Last night’s Fort Lauderdale City Commission meeting wasn’t as monotonous as usual. The three-hour-long gathering was punctuated by six presentations by members of Food Not Bombs, who spoke in rhyme and costume to protest the city’s homeless hate laws. The activists gather every Friday at Stranahan Park to share food with others who can’t afford a healthy meal — and have continued to do so even after a law was passed exactly a year ago making such feedings illegal. Last night’s performance was just one in a series of events this week by Food Not Bombs members, who are celebrating a year of feeding despite the ban.
“The point we’re trying to make is that the mayor and commissioners don’t hear or take us seriously anyway,” said Food Not Bombs member Haylee Becker after addressing commissioners while wearing a red clown’s nose. “So if presenting our ideas is already a joke, why not play along?”
Nathan Pim took to the podium first and surprised officials when he started speaking in rhyme. “For people most downtrodden, the most needed is shelter, food, and utilities,” Pim chimed, “but downtown’s full of pleated curtains and other pleasantries.”
Some officials cracked a smile and others leaned in closer to hear his prose. At the end, the audience cheered. Mayor Jack Seiler even called him “the new poet laureate of Fort Lauderdale.”
Two more activists spoke when the annual Christmas on Las Olas event was motioned for approval. They stressed that the true meaning of Christmas is to help those less fortunate — not throwing lavish street parades where a glass of wine sells for $9. When David Hitchock finished his speech, he started singing "Jingle Bells" during the remainder of his time. Seiler ordered him removed, and an officer gently pointed him toward his seat.
“I want to take a few minutes to think about those who can’t celebrate Christmas this year,” Valsin St. James said. “I find it repulsive that we’re taking shelter from the homeless, ruining their holidays, and reinstating racist police officers. This is not what Jesus believed in.”
Food Not Members agree that Becker’s performance was best. She addressed commissioners as a “concerned citizen of the bourgeoise committee of Fort Lauderdale.” She applauded the city’s efforts so far to “rid downtown of the homeless by July 2016” but said “more needs to be done.” She suggested a three-part plan: that officials invest in a “Home-bum Street Sweeper 1000” that attracts homeless people with strong magnets, then a human catapult that would “shoot homeless people 1,000 miles away,” and finally buses to move the homeless to the Everglades.
Activist William Toole spent three minutes reading a popular bedtime story about greedy, angry brothers who were more concerned with separating their belongings than having fun and sharing. Cara Reaser came to the meeting with a USB to play a short video that she and other activists prepared. But Seiler didn’t allow it to be played, saying it had to be approved ahead of time. Here's the video, which they've uploaded online:
Instead, Reaser read a poem she had scribbled in her notebook. “Why are we finding so many of the unhoused of downtown in the city jail?” she recited. “Why do we endlessly harass people with the hardest possible life?... When you know there are starving people, how can you let perfectly good food be thrown away?”
Seiler concluded: “That was actually a much better poem. Maybe we should reconsider Fort Lauderdale’s poet laureate.” A few commissioners nodded in agreement.
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Jess Swanson is a staff writer at New Times. Born and raised in Miami, she graduated from the University of Miami’s School of Communication and wrote briefly for the student newspaper until realizing her true calling: pissing off fraternity brothers by reporting about their parties on her crime blog. Especially gifted in jumping rope and solving Rubik’s cubes, she also holds the title for longest stint as an unpaid intern in New Times history. She left the Magic City for New York to earn her master’s degree from Columbia University School of Journalism, where she spent a year profiling circumcised men who were trying to regrow their foreskins for a story that ultimately won the John Horgan Award for Critical Science Journalism. Terrified by pizza rats and arctic temperatures, she quickly returned to her natural habitat.