"I didn't even go to Seabrook for the politics," says Butler. His father was a white-collar administrator for the military defense contractor Thiokol, and Butler recalls his family as being non-political. "I went down there for the drama, and out of curiosity, and to be a part of it all. I had no idea that my life would never be the same after that — that's when I became an activist."
In a story that you might hear old radicals recite over lagers at the Plough and Stars, Butler — along with six other FNB founders, including McHenry — spun the energy they harnessed at Seabrook into a food collection and distribution charity. They orchestrated a successful defense for Brian Feigenbaum — their friend, legal advisor, and future FNB collaborator who was arrested at Seabrook for allegedly hurling a grappling hook at a police officer. After that win, the team began preparing regular meals for the homeless, and feeding protesters at demonstrations from New Hampshire to New York City. They also grew close personally, living together in a life cooperative at 195 Harvard Street, near Central Square.
Butler, also a member of the City of Cambridge Peace Commission at the time, worked with FNB until 1983. That year, he went on to co-found Food for Free, an FNB offshoot that still provides needy people around Greater Boston with more than one million pounds of meals a year. After leaving the Boston area in 1987, Butler continued protesting power and corruption, and often squatted in San Francisco, where he and a relocated McHenry revitalized FNB to grow it westward. After violent arrests in response to their peaceful actions spurred a wave of sympathetic news coverage, the pair succeeded in expanding Food Not Bombs to more than 30 American cities.
In the time since, Butler has stayed off the front lines and mostly focused on teaching consensus-making. For the past three years, he's lived with his partner, the magnificently dreadlocked Wren Tuatha, in a Maryland community called Heathcote, where the couple teaches peaceful communication. Butler never expected to step back into the protest arena; his post-traumatic stress disorder — the result, he says, of being placed in Vulcan-grip compliance holds and knocked unconscious several times — has kept him away from big crowds and mass actions for years. That all changed when he heard about Occupy.
I first met Butler at Occupy Baltimore, where I'd stopped on my tour of five Occupy camps in search of the big picture. He was an outsider, having just shown up in McKeldin Square for the first time that afternoon. But by the time that I returned for the nightly general assembly, Butler had been invited to address the entire group. Having been told that earlier Baltimore meetings were compromised by out-of-turn dissent and soapbox soliloquies, he used the platform to teach how young activists how to find consensus in affinity groups before uniting for assemblies. "If an idea doesn't work in a group of 10 people," he told the attentive crowd, "it definitely won't work in a group of 200."