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Happytown

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We had a feeling this wouldhappen: The standoff between Food Not Bombs and the City of Orlando over the newly reinstated ordinance governing food sharing in public parks has descended into a wonkish, hair-splitting, post-legal hell. Take the latest episode on the evening of May 18 at Lake Eola Park, where just prior to the event, Food Not Bombs announced that volunteers would “risk arrest to ladle out soup and other vegan fare without first having requested a … large groups feeding permit.” In attendance was Food Not Bombs’ co-founder Keith McHenry, who drove his van (which he also lives in) from New Mexico to Orlando for the event, ostensibly for moral support. “We’re concerned this ordinance could spread across the U.S.,” he said. (Indeed, St. Petersburg officials wasted no time in proposing a new feeding ordinance after Orlando’s was upheld by the federal courts.)

But rather than dispatch police to arrest the slop scoopers with a Channel 6 helicopter watching overhead, the city chose to give Food Not Bombs a permit – one that the group had not asked for. According to Mark Stephens, a volunteer at the event, city employee Denise Aldridge “forced” the permit upon them. “She said ‘You guys need this,’ then threw it on the table,” Stephens says. He says he responded by crumpling up the permit and offering it back, which she did not accept.

But according to city spokeswoman Cassandra Lafser, the fact that Stephens touched the permit means that it was indeed accepted by Food Not Bombs. “Crumpling a piece a paper and throwing it on the ground is littering our park, not refusing a permit,” Lafser says. But Orlando’s senior anarchist, Ben Markeson, shoots back that the city had no idea that Stephens was actually a member of Food Not Bombs, given that the anarchist group – almost an oxymoron, really – has no formal membership list and no dues system. Sigh. Anyway, by the time you read this, Food Not Bombs may already have “accepted” the second of its two allotted permits for Lake Eola, which means that it may truly be risking arrest only hours after this issue hits the streets … or baking in the sun with a crumpled permit, waiting for its next governmental cocktail.

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