I’m on quite a magic carpet ride, I have to say. Three weeks ago, my partner C.T. Butler and I were quietly working from home. We were assembling a book proposal for C.T.’s memoir of the early years of Food Not Bombs. We had hopes that such a book could help us promote the historic work of the international Food Not Bombs movement, and consensus decisionmaking, one of FNB’s cornerstone principles.
In this work, I’d put my own writing for Hippie Chick Diaries on hold to listen to C.T. spin tales of that first FNB house, a collective of young activists from the anti-nuclear movement. Stories full of color, the three-legged dog and the punk rock scene. Late night stencil graffiti and early morning van runs to pick up cases and cases of food. The sign on the wall of the collective: No Rulers, Not No Rules.
And Meetings. C.T. claimed to have been to many thousands of meetings. I couldn’t imagine this until, doing research, I thumbed through his datebooks, which go back to the early eighties. And then I saw for myself—Some days only had one or two meetings. But C.T. was some kind of boy scout activist, attending often four or more meetings in a single day. Meetings for environmental groups, neighborhood associations, anti-war, anti-nuclear, feminist, animal rights, GLBT, war tax resistance, Food Not Bombs and the non-profit version, Food For Free…
When C.T. set out to write On Conflict and Consensus, he had a unique foundational understanding of how groups go wrong in their process and what to do about it. He had indeed attended many thousands of meetings.
“I would kill myself,” our friend and community mate Matt remarked when I told him this. I think it’s a rare person who is so interested in and attuned to process that she or he can attend even one or two meetings, several days running, without going a little wiggy.
Then came Occupy Wall Street and with the coverage came C.T.’s running political analysis. He became like those guys yelling coaching strategies at their tv’s. He would make comparisons to Food Not Bombs and other actions. But whenever I suggested we should be there, instead of our hut in the woods, he would change the subject.
For the past decade or so, C.T. had focused on teaching and writing about consensus. He stayed in the activist game from afar, taking phone calls from Food Not Bombs chapters needing advice, doing the occasional radio show. But after being arrested more than fifty times in non-violent direct actions, C.T. had had his fill of the brutality of some police. Indeed, he now as PTSD.
“Some police are just blue collar folks,” C.T. would say, “And they wouldn’t enjoy having to arrest us for giving out free food. But some are actually sadists, and those are the ones they sent for us,” referring to beatings he received in San Francisco, New York and other places.
Another community mate, Paul, noted the growing Occupy movement and said to C.T., “Sounds like your kind of thing. Are you going to join in soon?”
The next day, C.T. was in a dark place. None of our plans would work. None of our efforts would ever make a difference. To make matters worse, it was his birthday. The best I could do was to just hold space and softly facilitate the facilitator as he moved through his dark places. Every now and then I would push, “We’re going to Occupy Baltimore tomorrow!”
I was driven by instinct and my own desire to show up. And I believed that it was important for him to be there. After a couple of days of telling me it was the last thing he needed, he agreed to check out our local Occupy with me.
Stay tuned for Part Two