Nonprofit organizations provide for protesters

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The Food Not Bombs nonprofit organization offers food to protestors in downtown Cleveland’s Willard Park on Tuesday, July 19, 2016. 

Jenna Kuczkowski

Public safety during the Republican National Convention this week in Cleveland has come into question largely due to the number of protests that have and continue to take place in the streets and parks of downtown.

While others fear for themselves, some organizations in the local area are actually focusing on the other side of the story: the safety and well-being of the protestors.

Food Not Bombs

Food Not Bombs is a worldwide organization that recovers food that would have been discarded and shares it with those in need as a way of protesting war and poverty.

With over 1,000 chapters around the world in its 36 years of existence, the organization was a response to the protests on the Seabrook Nuclear Plant in New Hampshire.

The Cleveland chapter of the organization is focusing its efforts on not only feeding the needy whose public assistance services have been disrupted by the RNC, but those engaging in demonstrations before and during the four-day event.

“Food Not Bombs has always fed people engaged in a struggle, primarily because those people tend to be hungry,” said Willoughby resident Maggie Rice, who has been volunteering with the group since 2014. “It’s hard for them to find time to organize, march and sit in while also feeding yourself.

Rice said that the First Amendment should not only apply to people who have the money to buy takeout, but “everyone who makes their voices heard, and we aim to help them do that.”

Rice, who is a well known anti-police brutality activist in the greater Cleveland area, said she got involved with Food Not Bombs after the Gaza Siege of 2014.

She said while she had been volunteering with community meal programs prior to joining Food Not Bombs, it was the siege that made her realize how food can be linked to oppression and spark her involvement with feeding people engaged in a struggle.

Rice said that the Food Not Bombs organization supports many causes and protests and only has a “very short list of organizations we don’t actively support.” Rice said, however, they will not turn away any protesters who approach them looking for food.

“If the Westboro Baptist Church needs food while they’re in town, we will share food with them but we’re not going to prioritize them when we have limited resources,” Rice said.

Daniel Cruz said he had his first encounter with Food Not Bombs a little over a week ago while participating in a Black Lives Matter protest where he was given food and water after the march. Since then, he has started to volunteer and come out to support the organization during the RNC protests.

“It’s something that I really appreciate that they do, especially in these times of need,” Cruz said. “To show my appreciation, I’m here volunteering my time today so I can help give back to them after they helped me.”

The goal for the organization is to share 12,000 meals in four days with the people in Cleveland for the RNC. After that, the organization plans to continue feeding protests against police brutality and racism in Cleveland as Rice said they have been for the past two years.

Rustbelt Medics

The Rustbelt Medics is a group in Ohio and Michigan that provides volunteer first aid for political events and protests such as the RNC. The group was formed specifically for the RNC and is staffed by over 100 volunteers who will be roaming the streets this week.

The group is made up of volunteers with various levels of medical knowledge including licensed and unlicensed medical professionals. The volunteers who are unlicensed must undergo 20 hours of training in basic first aid.

The purpose behind these street medics is to provide basic first aid for things like dehydration and scrapes suffered by protesters. The medics hope to be a quicker first response than local EMS workers who may not be able to reach injured protestors that become hurt in a large crowd if needed.  

T. Nicholas Domitrovic, a volunteer for the Rustbelt Medics and a graduate medical student at Case Western University, said he decided to volunteer after seeing an ad in the campus newspaper recruiting volunteers.

“I knew the Republican National Convention was coming to town and I wanted to do something productive but didn’t want to volunteer for the RNC itself,” Domitrovic said. “I thought about being a legal observer but because of the field I’m in, I decided to focus on a medical-based assistance program I could volunteer with.”

The group also has a wellness center stationed at Saint John Episcopal Church and various other temporary stations around the convention area.

Ohio Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild

The Ohio chapter of the National Lawyers Guild is an organization dedicated to protecting human rights in the justice system and advocating basic change within the political and economic systems of the United States.

 Jocelyn Rosnick, a co-coordinator of the organization, said for the entire week of the RNC, the group’s legal office is dispatching and coordinating Legal Observers across the city to document law enforcement interactions with protestors and to act as the eyes and ears of the group’s criminal defense and civil litigation teams in the case of mass arrests or other unconstitutional conduct by law enforcement.

The team is also staffing a 24/7 jail support hotline to take calls from those arrested in order to track their status and make sure no one is lost in the legal system. If an arrest occurs, the organization offers volunteer attorneys that will represent protesters in court if needed.

Prior to the Republican National Convention, Ohio NLG fundraised thousands of dollars to help offset the costs for providing their services during the RNC.

Rosnick said the biggest fear of the NLG is that since the RNC has been designated National Security Special Event by the Department of Homeland Security, the city of Cleveland has received a $50 million security grant as well as a dramatic influx of visiting law enforcement officers.

Although the purchasing of military equipment by local governments has been restricted under the Obama administration, local police are not prohibited from using what they already have or acquire through other methods, such as the NSS security grant.

“The Ohio NLG, and the activist community at large, is concerned that the First Amendment rights of RNC protesters will be crushed under this weight and spectacle of national security,” Rosnick said. “We believe that protestors have the right to voice their dissent in a constitutionally protected manner, free of unreasonable restrictions on speech and assembly or harassment by law enforcement.”

Cleveland resident Allan Nagy stopped to observe a protest in public square on a bike ride. Nagy said he noticed a group of people with bright green neon shirts walking within the crowd with “legal observer” written on the back.

Rosnick said she hopes that demonstrators feel supported and are more comfortable exercising their rights knowing that the NLG “has their backs” this week.

“Everyone has rights and should be able to voice their opinions so I’m glad this group supports that,” said Nagy. “I wouldn’t want to live in a place where you can’t express your opinions without being oppressed.”

Contact Jenna Kuczkowski at [email protected]