(This article is written by Michael Newberger)
Food Not Bombs, a social justice organization dedicated to encouraging a “post capitalist future,” has set up camp in Voice of Freedom Park for their annual world gathering. About 40 people mingled around the park, manning tables with flyers, designing banners and talking to residents of the West Tampa neighborhood who stopped in to see what the commotion was about as the group kicked off the events Monday night with speakers and bands.
Food Not Bombs is planning a variety of events throughout the week, ranging from workshops on encouraging community action to entertainment such as theater presentations and bands. They will also be providing meals to the public, with an emphasis on feeding the homeless.
Their methods are rather different from the throngs of protesters who will descend on Tampa for the Republican Convention. Rather than the traditional means of protest, members say it’s less about railing against injustices but rather fighting them through community outreach.
While their gathering featured the usual banners calling for the death of capitalism and the like, the group seems to follow a more “honey” than “vinegar” approach; they feel that more is accomplished by starting a dialogue than the traditional means of protests.
Nathan Pim agrees with the approach. Pim, who goes by the moniker “Patches," is a puppeteer who has been involved with Food Not Bombs chapters throughout Florida for eight years.
“I’m more interested in doing the stuff here. We’re more involved in community activism and stuff like that, which is way more important than engaging in giant national partisan political debates.”
Pim, who also identifies with the Occupy movement, feels that it’s more important to focus on issues such as housing foreclosures in poor neighborhoods and homeless advocacy than outright political protesting.
“The things Occupy is working on has really been not about these major electoral issues anyway. It’s about like housing issues in impoverished areas (where) most of the people in the area are minorities, like here. So there’s a lot more stuff to be done to focus on that, and not have to listen to a thousand people shout about how if you vote for Romney you want to kill all the gays.”
Speaking at the event was Keith McHenry, one of the founding members of the organization. McHenry was one of the original eight members who formed the group in 1980. Their influence has grown internationally, with chapters on each continent, most notably with the controversial Russian band Pussy Riot purportedly being members.
The group adheres to three principles: the food is always both free and vegan, the focus is not on charity but action, and there are no leaders of chapters. McHenry says that the group's preferred method is dialogue rather than outright anger as a means to get their message across.
“Most of the time if you think about it we’re standing out on the street holding banners either against or for some kind of thing. That’s not necessarily so bad, but they’re usually there for an hour, a lot of times yelling and screaming in a megaphone and it kind of frightens people. There’s also been propaganda in corporate media like, 'Oh those are just crazy hippies,' or saying the world is coming to an end…and they de-legitimize that kind of protest.”
McHenry says that a different method is required to reach people, and that his main goal is to come across to Middle America.
“By contrast, we stay out on the street for two hours, this is something I try to encourage every chapter to do, stay at least two hours so that then people have time to relax and talk to you. We have literature and banners, so that we’re not forcing you to have an opinion but we’re encouraging you to have dialogue with us because of the headlines and the text on the banners and that you’re enjoying your meal, we try to make the meal as tasty as possible.”
Food Not Bombs has held their annual gatherings in a variety of places across the country and the world where they feel injustices are being committed. One of their main concentrations is homeless advocacy and while they will be in Tampa in part to protest the Republican Party’s platform, the city was also chosen in response to what the group feels is unfair treatment of the homeless by the city.
“We chose the RNC for the world gathering as opposed to the DNC, though we are going to go up there and feed that as well, because there was a particularly egregious number of anti-homeless laws and laws against feeding people outside in Florida. We thought it would make sense. One, there’s a lot of Food Not Bombs activists in Florida organizing around those issues, and that it would bring a lot of people from around the world to see how disgusting Florida is about anti-homeless laws.”
Food Not Bombs will be holding events from 10 a.m. starting with a free breakfast, continuing to have events through the day until ending with an open dinner at 7 p.m. While they have an emphasis on subdued protest, the group will team with anti-war groups Code Pink and St. Pete For Peace for a “direct action” at the Largo location of defense contractor Raytheon. After their gathering ends on Saturday, the group will still have a presence in Tampa feeding the RNC protesters.