Food Not Bombs Celebrates 40 years of Direct Action on Sunday, May 24, 2020 

by Keith McHenry

“This cause is a great cause and we’re tired of being treated like dirt. We’re not, we’re human beings. We bleed just like you and we’re good people. We need a safe place and this is a safe place right here.” – Deseire Quintero

Volunteers with Santa Cruz Food Not Bombs wait outside what had been a large homeless camp that welcomed visitors for over one half year. Residents of the camp led by former CalFire firefighter Deseire Quintero helped draft and file the federal lawsuit, Quintero v. City of Santa Cruz, to block the eviction of the camp in April 2019 but federal judge Edward Davila believed the City’s claim that everyone would be provided shelter and ruled the camp could be closed. On May 3, Deseire was evicted into the streets with hundreds of others and made camp in a forest park on the edge of town, and a few months later the Diablo winds crushed the tiny 55-year old Santa Cruz Homeless Union officer, killing her while warning a neighboring camp of the danger.

Deseire’s death inspired her friends to take direct action. Those who had made Ross Camp home during those cold rainy months plotted to retake the vacant land owned by the City of Santa Cruz and Caltrans. The former residence started to arrive with their survival gear as planned passed through a breach in the Caltrans fence and set up tents. The lock on the gated entrance to the site was removed and a welcoming desk was placed inside. Food Not Bombs ordered a portable toilet compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, a standard Port-a-Potty and a hand washing station which were delivered the next day.  A self-managed transitional camp grew from the ashes of Deseire taking the name of Camp Phoenix. Nearly half the Santa Cruz police force came five days later and forced the peaceful woman-led camp to close.

But that was not the end of the struggle. Food Not Bombs and California Union of the Homeless and its locals, like the Santa Cruz Homeless Union, continued to fight back against the growing attacks on those unable to afford housing. State and federal officials are promoting a plan to force all those who live outside into government facilities and camps under a program called “A Right to Shelter and Obligation to Accept It,” claiming there is “no civil right to sleep on the street.”

Food Not Bombs started in Cambridge, Massachusetts on May 24, 1980, by eight young anarchists and has grown from those humble beginnings to over 1,000 autonomous chapters in at least 65 countries sharing vegan and vegetarian meals and supporting resistance to the exploitation, war and violence by the state and its corporate masters. 

On a cold March afternoon in 1981, the first collective set up a soup kitchen on Atlantic Avenue outside the Bank of Boston’s annual stockholders meeting. The board of directors of the bank also sat on the boards of local defense contractors and the nuclear power industry. The volunteers planned to dress as hobos and share soup to dramatize the possibility that the economic policies proposed by then-President Ronald Reagan and the bank could lead to a future where Americans would have to stand in soup lines to survive. Worried the impact of the street theater would be lost on those passing by South Station, two of the activists went to the city’s last surviving Depression Era shelters, the Pine Street Inn and gave a speech to a group of 30 or so men trying to sleep on the tile benches and floor. Several in the audience expressed support for the protest and promised to join. That next day a line formed to eat with Food Not Bombs. Business people expressed shock and asked if the newly inaugurated president’s policies were already tanking the economy. 

Forty years later, our fears on the blustery spring day proved true, and volunteers are finding themselves on the front line of the neoliberal capitalist catastrophe. 

The short-lived Camp Phoenix wasn’t the first occupation supported by Food Not Bombs. Volunteers shared meals with many of over 800 people that seized the lobby of the Federal Building in Boston to protest the savage war against the people of El Salvador and fed participated in the operation of Reagan Ranch on the Boston Common.

Volunteers also fed the June 12, 1982 March for Nuclear Disarmament in New York City; The Nevada Desert Experience at the Nevada Nuclear Weapons Test Site; the 27-day Tent City protest in San Francisco in 1989; Redwood Summer in Northern California; The West Bank Peace Camp at Mas’ha Palestine; Camp Casey in Crawford, Texas; many of the Occupy Wall Street inspired occupations; protests against Exercise Talisman Saber in Australia; a 600-day farmer’s occupation in Bosnia and Herzegovina Square in Sarajevo; World Trade Organization (WTO) protests in Seattle, Genoa and Cancun; the 100-day Orange Revolution occupation in Kiev, Ukraine; the 2001 Meeting of the European Council in Gothenburg, Sweden and hundreds of other protests. 

The San Francisco police made their first of nearly 1,000 arrests for sharing meals with the hungry on August 15, 1988. These first arrests inspired the formation of local Food Not Bombs in Canada, Europe, Australia and many cities in the United States.  In 1994, volunteers were recognized as prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International, who called for their unconditional release if arrested for sharing food with the hungry. In The Philippines, Food Not Bombs volunteers were captured and tortured into confessing to the murder of a solider, and an international human rights campaign finally won their freedom after a year in prison. Food Not Bombs activists in the United States have been framed by the FBI as terrorists. Douglas Wright, Brandon Baxter and Connor Stevens, were among those convicted for an FBI-invented plot to bomb a bridge in Cleveland during Occupy. An FBI informant named “Anna” became friends with Eric McDavid, Lauren Weiner and Zachary Jenson attending a Food Not Bombs world gathering in Philadelphia. A few months later the police arrested them, and Eric McDavid was sentenced to 19 years for another terrorist plot that the FBI invented. McDavid’s friends won his freedom after he spent a decade in prison.  A number of volunteers have been killed by neo-Nazis in Russia and by supporters of the drug war in the Philippines. 

Food Not Bombs has also been active in disaster relief providing food and material relief to the survivors of the Loma Prieta earthquake in San Francisco and Northridge earthquake in the San Fernando Valley, Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy as well as Typhoon Yolanda, the 2004 Christmas tsunami, and the 2019 floods in Thaton, Myanmar. 

Food Not Bombs activists have also helped initiate a number of other projects Bikes Not Bombs, Food Not Lawns, Homes Not Jails, Indymedia, Really Really Free Markets, October 22nd No Police Brutality Day, and have been active in the Free Radio movement and many other DIY initiatives. 

Santa Cruz Food Not Bombs is hosting the Soupstock 2020 Free Music and Art Festival at San Lorenzo Park on Sunday, May 24. The festival will include musicians Keith Greeninger, Moby, MDC, Diane Patterson, Paul Damon & The Healing Gina René & Million 7, and The Beautiful Sky, as well as share hundreds of free vegan meals. Food Not Bombs groups all over the world will be holding their own celebrations.  

Food Not Bombs is also participating in the protests at the Republican and Democratic National Conventions and the Poor People’s protest in Washington, D.C. on June 20, 2020. 

Food Not Bombs

PO Box 422

Santa Cruz, CA 95061 USA