Earlier this week in the 11th U.S Circuit Court of Appeals, surprising info was given to the City officials of Fort Lauderdale.
But to one of the long-time activists present during this historic court case, the ruling was unsurprising.
After 3 long years the verdict is now out: Sharing food is protected under the First Amendment! At least in Florida, Georgia, and Alabama the three states under the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.
But fret not because of this ruling, other Food Not Bombs chapters and any other organizations who gives out food on the street corner could potentially cite this ruling as basis for their right to share food with others.
I had the fortune of interviewing Nathan Patches Pim, a long-time activist in Food Not Bombs and one of the activists presents during the court case. Here is what he had to say about the matter.
Why do you think City officials targeted groups who give out aid to people?
“It’s pretty common in FL for cities to go after just services that they think “perpetuate chronic homelessness.” Regulating sharing’s is just one shared delusion that they think will help the situation somehow. In our case…when I first started coming to FNB here it was during a time when the FLPD was really out to get us because of our anarchist politics. So political repression has always been part of their intent with trying to shut us down. When the sharing ban was written, it was made with 2 groups really in mind: ours and love thy neighbor (chef Arnolds group)”.
Chef Arnold was arrested twice in the same week back in 2014 for the crime of feeding homeless people…. Yes, around this country it was illegal to feed those who were hungry.
Like Nathan says above it apparently “perpetuate chronic homelessness” meaning that vagabonds and other who lack the necessities should not be given free food or free basic necessities because the city believes it will give those who lack basic necessities a reason not to get a job.
Totally ignoring the systematic problems that not only allow these people to lack basic necessities, but to stack so many trivial things that we take for granted like an Id or a social or even a permanent residency.
Could you briefly describe the process y’all went through, the claim you were bringing to court, and how the hearing went?
“We first filed our suit in Jan 2015. We were lucky to know and get represented by some bad-ass civil liberty attorneys. 3 or 4 other state lawsuits by church folk were also filed and we all did mediation with the city. The other cases seemed to get stuck there. As I said last year the judge here gave summary judgment to the city. We appealed and had a hearing almost exactly a year ago where the judges heard oral arguments. The head judge absolutely hated the city’s argument and things looked very good… but we had to wait a year for them to issue a decision”.
Does this ruling apply to the whole country? Or only in your circuit district?
“The ruling is in the 11th district which covers FL GA & AL. It doesn’t cover the whole country. It is however an unusually strong ruling that could be cited in arguments elsewhere in the country”.
In Fort Worth the City Council voted 9-0 to start putting more restrictions on panhandlers. While Cary Moon from district 4 decide it was not the greatest idea to include a passage that made giving necessities to panhandler’s illegal by a fine.
At the last moment Cary dropped the proposition in favor on restrictions against the action panhandlers. Asking citizen to instead give to city services so they can regulate who gets what, how much they get, and when they are able to receive aid.
Such attacks on those who lack the basic necessities are appalling and are everywhere, even in our back yard. It up to activists in Fort Worth to start picking up the city’s slack and solve the problem ourselves by adopting tactics from Food Not Bombs and other political NGO’s. Citing the case in Fort Lauderdale if the city starts to push back on us.
Why do you think the District Court changed their decision from the 2015 ruling, once you appealed it? Did y’all change your argument?
“The first judge just did not rule on the 1st amendment issue. He sidestepped it and gave summary judgment without a trial. Our appeal was simply saying that that needed to be ruled on and the appeals judges did just that”.
Do you think giving out free food is a form of Speech? How so?
Yes, I think the only reason this wasn’t settled long ago is because groups almost always litigate under religious liberty protections. To say nothing of the whole human nature argument the judges wrote in the ruling, millions of people get food from food not bombs around the world and understand its part of a movement to enact change in society. Funnily enough, from the start of the oral arguments for the appeal, the judges were in total agreement with us.
To quote the judge who was speaking on behalf of the court: “Providing food in a visible public space and partaking in meals that are shared with others is an act of political solidarity meant to convey the organization’s message”. (Transcript of the ruling)
He explains the practical concept of Food Not Bombs all around the world – Solidarity not Charity. We are all people who want and need food, let us congregate together and help each other out. Through empowerment of ourselves and each other we can make a positive difference in each other lives.
How does you and the rest of the group feel about this ruling?
We are all pretty thrilled. For some of us like myself we’ve been playing a long game waiting for litigation to play out. Many other volunteers weren’t around for the sharing ban and are excited to be a part of the moment too.
What are the future plans for the Food Not Bombs chapter in Fort Lauderdale?
“It’s up to the city whether they want to fight us more. A new commission was elected a few months ago that is pretty liberal. They talk often of humanely resolving homeless issues…we’ll see. There’s a big homeless camp here they want to be rid of”. FNB here is also very active in the wider radical community. In the last 2 months our volunteers helped lock down an immigration detention facility and did a march for the anniversary of Charlottesville and last week we organized a noise demo at Broward main jail for the national prison strike. Our chapter and its composition is very dedicated to trans and queer resistance and is a co-founding org with the Black Lives Matter Alliance of Broward. At this point we’ve been teaching every new radical activist that we meet here about consensus, radical intersectionality, mutual aid & direct action for like 10 years now. And things have really grown in the last 5. So, we’re gonna keep doing that”.
Even though the city commission on homelessness changed drastically, change has not been implemented. It is still up to groups like Food Not Bombs, Love Thy Neighbor, and other “good neighbors” to help alleviate the burdens of late stage capitalism, by feeding and caring for those that the system leaves behind in the dust while the out of control apparatus zooms towards the inevitable cliff of social systematic failure.