The 30th Anniversary of Food Not Bombs

Even as San Francisco Food Not Bombs volunteers were arrested every day, the news inspired people all over the world to start local chapters. Volunteers who were hauled off to jail, often suffered beatings and torture techniques used by the Special Operations Unit of the San Francisco Police. Special Operations took McHenry to their office on three occasions, stripped him of his clothes, lifted him by his arms and legs until his ligaments and tendons ripped, then stuffed him into a tiny chain linked cage that hung from the ceiling for three days. The police also pushed the volunteers to the ground, beating them with clubs and flash lights, as well as choking others during their arrests. McHenry required two surgeries after being clubbed between the eyes. Another activist was sent to the psychiatric ward at San Francisco General, tied down to a bed and drugged. The police also used pain compliance holds when arresting servers, and made threats to kill volunteers if they didn't stop. Instead of stopping, the Food Not Bombs word of this harsh repression moved defiant activists to join the movement, starting new groups and inspiring respect from many of the people living on the streets.

Things had gotten so bad, that Amnesty International, in an unprecedented decision, declared that all Food Not Bombs volunteers would be considered " Prisoners of Conscience" if they were convicted. The United Nations Human Rights Commission in Switzerland also started an investigation into human rights violations against the group. Robert Norse Kahn, a Food Not Bombs volunteer, was the only one of over 1,000 people arrested for sharing food that was ever convicted. He was sentenced to 60 days in jail but was released after only two weeks because of a massive outpouring of support. Volunteers sharing food and literature outside the jail, were interfering with business as usual , and the warden thought it was ridiculous that, with the jail overcrowded, he had to hold someone who had simply given a bagel to a homeless woman.

Keith settled his " Three Strikes" case with a conviction of "felony disruption of a police commission hearing", in exchange for the city dropping all his other charges. To stay out of the reach of the San Francisco Police, Keith McHenry toured North America and Europe, helping promote Food Not Bombs. In 1995, the " Rent Is Theft Tour" introduced people in 50 cities to a vegan cooking demonstration, set-up and broadcast the program on a low-powered FM radio station, and helped organize local Food Not Bombs and Homes Not Jails chapters.

The first President Bush launched " Desert Storm" and tens of thousand of people joined the January 16th evening demonstrations to be followed by blockades of Interstate highways, Federal Buildings, the Bay Bridge and Pacific Stock Exchange, in San Francisco. Millions of protesters filled the streets each weekend of the assault. San Francisco Food Not Bombs shared meals across the city for forty five days making it possible to keep the Federal Building, Chevron World Headquarters, and other key sites, shut down for days. Food Not Bombs provided meals at hundreds of protests all over the world during " Desert Storm."

In June of 1995, San Francisco hosted the 50th anniversary celebration of the founding of the United Nations. A second Food Not Bombs international gathering was held with nearly 600 people registering at the " Convergence Center." Every day, Food Not Bombs volunteers were arrested serving food at UN Plaza, under the shadow of the obelisk honoring the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which reads, in part: " Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services." Several Food Not Bombs activists set up the first Indymedia at the convergence center. The gathering started with dozens of Food Not Bombs activists arrested when they built a colorful "shantytown" on UN Plaza, to show that there are homeless people even in the wealthiest nation on earth, while highlighting that the city had removed San Francisco's homes from sight. Still others were arrested on felony arson charges, for a nighttime march with torches, against the death penalty, and in support of Mumia Abu-Jamal. During the ten-day gathering, Food Not Bombs activists from all over the world cooked together, protested together and were jailed together. They attended workshops on consensus decision-making, banner painting, bio-diesel (lard-cars), building micro-FM radio transmitters, sexism and racism, compost making and cooking.

In 1997, three activists from Spain, Sara, Manolo, Salva, joined Keith and Seth, a musician from southern California, on the " UnFree Trade Tour." They talked about organizing against the globalization of the economy, and the need to protest North American Free Trade Agreement and the World Trade Organization. They visited 59 cities in the United States and Canada, and encouraged people to shut down the WTO whenever it meets in North America. A 300 page book about the tour, " Viaje Al Corazn de La Bestia" was published in Spanish. When it was announced that the WTO would meet in Seattle in November of 1999, Food Not Bombs chapters around North America started to mobilize, posting fliers, hosting events, and urging their communities to head for the North West. Seattle Food Not Bombs secured a convergence center, prepared meals for the protesters, helped set up an Indymedia office and welcomed thousands of activists that came to Seattle to " shut it down" . The WTO in the now famous " Battle of Seattle."


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