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Food for Peace

On May 24, 1980, seven people gathered at the Seabrook Nuclear Power Station in New Hampshire to protest its existence. Demonstrations had been occurring for years. But on that day, the seven activists decided their actions needed a new direction.

They returned to Cambridge, Mass., and began to work toward the release of friends who had been arrested. They sold baked goods to raise money.

"To get people's attention, we dressed as generals," says Keith McHenry, one of the seven who protested at Seabrook. "We had a sign that read, 'Wouldn't it be a beautiful day if the Pentagon had to hold a bake sale to sell a B1 bomber?' It was effective in getting people to engage in a discussion as to why we were opposed to the power plant."

The next agenda was to protest the stockholders' meeting of the First National Bank of Boston. "We found out that the board of directors of the bank was the same as the company that built the power plant," continues McHenry. "They hired themselves to build the plant and lent themselves money. We felt the economic policies of the bank were similar to the policies banks had that resulted in the Great Depression. We decided to dress up as hobos and have a soup line outside of the stockholder's meeting.

"We went to a shelter and said we were going to have a protest and give away food. They were mostly Korean (War) and Vietnam vets, and they were excited. It was an excellent way to organize. We made the decision to pick up food that wasn't going to be sold (from grocery stores, bakeries, produce markets), deliver it to a homeless shelter, make meals and serve them on the street.

"We wanted to be in the public, talking to average people as much as possible. Our intention was, as part of street theater, to slow people down to have conversations on the issues of the day. We wanted to try to draw connections between militarism and how it affects basic human needs in the United States."

With the creation of that first soup line in Cambridge, the Food Not Bombs movement was born.

Foot Not Bombs is an all-volunteer organization dedicated to nonviolence. With hundreds of autonomous chapters around the world, the group shares free vegetarian food with the hungry while protesting war and poverty. In Tucson, the group offers food at Congress Street and Scott Avenue every Wednesday at 2 p.m. and Saturday at 7 p.m.

"We stand for having our resources spent on food, housing, medical care and other human needs and redirecting our money away from weapons and the military. Instead, (we need to) spend resources on basic human needs," says McHenry.

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of Food Not Bombs, free concerts will be held in various cities. The concert, called "Soupstock," takes place in Tucson from 3 to 10 p.m. at Armory Park on South Sixth Avenue, on Saturday, May 28. Spirit Familia, La Merma, Resistant Culture, Raging Grannies, Caliche Con Carne, Black Man Clay and others will perform. Community groups, artists and crafts people are invited to set up tables. For more information, visit foodnotbombs.net.

The Tucson chapter of Food Not Bombs began in 1994, six years after McHenry formed the second group in San Francisco. But the city of San Francisco did not always cooperate with his efforts. The city got a court order to stop the group from serving food. Food Not Bombs volunteers in San Francisco have been arrested more than 1,000 times, with McHenry's record at more than 100.

With all the arrests in the late '80s, Food Not Bombs began to receive media attention. People from other cities began to contact the group in San Francisco to find out how to start a group in their area. McHenry prepared a flyer outlining seven steps on how to do so. In 1988, groups sprang up in Long Beach, Calif., Washington, D.C., Eugene, Ore., Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia. By 1992, the first Food Not Bombs gathering took place simultaneously in 20 different cities. Now there are hundreds of groups worldwide.

McHenry has visited 41 chapters of Food Not Bombs in Europe and the Middle East. Regardless of culture, each group agrees on basic principles: to be nonviolent, to serve free vegetarian food with no restrictions on who receives it, and to make decisions by consensus with no hierarchy.

Besides setting up free food lines, Food Not Bombs has a variety of community projects it supports. "Our main project in 1990 was to start low-watt FM radio stations," says McHenry. "We help set up more than 400 stations in the United States. ... We have started quite a large number of community gardens. We find an abandoned piece of land, talk to the landlord and ask if we can grow a garden. ... With Food Not Lawns, we protest genetically modified farming and promote (the use of) organic seeds. ... With Home Not Jails, we find buildings no one claims ownership of, fix them up and house homeless people."

McHenry is hopeful about the group's efforts. "There are thousands of people, all volunteers and no paid staff (who show) that regular people can take initiative and make a difference on their own without government or corporate backing. I am optimistic that our idea that resources should be used on human needs ... (will become) increasingly popular."

More by Irene Messina

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