Monday's event has a three-fold purpose: a) to show support for five members of Orlando Food Not Bombs who will be arraigned at 1 p.m.; b) to show support for free speech rights; and c) to protest Mayor Buddy Dyer's policies on homelessness. The five--Ryan Hutchinson, Bryan Jones, Brett Mason, Eric Montanez and William Vertlieb--were arrested on June 27 for allegedly violating a City of Orlando noise ordinance through drumming as a means of expressing their opposition to the Mayor's policies. They were participating in a protest during a campaign fund-raising event for Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer held at a downtown restaurant. Tha charge against a sixth OFNB member, Jonathan Giralt, also arrested that day under the noise ordinance, was dropped by the State Attorney's Office at his July 25 court appearance.
The June 27 protest was held to bring attention to the Mayor's policies on homelessness, which OFNB considers to be punitive, discriminatory, inhumane and inadequate to address the problems of homelessness in our community, and his support for the "large group feedings" ordinance that attempts to ban groups such as Orlando Food Not Bombs from sharing food with hungry and homeless people in downtown parks.
OFNB maintains that our actions on June 27--holding signs and banners, chanting and drumming-- were fully in keeping with the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which allows citizens to peacefully assemble and to use their free speech rights in a multitude of ways to express opposition to government policies and public officials.
We are concerned that the arrests--if not challenged--could have a chilling effect on the willingness of citizens to exercise their constitutional rights to express their views on government and politics. We also feel that members of OFNB were targeted for arrest based on their outspoken opposition to the City's policies on homelessness. That includes an earlier protest (May 16) at a Dyer campaign fundraiser, and their continued defiance of the City's "large group feedings" ordinance, which they feel criminalizes homelessness and institutes discrimination against a group of citizens, the homeless, based upon their socio-economic status and attempts to deny them equal access to public amenities.
In addition, OFNB as a group and four individual members of the group, including Hutchinson and Montanez, are plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit against the City that challenges the constitutionality of the anti-homeless food sharing ordinance. That lawsuit is expected to come to trial in June of 2008. Montanez, in April, became the first person arrested under the ordinance. His trial on that charge is expected to start Sept. 10.
OFNB has been sharing vegan and vegertarian food with hungry and homeless people at various downtown locations, mostly Lake Eola Park, for more than 2 1/2 years. We share food because people need it and to call attention to our society's failure to provide food and housing to each of its members. We do this in public spaces, such as parks, because we believe that space should be reclaimed for the use of everyone, not just the privileged. We oppose the poverty, inequality, violence, war and militarism, prejudice and oppression, and environmental destruction that makes groups such as ours necessary.
Monday's event has been endorsed by the Movement for a Democratic Society--Central Florida Chapter, Orlando Direct Action, the Orlando Progressive Alliance, S.T.O.P.--Stop the Ordinance Partnership, Students for a Democratic Society at the University of Central Florida and the Young Communist League (Orlando chapter).
Participants will meet at Heritage Square Park (on Central Blvd.) at 11 a.m., Monday, to drink coffee, munch bagels and make signs, and then proceed on foot to the Courthouse. Everyone is welcome to join us there or to meet us at the Courthouse at noon. Please bring signs and banners.