‘The Rebel Riot’ is not just a local punk band with politically charged songs, dealing with human right violations. Expressing themselves through music is not enough. This band mobilizes a whole punk community to cook fresh food and distribute it to homeless people every week in Yangon (Myanmar), a movement called ‘Food Not Bombs’. They contribute to a resilient city as much as any institution or system.
According to Resilient cities, ‘urban resilience is the capacity of individuals, communities, institutions, businesses, and systems within a city to survive, adapt, and grow no matter what kinds of chronic stresses and acute shocks they experience’.
Since the November 2010 general elections in Myanmar, the country has increasingly opened up to foreign investments squeezing out people from their neighbourhoods by rising housing costs in the city and increasing the number of homeless people on the streets of Yangon.
Therefore, every Friday afternoon around 5 pm the members of The Rebel Riot band and volunteers of the Food Not Bombs movement meet at an apartment in downtown Yangon to cook fresh vegetarian food together. Once finished, they distribute it among the people living on the streets from 8 pm. Afterwards they meet up with street kids to play with them, make some music and have fun.
‘Everything goes smoothly and with the help we have we are quite fast. We manage to cook 150 portions of tofu and veg fried rice just with one stove. With an additional one, the number of people we can feed increases quite phenomenally, explains Kyaw Kyaw, one of the members of the band.
‘Of course people can’t live without food. But for us this initiative goes beyond feeding people. It is more about contributing to a more human and inclusive city, sharing kindness and empathy. When we meet homeless people on the streets, they lack the energy to keep going. These people are hungry for love. We live in a zombie society’, says Kyaw Kyaw.
Resilience is about surviving and thriving, regardless of the challenge. And as Bruce Watson puts it in his article, ‘the resilience movement is a global attempt to address what is the purpose of society, and what is a society’s responsibility to its citizens’. Citizen engagement plays an important part in a resilient city but it has always been difficult to engage people.
However, the creative power and coolness of this punk band has been able to foster civic engagement. They bring together people of different cultural backgrounds and with unique skill sets, beliefs and experiences. The number of their facebook followers is over 28.500.
Punk embraces a DIY ethic. So does The Riot Rebel band. They organize punk concerts and any other activities to fund the movement. Their reach even goes beyond Myanmar. This summer they toured European cities, sang and cooked for the punk community.
The ‘Food Not Bombs’ community in Yangon constitutes a collective local force that improves the urban lives of many people living on the streets and has a positive impact in the city. As The Knight Foundation states, ‘Building stronger democracies starts with local communities’.
There is an altruistic urge and willingness among millenials to selflessly contribute to their cities and to help others outside of the straitjacket of convention. In fact, Food Not Bombs is not a charity. ‘It is about sharing food, but also about the warm embrace and love, growing the will to learn and be more sensitive to life and problems, to be faced together’, says Kyaw Kyaw.
They have also founded another initiative called ‘Books Not Bombs’. They are building a library for kids from book donations. Education gives kids the power to develop and become proponents of change and advocate citizens one day.
Resilient cities should inspire its people and encourage them to do the unthinkable. Planning everything from Zero to Hero, as Kyaw Kyaw says. Joining people for a common purpose, either punks or whatever background. Social cohesion is what makes a city great.
Cities are filled with an incredible group of people whose collective power could easily change the world. Or as Kyaw Kyaw puts it, “we can’t change the world, even we can’t change the country. But, we can change two things: ourselves and what’s around us”.