In fact Sue says Dumpster-diving has gotten tougher as more and more stores padlock their trash bins or do away with them altogether in favor of irretrievable methods like compaction. She doesn't want the location of the remaining Dumpsters revealed. It's not that she worries they'll get caught. "No," Sue laughs, "we don't want the competition!"
Villa residents Dumpster-dive the way some people shop at 7-Eleven. If they pass one late at night, they pop in to see what's available. Like most consumers, Villa residents go to the store that specializes in what they need, be it auto parts or home-improvement supplies, but instead of grabbing a cart and perusing the aisles, they wander out back to "browse" through the trash.
They don't always wait for things to be thrown away. Most anarchists, including those who live in the Villa, feel it's OK to steal from corporations because they are corrupt and oppressive. In essence such stealing is a strike against the capitalist system and also happens to have the added benefit of letting one take what he or she wants or needs. Moreover, anarchists argue, stealing from corporations enables those who steal to work less, which is good, since work under capitalism is inherently oppressive. Some don't keep the things they steal but instead return them for cash.
There's no telling a pro-theft anarchist (and most of them are) that filching merchandise from a corporation drives up prices, thus hurting the working poor, or puts the screws to the workers and management, who are paid to prevent theft. Prices, they argue, are artificially low because they don't account for true labor costs, and if workers get fired as a result, well, they should quit working and take to stealing, too. Theft, one anarchist giddily suggests, could help hasten revolution.
For most anarchists, however, there is a sort of ethical code to theft. Stealing from individuals is wrong, as is stealing from independent, mom-and-pop stores. Stealing overpackaged merchandise is not as acceptable as stealing bulk foods, for example, since overpackaged products are wasteful. But ultimately, they say, the ethics of stealing are (conveniently) left up to the individual, which means some forgo deep thought in favor of impulsive shoplifting: "I'm not fronting like that," says one Southern Girls participant when the topic turns to "revolutionary" theft. "If I want a candy bar, I take it."
In any event Dumpster-diving poses fewer risks than stealing, though the spoils are often exactly that. One recent night, on the way home from a show at Soundsplash, an indie record store in West Palm Beach, Peter and a friend pulled behind a certain health-food grocery store and snagged some grapes, lettuce, and a papaya from a mass of smelly wet cardboard. It was a disappointing Dumpster run, Peter admits, but it was better than nothing.
The best thing about Dumpster-diving, everyone agrees, is the donuts. Dumpster donuts are a diver's manna, and the sugary serendipity is surprisingly easy to find. Donuts packed in boxes, often only a few hours old, can be salvaged from grocery stores, Dunkin' Donuts shops, and Krispy Kreme franchises. "Oh yeah," Melodie agrees, "Never buy donuts."
The wheelchair hits a crack in the pavement and shudders to a halt just steps outside the Villa de Vulva. Melodie leans over -- again -- and frees the stuck wheel. Plastic boxes the size of steamer trunks sit in the chair, loaded with surplus food. Under the weight of the load, the wheelchair-turned-roach coach picks up speed on the sloping street, wobbling with the comic unpredictability of a toddler's first steps.
It rained earlier, leaving the sky dim and bluish gray, bereft of a postcard sunset. The streets are empty save the omnipresent prowling of police cars. Battered pickup trucks that ferry migrant workers to their farm jobs out west have long since come to rest beside boxy, putty-colored one-story homes bordered by small, sparse front yards. Curtains made of sheets or tapestries are pulled back from open windows in hopes of catching an infrequent breeze.
"Quieres comidas gratis?" Melodie calls out. It is a rhetorical question, an open invitation yet to be accepted. An ice cream truck's tinkling theme plays in the distance, interrupted only by the bleating reveille of a low-rider horn.
Melodie takes a few steps and calls out again. Her simple Spanish query would seem an unlikely chant for an anarchist, but the ritual known as "distro" is the very sort of direct action that anarchists such as Melodie consider revolutionary.
Waffle began distributing food about a year ago in the Lake Worth neighborhood just west of downtown, inspired by his work with the Miami chapter of Food Not Bombs, which cooks free community meals. He's traveling now, so Melodie has taken over the route.