SAYS YOU 


Editor's note: The following, written by members of Orlando Food Not Bombs, is in response to "Activism 101" `Aug. 10`.

Orlando Food Not Bombs has been sharing food in downtown Orlando regularly since January 2005. OFNB is one of hundreds of autonomous chapters of the international Food Not Bombs movement, which began in 1980. OFNB is a collective, without any hierarchy or leaders. Responsibilities rotate (one of the reasons that each time the local media cover OFNB different people from the collective speak for it) and all decisions about what we do and how we do it are made collectively, through consensus of the people involved.

There has been much speculation about the people who participate in Food Not Bombs. Sometimes we are characterized as UCF students, sometimes we are anarchists, and other times we are a bunch of "rich kids." We are not going to answer whether any of these are true because it doesn't matter. All we are doing is giving away free food to people in a public park. We do, however, understand that when you can't find anything wrong with a person's actions, you just find something wrong with the person doing it. If anyone could tell us how serving hungry people food in a publicly owned area is wrong, we would be interested to hear.

Some people who help with Food Not Bombs booed and hissed at the City Council meeting. It was suggested in the "Activism 101" article that we should learn the rules of the game before we expect to win. What exactly do we win? Do we win the city's permission to continue helping people? We don't believe that anyone needs permission to help anyone else. We don't need their permission or their blessings, and we do just fine without both. If we see hungry people on the street and tons of food going to waste, we do not ask for permission to make good use of the food. We just go out and do it because it needs to be done. The city isn't doing it, so we will. Perhaps the city is embarrassed by the fact that this group of obnoxious kids is more effective with their resources than their bloated bureaucratic system ever can be. When the City Council begins respecting the rights of citizens — all citizens, regardless of their socioeconomic status — then maybe it will no longer be hissed and booed.

We refuse to move to the Sylvia Lane site for many reasons. If we were to move our sharings, we would be saying that it's OK for the city to strip away the rights of certain people based upon their socioeconomic status. We would become complicit in the social and economic discrimination embodied in the ordinance. It is a classic example of a government trying to create a situation of "separate but equal" (actually unequal) in order to marginalize people considered inferior and socially unacceptable.

Secondly, the facilities at Sylvia Lane are totally inadequate. The place where we serve is a beautiful park with tables, bathroom facilities, running water, nice big oak trees and flowers. The Sylvia Lane site is a parking lot fenced in with barbed wire right next to I-4. There are four gross port-a-potties with no running water and five tables. It is in a dangerous, high-crime area. In recent months, eight homeless individuals in that area (and the adjacent Lake Lucerne neighborhood) have been assaulted by teenagers, including one, August Felix, who later died from his injuries. There are children and families who depend on us for food. We cannot in good conscience ask the people with whom we share to expose themselves to such an unsafe and dirty locale. However, the City Council obviously can.

The author of the "Activism 101" article espoused the claim that commissioner Patty Sheehan is a progressive politician. We believe that her sponsoring of the obviously unprogressive "large group feedings" ordinance is sufficient evidence of the opposite. As for the article's claim that Sheehan is a "zealous advocate for transparent government," it's interesting to note that neither the commissioner nor anyone else from the city contacted Orlando Food Not Bombs or any of the other dozen or more groups that share food downtown to seek their input on the issue of sharing food in public parks. This doesn't exactly jibe with Sheehan's claim to have spent six months researching this issue prior to the ordinance's first reading at the June 19 Council meeting. Obviously, the city feels that it has the right to make decisions that affect the lives of other people without ever actually asking those people what they think about it.

The city never asked us or any of the people with whom we share what area we think would be a reasonable alternative to the park other than a crime scene. Instead, they went behind our backs and tried to pass this ordinance without our input. Sheehan's assistant sent out e-mails to all the local businesses urging them to attend the first reading. The people who do the sharing and/or eating were never notified. That doesn't sound so "transparent," does it?

We are a group of friends and comrades who see a problem and have decided to do something about it. The city believes that things such as compassion and caring need to be governed. We do not. We believe that such things are better left ungoverned so that they can bloom to their full potential unrestricted. All we want is to be able to continue helping people in an unrestricted manner. Because that is what we do, we help people the best we can with what we have, and we will not stop.

Also, the Sex Pistols are a terrible band.

Want to address an Orlando-related issue in 800 words or less? Send your column to "Says you" at bwhitby@orlandoweekly.com. If it's good, we'll print it. If not, we won't.


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