Defending the Right to Serve Food in Public

We believe that sharing food with our brothers and sisters is a fundamental human right, protected under the First Amendment.

 by Michael “Waterman” Hubman

 

T The Right To Share Food Coalition was formed in Los Angeles in response to the June 2, 2010, take-down by government officials of the Towne Avenue Soup Line, and continued harassment by the municipal government of ongoing efforts to feed the poor and homeless population of Skid Row, Los Angeles.

Prior to the take-down of the soup line, volunteers from the World Agape Drop In Center had been feeding the poor and homeless of Eastern Skid Row, Los Angeles, six days a week at the same location for more than five years.

At Right To Share Food, we believe that sharing food with our brothers and sisters is a fundamental human right, and.a constitutionally protected activity, guaranteed under the freedom of association clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. We believe that sharing food outside and in public is an equally protected activity. Our goal is to promote cooperation among people in order to exercise and defend this right.

Morally motivated to help

Why do we feel the need to organize and lobby to protect and exercise our right to share food? It is a common occurrence in contemporary society, for those who are morally and spiritually motivated, to want to help others who find themselves in a state of need. This state of need is often manifested by poverty, homelessness and destitution.

Those who desire to come to the aid of their less fortunate brothers and sisters, commonly express this aid by sharing food. Conflict occurs when the municipal government attempts to effect social engineering by restricting or forbidding the sharing of food on public property, the commons, and even private property.

Wildlife management for people

I liken this kind of social engineering by cities to wildlife management. The problem is, we are talking about our human brothers and sisters, and not unwanted pigeons or other pesky wildlife.

My guess as to why city officials would act in such a selfish and mean-spirited manner is greed. Poverty and homelessness are commonly viewed by some who are not similarly afflicted as messy and unsightly. The sight of homeless and poor people lining up to receive a charitable meal tends to raise concerns among some who worry about depressed commerce and property values.

When homeless people gather in public, especially in numbers, government officials often respond by harassing them with the goal of dispersing them. The dispersing of the homeless to make them less visible robs them of community and society and denies them their right to associate.

Harassing those who want to share food and aid the homeless and poor is just another tactic to disperse them and deny them the right to associate and assemble.

The Right To Share Food Extravaganza

The Right To Share Food Extravaganza II (the first one took place on Sept. 30, 2010.) was scheduled to take place on Sunday, March 20, 2011, the first day of spring. We had no way of knowing that mother nature had arranged for a fast-moving cold front and rainstorm to sweep through the region that very day.

The players at this Right To Share Food event were Tanya and her group with Gorilla Food Not Bombs, James and his group from World Share (formally World Agape), General Dogon of the Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA CAN), and myself.

In the morning, I visited three groups who were feeding the homeless and poor on Gladys Street and Towne Avenue. I invited them to our event, and encouraged them to join our coalition. I said that it was important to organize to defend their right to share food. All of the meal-givers were glad to hear that they had friends who were sticking up for them and their right to share food. One woman told me; “You mean you are for us and not against us?”

Food Not Bombs in Los Angeles provides a free meal, as part of a picnic on Skid Row to defend the right to share food. Photo by Dan Bluemel LA Activist

Food Not Bombs in Los Angeles provides a free meal, as part of a picnic on Skid Row to defend the right to share food. Photo by Dan Bluemel LA Activist

 

In the early afternoon, I went to the corner of Sixth and Towne and watched as sheets of rain fell on the empty street. All of the players were prepared to come out and get drenched. Tanya and her group were cooking, and James and General Dogon were ready to go.

Then it occurred to me that we should move this event indoors to World Share. I called the other organizers with the change of venue. I drove around and invited anyone who was still out on the street, mostly on San Julian Street and at The Midnight Mission courtyard, to come and enjoy a hot meal and to eat inside.

Tanya arrived with a great vegetarian meal. I told the people who were assembled that today’s meal was special in that we were celebrating our right to share food. Tanya and her group served up rice, beans and vegetable soup.

General Dogon spoke about his history as a lifelong resident of Skid Row. He talked about Skid Row, Los Angeles, being the most heavily policed place in America. He spoke about the human and civil rights work done at LA CAN.

I spoke about the history and development of Right To Share Food, and emphasized that the right to share food is a fundamental human right. I said that we believe that our right to share food is protected under the the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

For the first time; I publicly advocated for the recall of L.A. City Councilmember Jan Perry. Perry thought she was just dumping on some little people when she caused the shutdown of the Towne Avenue Soup Line. She did not know that she was thereby jumpstarting the right to share food movement.

James thanked everyone for coming. We put away the food. All in all, we had a good day.

 

See the Right to Share Food websites: http://righttosharefood.org and http://rtsf.us.

Michael “Waterman” Hubman is the organizer with the Right To Share Food Coalition, and the founder of Watercorps, a charity that gives drinking water to homeless people living in Skid Row, Los Angeles.

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