Welcome to the 20+ year old food-and-farm movement

To public policy think tanks: Welcome to the 20+ year old food-and-farm movement
Posted April 22, 2018

A slightly edited version of the comment submitted to Ms. Magazine
In response to blogpost by Anna Chu:
“Diversity and Snap Decisions: How Women’s Voices would have Built a Better Farm Bill”
Ms. Magazine, April 20, 2018

To: Anna Chu, Vice President – Strategy & Policy, National Women’s Law Center
Public Voices Fellow, The OpEd Project

Ms. Chu —

Welcome to the food-and-farm policy world. And nice to know about the National Women’s Law Center. Thanks to Angie Carter, Prof. of Sociology (Michigan Tech) and WFAN board member (Women, Food and Agriculture Network) for forwarding your piece on the Farm Bill and the need for women’s voices.

Your analysis of the latest Farm Bill proposal to cut SNAP benefits is pretty much spot on. However, your recommendation–that the House Republican white males go back to the drawing board—doesn’t address your analysis. After 13 years in the food-and-farm world, I can confirm that it hasn’t been for lack of trying that women’s voices haven’t been more included in the Farm Bill conversation. Elections will help down the road, but “representative democracy” is an inherent contradiction in our government and the food-and-farm movement is exposing that on a meal-by-meal basis.

Here’s some immediate things that you, Ms. Magazine, the National Women’s Law Center, and/or The OpEd Project can do to help those of us who have been trying to make our voices heard in Farm Bill and other national economic policy conversations.


A. Learn about the 20+ year-old U.S. food-and-farm movement, a still-growing movement of policy + project practitioners, of which 80% are women.

Major areas of national learning (that will reward anyone’s time) are:
— Terminology: Also known as food sovereignty, food democracy, food justice, farm justice, local foods, community food security, etc.
— Intersectionality: farmer-consumer, rural-suburban-urban; humans-nonhumans; and every other demographic
— Listservs: COMFOOD (Tufts), FPN (Johns Hopkins), NAFSN (Cornell), HEN (registered dietitians); regional, state, metro, etc.
— Coalitions + coalitions within coalitions: National Family Farm Coalition; National Farm to School, Farmers Market Coalition, Food Chain Workers Alliance, Organic Farmers Association, etc.
— Types of projects (most of which need new policy support): co-ops, farmer training, farmland preservation, urban agriculture, farm-to-school (cafeteria, curriculum, living skills), farmers markets, food-and-farm councils, shared kitchens, food chain labor organizing, nutrition, labeling, composting, non-food crops as part of the food system, etc.
— Food system studies: Popping up in colleges and universities across the country
— Food policy councils are the major contribution that the food-and-farm movement has made to democratic process: municipal, county, state; grassroots, non-profit, legislative authority


B. Help us get unified, coordinated, and integrated into election cycles
— Develop and promote platforms
— Get “food-and-farm” on the mainstream list of issues
— Identify best practices in communications (working with media, publicly archived listservs, Fact sheets, grant writing)
C. Help us find funding, especially at the local project and national policy level
D. Help us think outside the box — like maybe the Farm Bill is the problem?
E. Help us develop our collective women’s authority, not our capacity to beg. The recent and on-going teachers’ strikes are an example of that development.
F. Support and grow the Women, Food, and Agriculture Network (and Plate to Politics) in any or all of the above  (Note: WFAN turned 20 in 2017.)
G. Let us know how we can engage with you.


Thanks for any support you can provide to those of us in the trenches.



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.