ORLANDO, Fla. - As city police officers here arrested four people for distributing food to the homeless, June 8, a crowd of mostly young activists chanted, "Food is a right, not a privilege!" In two weeks of civil disobedience, 15 people involved with Food Not Bombs have been arrested so far in the city. Hundreds more supporters, many of them students, have come to rally behind the homeless and people who are feeding them.
Food Not Bombs is an international organization that distributes food while calling attention to war spending.
Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer issued an ordinance in July 2006 that criminalized the distribution of food to more than 24 people at a time in public parks. The ordinance coincided with the gentrification of downtown Orlando. In particular, Lake Eola Park, where Food Not Bombs has been distributing food to the homeless, is in the heart of a new strip of expensive condominiums.
Thomas Hellinger, a member of the local Young Communist League, was one of the four people who were arrested last Wednesday. Hellinger told the People's World that when he got to jail, people around him were asking him why Food Not Bombs didn't just move their food operations to a private location.
"I explained to them that first of all, we don't have another place downtown that works like the park," said Hellinger. "Homeless people have a right to access parks just like anyone else, and it's a nice place to eat. The city tried moving us to other locations in the past, like parking lots and abandoned buildings, but then it comes back to a question of human dignity."
The Young Communist League and students from the University of Central Florida have been committed to the struggle to reverse Mayor Dyer's ordinance for several years now. UWire reported that the United Church of Christ and Islam, Inc., were other organizations represented at Wednesday's protest.
Solidarity actions in Italy, Japan and Detroit are already under way in support of the Orlando food distributors.
Food Not Bombs co-founder Keith McHenry is calling on all activists who are able to travel to Orlando to do so to participate in the civil disobedience. The group plans to conduct three feedings a week in Lake Eola Park, on Monday mornings, Wednesday evenings, and Friday afternoons. In addition, those wanting to support the effort from home can sign an online petition at www.foodnotbombs.net, or call Mayor Buddy Dyer at 407.246.2221.