WOMEN’S AUTHORITY, WOMEN’S LIVES: The ERA or the Great Law of Peace?

WOMEN’S AUTHORITY, WOMEN’S LIVES:  The ERA or the Great Law of Peace?
Which amendment would meaningfully improve U.S. women’s lives—the ERA or the Great Law of Peace–sooner rather than later?

Posted March 29, 2018


I am 66-years old, a born feminist for many reasons, most of which still exist today. When the Women’s March came calling, I was one of the many women ready for the next wave.

Since January 21, 2017, I have been interested to watch newly woke American women search for their first action issues. At the same time, we long-time activists have been challenged to hone our focus to a higher-impact, intersectional, and unequivocal advocacy. I agree with women’s rights attorney Gloria Allred, who recently used a phrase I’d never heard: we need to “put women into the Constitution.” 

THE ERA (Equal Rights Amendment)
Ms. Allred was referring to the ERA. But I am not. As a pinnacle of feminist expression and being–not to mention political power–the Equal Rights Amendment never resonated with me. The substance of the amendment reads: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” Even now it seems tepid, words without action, a platitude likely needing further explication during long court cases—with no guarantee of meaningful improvement in most women’s lives.

In addition, although more and more conservative women identify as feminists, there seems to be something about the ERA that truly offends and scares some women, making deep divisions among American women likely to continue. Plus we now know that the rights of most U.S. men are at risk or meaningless when decision-making is still centered on white, over-rich males. I don’t see the ERA as a recipe for instant women’s rights and unity, not to mention women’s authority or world peace.  

So, as women have been gearing up for the 2018 elections—running for office, writing platforms, etc.—I have been dismayed at how much traction the ERA is getting compared to practical system issues that many women are already working on, e.g., food-and-farm justice, participatory democracy, Complete Streets, reproductive autonomy. Being a lifelong Illinois voter, a state that has not ratified the ERA, my dismay is that much sharper because there are better ways to codify women’s agency and self-determination, both on the state level and federally. 

Although most American schoolchildren know that the Iroquois League’s Great Law of Peace informed the U.S. Constitution, most of us did not learn the details. Apparently, most feminists still do not know the details. Luckily, in a single book of singing prose and living history, scholar Barbara Alice Mann dishes up the specifics—I might add, the juicy, sanity-inducing specifics. 

Iroquoian Women: The Gantowisas is an immersion into a sophisticated and harmonious society existing on this land for 500+ years before European settlements took hold. Chapter by chapter, Prof. Mann (Humanities, University of Toledo, member of the Bear clan, Seneca nation) unpacks the clan mothers’ central and public authority in politics, economics, social life, and spiritual activities. More to the point, Prof. Mann tells how Iroquoian women put themselves into the Constitution. 

Let me describe the “pretty facts” as Prof. Mann calls life organized by the Iroquoian clan mothers, the Gantowisas (also defined as government women, indispensable women, etc.). And let me ask American women, which amendment would meaningfully improve your life a year after taking effect—the ERA or the Great Law of Peace?

DETAILS of the Great Law of Peace
For example, if we were to vote today for a Constitutional amendment that would codify U.S. women’s personal and public authority, would you rather have the ERA or one of these powers of Iroquoian women’s councils:
(a) set the agenda for men’s councils including preferred options,
(b) appoint and remove chiefs,
(c) initiate and end war, or
(d) decide legal identity, who is a citizen? 

How about all those structures embedded and codified at once, as they were in the Great Law of Peace?

How about adding the women-run structures that assured economic equality for everyone:
(a) distribution hubs,
(b) “ownership” of the earth, and
(c) farming? 

Or living in a nation without the economic structures that cause disparities and despair? Prof. Mann identifies two key economic mistakes that the founding fathers made in drafting the U.S. Constitution:
(a) ignoring the reciprocal economic system of the Iroquois in favor of “bullyboy” economics, and
(b) “unfunded sovereignty”—trying to create a self-governing model without providing resources to voters.

How about living in a country whose guiding principles were regularly reviewed and updated through a 5-year sunset clause, which makes the Iroquois Constitution a living document with a constantly engaged populace?

I am not Native American Indian. Nor am I suggesting that U.S. women in 2018 can just pick and choose from the Iroquois Constitution. But I would like to propose a national discussion about how some of the Iroquoian structures, if adapted and adopted, might better support all American females, including the earth. 

How about a national book club to study the U.S. Constitution in comparison to the original model? In addition to Prof. Mann’s book, there are other useful resources. Consulting with living Haudenosaunee people would be basic to a successful national discussion. Serendipitously, a museum exhibit on Iroquoian women is opening on March 24, 2018, at the Seneca Art & Culture Center at Ganondagan in New York: Hodinöhsö:ni’ Women: From the Time of Creation. Perhaps the time is now for an all-female discussion about our collective future, perhaps led by the experts on grassroots democracy—Haudenosaunee women.

I thank all the women who worked to promote the ERA and to keep the big-picture feminist movement alive all these years, when we didn’t know of better ways to express our political wisdom. But now we know. I for one would like the opportunity to work with indigenous American women and all other U.S. women to craft a comprehensive plan for codifying women’s rights and public authority, for the benefit of all life on earth, in the manner of grandmothers.


Resources for this blog:
Iroquoian Women: The Gantowisas, by Barbara Alice Mann (2000)
Basic Call to Consciousness, ed. by Akwesasne Notes (2005)
Iroquois Constitution, an English translation, by Arthur C. Parker.  Prepared by Gerald Murphy, The Cleveland Free-Net, the National Public Telecomputing Network.

PS  If I have misinterpreted or misrepresented any aspect of the Great Law of Peace, I hope someone will let me know. I will be happy to correct or clarify.



FOOD MOVEMENT SUCCESS: As go Food Policy Councils……

FOOD MOVEMENT SUCCESS:  As go Food Policy Councils….
Posted March 27, 2018

Last week an interesting synchronicity took place between two of the national-North American food-and-farm listservs — FPN and COMFOOD. The subject was the success (or lack thereof) the 21st century food-and-farm movement.

FPN – Food Policy Networks.  On Monday (March 19), a research question was posed over the Food Policy Networks about the success of food policy councils in terms of lobbying and advocacy. A staff researcher for the host of FPN (Clarissa Chen, Center for a Livable Future, Johns Hopkins University) is seeking data as to why some FPCs might be more or less successful at lobbying and advocacy than others. The over-arching question was broken down into 4 separate questions:
—– Do you feel that the structure or membership limits the ability of your food policy council to lobby or advocate for policy changes?
—– If so, how does the structure or membership limit your food policy council’s ability to lobby or advocate for policy change?
—– How has your council addressed limitations in your ability to lobby and advocate?
—– Are there gaps of knowledge about lobbying and advocacy that prevent your FPC from doing so?

COMFOOD – Community Food Security.  On Thursday (March 22), on COMFOOD listserv, Andy Fisher posted a new Civil Eats article in which he interviewed Mark Winne under the subject, “Why hasn’t the food movement been more successful?” As many people know, Andy is a co-founder of the Community Food Security Coalition, which created the COMFOOD listserv many years ago. Mark was an early pioneer of food policy councils, still active in the FPC world as a Senior Advisor with Food Policy Networks (Center for a Livable Future at Johns Hopkins University). The interview was occasioned by Mark’s new book, Stand Together or Starve Alone.

As go Food Policy Councils…..
As I read Andy’s interview with Mark, two days after I’d posted my responses to the FPN questions, I realized two things:
— As go the food policy councils (FPCs), so goes the 21st century food-and-farm movement.
— But not everyone in the food-and-farm movement knows that yet, which is where the sticking point is.

Lest someone take offense at the second statement, here is the context in which I make it:
— As Americans, we are not well trained in public policy-making. In fact, there’s more and more research that shows we were intentionally trained out of any interest in public policy, going back at least 100 years. In fact, I would go so far as to say that until the Women’s Marches woke a lot of people up, most Americans equated politics with corruption, not with collective adult decision-making or collective power that could be wielded positively. (Even now it’s a slog to get people involved. Illinois just had its primary last week; the turnout was not great.)
— 100% of the food-and-farm issues that we face today are human-created and need to be addressed through public policy. It’s about implementing Frances Moore Lappe’s famous observation that hunger (in the 20th-21st centuries) is not caused by lack of food but lack of democracy.

To get a more detailed sense of what democracy means in the food-and-farm movement, here’s two action items:

1. Read and compare
— Andy’s interview in Civil Eats — a fun read, on-point, with wonderful insights by Mark
— my latest blog (see below – Lobbying, Advocacy, and Food Policy Councils), a nuts & bolts list of the obstacles and solutions to effective lobbying and advocacy — the core mission of FPCs
— other answers to the FPN questions (when and if they are posted on the FPN listserv under “March 19, 2018 – Lobbying and FPCs”). Presumably a summary will be posted at some point; I haven’t yet seen any other answers.

2. Connect more directly with the “deliberative democracy” movement to learn what it means to “do” democracy. Three immediate resources are:
— National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation (NCDD)
— Deliberative Democracy Consortium (DDC)
— Participatory Budgeting Project (PBP)

If an umbrella food-and-farm organization (such as FPN-CLF) wants to get more engaged, I know that DDC is looking for new organizational members. When I mentioned food-and-farm councils to Wendy Willis (Exec. Director) a few months ago, she seemed interested (“I think a F&F policy council might be a really interesting member”). I’d be happy to make a connection.


My responses to questions from Food Policy Networks (Center for a Livable Future, Johns Hopkins University)
Originally posted on FPN listserv, March 21, 2018, this blog is slightly more polished and expanded.

My nuts & bolts comments are a direct reflection of my participation in
— numerous comprehensive food-and-farm policy initiatives in Illinois (2005-12)
— a number of food-and-farm projects in Illinois (2006-12)
— food-and-farm networking groups at the local, metro, state, regional, national, and North American level (2010-present)
Details of my activities (2005-present) are listed at the end of this blog.

1. Do you feel that the structure or membership limits the ability of your food policy council to lobby or advocate for policy changes?

a. GRASSROOTS FPC: Short answer – Qualified no.
Our grassroots FPC (Evanston Food Policy Council) had no major limitations because we were grassroots — no incorporation, no funders, no structure, no by-laws, etc.

On the other hand, a grassroots group might not be taken as seriously as an incorporated or an official organization or as a “professional” of some kind. This needs to change, especially when the grassroots organization is led by mature women, who may have been stay-at-home moms, caregivers, etc., without any official status or degree but with a wealth of life experience that others might not have — especially around food-and-farm issues.

In terms of credibility and success, the difference maker can be the legislator(s) with whom the FPC is working. In the case of our grassroots FPC leading the attempt to create a state-sponsored FPC (Illinois Local Food, Farms, and Jobs Council), we had a great legislator, State Rep. Julie Hamos, who said:
— “Keep talking to me.”
We did, 3 times in 6 months, after which she agreed to write the first Illinois, Food, Farms, and Jobs Act (2007).
— “Show me it’s a large coalition.” (by “large” she meant statewide — not only her district)
We did. Two statewide coalitions were already in place, and we just kept building them into one.

Ultimately, we were limited by lack of funding and so we closed operations. But the freedom with which we operated for seven years enabled us to accomplish a lot.

b. STATE-SPONSORED FPCs: Short answer – Yes.
2-year task force created by Illinois Food, Farms, and Jobs Act (2007)
Permanent FPC created by Illinois Food, Farms, and Jobs Act (2009)

Once the Illinois Local Food, Farms, and Jobs Council was created, I suspect that there was some limitation to their ability to lobby, but I was no longer involved (I chose not to go onto the new Council). However, the mandate of the ILFFJC was clearly policy change, as adopted by the Illinois General Assembly.

2. If so, how does the structure or membership limit your food policy council’s ability to lobby or advocate for policy change?

a. IGNORANCE OF DEMOCRATIC AND CIVIC PROCESSES – Food-and-Farm activists (as a subset of general population)
A major limitation to lobbying and advocacy in Illinois has been the profound ignorance of most food-and-farm activists of democratic processes, including lobbying, advocacy, running a meeting, setting an agenda, coalition building, etc., as well as honesty, transparency, and integrity. This is more than a knowledge gap. It is a systemic, intersectional national travesty of our culture — a failure of public education, economics, media, government, and spiritual institutions.

Specifically, I have witnessed many food-and-farm activists display a variety of obstacles to lobbying and advocacy, including:
— not attending meetings (preventing a quorum in many cases)*** (see P.S.)
— hijacking a meeting agenda
— being on the FPC just to pad their resumes
— not abiding by a FPC vote
— making private deals in the hallways or behind the scenes
— unwillingness or inability to talk through disagreements
— belief in politics (lobbying, advocacy, elections) as corruption
— etc.

The ignorance of FPC leaders about good process is especially damaging to lobbying and advocacy, as well as internal FPC relations. Without the knowledge in 2a, FPC members cannot hold leaders accountable. Here are three examples by the leadership of three different councils that I witnessed, for which there was no subsequent accountability:

(1) Responding to a question about why in three or four meetings we’d never voted on any group action, the leader said, “Oh, we don’t do that votey thingy.”

(2) A public entity (government department) commissioned a food policy council ordinance (with federal funds). But when it came time to present the draft to potential legislative champions, the department itself put a kabosh on it — with no prior discussion with the members that it had appointed to draft the ordinance.

(3) Broken promises by one chairperson:
— missed a deadline to get funding for the council
— flouted a council vote on who should write the final report: two leaders tried to draft their own report instead of deferring to the writing committee previously approved (this was eventually prevented, but with no real repercussions)
— made two promises to the legislative sponsor (who was on a fast-track timeline to get the bills into the pipeline); chairperson ignored both promises (one deadline was missed; we had to make do on the other promise, which was the organizational structure of the council)

Another profound limitation to effective lobbying and advocacy in Illinois has been turf wars — competition among the food-and-farm groups for limited resources (money, recognition, etc.). Turf wars have taken a variety of forms in Illinois:
— Cheating colleagues: Promising income or other opportunities to get someone to do some work, then reneging (after the work is done). This happened a lot during the years 2007-10 or so, the fallout from the general financial crash as well as specifically the Madoff ponzi scheme. Considering that we were working on food-and-farm “justice”, this was particularly troubling.
— Using colleagues: Unpaid internships and other “volunteer” positions. Stealing ideas without giving credit.
— Exclusion: Not inviting appropriate colleagues into important meetings or discussions (e.g., meeting with Chicago’s mayor, a comprehensive retreat on higher education).
— Lack of transparency and lack of sharing.

The lack of funding did definitely impact the ILFFJC’s ability to lobby and advocate. (I believe under our current governor the ILFFJC has gone dormant.) Lack of funding is a chronic problem in the food-and-farm world.

3. How has your council addressed limitations in your ability to lobby and advocate?

If I were on a FPC now or putting another FPC together, I would recommend for consideration:
— commitment by FPC applicants to some kind of training in lobbying, advocacy, and general democratic process
— commitment by the FPC itself to organize and require such training before any FPC business takes place (repeat every 3 years or so)
— slotting a member whose expertise is in democratic process and civic engagement

Since I am currently not part of a FPC, I have put some recommendations in my Food-and-Farm Platform for the 2018 elections, all of which would improve FPCs’ ability to lobby and advocate:

Federal: Regenerating Our Democracy  (page 1)
— U.S. FOOD & FARM SYSTEMS: Visioning for Sustainable and Democratic Production
Adopt a unified vision.
— PUBLIC MONEY: Restore U.S. money creation to a public authority through the NEED Act of 2012
National Emergency Employment Defense Act HR2990
National book club (or other national program) to study the U.S. Constitution in comparison to the original model, the Iroquois Constitution, especially in relation to specific structures of the Iroquois League:

Illinois: Strategies for 2018-2020 (page 2)
i. Civics education: Invest in practical and applied civics for all ages, with particular emphasis on:
— Food-and-farm councils
— Participatory budgeting
— Restorative justice, peacekeeping
— Political economy (public money), mechanics of money, democratization of money, history of money
Resources: New Abolitionism Campaign; Monetary History Calendar
— Legislative pipelines: How do bills get proposed, move through legislature, etc.?
— Open meetings: Retrain municipalities in advantages of more democracy, not a minimum

4. Are there gaps of knowledge about lobbying and advocacy that prevent your FPC from doing so?

See 2a and 3b above.

This is a subset of democratic process, but needs to be highlighted as a regular disfunction in FPCs. The knowledge gap is threefold:
Rule #1 for good lobbying and advocacy: INCLUSION — Every voter in the FPC jurisdiction is a potential ally, often in multiple ways.
Rule #2: COMMUNICATION — Inclusion is manifested by regular, succinct, accessible, and frequent communication to all voters, including invitations to participate in FPC meetings, transparency on official websites, etc.
Rule #3: CONTINUUM OF ENGAGEMENT — FPCs must continually invite new members, new attendees, new input, etc., in order to preserve the good intentions that first created the FPC.

This is a subset of 4b, but something that FPCs seem to ignore. Members of FPCs often taken an elite attitude vis-a-vis other food-and-farm activists, which reduces the long-term success of lobbying and advocacy. For example, an elite group (the FPC) might get a law passed (initial success), but implementation usually requires broader buy-in. If the larger coalition isn’t developed, initial success quickly turns into partial or total failure.

General public mainstream “knowledge” about non-profits’ ability to lobby and advocate are both inaccurate and off-putting. Most of us don’t understand the differences between 501c3 and 501c4 (and other 501c designations). There have been some attempts to address this in webinars, etc., but it probably needs to be repeated for many sectors of the population, including media.

e. WHO SHOULD BE A PAID LOBBYIST — and is it constitutional anyways?
Laws requiring paid lobbyists to register (and pay a fee) seem unconstitutional to me. But the lack of precise knowledge about who should be a paid lobbyist, whether it’s constitutional, etc., is an obstacle to even legal lobbying without registering.

A big problem in terms of lobbying and advocacy is the difference between (a) advocating for a specific policy and (b) supporting a candidate who supports that policy. I think the laws need to be adjusted so anyone and any FPC can support any candidate who supports a specific policy. (I think this would force the candidates to be more specific in their platforms, so that they could be held accountable.)

g. CITIZENS UNITED loophole?
See my previous email about FPCs and other non-profits looking into the Citizens United loophole. Posted on FPN listserv, March 19, 2018, “Lobbying and FPCs — Citizens United ?” https://lists.johnshopkins.edu/sympa/subscribe/fpn-clf


***PS on meeting attendance. I believe that this is a chronic issue in local and state government these days. (It certainly is here in Evanston, IL, where meetings get cancelled all the time for lack of a quorum.) People get appointed to boards, commissions, etc. (or elected) and then don’t show up to meetings. Some thoughts for further discussion on this issue:
— Structural issues: Too many meetings, too many committees? Too many “movers & shakers” (rich people) on multiple boards and committees — taking up space that others could occupy? Probably.
— Personnel issues: There’s also a need to enforce personal behavior vis-a-vis commitments.

DEBBIE HILLMAN: Food-and-farm activities (2005-present)
The comments above are made based on my involvement in the following:
(a) Comprehensive food-and-farm policy initiatives in Illinois (2005-12), all of which function (or did function, even as short-term projects) as food policy councils:
— Evanston Food Policy Council (grassroots) – co-founder, co-chair
— 2-year task force created by the first Illinois Food, Farms, and Jobs Act (2007) – co-founder, member, co-coordinator
— Illinois Local Food, Farms and Jobs Council (permanent) – co-founder
— Chicago Food Policy Advisory Council (permanent) – member
— Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP): Write “Local Food Recommendation” (short-term project) – team member
— Cook County Food System Steering Committee: 1-year project to write a report and draft an ordinance to create an FPC – member, co-drafter of the ordinance
— Illinois Farmers Market Association (grassroots turned non-profit) – helped to create
— Illinois Farm to School network (grassroots facilitated by a non-profit) – helped to put some initial pieces in place

(b) Food-and-farm projects in Illinois (2006-12)
— a board member on two other food-and-farm non-profits (The Land Connection, The Talking Farm)
— a co-founder of two urban farms (The Talking Farm, Edible Acre at Evanston Township High School)

(c) Food-and-farm networking groups at the local, metro, state, regional, national, and North American level (2010-present). These listservs and public meetings function as informal food policy councils.
— a participant in food-and-farm public networks — North American, U.S., Midwest, Illinois, Greater Chicago, Evanston (COMFOOD, FPN, NAFSN, WFAN, Good Greens – USDA FNS Midwest, ILFFC, AUA)