09 July 2011

Open Letter to the City of Orlando

Much has been made recently of the escalating problem of the City of Orlando arresting citizens and groups who are distributing food to the homeless and hungry without proper authorization.  Outrage has incited protests, which in turn have caused Mayor Buddy Dyer to dig in his heels, going so far as to brand Food Not Bombs as "terrorists."  The public seems as confused as it is angry.

Ostensibly, the law exists to guard against anyone distributing unsafe food to the one group must vulnerable to accepting it.  The spirit of that law means well, and it's a shame that it was even considered necessary in the first place.  In an ideal world, there would be no hungry among us.  Sadly, we have yet to reach that stage of social evolution. The ability of our government agencies to address this horrific issue has been hamstrung, in large part because budgets from the city to the state have been woefully inadequate to meet the various demands for public services. This is not a forum for vilifying Mayor Dyer, the Orlando City Commission or even Governor Rick Scott.  Blame is peripheral to the very real, immediate needs of the all-too-many hungry men, women and children in Orlando.

Compassionate citizens have stepped up to see that the needs of their fellow man are met at a time when the state of Florida and city of Orlando have failed to do this.  The law regulating the distribution of foods should not be abolished, for it still serves a purpose to protect a group vulnerable to exploitation.  But that protection should not be so fierce that it also prevents the hungry from receiving much needed food.

During the Spanish colonial expansion of the New World, ship captains and expedition leaders routinely had to disregard the commands of the monarchy, as the reality of their situation demanded a different approach than was authorized.  "Obedezco pero no cumplo" became the catch phrase of the era.  "I obey, but I do not comply."  It isn't an insurrection against the rule of law; rather it recognizes that reality is not properly addressed by law.

Someone must have the courage to intervene and revise the Orlando city legislation to allow groups such as Food Not Bombs to prosecute their campaign to feed those in need.  At the very least, the mayor's office should accept "obedezco pero no cumplo" from the Orlando Police Department and allow Orlando's finest to turn a blind eye to the feeding of the hungry without a permit.

I ask the citizens of Orlando to contact their representatives in the City Commission and urge them to alter the regulation of permits for distributing food to the public to allow Food Not Bombs and other organizations to ensure that no one goes hungry in Orlando.  A directory with contact information can be downloaded here.

It may be unlawful to feed the hungry, but it is criminal to prohibit it.

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