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Friday, 21 November 2014 00:00

Interview with hunger striker resisting Ft. Lauderdale’s homeless hate laws

Written by Liberation Staff
Activist Jillian Pim Activist Jillian Pim

The mayor of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., Jack Seiler, has drawn international outrage in recent weeks for a new law banning the sharing of food with the poor and homeless. After further criminalizing homeless people and people in poverty in October, he and the City Commission then began persecuting those who seek to help them.

However, the people of Ft. Lauderdale refuse to stop, showing courageous resistance in the face of powerful cruelty. Jillian Pim, a member of Food Not Bombs, has been on hunger strike since the ordinance was enacted. She is currently beginning her third week without food.

So far, police have arrested eleven Food Not Bombs members and issued countless citations. They have also given two citations to 90-year-old Arnold Abbot of Love Thy Neighbor, an interfaith organization of volunteers that has been feeding the homeless in Broward County since 1991. He now faces two months in jail and hundreds of dollars in fines.

In response, people from around the country and world have posted thousands of solidarity pictures on social media with the hashtag #resisthomelesshatelaws. On Friday, November 14, a national solidarity fast with Jillian took place, with at least one person vowing to join her in her fast until the sharing ban is repealed.

To follow the situation as it unfolds and learn more about the ordinances, visit http://homelesshatelaws.blogspot.com/

Ft. Lauderdale’s fight is especially significant for Florida, where persecution of people without homes is common. Local governments competing over tourism revenue and the patronage of snowbirds during the winter do everything they can to purge or quarantine the homeless. Tampa, Orlando and Miami have all cracked down on people who help or advocate for them. In Sarasota, Fl., for instance the City Commission removed all public benches from its downtown park, while the Sarasota Downtown Merchant’s Association recently began a repugnant advertising campaign vilifying the homeless.

The following is an interview with Jillian Pim of Food Not Bombs.

Liberation: You have been on hunger strike now for thirteen days. Tell us about what’s going on in Ft. Lauderdale and why you’re doing this.

Jillian: Ft. Lauderdale passed a series of ordinances basically making it illegal to be homeless in the city of Ft. Lauderdale. And then, as if that wasn’t enough, they’re taking it out on the people who share food with the homeless also. So now it’s illegal to feed the homeless people in downtown Ft. Lauderdale. I have been on hunger strike for 13 days now in protest of this ordinance, since the first enforcement of this ordinance when Arnold Abbot and the two Reverends were detained and cited. I’m doing this because, if I can get the word out there about me starving, and I can get these city officials and the people who make these decisions to watch me starve, maybe that will prevent all the people that I love and care about, that I share food with, from starving.

Liberation: When was this ordinance passed and what is the situation with the homeless in Ft. Lauderdale that gave rise to it?

Jillian: The homeless have always been pretty resilient in downtown Ft. Lauderdale, and Stranahan Park, which is the park that has been getting most of the brouhaha, has historically been a place where homeless people congregate because it’s the center of everything. It’s where the police department is, it’s where the library is, it’s where the hospitals are, it’s where city hall is. I’ve found news clippings of homeless people congregating there before the 60s even. So it’s not like this is a new thing, that they’re just all of a sudden going there because we’re feeding people there. We’re feeding people there because that’s where they are. The first day of the intentional enforcement of the ordinance was October 31.

The ordinance says you can still feed the homeless but it’s so heavily regulated that any grassroots organization would not be able to abide by all those requirements. You need permits, you can only get two a year. You have to hire port-o-potties for the time that you’re sharing, which is completely unreasonable, especially for groups like Food Not Bombs, who don’t usually deal in money. We just deal in food donations. We don’t usually accept money donations. We only recently accept donations to cover everyone’s legal fees.

Liberation: Can you tell us a little about the history of your own activism and what’s brought you to solidarity with the homeless?

Jillian: My first activism was actually me going to Food Not Bombs. That was in May of 2010. Then, after hanging out with all these people and coming out of my own shell and doing research on my own instead of just believing what everybody tells me, I learned all this stuff about the world that is just so, so horrible. I’m thirty and I used to be a used car salesperson. I used to have a really, really great job where I made a whole bunch of money, and my husband had a really great job, and we quit our jobs, gave up our apartment and all of our belongings to become full time activists. And we traveled the world, as part of Food not Bombs and the puppet troupe St. Thomas Playhouse, feeding homeless people and doing puppet shows to inform people, “This is wrong. Stand up for what you believe in.”

We went through Ireland, we did a puppet show in Dublin, and we did a puppet show in Rossport at the Rossport Solidarity Camp, which is a shellfish sea action camp, where they’re trying to protect a very fragile estuary from ruin by drilling of underground tunnels to transport natural gas from the oceans to the mountains. And then we came back to the States and did a tour across the United States. Then we spent a summer in New Mexico starting an organic farm in the desert for the community, and then did a puppet show back to Florida, stopping at School of the Americas Watch, and participating in their spectacular puppet shows that they do every year. Then we were down here in Florida for a few months, went on tour again, back to New Mexico again, and we’ve been back here for a little over a year now.

Liberation: You’re now on you’re thirteenth day of hunger strike. Can you tell us about how it’s been for you and how it’s progressed, how it’s affected your body and your mind?

Jillian: My short term memory is just gone. That was gone after day seven, completely gone. My memory is really, really bad. The first three or four days, my body was feeding off of glucose stores, so I was really tired and had a lot of hunger pains. Then my body switched over to living off fat tissues, which creates a trans-mechanism in your brain that releases whole bunches of serotonin. So, basically, it’s a biomechanism saying, “Hey, here’s some energy, go out there and hunt and gather.” Now I’m still at the point where I’m feeding off of fat cells, but I’m past the serotonin level so I’m super tired all the time. Everything feels heavy to me. I picked up my water bottle and it was heavy. I only have partial hearing sometimes in my left ear. When I first started I was 143 pounds, and I got on a scale a couple hours ago and I was 119 pounds. I haven’t weighed that low since freshman year of high school. I’ve been drinking water with lemon and in the evening I’ll add salt for electrolytes.

Liberation: How has the solidarity been in Florida and nationally?

Jillian: The support I’ve been getting from my Ft. Lauderdale crew has been amazing. They’ve been waiting on me hand and foot basically. I’ve been getting selfies from people all over the world of people who are fasting in their solidarity fast today. I’m sitting outside the Ft. Lauderdale City Hall right now and I’ve got seven people here with me. I’m sitting here with my walker and my sign. They’re all here to support me, fasting in solidarity. It’s really, really amazing.

Liberation: Where is this going from here? What do you hope to see happen?

Jillian: My plan is this. This is my plan. And I’d like to see this overturned or repealed or the enforcement of it stopped. Once that happens, I’ll be happy to eat again.

Liberation: At some point, will you have to stop, for your health?

Jillian: I’m in this for the long haul.

Link to Liberation

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