The 30th Anniversary of Food Not Bombs
One crisp fall evening in 1976 , at Mores Auditorium, Professor Howard Zinn finished his American History class with details about The Public Service Company of New Hampshire and their plans to build a nuclear power station on a tiny marsh in the town of Seabrook. Professor Zinn was one of many New Englanders who were speaking out against the power station at town meetings, organizing marches and signing petitions, but the construction started. Local activists organized the Clamshell Alliance to mobilize the public to stop the project. ├ŐMarches became blockades and direct actions became occupation attempts in October 1979 through May 1980.

The eight young people that started Food Not Bombs were united by the events of May 24, 1980. On that sunny spring day, over 4,000 activists with the Coalition for Direct Action at Seabrook made an attempt to occupy the Seabrook Nuclear Power Generating Station , with the intent of non-violently stopping construction by putting their bodies in front of the bulldozers. As affinity groups cut holes in the fence surrounding the construction site, clouds of stinging tear-gas filled the air. National Guard troops rushed through the fence, beating everyone they could. Helicopters hovered above as the activists struggled to occupy the site. The next day, Boston University law student, Brian Feigenbaum, was arrested for assaulting a police officer, allegedly hitting him with a grappling hook. Concerned about Brian's legal problems, a core group of about 30 activists formed to support his legal defense. Out of this effort grew the collective that started Food Not Bombs. Therefore, this attempted occupation of Seabrook on May 24, 1980 marks the beginning of the Food Not Bombs movement.

To raise money for Brian's legal defense, the collective set up literature tables and sold baked goods outside of Boston University, and in Harvard Square, but sales were slow. An idea emerged that street theater might help. They had a poster that stated, "It will be a great day when our schools get all the money they need and the air force has to hold a bake sale to buy a B 1 bomber." The group bought military uniforms at an army surplus store, set the poster next to their table and pretended to be generals trying to sell baked goods to buy a bomber. While they didn't sell more brownies and cookies, they did talk to many more people about Brian's case and the risks of nuclear power. Eventually, Brian's charges were dropped for lack of evidence, and the collective had discovered a great way to organize.

With Brian free, the collective decided to organize its first protest to get the message across that the financial backing of Seabrook had links to the First National Bank of Boston. Many of the same people who were on the Board of the Bank, which was financing the nuke, were also on the Board of the utility that decided to build the nuke , and many also sat on the Board of the construction company building it. To the activists, this looked like the business practices that resulted in the Great Depression. To protest the bank's decision to pour money into this risky investment, they again used street theater. The protesters planned to dress as Depression era hobos and set up a soup line outside the bank's annual stockholders meeting in the financial district of downtown Boston.

The night before, worried that they might not have enough people to have a soup line, they went to the Pine Street Inn, the largest homeless shelter downtown, to talk with the homeless about the protest and invited them for lunch. The next day, the activists set up a soup kitchen in the plaza outside the Federal Reserve Bank, where the board meeting was being held, and, to their surprise, over 50 homeless people joined them for lunch. Many stockholders expressed anger and some laughed at the protesters. However, the people that lived on the streets excitedly talked with the servers and invited the public to join them at lunch. Many people stopped, had a bite to eat, and talked with one another about the reasons for the protest. Many took the fliers and expressed support. It was an exhilarating day.

While cleaning the pots and pans, the protesters decided that distributing food could be a great way to organize for peace, the environment and social justice. They agreed to quit their jobs, rent a house and start using food to organize. It wasn't long before they had rented a house together at 195 Harvard Street, and started a regular network of food collection and distribution sites. They picked up muffins and bread at bakeries, produce and tofu at natural food stores, and surplus stock from the food coops. Each weekday, within hours of collecting the food, they delivered it to Rose's Place a battered women's shelter, alcoholic rehabilitation centers, immigrant support centers, and once a week to most of the housing projects in Cambridge, Somerville and several in Boston. After making their deliveries, the collective cooked a vegetarian meal and took it to Harvard Square to share with radical literature, much of which they collected after moving the New England Free Press. This Food Not Bombs table became a "little town hall", where people expressed their ideas and became involved in discussions about current events. On summer evenings they brought giant puppets and drum sets, attracting large crowds that introduced the public to the wars in Central America, and Reagan policies which redirected resources towards military programs, like Star Wars and the MX Missile Systems. The nights were spent spray-painting graffiti for peace. Themes included stencils of nuclear mushroom clouds with the word "Today?", and white outlines of dead bodies which became the basis for the nationwide "Shadow Project." Outside grocery stores they painted the slogan, "Money For Food Not Bombs." Eventually, this was shortened and became the name of the group.

One of the first fliers published in 1981 by the founders , ended with "the next few years could profoundly change the world for generations, and Food Not Bombs is working to make those changes positive for everyone." This understanding that the world is at a critical time in history, and that average working people have the responsibility to make the world a better place, is as true today as it was when Food Not Bombs started.

In the first two years, Food Not Bombs focused on its literature and food tables, bulk food distribution and building momentum for the June 12, 1982 action, "March for Nuclear Disarmament" in New York City. Leading up to this event, Food Not Bombs co-sponsored, with the Cambridge City Council, three marches against nuclear arms. On Hiroshima Day, one volunteer burned the Boston phone book to dramatize that everyone listed would burn in a nuclear attack. In the fall of 1981, Keith McHenry designed the Food Not Bombs logo with the carrot and purple fist. The first banner hung above the table at a Halloween evening protest against Vice President George Bush who was giving a speak at M.I.T. During this time, one of the most complex events the Food Not Bombs collective organized, was the "Free Concert for Nuclear Disarmament " at Sennot Park in Cambridge, in May of 1982. There was plenty of free food for everyone, and bands representing the ethnic mixture of Cambridge performed. There was an area with activities for kids of all ages called "The Land of the Younger Self", artists, crafts people and local peace and justice groups had tables. It was a great success and another magical day for Food Not Bombs.

Over the next several years, the Food Not Bombs collective also helped organize direct actions to end the war in El Salvador, including one where 500 people were arrested for holding a "town meeting " in the lobby of the Boston Federal Building. Food Not Bombs co-founder Mira Brown, was with Ben Linder in Nicaragua, when he was killed by US-funded "contras". They also participated at a sit-in at the Federal Court against the draft, and they organized the Boston Pee Party, a protest against drug testing which was mentioned in Abbie Hoffman's book , "Steal this Drug Test. " Another action they helped organize was a protest against a "weapons bazaar " at the Howard Johnson 57 Hotel in downtown Boston. This is an event where U.S. corporations promote the sale of weapons to the military of other countries. This particular one featured chemical weapons that were eventually sold to Iraq and used by Saddam Hussein on the Kurds.

During the mid-80s, Food Not Bombs continued collecting hundreds of pounds of surplus food everyday. During the week, they would distribute it to area housing projects, progressive social service agencies, battered womanŝs shelters and hunger relief agencies. These groups would receive this food once a week and be responsible for distributing it. In the afternoons and weekends, Food Not Bombs would cook the food, making vegetarian meals and setting-up their table in Harvard Square and at rallies, protests, conferences, and meetings; anywhere activists gathered and serving free food, distributing literature and collecting donations. The marketing scheme "The Pepsi Challenge" showed up one day next to the Food Not Bombs table at Brattle Square, setting up a tent and sharing flat Coke and fizzy Pepsi to blindfolded college students. A dentist donated a case of small paper cups to Food Not Bombs. Brochures about the Coca-Cola Company hiring death squads to labor organizers in Guatemala was added to the literature displayed for visitors. Fruit was put aside, and Food Not Bombs started the Tofu Challenge offering small cups of tofu smoothies. "There is more nutrition in this cup of tofu smoothie than all the Pepsi products in the world!" The tofu Challenge came to an end when the angry Pepsi employees pulled down their tent, packed up the soft drinks and rushed away yelling obscenities at the Food Not Bombs activists.

The Boston Red Sox had a winning year in 1986. The Kenmore Square Business Association asked their graphic designer, Keith McHenry, to take a picture of a local black man they passed each morning on their way to work. "We want you to make a poster using his photo with a red circle and line across his face under the title "Wanted out of Kenmore Square." The designer suggested the association try another strategy. "I could share free meals in one of the empty buildings on Landowns Street before each game. Maybe this would reduce the number of people pan handling. There isn't any way we could drive away Mr. Butch and his friends. After all his nick name is "The Mayor of Kenmore Square" and Red Sox fans love him." When the Red Sox returned to Fenway for the American League Playoffs, Food Not Bombs organized a "Welcome to Kenmore Square" dinner in the park on Commonwealth Avenue, greeting the fans and sharing vegetarian meals with Mr. Butch, and the other people that called the reeds and bushes along the Fens home. The association was not pleased and encouraged its members to end their business relationship with the designer. Soon Keith was evicted from his office and apartment , so he and his wife Andrea packed up their personal belongings and drove south with their pets. Eric Wienburger, and those left behind,continued to share meals and literature throughout the Boston area. Decades later when Mr. Butch died, Red Sox fans held vigils in towns all over New England. Eric worked for peace and social justice his entire life, walking with Martin Luther King Jr. on the Freedom Marches and serving time in prison where he staged a hunger strike for human rights. He dedicated his last two decades of his life volunteering with Boston Food Not Bombs.


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