SF Protest: Food Not Bombs serves dissent at City Hall Reopening

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Wed, 3 Feb 1999 11:41:55 -0800 (PST)

FWD 28 Jan 1999 - CC Replies To: "Chris Crass" <crass@sfsu.edu>
Subject: SFFNB serves at City Hall reopening

[NOTE: SFFNB = San Francisco Food Not Bombs chapter]

This is an article written for the homeless and social justice newspaper,
Street Spirit Feb. issue.  At this protest the brand new San Rafael Food
Not Bombs group served for the first time - they will begin serving once a
week and have lined up amazing food.  A couple of women who just graduated
from high school organized the group after having worked with SFFNB for
almost a year - and they are all-star supercool activists.
solidarity,chris crass

by Chris Crass

Police sweeps have returned as the official policy on homelessness in San
Francisco.  In keeping with political tradition, Willie Brown has resorted
to the tired tactic of using police to ticket, arrest, and harass homeless
people in public space in an attempt to win votes under the guise of 'doing
something' about homelessness.  Like his predecessors, Art Agnos and Frank
Jordan, Brown has entered his reelection year in office with 'get tough'
policies that make headlines and garner approval from downtown business,
but do nothing to improve the situation for poor people.  Police sweeps
have been on the rise all over San Francisco - in the Haight, the Castro
and Union Square in particular.  By December, the police sweeps were
launched in full force in Civic Center in preparation for the reopening of
City Hall.  City Hall had been closed for upgrade, restoration and
retrofitting since early spring of 95.  Over 300 million dollars had been
spent on City Hall, including 4 to 5 hundred thousand  dollars for gold
plating on City Hall's dome.  Using the policy of 'zero tolerance' (i.e. if
you look poor and aren't white, then you will be questioned), the police
forced people out.  Additionally, all of the benches in Civic Center were
removed and using enormous lights, the entire plaza was lit up throughout
the night to prevent sleeping.
	On January 5th, City Hall reopened and was kicked off with a
ceremony lead by Mayor Brown.  The ceremony took place across the street in
Civic Center and all signs of poverty had been removed - the reality of
failed homeless policy, the effects of welfare reform and economic
inequality had been hidden to make way for the photo opportunities of a
triumphant ceremony of city politics as usual.  However, Food Not Bombs
decided to 'celebrate' the reopening of City Hall with an all day protest
and community meal for poor people.
	For years, Food Not Bombs had served free food across from City
Hall in Civic Center.  By sharing food in a high profile area and visibly
protesting against poverty and the criminalization of poor people, FNB was
targeted by Mayors Agnos and Jordan for arrest and political repression.
Since the closing of City Hall, the group has been sharing food in United
Nations Plaza.  With the reopening, FNB returned to Civic Center in an
effort to both draw attention to the social injustice of poverty and to
protest the city's punitive attacks against homeless people.
	From 9am to about 7:30pm FNB served on the opposite side of Civic
Center from where the ceremony was held.  With two large banners reading
"Food Not Bombs" and "Visibility is a Human Right", FNB served breakfast,
lunch and dinner, distributed literature, engaged hundreds of people
walking by and created a safe space for poor people to return to Civic
Center after being forcibly removed.  While the number of
servers/protesters never exceeded a dozen or two, hundreds of people
received food and literature and many stopped to read the banners and get
an alternative perspective on city politics.
	"Virtually every passer by remarked on the importance of our
mission - to feed people and thereby make the clear statement that
government is failing in it's mandate," commented Rg Goudy, a workfare
worker and member of People Organized To Win Employment Rights, the
Coalition on Homelessness and FNB.  Goudy as stated that he was "amazed at
the press interest in FNB's historic, visual and vocal return to Civic
Center".  While there was much press interest, there was also concern from
the police which included a surprise visit from the City's Health
Department to inform FNB that it was conducting an illegal activity.
	Sasha, an activist with FNB, later said, "By the amount of
attention we got early-on in the day, it was apparent that we had touched a
nerve in city government.  Willie's dream seemed to be a City Hall for it's
upper class tastes to serve the upper class people who run the city.  We
served as a reminder to everyone's conscience that it's wrong to have
dessert at the expense of someone else's dinner."
	Tai Miller, who recorded much of the event for Free Radio, wondered
"why we let them take our tax money to build a monument to people who are
so boring while others of us starve".  Miller, a long-time activist with
FNB and the Industrial Workers of the World,  also wondered, if City Hall
belongs to the people, as the Mayor stated during the ceremony, why were
poor people forced away.  "Such is life in the capitalist world," she said.

	Now that City Hall is reopened, poor people are still being cleared
out of Civic Center and as January comes to an end, the Board of
Supervisors under the impetus of Amos Brown have voted to increase the
police sweeps in United Nations Plaza.  Amos Brown who has argued that SF's
homeless problem is due to "compassion overload" and the generosity of the
city, has repeatedly called for increased punitive measures against
homeless people and "zero-tolerance" [see article "White Privilege and the
Politics of 'Zero Tolerance' in Jan. Street Spirit, brilliant analysis].
Homeless people are being pushed into the neighborhoods as police make
their presence felt in the plazas and parks.  Politicians like Amos Brown
have turned the public debate away from the lack of affordable housing,
lack of drug treatment programs, lack of decent paying jobs, and other
economic and social dynamics onto issues of personal behavior and
individual conduct.  Public protests, like those of Food Not Bombs, the
Coalition on Homelessness and Religious Witness, aim to bring the public
debate back to the real issues of economic inequality, misplaced priorities
and the need to address social issues like homelessness with social and
economic justice.
	The slogan "Homes Not Jails" rings painfully true as the government
spends more and more money on prisons to warehouse the poor, and San
Francisco city politics as usual calls for more police sweeps against
homeless people.

The Coalition on Homelessness is organizing a protest against the police
sweeps on Friday, February 12th from noon to 2pm at Civic Center Plaza.
Call the Coalition at 346.3740 for more information.

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