Feeding Frenzy

Amid nervous cops and angry motorists, a squad of bike-riding activists delivered food to anti-war protesters

"Get JOBS instead of protesting!" shouted a plump, peroxide-blond woman, hanging out of a white car.

At Fifth and Mission, a big group blocked traffic, and had dragged newspaper boxes into the intersection to form a barricade. Large squads of police, in riot gear, were arranging themselves on the sidelines, but hadn't yet moved in. The Food Not Bombs foursome held out sandwiches as people marched past chanting, but found few takers. Eleven o'clock was still a bit early for lunch, apparently.

Over at the Federal Building, things were tense. A "puke-in" had been staged earlier on the steps, which bore piles of barf. It looked like the vomiters had imbibed food coloring beforehand, since the puke was faintly tinted red, white, and blue. A chain of protesters stood with linked arms, blocking the entrance, while a group of federal employees waited on the other side of the street, watching with expressions that ranged from bemusement to boredom. They had been standing there since 9 a.m.

A woman employee in a camel-colored sweater dress and gold cross stood next to the protesters, so she could be the first one in when the police broke them up.

"Get the hell away from me, and leave me alone," she yelled.

"Nobody wants to touch you," one of the protesters said gently.

"That's what you're gonna do. That's what you're gonna do," she insisted angrily. "You're gonna put your hands on me, touch me in any kinda way, you're gonna find out what day it is today!"

The Food Not Bombs group offered water to the human chain, but only a few took it.

"Wait," said DeAntonis, eyeing a cup of water that had just been poured. "That one has a hair in it."

Sure enough, an eyelash-sized hair was floating on the surface. "We don't want to sacrifice our reputation," she said. Even amid the chaos of the protests, Food Not Bombs wanted to be clean and professional.

Just as the food deliverers were leaving, yelling erupted from the protesters. A phalanx of cops barreled out of the Federal Building, plunged through the line of protesters, and began dragging away as many as they could.

Satisfied that nobody was getting his head whacked with a billy club, DeAntonis and the group rode away. They pedaled through the Tenderloin and stopped at St. Boniface, a beautiful pink-and-yellow Franciscan church on a particularly blighted stretch of Golden Gate Avenue. The pastor was allowing protesters to use St. Boniface as a gathering spot. As one of her group ran in to use the bathroom, DeAntonis surveyed the depressing scene across the street, where a dozen young and middle-aged black people slumped on the pavement. Their movements were the slowed, awkward motions of the very drunk or the very high, and swarms of pigeons bobbed around them on the filthy pavement. The smell of urine was pungent, even inside the church courtyard.

"I just feel like what we're doing is pointless," said DeAntonis, looking across the way. "We should be giving food to these people. The protesters don't even want it."

"It's still early yet," replied Wertheim.

DeAntonis handed out a few sandwiches to the people across the street.

Her group then distributed the rest of their sandwiches on Market Street, where protesters had gathered into a huge, loud mass, blocking traffic for several blocks. In front of the Old Navy store, people chanted, "Stop the Shopping! Bombs Are Dropping!" About 50 cops tried to break up the crowd, but they themselves became hemmed in.

"We have you surrounded! Resistance is futile!" yelled a protester, tongue-in-cheek.

The group biked back to the cookhouse, where they met Mike Benham and a guy who goes by the name Keeeth. He and Benham know each other from cooking Food Not Bombs dinners together every Friday at Keeeth's house in the Panhandle. A trim 43-year-old with many silver hoop earrings and a goatee, Keeeth had piled his bike trailer high with water bottles. The others carted cardboard bowls, plastic utensils, and buckets of hot food onto the sidewalk to pack up. There was Spanish rice, tofu-vegetable stir-fry, and some undercooked-yet-burned black beans that everyone agreed were best left behind.

By the time the expanded group hit Market, the protesters had moved up to Van Ness Avenue. Unable to unload their food before half the marchers had passed by, the Food Not Bombs members joined the parade themselves. They stopped occasionally to hand out Luna bars and tortilla chips.

It was 3:30, and many protesters were hungry. "Oh thank you! Thank you!" cried out person after person, plunging their hands into plastic bags of tortilla chips.

"Oh no," groaned Keeeth, as the march took an unexpected right on California Street. The activists got off their bikes and pushed their heavy loads of food and water up the hill.

At California and Polk, a line of cable cars idled, and a few drivers let protesters ring the cable car bells. The bell ringers were euphoric and the drivers smiled back at them, tickled by their childlike joy.

One of the Food Not Bombs members suggested getting ahead of the march, and the bikers raced up to the Ritz-Carlton. There they leaned their bikes against the wall surrounding the hotel and unpacked their supplies before the marchers arrived.

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