|Black Panther breakfast program started in 1968 in San Francisco (Photo by Ducha Dennis)|
Did some interviews down at Occupy Wall Street last night and day, boy the hawk was out—southern slang for—crazy windy cold. I've been collecting materials for a book on the role of food in social movements. Despite what skeptics and opponents say, there is a very organized social movement going on that I would argue started with large numbers of unemployed students in various parts of Spain and then took root in lower Manhattan. What I saw can best be described as a very organized group of demonstrators with a movement that has a “Peoples kitchen” at its core and feeds thousands of people for free three or more times a day. Food and social movements have a long history which I will discuss in the coming days. During the 1960s and 1970s, the Black Panthers first launched organizing against police brutality and community empowerment efforts in poor African American neighborhoods in Oakland, California. As with the current movement, the media condemned the Panthers as crazy unemployed teenagers with no clear message. The Panthers developed a ten point platform for those cared to listen and understand the points guided their movement: WE WANT LAND, BREAD, HOUSING, EDUCATION, CLOTHING, JUSTICE, PEACE AND PEOPLE'S COMMUNITY CONTROL OF MODERN TECHNOLOGY. The Panthers Founder Huey Newton developed a free breakfast program for poor children as part of the Panthers’ many survival programs which provided community service in low income neighborhoods. In 1969 Newton said, “The Free Breakfast for School Children is about to cover the country and be initiated in every chapter and branch of tile Black Panther Party. This program was created because the Black Panther Party understands that our children need a nourishing breakfast every morning so that they can learn.” He went on to say, “It is a beautiful sight to see our children eat in the mornings after remembering the times when our stomachs were not full, and even the teachers in the schools say that there is a great improvement in the academic skills of the children that do get the breakfast. At one time there were children that passed out in class from hunger, or had to be sent home for something to eat. But our children shall be fed, and the Black Panther Party will not let the malady of hunger keep our children down any longer.