sharing food with the hungry. and Food Not Bombs activists in Arcadia, Los Angeles, Orlando, Tampa, Ft Lauderdale, Minsk, Belarus and Moscow, Russia are among the cities who have made arrests. When I was framed on the California Three Strikes Law in 1994 Amnesty International recognized all those facing incarceration as Prisoners of Conscience and who called for their unconditional release if arrested for sharing food with the hungry. Amnesty also came to the aid of eleven volunteers with the group in Cainta, Philippines who were tortured into confessing to participation in an attack on a military camp in Cabiten, Mankayan, Benguet on February 10, 2006. Food Not Bombs volunteers have also been murdered in the Philippines during the current drug war. Neo-Nazis in Russia have killed our volunteers - even setting off a time bomb before one of our meals in St Petersburg.

Food Not Bombs not only provides regular meals, groceries and literature to people in our community, we also share food at protests. We fed thousands of activists during the June 12, 1982 March for Nuclear Disarmament in New York City, during actions at Nevada Nuclear Weapons Test Site in 1988 - 1992, at a 27-day Tent City protest in San Francisco in 1989, for two months during a West Bank Peace Camp at Mas'ha Palestine, at protests against the US invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan including weeks at Camp Casey in Crawford, Texas, in hundreds of cities during Occupy Wall Street, during the long often muddy protests against Exercise Talisman Saber in Australia, a 600-day farmer's occupation in Bosnia and Herzegovina Square in Sarajevo, during many anti-globalizations protests against the World Trade Organization (WTO) summits in Seattle, Genoa, and Cancun, the 2001 Meeting of the European Council in Gothenburg, Sweden where one of our volunteers was shot by the police, and hundreds of other smaller local demonstrations.

Food Not Bombs activist have also initiated a, number of related projects including Bikes Not Bombs, Food Not Lawns, Homes Not Jails, Indymedia, and the Really Really Free Markets.

The pandemic and economic chaos provides Food Not Bombs with another opportunity to support a vision of peace, solidarity and a realization of the importance of community and the basics of food, water, shelter, health and friendship.


Keith McHenry - Co-founder of the global movement Food Not Bombs
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