May 2011 Featured Activist Keith McHenry

Food Not Bombs Free Skool The principle purpose of the Food Not Bombs Free Skool is to strengthen the organizing skills of people volunteering in the peace, social justice and enviornmental movements. We invite you to share and seek knowledge in the areas of social change, economic justice, peace, generosity, diversity, responsibility and a sustainable future. All our workshops and classes feature legal First Amendment protected activities or skills.

Food Not Bombs Activist Keith McHenry
Food Not Bombs Activist Keith McHenry breaking ground on new project in Taos

Free classes include these topics:

  • Analysis of current events and social issues
  • Community organizing
  • Strategies and methods for campaigns of nonviolent social change
  • Organic gardening and permaculture
  • Organizing cultural events in support of social change
  • Natural building
  • Wilderness skills
  • Creative writing, music, dance, painting, crafts, and self expression
  • Sustainable energy
  • Silk Screen Printing, puppet making and DIY skills
  • Cooking, baking and food preservation

A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

Food Not Bombs shares free vegan and vegetarian meals with the hungry in over 1,000 cities around the world to protest war, poverty and the destruction of the environment.

With over a billion people going hungry each day how can we spend another dollar on war?

Keith McHenry of Food Not Bombs is Passionate About His Work
Keith McHenry of Food Not Bombs is Passionate About His Work

For Keith McHenry, feeding the homeless and working poor is a way of life. Homeless himself except for a 1987 Chevrolet van in which he sleeps, McHenry gave up promising careers in graphic design and marketing to crisscross the country, spreading the gospel of compassion for the poor. Last week McHenry, co-founder of Food Not Bombs, and two other people were arrested at Lake Eola Park, accused of violating Orlando’s ordinance regulating mass feedings. It was one of about 150 times that McHenry, 54, has been arrested while promoting the cause to which he has devoted his life.

“We want to get rid of capitalism or at least alter capitalism to the point where it’s humane,” McHenry said. “There’s no reason people should be living in the streets and coming to soup lines in the wealthiest country in the world.”

Food Not Bombs Activists Feeding the Homeless
Food Not Bombs Activists Feeding the Homeless

In the same park where thousands of Tea Party activists have rallied in recent years to denounce socialism, Orlando Food Not Bombs volunteers ladle out vegan fare and rouse political sensibilities Monday mornings and Wednesday evenings.

Food Not Bombs co-founder Keith McHenry was born in Frankfurt, West Germany in 1957 while his father was stationed in the army there. In 1958, his family moved to Logan, Utah where his father got a job with Morton-Thiokol, testing highly destructive Minuteman intercontinental nuclear missiles. Once he attained his Masters in Zoology, his father took up a position as a ranger with the National Park Service. Keith had an idyllic childhood roaming the wilderness in America’s National Parks like Yosemite, the Grand Canyon and the Everglades

Keith McHenry of Food Not Bombs Won't Give Up on Feeding Homeless!
Keith McHenry of Food Not Bombs Won’t Give Up on Feeding Homeless!

Keith’s paternal great, great, great grandfather was Dr. James McHenry, who signed the United States Constitution as a delegate of the colony of Maryland, served as a general in the Revolutionary War and as Secretary of War under George Washington. He also initiated the founding of the United States military as Secretary of War under President John Adams. Keith’s maternal grandfather was an intelligence officer for the U.S. Army during World War II and helped plan the fire bombing of Tokyo and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. His paternal grand father was ranger with the National Park Service. His father’s mother had two uncles, Bob and Charlie Ford, who became famous for killing the popular outlaw Jesse James. Keith’s mother Martha got her degree from Wellesley College, raised her family and ran their farm on Cape Cod.

In 1974, Keith began studying painting at Boston University and was employed part-time as a tour guide and museum curator. He also worked as a sign painter and ran a successful advertising firm in Boston with clients such as The Boston Red Sox and the Celtics Basketball team. Keith was the recipient of several Clio Awards. His anti-nuclear war street art became the subject of an Off Broadway play called Murder Now! and the film, The Sidewalk Sector.

START A FOOD NOT BOMBS GROUP IN YOUR COMMUNITY

At the same time, Keith studied with Howard Zinn and became active with the Clamshell Alliance making several trips to Seabrook, New Hampshire to protest nuclear power. He organised actions in the major cities on the east coast of the United States, and garnered his political views by taking action against nuclear arms, wars in El Salvador and the Middle East, while promoting the virtues of alternative energy and organic gardening.

Food Not Bombs co-founders Susan Eaton, Brian Feigenbaum, C.T. Lawrence Butler and Keith McHenry sitting outside their home in Cambridge, Massachusetts in the summer of 1981. Mira Brown, Jessie Constable, Amy Rothstien and Jo Swanson are not pictured.
Food Not Bombs co-founders Susan Eaton, Brian Feigenbaum, C.T. Lawrence Butler and Keith McHenry sitting outside their home in Cambridge, Massachusetts in the summer of 1981. Mira Brown, Jessie Constable, Amy Rothstien and Jo Swanson are not pictured.

In 1980, Keith and seven friends started the first Food Not Bombs chapter in Cambridge, Massachusets. At first more of a street performance than a protest, the group provided entertainment and vegetarian meals in Harvard Square and the Boston Commons after making deliveries of uncooked food to most of the housing projects and shelters in the area. After eight years of serving free food in New England, Keith moved to San Francisco where he started a second Food Not Bombs group. He was one of nine volunteers arrested for sharing food and literature at Golden Gate Park on August 15, 1988. In the following years, Keith was arrested over 100 times for serving free food in city parks and spent over 500 nights in jail. He faced 25 years to life in prison under the California Three Strikes Law but in 1995, Amnesty International and the United Nations Human Rights Commission brought about his release.

For the last fifteen years, Keith has been touring the world and starting up new Food Not Bombs groups and providing logistical support to existing chapters. In 2005, he helped coordinate America’s largest food relief effort organizing shipments of food, clothing and other supplies for the survivors of Hurricane Katrina. The FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force has been investigating and infiltrating Food Not Bombs groups across the United States often disrupting Keith’s work. ABC TV’s program 20/20 claimed Keith was one of twenty people planning to destroy New York City during the Republican National Convention in 2004. He was also taken off a flight from Heathrow to Chicago by Homeland Security. As America’s post 9/11 paranoia amplified, so did the number of times Keith was blacklisted by the establishment being fired from several jobs at the request of defense contractors like Raytheon Missile Systems.

On a personal level, Keith suffers extreme pain every day from fibromyalgia caused by police violence and regularly sees a doctor for medical care. San Francisco Police Intelligence officers stripped Keith of his clothes, lifted him by his limbs smashing him to the concrete floor of their office until his ligaments and tendons were ripped. He was pushed into a tiny cage hanging from the ceiling of their office and held in the dark for 3 days on two occasions and 4 days on a third occasion. Even so he continues to dedicate his life to supporting Food Not Bombs.

Presently, Keith focuses his attention helping provide food to families struggling because of the global economic crisis. He speaks at book stores, colleges and universities about the Food Not Bombs movement, as well as helps organize protests, and cooks with local Food Not Bombs groups as he travels. He maintains a Food Not Bombs website and provides assistance to local chapters facing arrest, seeking information or requesting literature and logistical support. He also helps the public participate with Food Not Bombs, directing hungry people and potential volunteers to local chapters that feed the hungry each week in over 1,000 cities around the world.

Accolades and credits for Keith include the 1999 Local Hero Award by the San Francisco Bay Guardian and Resister of the Year in 1995. He is co-founder of the No Police Brutality Day protests and helped start Indymedia (Independent Media Centre) and the Homes Not Jails squatters’ movement. He also coined the term freegan. Keith is co-author and illustrator of “Food Not Bombs: How to Feed the Hungry and Build Community.” His book has sold over 10,000 copies in English, 3,000 in Spanish, 3,000 in Italian and was just published in Russian. He has appeared in Amnesty International’s Human Rights Report and been interviewed and recorded in many journals, books and several documentary films. He is currently writing another book about Food Not Bombs as he tours the world speaking about the movement. When he is not on tour he is busy in his vegetable garden in Taos, New Mexico or is drawing and painting, riding his mountain bike or swimming.

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