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Hungry for Peace
By Keith McHenry
See Sharp Press Copyright © 2012 Keith McHenry
All rights reserved.
SOLIDARITY NOT CHARITY
THE PRINCIPLES OF FOOD NOT BOMBS
1. The food is always vegan or vegetarian and free to everyone without restriction, rich or poor, stoned or sober.
2. Food Not Bombs has no formal leaders or headquarters, and every group is autonomous and makes decisions using the consensus process.
3. Food Not Bombs is dedicated to nonviolent direct action and works for nonviolent social change.
"They don't want to feed the hungry, they just want to make an anarchist type statement and we aren't going to allow it."
— San Francisco Police Captain Dennis Martel
The name Food Not Bombs states our most fundamental principle: society needs to promote life, not death. Implement the positive and end cooperation with the negative. Live in a world of abundance and stop fearing a future of scarcity. Celebrate with love, not hate; cooperation instead of domination; and compassion, not exploitation. Food not bombs. Devote our time and resources for the real security of food, shelter, education, and healthcare instead of on weapons, military forces, prisons, and social control. By sharing free food without restrictions, we illustrate the fact that there is an abundance of the things we need and that scarcity is a fiction that benefits a small minority. By sharing free meals under the banner Food Not Bombs, the founders of Food Not Bombs sought to educate the public with a message about the national priorities of the United States, pointing out that half the Federal budget was spent on the military including debts from past wars while millions went hungry every day. Our society condones, and even promotes, violence and domination. Authority and power are primarily derived from the threat and use of violence. This affects our everyday lives through the constant threat of crime, domestic violence, police repression, war, and even the threat of total annihilation from nuclear war, and policies that speed, damaging effects of global climate change. Such constant exposure to violence, including the threat of it, leads many people to feel hopeless, helpless, and have low self-esteem. Economic exploitation is another common form of violence and the fear of poverty and homelessness causes many to work long hours for low wages under stressful or dangerous conditions. All of this would be unnecessary if it was not for the need of the wealthy to dominate and control the public so they can maintain their power and prosperity. Their use of bombs is their ultimate tool of repression. The principle goal of Food Not Bombs is to mobilize the people to withdraw their cooperation from this system of violence and coercion. To change society so no one is forced to be hungry. Food Not Bombs has never been considered a charity. Our volunteers are dedicated to taking nonviolent direct action for human rights, animal liberation, the environment, and an end to exploitation and war.
The economic and political systems themselves are violent. Poverty is their most pervasive form of violence, and one expression of the violence of poverty is hunger. Over a billion people struggle to have enough to eat because of the decisions of business and government leaders. Trade agreements and laws forcing genetically engineered seeds and chemicals on farmers, commodity speculation, and taxpayer subsidies to agribusiness directly increase hunger. The absence of democracy and access to information are the leading cause of hunger and poverty, not drought, pests and floods, and therefore the solution to ending world hunger is the dismantling of our political and economic systems. Of course we need to make sure everyone has enough to eat today, but if we really want to end hunger we need more than charity, we need to withdraw our cooperation with those institutions responsible for global poverty and create our own democratic, self-sustainable communities.
The Food Not Bombs movement provides food and logistical support to activists protesting war, poverty, exploitation, and domination, while replacing that abusive culture with one of abundance, cooperation, equality and peace. Our volunteers are working to replace an unsustainable political and economic system with a decentralized democratic set of grassroots solutions that address the real needs of everyone. Food Not Bombs is an organization devoted to developing positive personal, political, and economic alternatives. Revolutionaries are often depicted as working for the overthrow of the government by any means necessary. Food Not Bombs groups spend more resources building a sustainable future then attacking the current system. Ready to help with a new vision. Ready to create a world "after the riots." However, this does not mean we never struggle to end militarism and consumerism. By simply exerting our basic rights to free speech and association, we expose the exploitive violent nature of the political and economic system. In 1988, corporate and government leaders in the United States started to fear that our message and ideas could become popular and threaten their control, so they organized a campaign of arrests, beatings, disinformation and litigation in an attempt to silence us. After months of negotiating with the authorities, it became clear that they feared our message and fully meant it when the San Francisco Police told the media that they didn't mind that we were feeding the hungry, but what did concern them was that we "are making a political statement, and that's not allowed. "
It cannot be stressed enough that Food Not Bombs is not a charity, and is working to inspire a dramatic change in society. Sharing food for free without restriction is a revolutionary act in a culture devoted to profit. Sharing food, clothing, time and compassion with no expectations has a powerful political impact. As the global economy and environment crash from one emergency to another, more people are discovering the folly of seeking wealth on the stock exchange or of relying on pensions, guns or gold and silver to provide security. People really need safe food, water, and air, shelter, clothing and, most importantly, community. Food Not Bombs volunteers are building new alternatives and life-affirming structures from the ground up. We want to replace the consumerist death culture with a cooperative culture of "Daycare Not Warfare," "Clean Water Not Chemical Weapons," "Food Not Lawns," "Homes Not Jails," "Really, Really, Free Markets," "Bikes Not Bombs," and "Health Care Not Warfare." The Food Not Bombs model can be applied to all aspects of our community. As community after community experiences one crisis after another, more people are adopting the principles that have made it possible for Food Not Bombs to flourish for over three decades.
Food Not Bombs volunteers respond to poverty and lack of self-esteem in at least two ways. First, we provide food in an open, respectful way to whomever wants it without restriction, rich or poor, sober or not. We will not make people jump through any bureaucratic hoops designed to control, humiliate, and often punish people without money. Second, we invite people who receive the food to become involved in participating in the collection, cooking or sharing of the food. Food Not Bombs volunteers work in solidarity with many members of their community and encourage everyone's participation in all aspects of our local chapters, including help with decision making. People eating with Food Not Bombs should never feel that they are in any way inferior to those who are sharing the food. We are all equal. This isn't charity. This provides an opportunity for people to regain their power and recognize their ability to contribute and make a change. This could be one of the most important ways Food Not Bombs contributes to social change.
The idea of food recovery, or food "recycling," is not the invention of Food Not Bombs. Individuals have been "gleaning," "dumpster diving," or "skipping" to find food for a long time. From the "Diggers" of San Francisco in the last years of the 1960's to the "Diggers" of 1638 on Saint Georges Hill in England, and back tens of thousands of years to our hunting and gathering ancestors, people have been gleaning for food. Food Not Bombs is just a bit more organized and systematic about recovering surplus food. As a result, our volunteers can have more success at collecting larger amounts food, making it possible to make it available to more people. As the price of food increases, store owners are starting to poison their discarded products, locking dumpsters, paying security guards to keep people from receiving what has been thrown out, and installing trash compactors to discourage this practice. A study published in 2009 reported that there was enough discarded food to provide all one billion hungry people with the nutrition they require to be healthy. Another study that same year showed that over 40 percent of the food produced in the United States was discarded. Food Not Bombs volunteers have overcome these obstacles by talking with produce workers, bakers and the owners of the smaller independent shops, and by organizing the collection of their surplus. Even with our system of collection, Food Not Bombs groups find that some of the food is just not fit to eat and must be composted. So the final destination for some of what our volunteers collect ends up in the compost piles at local community gardens, but not until all the edible food is distributed to the public. Therefore, it is a radical political act in today's wasteful society to recover large amounts of food in an organized and consistent manner to share with the hungry.
Although Food Not Bombs does not have a strict political platform, there is a general political philosophy with which it has become identified over the years. The three principles of Food Not Bombs were first formally suggested and adopted at the 1992 Food Not Bombs International Gathering in San Francisco. First, the food is always vegan or vegetarian and shared with anyone without restriction whether they are drunk or sober, rich or poor. Another principle is that each local group is independent and autonomous, has no leaders and uses consensus to make decisions. There is no president, headquarters, national office or board of directors. The third principle is that every Food Not Bombs group is dedicated to taking non-violent direct action and social change. Every individual and group chooses its own values and politics within these broad set of principles. This chapter presents some of this philosophy from the author's own perspective gained from thirty years of interacting with Food Not Bombs activists from all over the world, but does not represent an "official" critique and makes it possible for every chapter to adapt to the local conditions and time in which they are operating while providing a form of continuity and political philosophy at the core of our effort to change society.
A New Society
Food is a right, not a privilege.
Like many other people, we are concerned about the direction in which the world is headed. Domination, violence, and killing seem to be the predominant choices of those with the most power in our society. This is what we often refer to as a culture of death. Acceptance of war, nuclear annihilation, environmental destruction, and genocide are widespread in popular culture, religious institutions, think tanks, corporate board rooms and the halls of government. More than ever before, this death culture is pushing the idea that it is necessary for young people to join the army and kill to have peace. We have a society that suggests we can shop our way to a sustainable environment and poison our bodies to health. Peace through the threat of war is impossible, because using the threat of destruction as a way to prevent war is nothing but domination.
It is not lost upon us that the major contribution to stopping bombs is our withdrawal from the economic and political structures of the culture of death. As individuals, many of us engage in war-tax resistance; as an organization, we operate outside the dominant economic paradigm. We do not operate for a profit; in fact, we operate with very little money compared with the value of the food we distribute. We generally ignore the authorities, having as little contact with them as possible; but, as we want exposure for our life-affirming alternatives, we never attempt to hide our intentions. It is unlikely that our plans and intentions could be hidden from the authorities anyway and, in fact, public knowledge of our plans for nonviolent direct action can become an essential aspect of our strategy. Dedication to our principles and an understanding of ourselves and our organizations as equals to the authorities are also essential to our ability to succeed at influencing positive social change. As Jonathan Schell wrote "a new superpower possesses immense power, but it is a different kind of power: not the will of one man wielding the 21,000-pound MOAB bomb but the hearts and wills of the majority of the world's people."
"Don't ask me how to burn down a building. Ask me how to grow watermelons or how to explain nature to a child. "
— Radical animal liberation activist Rod Coronado
Nonviolence in Theory
Nonviolent resistance and noncooperation can be the most effective way to achieve long-lasting, positive social change. There is dignity in nonviolent resistance, a dignity needed to sustain change. To be effective, it is often necessary to have large numbers of supporters and be persistent. Your intentions should be clear to both the institutions resisting change and the people you intend to attract as supporters. Honesty and truth are your most important allies. While often difficult, compassion and respect for your opponents combined with truth and honesty are essential to undermining the power of even the most ruthless and inhumane institutions. The longer and more violent the repression, the harder it is to remain compassionate, but by retaining your integrity in the face of extreme conditions you will often attract increased popular support and weaken the resolve of those forces hired to end your efforts. Your participants will also maintain their sense of pride and increase their feeling of empowerment the longer they remain dedicated to nonviolence. Nonviolence means responding to situations of injustice with action. But nonviolence should not be confused with being passive. Withholding support and not cooperating with institutions and policies of violence, exploitation and injustice is a principal technique of nonviolent resistance. Just because your participants are dedicated to nonviolence, you can't expect the authorities to restrain their violence. Often the state will increase its violence if it believes your campaign is becoming successful, but as repression grows so will your support. What might seem like months and maybe years of failure can change suddenly.
Excerpted from Hungry for Peace by Keith McHenry. Copyright © 2012 Keith McHenry. Excerpted by permission of See Sharp Press.
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