2011-07-09 "Arrests are worth it, ‘Food Not Bombs' founder says; Keith McHenry says they are worth it if they help stop cities' anti-homeless laws" by Cindy Swirko from "Gainesville Sun" newspaper of Florida, USA
Keith McHenry recently spent 17 days in jail in Orlando, but it's not the first time a cell has been home to a founder of Food Not Bombs.
The organization began in Boston in the 1980s, and since then McHenry has been jailed throughout the U.S. and in various countries. But he told a crowd at the Civic Media Center on Saturday night that the arrests of him and other Food Not Bombs supporters are worth it.
“While we are getting brutalized, at least we have been stopping this current wave of anti-homeless and anti-meal laws,” McHenry said, citing several Florida cities that have dropped planned laws. “If we had not put up resistance in Orlando, there were going to be limitations on sharing free meals with the hungry all over the United States.”
McHenry's visit comes as a coalition of local groups is working to convince the Gainesville City Commission to end meal restrictions here. Several Gainesville residents joined in the protests in Orlando as well.
Food Not Bombs has three principles: the food it hands out must always be vegetarian or vegan and must be free to anyone, the organization has no leaders and no headquarters, and its actions must be non-violent.
McHenry gave a detailed history of the organization from its first activities near Harvard University. “Reagan had just been elected, so we didn't have an overwhelming number of homeless yet,” he said of the president who took office in 1981.
The next stop was San Francisco, where Food Not Bombs supporters often were arrested for feeding people in public places. Among the volunteers stopped by police were priests and nuns.
“The nuns were patted down because, of course, nuns with guns are dangerous,” McHenry said.
Eventually he traveled throughout the world visiting Food Not Bombs chapters and participating in their activities. There are about 1,000 chapters.
Food Not Bombs got a welcoming response in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina when it was the only organization to provide food there for months after the 2005 storm, McHenry said.
McHenry said he was drawn to Florida because a number of cities have been enacting or considering laws to stop or limit the serving of free meals.
Orlando's restrictions were appealed but upheld. Arrests followed when activists continued to serve meals, a practice that McHenry said will continue.
“We are trying to get more and more people to go down. Some of you have been in Orlando,” he said. “It's been a struggle and we have lots of court dates coming up.”
The local coalition is trying to convince the City Commission to lift the current limit of 130 meals that can be served daily at the St. Francis House homeless shelter on South Main Street.
Keith McHenry, the co-founder of Food Not Bombs, speaks at the Civic Media Center in Gainesville on Saturday.
Matt Stamey/staff photographer