This post was guest-written byNation intern and freelance writer Kevin S. Donohoe.
Since the beginning of June, more than twenty members of the anti-hunger organization Food Not Bombs have been arrested in Orlando, Florida for the "crime" of providing free meals to the homeless and working poor.
Food Not Bombs has long been serving free, vegan food in Orlando’s public parks. That all changed last month, when the city began enforcing a 2006 ordinance limiting groups who feed more than twenty-five people in parks to only two permited events per year. Food Not Bombs unsuccessfully appealed the decision in federal court and its members are now refusing to obey the law.
As tensions escalated between the police and FNB, city officials took to the press to vilify the group’s members and recipients. A spokesman for the city says that FNB recipients have been responsible for trash, public urination and crime in city parks. The mayor of Orlando, Buddy Dyer, went even further, calling the organization’s members “food terrorists” and accusing the group of having “different purposes” than helping the homeless.
FNB activist Benjamin Markeson is filing a defamation lawsuit against the Mayor for his terrorist comments — and said that the real terrorist acts are being committed by government officials. “We think that it is terrorism to arrest people for trying to share food with the poor and hungry in the community,” Markeson told Democracy Now!.
The arrests have received international press coverage and solidarity rallies have been staged at local universities as far away as Michigan. On June 20th, hacktivist group Anonymous shut down the Orlando Chamber of Commerce’s website and posted a “boycott Orlando” message on the site of Universal Orlando Resorts. Now, local officials from across the state are watching the standoff between FNB and the city closely as they consider imposing similar permit regulations in their own communities.