by Stephen Lendman, Contributing Writer for AnaiRhoads.org
Through hundreds of autonomous chapters globally, it shares free vegetarian food to relieve hunger besides protesting against war, poverty, and social injustice. FNB isn’t a charity. Through grassroots activism, it advocates peace and liberation of Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine throughout the Americas, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Australia. In addition, for 30 years, it’s worked to end hunger and backs efforts against globalization, free movement restrictions, exploitation, and environmental destruction.
Co-founded in 1980 by Keith McHenry and other anti-nuclear activists in Cambridge MA, its autonomous, all volunteer groups advocate nonviolent social change. Among other activities, they recover edible, safe to eat food that would otherwise be discarded, using it to make “fresh hot vegan and vegetarian meals that are served in outside public spaces to anyone without restriction.” They also serve it at protests, other events and in disaster areas, but not free from disruptive government harassment.
For example, San Francisco members have been arrested over 1,000 times for their activism against homelessness and other social injustices, intolerable in a major city in the world’s richest country.
In the 1990s, Amnesty International took note. Its October 28, 1994 letter to San Francisco authorities requested information about arrested activists, voicing concern over the harassment and arrests of Keith McHenry, Robert Kahn, and 20 others for distributing free food and disseminating information on housing, homelessness, peace, social justice, military spending, and related issues.
AI cited a similar six-year pattern, including against McHenry. Arrested over 90 times on baseless charges, most often they were dropped, showing a clear intent to harass and disrupt legitimate social justice activities. He and many others been repeatedly targeted. His phone was tapped, and several times he was beaten and reportedly pushed down a City Hall flight of stairs while handcuffed behind his back in March 1991 – a clear case of police brutality.
Others arrested were also mistreated for engaging in lawful nonviolent activities, ones constitutionally protected. Yet, they’ve been charged with criminal acts for their legitimate activities and beliefs. AI stresses that “The right to peaceful expression, assembly and dissemination of information is recognized under the US Constitution. These are also fundamental freedoms enshrined in international human rights standards.”
If lawless police actions are proved, “the City of San Francisco would be in breach of international law and Amnesty International would adopt those imprisoned as “Prisoners of Conscience” and would work for their unconditional release.” McHenry and other FNB volunteers, in fact, hold that distinction, a significant honor reserved for the most worthy and unjustly oppressed.
Many AI chapters host FNB presentations at various schools. In addition, other organizations offer praise and support, including ACLU Legal Director Ann Beeson, saying:
“When the FBI and local law enforcement target groups like Food Not Bombs under the guise of fighting terrorism, many Americans who oppose government policies will be discouraged from speaking out and exercising their rights.”
On June 4, 2010, New York Times writer Jake Halpern wrote a lengthy article titled, “The Freegan Establishment,” saying:
On Buffalo’s West Side, a young man named Kit says “our society wastes far too much.” He’s a “freegan,” an ideology “drawing on elements of communism, radical environmentalism, a zealous do-it-yourself work ethic and an old-fashioned frugality of the sock-darning sort.”
They’re not revolutionaries. They instead challenge traditional lifestyles with their own, dedicated to “salvaging what others waste and – when possible – living without the use of currency.” Even the house he moved into was abandoned, one of many in Buffalo, so with no “for sale” sign, he and others moved in as squatters.
McHenry is another freegan, a nonconformist descendant of one of the Constitution’s signers and one of the Food for Bombs founders, the organization becoming “the most active force for spreading the ethos of freeganism” by distributing free food to the hungry and others needing it.
In his book, “Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal,” Tristram Stuart said American households, retailers and vendors waste about 40 million tons of edible quality safe to eat food annually. FNB distributes it, activities deserving honor, not harassment, accusations of terrorism, arrest, and for some, imprisonment.
Nonetheless, it members are targeted like criminals. For years, they’ve been investigated by the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force, the Pentagon, other US intelligence agencies, and local authorities. As a result, their volunteers have been arrested and charged with terrorism for distributing free food and advocating peace and social justice, hardly subversive activities. Not, in today’s America, however, nor as its been for decades, preaching democratic freedoms, while practicing repression to protect privilege over populism and equal justice.
Examples of FNB Activities
Besides distributing free vegetarian food in 1,000 cities, FNB also provides it for disaster survivors. For three days after the 1989 San Francisco earthquake, it was the only local organization doing it. Also, the only one providing hot meals to 9/11 first responders, and there’s more. In 1999, it shared meals with Seattle globalization justice protesters, and through many chapters organizes Really Really Free Markets, planting Food Not Lawns community gardens, Homes Not Jails, and much more.
Its volunteers also provided meals to Republican and Democrat National Convention protesters, families of striking workers, and (2004) Asian tsunami and (2005) Hurricane Katrina survivors.
“Our volunteers organized a national collection program and delivered bus and truckloads of food and supplies to the Gulf region. We were one of the only organizations sharing daily meals in New Orleans after Katrina.” It also fed protesters at Camp Casey outside George Bush’s Texas ranch. Now it’s helping economic crisis victims organize community gardens, as well as housing for the homeless, besides establishing new chapters in other areas, and organizing “actions encouraging alternatives to the failure of capitalism.”
Moreover, FNB volunteers work cooperatively with groups like Earth First!, The Leonard Peltier Defense Committee, Anarchist Black Cross, the IWW, Homes Not Jails, Anti-Racist Action, In Defense of Animals, the Free Radio Movement, and other organizations “on the cutting edge of positive social change and resistance to the new global austerity program.”
Economist Michael Hudson calls it “economic suicide,” threatening to turn industrialized societies into dystopian backwaters, its citizens reduced to serfdom in “an era of totalitarian neoliberal rule.” It’s engulfing Europe and America under Obama’s anti-populist agenda, targeting populism, labor and civil rights for destruction.
Three Decades of Dedication and Achievement
A 30th year commemoration is planned, including local initiatives and a collective called “A Food Not Bombs Menu” to help others find and establish local chapters globally. Various materials are available to help, including books, t-shirts, and other ways to promote FNB principles. Through nonviolent direct action, it hopes to create “a world free from domination, coercion and violence,” in which “Food is a right, not a privilege,” but dark US forces threaten them.
FBI and Local Police Gestapo Tactics Against Nonviolent Activism
For many decades, federal and local authorities targeted groups like FNB. For example, on May 18, 2005, the ACLU charged the FBI and local police with investigating and intimidating “law-abiding human rights and advocacy groups, according to documents obtained through a series of Freedom of Information (FOIA) requests.”
Groups targeted, among many others, include Greenpeace, United for Peace and Justice, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, and FNB.
“The FBI is taking tax dollars and resources established to fight terrorism and instead spying on (and harassing) innocent Americans who have done nothing more than speak out or practice their faith. By recruiting the local police (to help), they are also sowing dissent and suspicion in communities around the country” illegally.
Like others, FNB volunteers have been bogusly called terrorists. Some have been arrested, tried, convicted and imprisoned. Internal government documents suggest high-level concern that they’re turning Americans away from militarism, instead advocating social justice, including quality education, universal health care, and good living wage/essential benefits jobs – the direct opposite of current US policy under either dominant party, each like the other, only pretending to be different.
As a result, FBI informants infiltrate local groups, in some cases getting volunteers unwittingly to travel with them on government-paid missions “to burn down research laboratories, lumber mills, model homes or auto dealerships,” then charge them with domestic terrorism, the new Patriot Act established provision.
At times, in fact, “Federal prosecutors were able to get convictions because (FNB) activists were intimidated from expressing their” opposition to violence when infiltrators tried to incite them to commit it.
Yet as early as November 1988, federal authorities accused FNB of being “one of America’s most hardcore terrorist groups.” A San Francisco-based National Guard member said he’d just taken three days of classes on domestic terrorism, using FNB as a case study. In other ways, authorities tried to “paint (FNB) as a violent terrorist group.”
Even Interpol got involved, organizing smear campaigns and “try(ing) to bankrupt (FNB) by charging hundreds of dollars in calls” to one or more of its European offices. In addition, the FBI’s Operation Backfire against environmental and animal rights activists infiltrated FNB chapters, framing several volunteers for violent crimes, ones infiltrators “carried out on behalf of the government” to entrap nonviolent activists.
Numerous innocent victims were targeted. Fear and distrust spread through local communities, FNB members active in animal rights activities harassed, arrested and convicted under the Animal Industry Terrorism Act. Innocent people were imprisoned by being implicated in FBI-paid provocateur schemes to entrap them.
As a result, FNB urges volunteers to stay focused, wary that infiltrators spread fear and disrupt constitutionally protected activities. Especially post-9/11, advocating peace and social justice are now crimes, engaged activists potentially facing charges of domestic terrorism and long imprisonment for supporting right over wrong. The reality of today’s America is much different than its pretence, making it unsafe for anti-war, social justice advocates like FNB volunteers.