Keith McHenry on the history of Food Not Bombs and how it's recently been occupied
As McHenry tells it, he and others from Food Not Bombs have been part of a decade-long buildup to the "occupy" tactics that erupted into the world in 2011. "I was promoting the idea of occupation ever since a meeting that was held in 2003 after Cancun," he said. Protests at the World Trade Organization meeting in Cancun were part of a growing trend of disrupting international conventions in which political and business leaders make agreements that further exploitation and neo-liberalism. But McHenry says that more was needed.
"There was a group of us that got together and said these one-off events, like summits, were just becoming more disempowering rather than successful," he said.
After years of calling for occupations, the notion clicked last fall. "We had seen the Arab Spring, so that made it that much easier to imagine the occupation concept. And the Spanish occupations were just then happening."
"That's a common thing," McHenry said. "People try all these different ways of organizing and then all at the same time, the same thing will start to click. And there's no real way to say, 'oh, it started here, it started there, this person started it.'"
When Occupy encampments sprang up, Food Not Bombs was behind many of the kitchens and food sharing efforts — it even had a guide to building a tent city kitchen at foodnotbombs.net/occupy_supplies.
"In the beginning of some of the first occupations like Chicago, DC, Wall Street, we made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, because we didn't know if we would get busted," McHenry said. "We ended up behind the scenes helping provide free meals to the occupations."
McHenry said he hopes the spirit of occupying grows again. "It's so important," he said. "It would be great if we could regroup and retake public space."