PART 3 of PUBLIC TRUST IN EVANSTON, IL: National Cracks being Exposed in Chicago Suburb

Posted October 15, 2019
This is an update of an on-going issue in Evanston, IL, a citizen complaint against a sitting alderman. Original details are in my August 25, 2019 post, Part 2 of this series.

This update was sent to approximately 30 Evanstonians in my personal networks–media, political & justice groups, and individuals who I think are interested in the larger issue of public trust and this specific example.

CITY OF EVANSTON: Board of Ethics meeting
Tonight, Oct. 15, 2019, the Board of Ethics of the City of Evanston will be hearing the complaint against Ald. Peter Braithwaite (2nd ward) by two Evanston citizens (Trisha Connolly and Albert Gibbs).

In the meeting packet, you can read:
— the agenda
— minutes of the last meeting (Sept. 17)
— the complaint
—a Motion to Dismiss the complaint by Ald. Braithwaite’s lawyer, Shawn Jones

The hearing begins at 7:00 PM and there is a period for citizen comment before the complaint is heard. There is no mention of executive session on the agenda, so presumably this hearing will take place in public.

Unfortunately, it looks like this hearing is going to get very messy before it gets resolved. Here’s my take on the Motion to Dismiss.

Although Mr. Jones cites the “facts” of the case as indisputable, he makes a material error in his motion that the Board will have to deal with before the hearing can meaningfully proceed. The error should be embarrassing to Mr. Jones and Ald. Braithwaite and even more embarrassing to two experts whose statements Mr. Jones solicited and that are included in the motion.  These statements are from Prof. Jose Medina (Northwestern University Dept. of Philosophy) and Assoc. Prof. Robin DiAngelo (University of Washington; I believe Prof DiAngelo’s field is sociology).

The error is that the complaint is ascribed by Mr. Jones as an example of “white fragility”, a phenomenon popularized by Prof. DiAngelo in her book. In fact:
— One of the two complainants is Black
— At least one other supporter of the complaint is Black. Darlene Cannon provided citizen comment in support of the complaint on Aug. 20, 2019.
— At least one other supporter of the complaint is Jewish. On Sept. 17, I sent an official statement of support to the Board of Ethics. For the record, many American Jews including myself identify as both people of color and as white, as reflects our personal experiences.
— My statement consisted of my blog that was posted on August 25, 2019. In this post, having watched the entire July 15 Citizen Comment period livestream and a videotape of the August 20 Board of Ethics meeting (linked in my post), I identified the coalition of supporters as being “interracial”.

At least one member of the supporting coalition has contacted Prof. Medina and Prof. DiAngelo to provide them with these additional facts. I do not know if either professor has responded.

Mr. Jones appears not to have watched the citizen comments carefully, during which both white and Black people accused the City (or perhaps the general population of Evanston, the city) as being systemically racist or treating Clerk Devon Reid in a systemically racist manner.

Unfortunately, in his Motion to Dismiss Mr. Jones has sought to bring experts on “white fragility” into the conversation by devoting 4 pages (plus exhibits) to quotes and analysis about white fragility.. This was evidently done without notifying these experts about the multi-racial make-up of the complainants or of the supportive coalition or of the larger context of civic distrust in Evanston (as reflective of our national context of distrust).  More unfortunately, both of these experts acted unprofessionally, in my opinion, by not doing their due diligence and learning more about the complainants, the context of Ald. Braithwaite’s remarks (the motion to censure Clerk Reid), etc., before weighing in on the matter through email.

At the end of the Motion to Dismiss, Mr. Jones tries to shame the complainants for wasting City time, etc.  In my opinion, the false accusation of “white fragility” is the actual waste of City and citizen resources.

(not cited in the BoE complaint)
As you know from my August 27, 2019 email, I have other problems with Ald. Braithwaite’s Call of the Ward comments, problems that are not included in the original complaint. For your convenience, here again is the link to my my Aug. 25 blogpost, which I sent to the Board of Ethics on Sept. 17, 2019 as my official statement.: Part 2 of Public Trust in Evanston, IL: National Cracks being Exposed in Chicago Suburb

To summarize again, these additional problems are:
1.  Possible confusion between systemic racism and accusations of personal racism.
2.  Incorrectly describing the divisiveness about the decision to censure Clerk Reid “racial”.
The divisiveness rather falls along power lines, not racial lines.
3.  Seeming inattention on the part of an Evanston official
—to citizen comments during citizen comment period
—to national and local conversations about the rise of authoritarianism, value of racial and intersectional allyship in combating authoritarianism, mature citizenship inclusive of the mandate to criticize officials

I do not know if Ald. Braithwaite has in fact violated any City of Evanston ordinance or State of Illinois law. I do believe that he has acted unethically in a variety of ways and I stand with the complainants and other supporters on this matter.  If the Board of Ethics dismisses the complaint or otherwise has no problem with Ald. Braithwaite’s comments, we citizens might want to think about (a) rewriting the rules to make such behavior a violation, (b) reconsider our local election processes whereby we sometimes elect officials who are more supportive of elite power structures than real democracy that benefits all.

NOTE: Unfortunately, Evanston has no mechanism for including written citizen comments in the official record (an issue to be addressed at another time).  Anyone should feel free to share this with Mr. Jones and/or Ald. Braithwaite (and any other Evanston resident). As I do not know them personally, I am not including them in this email.

Reinventing Cooperative Extension: Partner with Local Public Libraries

Posted September 19, 2019

I recently sent a version of this blog to some food-and-farm colleagues as a possible idea for “big picture” system change, without reinventing the wheel. This is basically a re-purposing of two U.S. institutions, to the benefit of both and for the benefit of all Americans—rural, urban, suburban, including non-humans (soil, water, air, plants, animals, etc.). 

The initial benefit is economies of scale and making the most of presently reduced resources. The medium-term and long-term benefits are numerous, including:

—tap into existing urban-rural coalitions across individual states
—take agri-business and “the market” out of Extension (not to mention the entire food & farm system)
—restore farming to a regenerative practice rather than an extractive practice
—support urban & suburban people’s desire to re-connect with the weather, food production, etc.
—support basic needs across ALL communities—rural, urban, suburban—vis-a-vis “clean air and water, healthy food, adequate housing, quality health care, and basic economic security” (John Ikerd, A Green New Deal for Farm & Food Policy, 2019). I would also add communications & transportation connectivity.
—Green New Deal (long-term funding)

Here’s what I sent to my national colleagues (edited for clarity and universal applicability).


To: Food-and-farm colleagues in U.S.
Subject: Reinventing our national Extension system

Here’s an idea for any U.S. food-and-farm organization looking for a national project with maximum impact at the local level.

First, an anecdote from my early days in the Illinois food & farm movement (approx. 2007), about a Chicago-area colleague who helped me see the Cooperative Extension system differently.

ANECDOTE ABOUT EXTENSION as a national asset ripe for re-invention in terms of community-based regeneration

Around 2007, the popularity of farmers markets in Illinois began to extend into WINTER farmers markets. There was one farmer organization (based in SW Wisconsin) that was promoting winter markets in northeast Illinois and Chicago area. They were lucky to find a tireless local promoter in Robin S., who I came to call “Queen of the winter markets”.

For a variety of reasons—age, life experience, commitment to social justice, urban women wanting to know more about rural farm issues, etc.—Robin and I became close colleagues. Her mission has always been to support farmers. My mission has always been real democracy and system design that supports all farmers & eaters.

When Robin and I met, I was already working on the Illinois Local Food, Farms, & Jobs initiative (2-year task force to write an Illinois food plan & create an Illinois food policy council). I must have mentioned “Extension” numerous times in our early conversations because at some point Robin said, “What’s Extension?”

From this time distance, I don’t remember exactly how I described Extension—something about local (community-based), something about sharing applied knowledge in real time, something about it being a national network, a foundational institution of communities including suburban and urban. (At the time of this conversation, Cook County—home to Chicago & 125 suburbs–had ten Extension offices.)

Whatever I said, I’ll never forget Robin’s reaction to my description of Extension.
She said, “It sounds like a library.”
A free, local, public place to access food & farm knowledge, with branches all over the country.

From that moment on, I have borrowed Robin’s term—in speeches, in blogposts, etc. The Extension system functions—or should function—as a public library of applied knowledge, based in every community.


IDENTIFYING A NATIONAL ORGANIZATION as the “Andrew Carnegie” of applied libraries for community food projects?

In an earlier conversation over COMFOOD (the largest and oldest food-and-farm listserv in North America), we had been discussing “community food projects” —a common and codified term for locally controlled initiatives designed to address multiple food-and-farm problems.  I realized then that this might be describing a re-purposing of the “Cooperative Extension” service that was initiated by Abraham Lincoln for farmers (1862) and extended to the needs of “farm wives” in the early 1900s.

As most of us know (in the food-and-farm justice world), somewhere along the way Extension got co-opted by agri-business interests (facilitated by American Farm Bureau and various other financial interests). Most of us also know that currently, in 2019, there are a number of initiatives to re-imagine Extension. So far as I know, none of them have talked about merging with public libraries, re-writing the original Morrill Act (which pre-dates the U.S. public library systems).  (Nor do any of them, so far as I know, discuss reviewing the land grants that created the land grant universities on stolen American Indian land.)

This may seem way more of a project than most organizations are looking for, but I think the message of our times is to be bold, think big, think structurally—especially foundationally—literally from the ground up.

It would be great if some well-funded national food-and-farm organization could be the “Andrew Carnegie” of “applied libraries for community food & farm projects”. Maybe a way to infuse our local libraries with new $$ (federal) and new purpose is to combine them with Extension. Many Extension offices were joined at the hip to Farm Bureau offices. That was rightly declared illegal some decades ago. Perhaps a productive pilot project would be for some existing public library to partner with a local Extension office, which can also be aligned with a local “climate action plan” that addresses regenerative land uses and regenerative technologies.

I hope this is useful. I’m happy to share additional thoughts about such a merging of missions. Here in Evanston, IL and the Chicago area this is already happening on a programmatic level. I believe it could be extended organizationally and financially.

NOTE: In my private email to colleagues I identified Robin S. in full. I would be happy to include Robin’s full name in this public post (to give her full credit), but I have not had a chance to contact her to get her permission.