Starting A Food Not Bombs

Taking personal responsibility and doing something about the problems of our society can be both empowering and intimidating. Voting for the best candidate or giving money to your favorite charity are worthwhile activities but many people want to do more. What to do and how to get started is hard to discover, especially with social problems as large as homelessness, hunger, and militarism. This handbook is will assist you in getting started on a path towards taking personal direct action on these issues.

Above all, the Food Not Bombs experience is an opportunity for self-empowerment. In addition to the obvious political message we are trying to convey, the two major components of the day to day work of Food Not Bombs are the recovery and redistribution of surplus food, and the feeding of the hungry. Political organizing is more rewarding if it produces both greater political awareness and direct service.

At every step along the way, you will be faced with many choices; some we will describe in this handbook, but others will be unique to your situation. You will need to make the decisions for yourselves which are the best for your local operation. We can tell you from our experience that it will be both hard work and a lot of fun, and we will try to share with you those things we have learned which might both assist you and help you avoid problems we have already encountered. This handbook is a beginning point from which to take off on your own adventure. This handbook is based on more than ten years of experience, but that does not give us all the answers. Every day brings more challenges and new learning opportunities. The Food Not Bombs experience is a living, dynamic adventure which expands with every person who participates in it. Even today, as more and more Food Not Bombs groups start in other cities, we are discovering that each group brings with it new ideas, new visions, and new ways of developing its own identity. This handbook contains only the most basic information necessary for you to start your group on its way.

Seven Steps to Organizing a Local Food Not Bombs

At the outset, starting a Food Not Bombs might seem like more than you can handle. Work on the basics, taking one step at a time. There is no need to feel pressured into accomplishing everything all at once. It might take a couple of weeks to get things rolling, or it may take months. One person cannot be a Food Not Bombs group, but one person can be the "starter" of one group.

Once you have made the decision to start a local Food Not Bombs group, pick a meeting date, time, and place and gather together everyone interested to talk about what you would like to do. You might start with a group of friends, or members of an existing group, or it could be people who respond to posters announcing your intentions.

The following is a step-by-step process to get your food operation up and running. Because of your unique situation, you may need to add, ignore or reorder steps. Follow the path you feel will work best for your group.

Step 1: Start by getting a phone number and a mailing address. By using either a voice mailbox or an answering machine, you can have an outgoing message with information about the next meeting time and place, and receive messages so that you never miss a call. Likewise, use a commercial mailbox or post office box for your permanent address.

Step 2: Make flyers announcing the existence of a local Food Not Bombs. By handing them out at events, posting them around town, or mailing them to your friends, you will get additional volunteers. It is helpful to have regularly scheduled weekly meetings and always know the date of the next one.

Step 3: Arrange for the use of a vehicle. Among the members of your group, there might be enough vehicles of the right size for your needs, but if not, you might be able to borrow a van or truck from a sympathetic church group or similar organization. If you are very lucky, you could be able to find someone to donate one to you. If none of the above succeeds, you can always hold fund-raising events specifically for the purchase of a van.

Step 4: With flyers in hand, begin looking for sources of food. The first places to approach are the local food co-ops and health food stores. These types of stores tend to be supportive and are a good place to practice your approach. Tell them you plan to give the food to shelters and soup kitchens to feed hungry people, and if they are interested and willing, arrange for a regular time to pick up the food each day or as often as is practical. Where it is appropriate, leave literature which explains what Food Not Bombs does.

Step 5: Deliver your collected food to shelters and meal kitchens. It is important to get to know the food pantries and soup kitchens in your area. Learn where they are located, whom they serve, and how many they serve. This information will help you plan your delivery route and distribute the appropriate types and amounts of food to each program. It is usually desirable to arrange a regular delivery schedule with each kitchen.

Step 6: Once this network becomes established, start to skim some food out of the flow without disrupting the program. With this food, prepare meals to serve on the streets. Go to rallies and demonstrations first; there your group can recruit more volunteers, collect donations, and lift the spirits of those at the event. Giving out meals at a rally builds community and supports the cause in a very direct way.

Step 7: Once enough people are involved, consider serving meals in a visible way one day a week to the homeless on the street. Cooking and serving food there builds community within the group and is hard work, but this is also great fun. Pick highly visible locations because. part of our mission is to help make the "invisible homeless" more visible. We also want to reach out to everyone with our political message of "food not bombs" and we want to be very accessible.

The "Office"

In general, it is the Food Not Bombs style to operate on as low a financial level as possible. Always strive to get the most out of your resources. One way to keep operating expenses low is to use only a mailbox and answering service as your office. Thus, by not having a standing office, there is no need to use valuable volunteer time staffing it. This allows the volunteers to spend more time on the street, and our tables, whether serving meals or distributing information, become the "office" where group business is conducted and where people who want to meet us can find us.

One of our goals for doing street work is to bring people with different economic backgrounds directly into contact with each other. If your office is on the street, then you are very accessible, and all your actions are public. The people who are forced to live on the streets will, over time, develop a great deal of respect for your group, and you will experience directly a piece of street life and you will develop firsthand knowledge of the popular opinions on the issues of the day. The cost for establishing this part of the Food Not Bombs operation is affordable for any group.

Decision Making and Leadership

Another goal of Food Not Bombs is the creation of opportunities for self-empowerment. The way to do this within the group is to create an environment where every member is encouraged to participate in decision-making, take initiative, and fill the various roles necessary for smooth functioning of the group.

We make decisions by consensus rather than voting. Voting is a win or lose model in which people are more concerned about the numbers it takes to win a majority than they are in the issue itself. Consensus, on the other hand, is a process of synthesis, bringing together diverse elements and blending them into a decision which is acceptable to the entire group. In essence, it is a qualitative rather than quantitative method of decision-making. Each person's ideas are valued and become part of the decision.

When everyone participates in the discussion of an idea, trust is developed and people feel valued and committed to the result. A proposal is stronger when everyone works together to create the best possible decision for the group. Any idea can be considered, but only those ideas which everyone thinks are in the best interests of the group are adopted.

There are several models of consensus which your group might choose to adopt. It is most important, however, that whatever process you use is clear, consistent, and able to be easily taught and learned so that all can participate fully. (See bibliography in the appendix)

Many progressive groups avoid having leaders who might dominate the group. However, it is a mistake to think a group does not need leadership roles. To avoid having power concentrated in the hands of a few entrenched leaders, encourage leadership skills in every member of the group and rotate all roles. This can be accomplished by holding skill-building trainings and by encouraging and supporting people to be self-empowered, especially those who are generally reserved. This helps the the group become more democratic and helps individuals feel more satisfied and, therefore, less likely to burn-out or fade away..


Outreach is very important, less expensive and more effective than you might imagine. The appendix of this book has a recruiting flyer you can use that has been effective in attracting new people to Food Not Bombs. You can use this copy by putting your phone number and address in the appropriate spots, or you can create your own. This and other flyers can then be put on bulletin boards in local schools, cafes, health food stores, bookstores, and launderettes. Post recruitment flyers on a regular basis; it is good to continually bring in new people with fresh ideas and enthusiasm.

In addition to posting flyers in public spaces, visit all the peace and justice organizations in your community. Leave your flyers and collect their literature to place on your own information table.

Also go to all the soup kitchens, pantries, shelters, and advocacy groups for those suffering from economic injustice and distribute your literature. Don't be discouraged by a lukewarm reception. At first, these groups might view Food Not Bombs as competition for scarce resources, or they may be strongly opposed to connecting the issues of hunger, homelessness and economic injustice with other political issues such as militarism. Many direct service agencies accept the role of care-giver to those most oppressed in our society without challenging the root causes of that oppression. They prefer to keep a low profile and support the status quo and they will be very fearful of anyone who does challenge the system. However, because the vision of Food Not Bombs is the creation of abundance by recovering surplus food, your free food will be a way to reach out to them and gradually win their support. This kind of outreach will become the foundation of widespread community support that could be very valuable to your group in the future.

As your effort grows, you can organize and sponsor special events which will attract more folks to join in the work and the fun. Examples of these kinds of events are concerts, poetry readings, rallies, lectures, and film festivals. Before these events, be sure to call all the press listed in the yellow pages in your town and invite them to come. Even though the coverage can sometimes be unsympathetic, it is still valuable to have Food Not Bombs mentioned in the press. In our experience, most people understand the concept "food not bombs" and are not misled by negative reporting.

At these events, a special attention-grabber is the display of a huge banner proclaiming "Food Not Bombs". This banner is very useful when the media is taking pictures, because, if nothing else, the words "Food Not Bombs" will be displayed. You can use the Food Not Bombs logo of a purple fist holding a carrot as much as you want. Our national office has buttons, bumper stickers, t-shirts, and banners with this logo for you to use for fund-raising and promotion. (See national contact list in the appendix.)

Food Collection

Food recovery is the backbone of the Food Not Bombs operation. Discovering sources of surplus food might at first appear to be a major challenge, but mostly, it just takes confidence and patience. Every business in the food industry is a potential source of recoverable food, from wholesale to retail, and from production to distribution. Sometimes it may take some creativity and persistence to convince a stubborn manager to allow you to have some "waste" food, but, in most instances, the businesses will be very cooperative.

You will need to decide if you want the business owners or managers to know that some of the food will be used for political organizing or the name of your group, Food Not Bombs. At some stores, this will not be an issue; at others, it might be better left unsaid until they get to know you better.

Start by making arrangements to collect food at organic produce warehouses, bakeries, and natural food stores. Ask the workers at these businesses if they have any edible food that they regularly throw away and, if so, that they would they be willing to give to you. Be sure to point out to them that by collecting this food, you will be saving them money on their waste disposal bill. They will certainly be aware of how expensive it is to have this surplus hauled away as waste and of how costs keep growing each year as more and more landfills become exhausted. One of the by-products of our program is the reduction of waste in our society.

While in the process of collecting contacts in the food industry, you should also be determining the availability of drivers and vehicles. There needs to be at least one volunteer to drive each day. Make a schedule which is convenient to both store and driver. It is important to be flexible but also reliable: businesses will be hesitant to participate if they do not feel they can rely on this "waste" removal method on a regular basis. It is a tradition with Food Not Bombs to always be on time; therefore, do not overextend yourself. It is actually more common to get too much food than not enough; but only do as much as is comfortable. After all, some recovery of food is better than no recovery at all.

Also, Take time to make friends with the workers at the sites where food is collected. These workers make the day-to-day decisions about how much food is recovered, and they can make an effort to recover even more food if they feel comfortable with you.

The variety of food that can be recovered is unlimited. Be creative. Any perishable food is going to be intentionally over-stocked, so there will be a regular surplus destined to be wasted. Look for sources of surplus bagels, bread and pastries, organic fruits and vegetables, tofu, and some packaged foods. Sometimes you might need to buy non-perishables like rice, beans, miso, condiments, and spices at natural foods stores, but these stores will often supply these for free.

Eventually, work your way up to collecting at warehouses, farms, and wholesale distributors. The volume of food available to recover is immense, but be selective. Take what you can use from the highest quality. In many places, there is no need to recover commercial produce because there is plenty of organic produce to recover! In fact, one of our political messages is that there is more edible food being thrown away each day by the food industry than there are hungry people to eat it.

Food Distribution

At first, deliver the bulk food you collect to soup kitchens and pantries in your area. From your earlier research and contacts, it is likely you will already know which kitchens are interested in receiving this food. Also deliver bulk food to food pantries, striking workers, day-care centers, battered women's shelters, refugees, and the like. Contact organizations already working directly in the community, and ask if their staff would take responsibility for equitable distribution of free food once a week. Since they already have a base of operations in the community, their staff know the people in need, how great their need is, and how best to distribute it to them. Encourage them to use the free food distribution program as a way to increase participation in their other programs; use the food as an organizing tool. Sometimes Food Not Bombs organizes distribution of bulk food at housing projects or on street corners, but you might also give out bulk food along with the prepared meal at your food tables. One of our goals is to encourage the awareness of the food's abundance as well as the undermining of the market of scarcity that places profits before people.

The Kitchen

Once you have this network of collection and distribution in operation, begin using some of the recovered food to prepare hot meals. You will need to find a kitchen to use, and several pieces of equipment which are necessary for feeding large numbers of people that are not found in the average kitchen. A full equipment list can be found in the Recipes section.

There are several methods of finding suitable kitchen space. Sometimes it is possible to arrange to use the kitchen in a community center, place of worship, or public building. A large kitchen in a collective house or a number of average-size kitchens also might be sufficient, but sometimes cooking right on the street in a field kitchen is the best solution. Each situation has its advantages and disadvantages, and the demands of your meal distribution program will determine your kitchen needs. Often, a combination of kitchen spaces is necessary for different aspects of your schedule. You might use a church kitchen for your weekly meal to the homeless, a field kitchen for a large rally in a park, and a volunteers' kitchen for a catered lunch. The key is in finding the right size kitchen for each event.

Since most Food Not Bombs groups do some amount of cooking outdoors, it is a good idea to acquire a camp stove. Propane seems to be the best fuel for the cooking in field kitchens. The tanks can be refilled, and even the smaller ones last a long time on one filling. It is worthwhile to obtain a strong, heavy-duty stove, ans while it might cost more, it will last longer and will be safer with large pots. This and all the other equipment needed for food preparation and serving can be obtained from restaurant supply stores, thrift stores, yard sales, kitchen auctions, and friends. (See the appendix under Equipment Lists for more details.)

In general, the most important pieces of equipment is the cooking pots. You will need all different sizes, but the most valuable are the very large pots of 40 quarts or more. A couple of hundred people generally can be fed from a pot this size, depending upon what is prepared in it, but these pots are hard to come by. Most people who have pots this size will not loan them out. The cheapest pots to buy are aluminum, but we discourage their use because of toxicity. If you must use aluminum pots, never prepare miso or tomato-based recipes in them- the aluminum will corrode and leach into the food. Try to have stainless-steel pots donated to you, and once you have a collection of pots and lids, be very careful with them. It is not uncommon to lose pots between the kitchen and the vehicle or between the vehicle and the serving table. Also, try to avoid having the pots in a situation which might lead to arrest. Transfer the food into smaller, less valuable pots or plastic buckets for these times.

Another valuable piece of equipment is the 5 gallon plastic bucket. These can usually be obtained free from natural food stores and co-ops. Ask them to save and give you peanut-butter buckets, tofu buckets, and other large plastic containers in which food is delivered in and that they do not need or have to return. Don't forget to collect the lids, too. These containers are valuable for food storage, transportation, and serving, and they can also be used for many other purposes. Because they are fairly easy to get, they also are good to use in situations where you cannot be sure they will be returned to you.

Food Preparation

The major issue to address when considering preparing food at low cost for large amounts of people is one of logistics. Getting the proper amount of food, the necessary equipment, a suitable kitchen, and the cooking team all together at the same time might sometimes seem like a miracle, but it can be done. Each local chapter will develop its own method of food preparation; the following is a general guide.

The volunteer cooking team usually meets at the kitchen a few hours before the meal is scheduled to be served. They often help unload the food and equipment from the Food Not Bombs vehicle. Always wash your hands with soap before cooking, and plan the menu by looking at what food you have and how many people you are planning to feed. Sort out all the useful food and wash it. (The most time-consuming job in this process is washing and cutting the vegetables.)

Each cooking team usually operates with whatever style of management that is comfortable to them. Sometimes, one person becomes "the head cook" for the whole team and at other times, each person takes one dish and prepares it from start to finish. The team may also choose to do everything cooperatively. The recipes you use can be ones you already know or they can be from the recipe chapter of this book. Once the meal is prepared, the cooking team cleans the kitchen, packages the food for transportation, and loads it into the Food Not Bombs vehicle for delivery to the serving site.

Sometimes the serving team and the cooking team are the same people; usually they are different. The serving team arrives at the serving site and organizes the food distribution and the staffing of the literature table. Always try to have a hand-washing bucket with soap and rinse bucket with just a little bleach, so the volunteers can wash their hands before serving. Try to keep the food away from the literature. If a long line develops, have someone go up and down the line and hand out bread or muffins or maybe something to drink on hot days, so the wait is not too unbearable. This also helps reduce the tension created by fear that the food might run out. If you can find musicians or other street performers to come and perform while you're serving, this will also reduce tensions and create a very positive, festive atmosphere. The serving team is also responsible for cleaning up both the site and the equipment and returning the equipment to wherever it is stored.

The collection of cash donations at the food table is an ongoing debate. Sometimes it is completely out of place to ask for donations, but in other situations, people insist on being allowed to contribute to the collective work. In any event, always encourage the idea that everyone can have as much food as they want without regard to their ability to pay for it. Food is a right, not a privilege.

Outdoor Tables and Field Kitchens

At every outdoor event, the first decision the group needs to make is where to place the tables, and there are many important issues to consider. If possible, look at the location ahead of time. At demonstrations, having the food table as close as possible to the focal point of the demonstration has been very successful. Being close to the action encourages people to stay involved and not drift away. Sometimes the most desirable location is the one with the most foot traffic. Other times, it is the most visible, accessible location for people without homes. It is always a good idea, however, to be sensitive to nearby restaurants and vendors with similar types of food; they might complain and have your operation shutdown if they feel it is in competition with theirs.

The following diagrams offer two possible layouts of your field kitchen. One is more basic, involving a minimum of equipment. The other involves more equipment and would be able to pass a health department inspection in most cities. In general, Food Not Bombs believes that our work does not require any permits. However, the city or the police often use the permit issue as a way to attempt to harass you and shut you down. Therefore, it is sometimes a good idea to have a fully equipped field kitchen. There may still be attempts to shut you down, but you can point out that it is not a health but a political issue which they are raising. It is the Food Not Bombs position that we have a right to give away free food anytime, anywhere, without any permission from the state.

Beyond Basic Food Collection and Distribution

Street Theater

From the very beginning, we saw all of street activity as theater. This included not only our food tables, but also our literature tables, our presence at other peoples' events, etc. We recognized that the personal is political and the political becomes personal, and we wanted to dramatize the reality of the militarization of our society by highlighting the social costs and the human suffering. We created opportunities to expose this injustices through soup lines; depicting military types holding a bake sale to by a B-1 bomber; offering the "tofu challenge" instead of the "Pepsi Challenge;" and even a silent theater piece in which a person dressed as a papier mache missile chased a person in a papier mache world, threatening to destroy it.

The only limits to what kind of theater you present are only your imagination and your pocketbook. Scenarios have included anything from setting up a food and literature table with some musicians, to full scale productions with amplified sound, lights shows, slide projectors, puppets, and speakers all happening at once around your food and literature tables. Sometimes these events are planned entirely by Food Not Bombs; sometimes they are organized by other groups and we just attend with food and literature. Either way, never forget to include your audience in the performance whenever possible.

Because we have always approached our work as theater, it has always been easy to adapt to various situations. We recognize and value the interconnectedness of progressive issues. We try to expose how militarism and imperialism influence our everyday lives, and when we participate in an event highlighting a particular issue, we try to show the way this issue connects with our other issues. Our food is often an excellent bridge or connector.

Our literature reflects our wide scope of concerns. We promote and support many events in our community by carrying their flyers on our tables, and we strive to be as visible as possible. This means searching for locations to set up a table. Sometimes the ideal situation is in a park or plaza, and other times it is important to set up outside a bank, a corporate office, government building or military installation. How often to set up is equally important. The more we are outside, in the public eye, the more our message gets out, and we encourage groups to be as regular as possible to establish a reputation. The Food Not Bombs table is often a landmark for activists and street folks looking to connect with the movement in a new city.


Food Not Bombs has had a long-standing tradition of being very relaxed about fund-raising. We prefer receiving money in small amounts rather than large and difficult-to-manage donations of money from people who might be quite distant from us geographically or politically. We feel it is better to have a wide base of support from the community with whom we have direct contact than to rely on a few foundations or wealthy people who might manipulate or pressure us into catering to their special interests. While this kind of grass-roots fund-raising is more difficult and time-consuming, it allow us to remain on the cutting edge of the political issues of our time, and also requires constant contact with our supporters.

Non-profit, Tax-exempt Status

People often ask if we are a nonprofit, tax-exempt corporation. Generally, we are not interested in the bureaucracy needed to maintain such an organization. Sometimes, you might use an "umbrella" to assist in arranging a particular donation of money that specifically needs to be given to a non-profit, tax-exempt group, and this is fine. It is usually not too difficult to find a tax-exempt organization to do this for you. Specifically, however, do not seek permission from any government agency to engage in the work you do. Once a group becomes a tax-exempt organization, the I.R.S. has the right to oversee all aspects of its operation and limit much of what it can do. Rather than try to hide from them, we prefer to ignore them.

Buttons and Bumper Stickers

One way to raise funds is the setting up of literature tables with buttons, stickers, books, and t-shirts at high volume pedestrian traffic areas or at political events. Being regularly out in the public eye, exercising your right to free speech and collecting donations, has a tremendous effect. For some groups, receiving donations for buttons and bumper stickers is a major source of income, so when people ask how much, use the phrase "one dollar, more if you can, less if you can't". Purposefully create a loose atmosphere so that people donate what they can without pressure or embarrassment. You will often raise more money and awareness if volunteers stand behind the literature and direct people's attention to a particular flyer or asks them a questions like "have you heard about our next event?" At large outdoor events, remember periodically to take the money out of the donation bucket as the day passes, so that no one grabs the bucket and runs off with all that you brought in that day.


Sometimes groups will ask us to provide food for their events. It might be hot soup at an outdoor rally or lunch for a conference. Usually, the sponsoring group gives us a donation of a dollar or more per person. If they have special arrangements like transportation or housing, they might ask for additional contributions directly from the people you serve; this is up to the organizers. However, if the event is outdoors or open to the general public, the food is always free and never denied to someone because of lack of money. At some events, the food is cooked at the site, while at others it is transported already cooked. Try to be on time at all events. Obviously, this is especially important when you are feeding a hundred people lunch at noon during a conference. Also, it is usually possible to bring your literature table and set it up next to the food table or in the lobby or hallway.

Concerts and Events

Food Not Bombs groups often sponsor concerts and events both to have fun and raise money. If you plan ahead, your event can be a big success. Whether for rallies, concerts, or poetry readings, it is important to find a location and date at least six weeks to two months in advance.

When making the arrangements, be sure to get the correct addresses of all parties involved, so that you can stay in touch. Send a letter confirming the date, time, and other arrangements to the managers of the location as soon as you can, and once you have the space confirmed, contact the performers and send them letters confirming the date, time, location, and duration of their performance. It would be unfortunate if the performers did not show simply because they never received their letters of confirmation. If the event goes smoothly, these performers will support you in the future. If you are having a concert, ask the bands if they have sound equipment and a sound person. If not, they may know someone who does. Work out a complete schedule in advance with specific times for each performer, including set up and sound check, and be sure to send the schedule to all parties involved, including the people whose space you are using.

Another good idea is the distribution of flyers advertising the event to local organizations six weeks in advance. An announcement in their monthly newsletters or calender listings can be very valuable. In addition, post flyers all over town and put them on your table for one month in advance. If possible, send 30-second public service announcements to local radio stations as well. Make a follow-up phone call to be sure the announcement is received, and suggest it be put in their public service announcement folder.

At the event, set up a literature table with buttons, stickers, and shirts. Depending on the type of event being held, you may want to ask for a donation at the door or pass the hat during the show. At bigger events, you may want to create a program that can also be an opportunity for fund-raising. The program itself can be sold during the event, and you can sell ads inside it to local groups and businesses. And, of course, a table with 'refreshments' would be a good opportunity to raise additional donations.

Legal Tips


People sometimes argue that it makes the city happy if you get a permit so they know you are using some city sidewalk or park. You give them the name of the organization, its mailing address, and a phone number, and they give you a permit. If the permit policy is really that simple, you might look into it, but don't give the identity of your group until you know for sure.

Case in point: On July 11, 1988, after serving for several months without city interference, the San Francisco Food Not Bombs group wrote a simple, one-page permit request to the Recreation and Parks Department at the suggestion of some community organizers. This unfortunately alerted the government to the meal distribution program, and gave it an opportunity to deny us a permit. It then used this as an excuse to harass the food table and arrest volunteers.

Although the government may create reasons for denying you a permit, you should not be intimidated. Make clear that you are willing to adopt any proposal which will make your operation safer and more successful, but also you will not agree to any demand making it impossible for you to continue your operation. Even after long hours of meeting with government officials, hard earned permits can be revoked at any moment. From the government's point of view, a permit is something they can take away when it whenever it wants. (Remember Indian treaties?) Because of this, we strongly recommended that you NOT contact the local government. The revolution needs no permit.

Nonviolence Training

In most places, the authorities recognize that sharing free food and information is an unregulated activity protected by the First Amendment. However, this is not true everywhere. If your group feels it might be risking arrest by serving food in public, it would be a good idea to contact a knowledgeable activist or supportive lawyer in your area and spend a day preparing yourselves by doing role-playing, discussing how you might respond to various situations, and by considering the legal consequences of your actions.

In fact, if you think you might be facing arrest, it is very helpful to arrange a nonviolence training beforehand. In most areas, local peace groups will be able to direct you to people who can lead trainings. Also, the War Resisters League in New York City has a national directory of trainers and a handbook for trainings. If you cannot find an experienced trainer, gather the group together for a day and conduct your own training. Talk about what might happen and some of the ways in the event could lead to violence. Discuss how to respond nonviolently. Then do some role-playing and act out some of the possble scenarios, some people playing the police and others the activists. This is both very educational and helpful for you to overcome your fear of arrest. Legal consequences, jail solidarity, and legal defense for trial (if any) can also be discussed at the training.

If The Government Arrests You - Non-cooperation

Whether or not you think you actually will be arrested, willingness to suffer arrest can be very empowering. Your lack of fear of arrest actually makes it less likely. If you do get arrested for serving free food to the homeless, noncooperation with the police is politically empowering and personally satisfying. The most basic form of noncooperation is refusal to give your name or address. This makes the attempt to dominate you more difficult. Some people will not give their names until they are brought before a judge or because they need get out for a personal reason. If you refuse to identify yourself, the police will often try to intimidate you by holding you in solitary confinement, refusing you access to a lawyer, denying you transportation to court, and engaging in similar threats and oppressive tactics. Politely but firmly tell them you won't give them your name; most of the time, the police will give up after one or two attempts to scare you. They will book you as Jane or John Doe, and take your picture and possibly your fingerprints. Most states limit the amount of time they can hold you before bringing you before a judge for a bail hearing or arraignment to 48 or 72 hours. During this time, they cannot legally prevent you from seeing your lawyer if your lawyer requests to see you.

Of course, DON'T EVER TALK TO THE POLICE ABOUT THE ARREST. The police do not "read you your rights" anymore so it is up to you to remain silent. Not only might they use whatever you say against you in court, they may also use it against the other arrestees.

Noncooperation can also mean "going limp" or refusing to walk with the police. The officers will often use pain holds and roughly throw you around when you choose this type of response. However, it can be very empowering to retain control over your own body. For some, walking with the police feels too much like you agree you should be under arrest. Not walking or not giving your name are both empowering, but even cooperating fully can be very empowering. You know you weren't doing anything illegal anyway, and it's unbelievable that you could be arrested for feeding people.


If you do get arrested, there are several things to consider. Always try to have a support person for every person risking arrest. Support people avoid arrest so they can do various tasks for those arrested. Such tasks include phone calls to family, friends, or employers to explain what happened; tracking those arrested through the legal system so they are not lost or mistreated; contacting the press; managing legal support; continued organizing; and covering the tasks those arrested cannot do. It is best if the support person has some idea of how the arrestees plan to respond to the legal system; that is, noncooperation, jail-solidarity, bail solidarity, and so on. This way, they can keep everyone informed of the progress of the arrest and be there with support when needed. It is also a good idea to leave the support person with your identification and some money, just in case you decide you want to get out.

Call the Media

It is also wise to keep a list of phone numbers handy in case of arrests. On this list should be sympathetic lawyers, support people, the jail, and the press. Getting coverage in the local press can be very instrumental in getting our message out and attracting more support. If possible, remember the name of your contact at each media outlet and talk to the same person each time you call. Have your facts and statements ready, such as: number of people arrested, the charges, who you are, and why Food Not Bombs was doing whatever it was you were arrested for doing. Remember, however, that you are not trying to convince the press person about what you were doing. Talk through the press, not to them. Just tell them what it is you want to say and end the conversation. Be polite but firm. Do not let them talk you into saying something trivial or irrelevant, because they will often use this unimportant information and ignore all the good things you did say.

Jail Solidarity

After you have been arrested, it can be very inspiring for the group to engage in jail solidarity. It is best to discuss and plan this in advance. When arrested, each person has one of the following choices: not giving your name (noncooperation), giving your name but refusing bail (bail solidarity), or fully cooperating by giving your name and paying bail. If several member of the group are willing either to not cooperate or engage in bail solidarity, then you can begin planning your jail solidarity. As a group, you can negotiate your cooperation for concessions from the jailers. For example, you can bargain for access to a phone, the press, or your lawyers; demand no bail money as a condition for your release (commonly called "personal recognizance"); or try to prevent the segregation of some of the participants. The jail system is not designed to respond to a group; it is designed to isolate and demoralize you. The stronger you stand together, the sooner it will be exhausted and meet your demands or even let you go! Unfortunately, because of the philosophy upon which the jail system operates, the jailers are trained to purposefully be vague and inaccurate as a security measure. You never know whether what they tell you is the truth or not. This keeps you disoriented and unable to trust any of the information you receive. Therefore, it is best not to believe anything the jailers say. Remain calm and polite, and use any dialogue with the jailers as an opportunity to explain why you believe in the actions of Food Not Bombs. Highlight the ridiculousness and irony of arresting people who are giving away free food. In nonviolence theory, this is called "speaking your truth to power." Trust yourself and remain committed to the plan the group made before the arrest.

Send $15 for The Food Not Bombs Handbook to:

P.O. Box 424, Arroyo Seco, NM 85714 USA

Start a Food Not Bombs group in you community today!

More FNB Websites | Flyers You Can Reprint | Food Not Bombs Handbook |  How to Start a Food Not Bombs ]
Events |  Home ]

E-mail Keith McHenry