San Francisco Food Not Bombs - FNB and supporters speak out!! FWD

Tom Boland (
Sun, 19 Dec 1999 15:36:45 -0800 (PST)

FWD   17 Dec 1999 Nonmember submission to HPN
From: "Chris Crass" <>


     by Lauren Rosa and Chris Crass

On December 8th the Finance and Labor Committee of the San Francisco Board
of Supervisors sat back and listened as numerous supporters and members of
Food Not Bombs patiently lined up to speak out against the recent arrests
of FNB and to defend FNB's right to organize.

  The Hearing before Supervisors Tom Ammiano, Leland Yee and Sue Bierman of
the Finance and Labor Committee was arranged by Supervisor Yee.  Yee called
for the hearing after listening to powerful testimony delivered by FNBers
and Religious Witness during public comment at a Board of Spervisors
meeting in early Novemeber.  The testimony described the arrests of FNB
activists in October and Novemeber of this year for the crime of sharing
free food in public spaces.

  In November FNB activists met several times with Sup. Ammiano's assistant
Tomas Lee to discuss ways that FNB can maintain both its service to the
community and its organizational integrity and end the arrests.  Lee
facilitated a very positive meeting between FNBers and the Health
Department.  Both the Health Department and FNB expressed their deep
concern for the health and safety of the larger community and discussed
ways that FNB could continue its work.  The hearing was the next step in
FNB's strategy to demonstrate a commitment to finding a workable resolution
with the City.

  The hearing was also an opportunity for FNB to share its history, discuss
the current situation of the arrests and demonstrate our support from
within the larger movement for social justice that we are a part of.
Organizations that came out to support FNB included Dennis Cunningham for
the National Lawyers Guild, Sister Bernie Galvin for Religious Witness with
Homeless People, People Organized to Win Employment Rights (POWER), the
Homeless Prenatal Program, SF Coalition on Homelessness, Frank Martin Del
Campo of SEIU Local 790, Homeless United for Friendship and Freedom from
Santa Cruz, Arroza Simpson of the Gray Panthers, the Industrial Workers of
the World, the October 22nd Coalition to End Police Brutality, and Karen
Parker of the Humanitarian Law Project.

  For half an hour these men and women spoke beautifully, for their alloted
2 minutes each, about the crisis of homelessness in SF and the vital role
that FNB plays.  Over and over, statistics were given about the rising
number of people dying on the streets, the growth of poverty throughout the
world and the failure of the government to provide for basic needs.  The
fact that the City's fight with FNB is not an issue of sanitation or public
safety was also addressed.  This is a struggle over public space and the
government's regulation of that space being dictated by powerful business
lobbiest rather than the larger community.  This is a struggle about the
high visibility and out-spoken character of FNB that makes city officials
(like Sup Amos Brown) who serve wealth and privilege uncomfortable.

  At the meeting Tom Ammiano expressed his strong support for FNB.  Rajiv
Bahtia of the Health Department, who has met with FNB, also expressed his
support for the work that FNB does in the community.  In addition to the
numerous organizations that showed their support for FNB at the hearing,
many groups have also written letters of support to the City.

  Ted Gullicksen of the SF Tenants Union wrote, "At the SFTU we are often
forced to watch helplessly as tenants we are helping become homeless.
These are tenants with jobs and families and often with incomes which might
be considered moderate if not middle income.  These are tenants forced to
leave their home on a 30 or 60 day eviction notice and in that 1 or 2 month
time period simply cannot find housing.  These are families who never would
have envisioned themselves as homeless but suddenly find themselves
homeless because of the housing market."  Gullicksen then writes, "It is
horrible enough to become homeless.  To then deny people a basic human need
like food is cruel."

  Jennifer Ocon of the Northern California Coalition for Immigrant Rights
stated in her letter, "We support Food Not Bombs' direct action advocacy
and services for the homeless and low-income community in San Francisco,
and believe harassment and arrest of their members by San Francisco police
should stop immediately."

  Martha Ryan, the executive director of the Homeless Prenatal Program,
wrote, "I want to express my support for Food Not Bombs' ability to serve
free food in the public spaces of San Francisco... In San Francisco's
ever-tighter housing market, many families pay up to 80% of their income in
rent, leaving little for food, child care, medical care, transportation,
and all the incidental costs in raising a family."

  Gordan Mar, executive director of the Chinese Progressive Association,
stated that the CPA is "a grassroots membership based organization which
has served the local Chinese American community for 26 years.  Many
low-income Chinese and other immigrant families living in San Francisco
face a day-to-day struggle to obtain basic necessities and make ends meet.
Such free services that Food Not Bombs provides to all people in San
Francisco should not be outlawed. On the contrary, the City must do more to
support Food Not Bombs and address the needs of hungry and homeless
residents of San Francisco."

*Bringing the Struggle for Social Justice Into Our Homes*

Food Not Bombs is dedicated to grassroots community organizing to address
the crisis of economic inequality, homelessness and hunger in the world.
In SF, our work for economic and social justice spans the past 12 years and
we have provided direct service to low and no income people at our
community meals in addition to countless meals at protests, rallies and
activist conferences.

  While the emergency of homelessness is of extreme importance and our
ability to share free food is crucial, we also feel that SFFNB is fighting
a battle against government regulation of both public space and the way in
which people organize to serve their community.  While SFFNB is working in
good faith to resolve the situation with the City, we are also working to
maintain our organizational integrity.  SFFNB chooses not to be a standard
soup kitchen.  We are self-sufficient and do not need government funding to
make our meals.  We take responsibility to have good health standards and
make yummy soup.  We are a group of private individuals taking direct
action to help anyone who joins us at United Nations Plaza for dinner or in
Golden Gate Park or the Mission District for lunch on Mondays.  While the
number of people suffering from malnutrition grows larger every day, FNB
has maintained our commitment to harm reduction by sharing free healthy hot
food - regardless of whether or not the government deems us to be legal or

  Most importantly, over 100 FNB groups all over the world suceed in
utilizing and building a non-hierarchical, consensus decision making based,
non-violent system of cooperation and solidarity.  We don't work within the
present system, as the present money worshipping system has failed too many
of us who suffer because of our skin color, gender, sexuality, and/or
class.  We have defined our own terms, created a new process: we have been
highly successful at sharing free food, building community and organizing
for social change.

  So why is the kitchen issue so important?  California state law regarding
the health permit, which deals almost entirely with for-profit operations,
will not certify individuals' home kitchens.  We have discussed this with
the Health Dept. and we are searching for an alternative solution.  FNB
members have volunteered to go through the Departments workshop on health
and safety and get certified as individuals, but we maintain that our
ability to cook in our homes and in rotating kitchens in other institutions
is at the crux of our organizing strategy of bringing the struggle for
social justice into our homes and into our hearts.

  We believe that as a community we must work to support one another and
challenge injustice.  Cooking in our homes is a way that we make that
community real and tangible.  Cooking in our homes is a powerful
demonstration of solidarity - we prepare these meals where we prepare our
own.  This process also helps demystify power.  It is not beyond our
ability to address major social problems.  In our homes, we have made
hundreds of thousands of meals (serving on average 75-125 people a night).
In our homes we have made coffee for union picket lines, breakfest for
indigenous self-determination vigils, beans and rice for Mumia Abu-Jamal
protests and we have felt a sense of our own power to serve our community
and work for liberation.

  Up and down California there have been legal fights between governments
that have failed to met the basic needs of the people and want to
nevertheless regulate those who are working to end homeless and hunger.
While we continue to negotiate with the City to resolve our current
situation and we are willing to meet them half way, we also remain
committed to our form of community organizing and activism and we stand in
solidarity with those who have faced citations, judges, and prison bars for
their efforts to end hunger and poverty.


FNB strongly encourages groups and individuals to write letters of support
to the Mayor, Board of Supervisors and local media.  FNB asks that the
support letters also be sent to us at pobox 40485 SF, CA 94140 or emailed
to  We know that our strength as an organization comes from
our support and solidarity in the larger movement for economic and social
justice and the community we are a part of.

Lauren Rosa and Chris Crass are both organizers with SFFNB.
Hugh Mejia of SFFNB assisted with this article.