The 30th Anniversary of Food Not Bombs

The first decade of the twenty first century saw a world in crisis, providing Food Not Bombs volunteers with many challenges. By 2000, Food Not Bombs was worldwide and growing fast. Food Not Bombs activists were cooking for big anti-globalization actions in Europe and the Americas. Food Not Bombs celebrated its 25th anniversary with the annual Soupstock concert in Delores Park, San Francisco. Over 15,000 people attended the free concert that featured Fogazi and thousands of free vegan meals. Gothenburg Sweden Food Not Bombs founder, Eric Westerlan, was shot and arrested during a protest in his home town against the G-8. Food Not Bombs in Australia helped free refugees from a detention center. German chapters helped organize and provide vegan meals at " Border Camps" and " Castor Nuclear Waste Blockades." Chapters started in Argentina in response to the collapse of their economy. Food Not Bombs chapters joined in "Anti-McDonalds Day" protests sharing vegetarian food on October 16th outside McDonalds in cities all over the world. Many Food Not Bombs groups also served free food on the annual " Buy Nothing Day." The end of centralized Communist power in eastern Europe inspired an explosion of Food Not Bombs activity in Poland, the Ukraine, Serbia, Croatia, Hungry, Romania, Bulgaria and Russia. Several Polish students moved to East Berlin to publish the magazine " Abolish the Boarders From Below" with numerous reports about the activities of Food Not Bombs across the region.

Food Not Bombs groups in New Zealand focused on ecological crisis caused by the consumer based society organizing the first "Really, Really Free Market ". Food Not BOmbs volunteer Tony produced a documentary on work of Food Not Bombs in Kula Lumpur. Activists from Food Not Bombs chapters across the Philippines organized yearly Gatherings. Indonesian chapters also organized their own gatherings, concerts and built a Do It Yourself culture. Meanwhile, Knoxville Food Not Bombs coordinated the meals at the annual School of the Americas Watch protests in Fort Benning, Georgia, feeding hundreds of activists before they were arrested in civil disobedience actions, designed to pressure the U.S. government to end the training of torture.

In the months before the attack on Afghanistan, Food Not Bombs chapters provided free vegetarian meals to thousands of peace activists at protests all over the world. Unfortunately, before long, Food Not Bombs was again feeding people at the huge protests against the invasion of Iraq. Zagreb Food Not Bombs served 1,000 meals outside the U.S. Embassy , and hundreds of protesters were served hot meals by Food Not Bombs in Budapest, Belgrade, Warsaw, Poznan, Amsterdam, Kula Lumpur, Sidney, Washington, DC, Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Tucson and dozens of other cities. Along with feeding protesters, Food Not Bombs also continued to share free vegetarian meals with the homeless every week in hundreds of cities all over the world.

In 2004, Keith visited local chapters in collecting, cooking and sharing meals. They learned about Copenhagen Food Not Bombs winning the Danish Peace Award, and discovered that Food Not Bombs chapters were sharing meals in six Croatian cities. Slovakian National TV and Radio covered their visit to Bratislava where they learned that Food Not Bombs had started animal rescue shelters in over 20 cities. In Israel, brave Food Not Bombs volunteers joined "Anarchists Against the Wall" in cutting through a gate in the Separation Wall between Palestine and Israel, while being shot at with live ammunition by the Israeli Defense Forces. One of their friends was shot twice and rushed to the hospital. Food Not Bombs chapters from towns all over Ireland brought food to Shannon Airbase to protest the war. They also discovered that many benefit Food Not Bombs CD's and videos have been created, and sold, to support the various chapters' actions. A group of Dutch and German Food Not Bombs activists visited four Food Not Bombs chapters in Poland and made a powerful documentary about their trip.

Chapters in Mexico served food at anti-globalization protests in Cancun and Guadalajara. Eleven Food Not Bombs volunteers were arrested and brutally beaten at the Guadalajara protest, generating worldwide protests and calls for their freedom. The co-founder of Food Not Bombs in Mexico disappeared for weeks in the prison system. Amnesty International called for the release of the nine Food Not Bombs volunteers. Nine Filipino Food Not Bombs activists were arrested during a hike and charged with participation in a New People's Army assault on a military base.

Police attacked the Miami convergence center, arrested and beat Food Not Bombs volunteers at the demonstrations against the Free Trade Agreement of The Americas meeting. Food Not Bombs also introduced the Really Really Free Market to the United States at this action. Then, the Richmond, Virginia Food Not Bombs called for an International Gathering during the Republican National Convention in New York City. They worked with the volunteers that cooked each week at ABC No Rio to organize the logistics. The FBI visited Food Not Bombs activists in Denver, Lawrence, Kansas and infiltrated Richmond and New York Food Not Bombs, instigated an argument against the gathering causing the workshops and other activities to be canceled at the last minute. Still, Food Not Bombs activists arrived cooking at Saint Marks Church, and providing hundreds of meals to the protesters. The FBI claimed that the 24 copies of a paper called Slingshot was a threat , and the ABC News program 20/20 reported that one of the Food Not Bombs cooks had come to destroy the city. He spent three days in the Tombs after being arrested walking past Madison Square Garden.

In June 2005, in the days before the BIODEMOCRACY 2005: Reclaim the Commons! protest, Food Not Bombs activists planned to meet in Philadelphia to talk about the future of the movement, but the meeting was disrupted by a number of infiltrators, including a woman named "Anna"who was recruited by the Sacramento Field office of the FBI, because of a college paper against the " Battle of Seattle." Anna posed as a medic at the violently repressed protest in Miami, argued against the New York Gathering and became " friends" with Philadelphia Food Not Bombs volunteer, Eric McDavid, who is serving a 19 year prison sentence in California, after the FBI gave Anna a wired car and house, the plans to build bombs, and argued that Eric and his friends, Wren and Zachary, weren't really serious about saving the Earth if they weren't willing to bomb a dam on the Sacramento River. When the FBI realized they would never go through with Anna's plans, they raided the house, arrested and charged them with the plot.

Food Not Bombs activists shared free vegan meals every week for several years in Saint Petersburg, Russia attracting a regular crowd. One afternoon in November 2005, a group of young neo-nazis attacked the servers as they were finishing lunch. The nazis stabbed several volunteers, killing Saint Petersburg founder, Timur. His murder inspired nation-wide resistance with marches, and the creation of a strong movement in over 50 cities across Russia, and new chapters in the Ukraine, Beloros, Lithuania and Latvia. The nazis continued to attack Food Not Bombs, stabbing another volunteer to death while he was preparing food for activists at an anti-nuclear camp in Siberia. Nazis also stabbed several other volunteers in cities throughout Russia , and they set off a time bomb at the Saint Petersburg meal. The volunteers were several minutes late and no one was hurt. Russian language Food Not Bombs groups created a communications network, system of websites and coordinated actions. They organized and fed participants at marches and campaigns to protect the environment. They organized the 2007 World Gathering in Ukraine inspiring the creation of more chapters and activities across Europe.

When the dictator of Ukraine refused to accept the vote for his removal, Food Not Bombs joined the protest. Food Not Bombs volunteers set up a field kitchen outside the Parliament building in Kiev, Ukraine the day the election was stolen. After feeding the 100 day tent city protest during the Orange Revolution, the government fell. Food Not Bombs volunteers also provided the meals to farm workers at a 600 day tent city vigil in Bosnia Herzegovina Park in Sarajevo. Across the world, Food Not Bombs was sharing free vegetarian meals with striking auto workers in Soul South Korea. Food Not Bombs in Holbrook, Tasmania provided food to activists defending the wilderness.

Not long after George W. Bush was placed into the White House, the world woke up to the 9/11 disaster. New Brunswick Food Not Bombs rushed to take vegetarian food to the rescue workers at the Staten Island Ferry. At the same time, Food Not Bombs was providing meals to rescue workers near the site of the World Trade Center.

Then Bush announced war against Iraq and Afghanistan. Food Not Bombs chapters started working with other peace groups to organize local protests. Zagreb Food Not Bombs wheeled out their cart and provided over 1,000 meals to protesters outside the U.S. embassy. Chapters provided meals to protesters in hundreds of of communities in the United States, and at marches all across Europe, Asia, Canada, Australia and Latin America. George Bush started a six week vacation at his ranch in Crawford, Texas as Americans and Iraqis died in in the hot Mesopotamian sun. California mother Cindy Sheehan's son Casey is killed in Iraq, and she wants to ask Bush what noble cause her son had died for. She sets up a tent outside Bush's ranch and starts Camp Casey. A week into her vigil, she called the Food Not Bombs office in Tucson seeking support. Food Not Bombs arrives a week later, setting up a kitchen across from Cindy's tent. While providing three meals a day to thousands of protesters, Food Not Bombs volunteers learn about a huge hurricane spinning across the Gulf Of Mexico. The cooks talked with the Veterans For Peace activists, and decide to mobilize volunteers to help with the relief effort after the hurricane passed. The volunteers uploaded a web page asking all chapters to collect food and supplies to take to the survivors of Hurricane Katrina. Food not Bombs chapters started to call in with offers of volunteers, bus loads of food and supplies. Reports of concerts and garages of dry goods and clothes. Two days after New Orleans was flooded, the volunteers from Hartford Food Not Bombs arrived in their bus and set up the first kitchen. Thousands of volunteers organized food drives, gathered volunteers and drove to the gulf region to help. Rainbow Family buses, and volunteers with Veterans For Peace , joined the relief effort. Colleges donated the use of their vans, and gave class credit to their students to volunteer with Food Not Bombs. Buddhist Temples filled Food Not Bombs trucks with their emergency food. The Tucson Food Not Bombs office was flooded with calls for help after one survivor told CNN that "where's the Red Cross, wherevs FEMA, what we need is food not bombs." New Orleans City Councilors emailed Food Not Bombs for help. The state emergency management agencies called Food Not Bombs frantic for updates. Reporters, rescue workers, police and Federal Emergency Management employees joined the survivors for breakfast, lunch and dinner at the Food Not Bombs kitchen in New Orleans. Volunteers provided food to survivors in nearly 20 communities. The American Red Cross gave out our office phone number to anyone needing food. Houston Food Not Bombs provided food outside the Red Cross Center in the Astro Dome and Convention Center. They helped Indymedia set up a low powered FM station in the Astro Dome, making it possible for families to broadcast their existence to one another. Criticism from the survivors embarrassed the American Red Cross who responded by shutting the station down. Eight months after Katrina New Orleans Food Not Bombs volunteer Helen Hill answered a loud knock on her door. An unidentified man opened fire on her, and her husband Paul. She died soon after.

The global economic collapse has inspired another surge of interest in Food Not Bombs. In March 2007, several hundred Food Not Bombs activists met in Nashville, Tennessee and discussed solutions to the crisis from starting new chapters, adding meals to each week, working to end the use of trash compactors, the creation of Homes Not Jails chapters to house the homeless, the organizing of Really Really Free Markets, the creation and the planting of Food Not Lawns community gardens. Food Not Lawns gardens were planted in nearly 60 more communities that summer. Really Really Free Markets flourished after the gathering. Groups started reoccupying foreclosed homes and many more chapters started , as other groups added meals to their weekly schedule. That April, food prices sky rocket, forcing 800,000 more people to struggle for food. Even wealthy countries such as Iceland, felt the crunch. Reykjavik Food Not Bombs provided meals to climate change protesters outside an Alcoa mine in solidarity with Japanese chapters that were sharing free vegetarian meals to G-8 protesters. At the same time, Food Not Bombs was feeding climate change activists blocking old growth logging in Tasmania. Food Not Bombs had been sharing every week to a mystified public outside the central train station in Iceland, until its economy collapsed, and hundreds started to lose their jobs. The Food Not Bombs meal was joined by angry protesters, and soon the government also collapsed. In 2009, young volunteers with Bangkok Food Not Bombs found themselves sharing food with thousands of protesters outside the occupation of government offices and the international airport.

There are several reasons why this movement is still so strong after 30 years. Food Not Bombs has no leaders, directors and each chapter is autonomous, making decisions involving everyone in the group using the process of consensus. It is very empowering to collect, prepare and share free food, all on your own and to do it with little money, and few resources. Sharing food is powerful and magical. Additionally, when average people realize they have the power to make a difference, it can change their lives. This is the foundation of social change and the authorities know it. In fact, San Francisco Police memos state that if they did not stop Food Not Bombs, the public might come to believe that they could solve social problems, and ignore government and corporate leaders. The self-empowerment of tens of thousands of people may be Food Not Bombs' greatest achievement. Every chapter is independent and shares the unifying principles of Food Not Bombs: a commitment to non-violent action, sharing free vegetarian food to anyone without restriction, and making decisions by participatory democracy or consensus. These ideals play an important role in the success of this movement. Food Not Bombs has no headquarters nor leaders and every volunteer has a say in the decisions of their local group. This leads to a strong sense of responsibility for the actions of the group, and pride in what they accomplish. These lessons are often spread to other kinds of community organizing efforts. Many affinity groups addressing basic human needs and social injustice have used Food Not Bombs as a model for their organizing. Volunteers in each chapter use a decision-making process called consensus, based on the early experiences of the founders from the meetings of Food Not Bombs, the Clamshell Alliance and the Pledge of Resistance.

While the corporate society starts to collapse and the American Empire begins to crumble, Food Not Bombs is more active then ever, building the kind of society we all want to have. Because each chapter is organized by local volunteers and non-hierarchical nature, they have deep connections within their local community. Food Not Bombs volunteers are becoming experienced in cooperative action and collective decision-making. They are generating the spirit and vision needed to create a new world that can flourish while seeking solutions to the crisis of climate, change, economic failure and a corporate dominated political system.. This simple movement, which started in 1980 with a vision and no money or leaders, is at the forefront of efforts to create a society based on peace, participatory democracy and guaranteeing the basic human rights of every person. Food Not Bombs is prepared to support the change we need at this time of crisis. Food Not Bombs will celebrate its 30th anniversary with Soupstock free concerts on Sunday, May 23, 2010 in its birthplace, the Boston Commons. We can build aworld free from domination, coercion and violence. Yes, food is a right, not a privilege. Food, not bombs.


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