United Way Fires Food Not Bombs Founder for Thinking About Anti-War Activities

When graphic designer Keith McHenry was hired last April by the United Way of Tucson, he figured he could settle in, make some cash and discretely
continue his 20-year career as co-founder of the national peace group Food Not Bombs. But by late September the United Way had given him the boot, over fears that he would attend an October protest rally at Raytheon Missile Systems, on Tucson’s south side.

When graphic designer Keith McHenry was hired last April by the United Way of Tucson, he figured he could settle in, make some cash and discretely
continue his 20-year career as co-founder of the national peace group Food Not Bombs.

But by late September the United Way had given him the boot, over fears that he would attend an October protest rally at Raytheon Missile Systems, on Tucson’s south side.

Plenty of irony there: A Food Not Bombs leader meets one of America’s biggest bomb makers, while working for the beneficiaries of Raytheon’s
philanthropic largesse.

In recent years, the missile giant and its employees have donated
around $1 million per annum to the UW’s charity umbrella.

So McHenry’s plans did not set well with his bosses.

Not that his background is a secret; it’s on his rsum.

One could argue these aren’t the best of times for the United Way of
Tucson. The charity organ recently took a media beating over violating
its own policy, by sending truckloads of locally raised money out of
state. And now the World Trade Center victims are draining its cash
base.

Thus, the UW’s loafer-and-martini execs–notorious for sucking
hefty salaries from public generosity–are getting downright worried.

"There was already a lot of frustration at the United Way by the time
I was fired," McHenry says. "A lot of money was going to the
September 11 fund, and we were losing our funding in Tucson for our programs
here. The newspaper articles were having an impact, too.

"But the place that was giving us the most funding then, because of
increased missile sales, was Raytheon."

McHenry says he spent much time with Raytheon workers, polishing up a
fund-raising brochure for circulation among missile industry employees.

However, there was the problem of McHenry’s left leanings. In an
August job review, he was told to remove an arrest-bracelet mobile
hanging in his cubicle, and a few vaguely political posters. He was
also told to beef up his work hours. "I was already putting in
nine-to-12-hour days," he says, "for $27,000 a year."

McHenry says he dutifully removed the political stuff. Not long after,
he was called by an activist buddy to help feed peace protesters out
at the Raytheon plant on October 13. McHenry says he quizzed a human
resources staffer at United Way about whether he’d get in trouble for going.

"I thought I should make the situation clear to them. I didn’t want it
to become a surprise, or for them to think I was doing something
behind their back and get fired," he says.

The human resources person "told me it would probably be a conflict of
interest," he says. "She said she couldn’t order me not to go, but
suggested that I should not go because if anyone identified me as
being a United Way employee attending that demonstration, it could
adversely affect funding from Raytheon."

Three days later, McHenry and his colleagues received a memo from Ed
Parker, president of the UW of Tucson. "It has come to my attention,"
Parker writes, "that some of you may be participating in a
demonstration at Raytheon. … While I would like to discourage you
from picketing one of our biggest donors, it is your right as private
citizens to do so."

However, "Any conduct which reflects negatively upon United Way or
which adversely affects our relationships with any of our donors is
cause for disciplinary action up to and including termination," Parker
continued.

"I and the United Way’s managers support your right to free speech,"
the president concluded.

Decoding that missive is like reading tea leaves in a bucket of lint.
"I told my wife I got this memo, and we could go to the protest, and
it wouldn’t be a problem," McHenry says. "She looked at the memo and
said, ‘No, I don’t think that’s what it’s saying at all.’"

Six days later–about three weeks before the peace rally–Keith
McHenry was given these options: resign or be fired.

Attempts to contact Ed Parker for comment were unsuccessful. But the
Tucson Weekly did reach Jill Figueroa, UW’s director of
communications. She said she couldn’t comment on personnel matters.

[ also see related items:


Salvation Army Cites Bush Help in Fight Against Hiring Gays
http://www.theexperiment.org/articles.php?news_id=1436


WATCH WHAT YOU SAY! – http://www.theexperiment.org/articles.php?news_id=1526


The War in Afghanistan 101: 47 Questions and Answers – http://www.theexperiment.org/articles.php?news_id=1539
]

Author: Tim Vanderpool

News Service: The Tucson Weekly – 10.25.01

URL: http://www.tucsonweekly.com/tw/2001-10-25/curr4.html