How to Not Get Arrested
Occasional conflict with authorities is inevitable because of the political stance of Food Not Bombs. Although much has been written about being arrested correctly and nonviolently, and functioning under the threat of arrest (see Food Not Bombs by McHenry and Butler), often one may wish to diffuse the situation to conserve resources and energy and so that those who are committed to performing civil disobedience for social justice can be arrested for yet another cause.
* Build a base before conflict starts. The more contacts you have and the more people are familiar with your work, the more ready you are for conflict with authorities.
* Politicize the situation. Almost all persecution of Food Not Bombs seeks to remove homeless people from public view and from "better" neighborhoods. Despite widespread anti-homeless sentiment, people still find this prejudice embarrassing and ugly. Expose this agenda, diverting attention from smokescreen issues (e.g. park and health regulations, permits). Send out a press release to any and all media. Use the opportunity to advertise the alternative offered by Food Not Bombs - a free society that attends to the needs of its people.
* Communicate with the government. Often city and county officials, as well as the general public, have stereotypical impressions of Food Not Bombs members. Because Food Not Bombers often have a freaky appearance and occasionally shout "far-out" rhetoric, we may be seen as incompetent to put out a delicious healthy meal or win a political conflict. At the very least, opening a dialogue lets the authorities know they are dealing with intelligent, committed, reasonable people.
* Weigh all bureaucratic options. Sometimes governments use health and parks departments as a cynical means of harassment. Other times the health department is sincere, or at least just trying to do its job, and occasionally actually have good advice. Although their demands may seem arbitrary or weird (for example, in some cities Food Not Bombs is required to cook on-site and in other locations prohibited from cooking on-site), cooperating may be more efficient than conflicting over non-issues without political significance.
* Make a show of strength. It is better to let authorities know what they are facing before they resort to arrests rather than surprise them; in they latter case they are less likely to back off because they are already committed to the conflict. Demonstrating before the arrests gives them a chance to avoid losing face by claiming an agreement is reached or to say, "What's all the fuss? We weren't going to arrest anyone." Tell them about San Francisco and other cities where Food Not Bombs has survived tremendous repression and shamed (and helped bring down) local governments. This doesn't mean you must talk tough at the onset of conflict, but don't wait until the end either.
* Gather Support of local political, religious, and community organizations. Communicate with Food Not Bombs groups in your region and throughout the world.
If you do happen to get arrested...
* Know the magic words: "I am going to remain silent. I want to speak to my lawyer." These words should be spoken whenever you are arrested, and even when you are just being detained you can invoke the right to remain silent. Invoke it often. Don't answer police questions when detained or arrested, even if they are trying to be friendly. You can break silence to ask to go to the bathroom, but re-invoke your right to silence right after you do. Even if you break your silence or if you started talking at first, you can still invoke this right. It is NEVER too late to do so.
Permits are often used as a political tool to manipulate and constrict Food Not Bombs groups. Many governments, even those that cite lack of permits in their propaganda, would rather ignore Food Not Bombs than legitimatize the group with a permit. There are exceptions, however. Some cities want you to sign a permit just so they have a feelings of control and order, and will take drastic measures if you refuse, but leave you alone if you comply. One of the many beautiful things about FNB is that we operate without asking the government for permission, without jumping through the bureaucratic hoops, and because we see the need and act upon it. So, while permits are almost always to be avoided, never say never.