Evanston, Illinois – Equity & Empowerment Plan: What happened to “Access”?

Evanston, Illinois – Equity & Empowerment Plan:  What happened to “Access”?
Posted August 15, 2017

Early in 2017, the City of Evanston, IL created an Office of Equity and Empowerment. According to the Office’s webpage, “The City of Evanston has embarked on a new mission to more intentionally address issues of access, equity and empowerment. Diversity and inclusion are core values of the Evanston community. To achieve lasting change and better outcomes for our community, we must leverage our diversity and actively practice inclusion. In addition to being the right thing to do, it is the smart and necessary thing to do.”

In June 2017, the Equity and Empowerment Coordinator (Patricia A. Efiom) released a Draft plan of action and through August 11, 2017 invited comments (Do you have any comments, questions, or concerns about the Equity Plan?). People have also been making public statements at City Council meetings, committee meetings, etc.  Much discussion is still taking place through various social media sites.

Below are my questions and comments, which I posted on the City’s website on August 11, 2017. I do not know whether these comments will be made public, but I am sharing mine here. They have been slightly edited for clarity.

The gist of my questions and comments can be boiled down to one further question: If the new citywide mission is articulated as more intentionally addressing issues of “access, equity, and empowerment”, why is the Office called “Equity and Empowerment”? Why is the staff title “Equity and Empowerment” Coordinator? Why is the draft proposal titled “Equity and Empowerment” Plan of Action?

In other words, what happened to “access”?

I don’t really know what the City means by “access” because none of the term have been defined.  To me, being more intentional about access means making sure everyone has a seat at every public decision-making table. That’s grassroots democracy. Logistically, that may sound like a nightmare. But it’s actually what we should be fighting for.  A worse nightmare is doing constant damage control when everyone does NOT have a seat at the table — witness the entire history of the United States, including every day this year. Luckily we have a model of grassroots democracy on this very land — the Iroquois League, also known as the Haudenosaunee.

Hint to those who are concerned about fitting 75,000 seats into the City of Evanston Council Chambers: Not everyone wants to participate in every decision. But we do need to know that we can participate if we want to.

I, for one, am willing to help figure the logistics out.

Submitted to the Office of Equity and Empowerment, August 11, 2017 by Debbie Hillman

Thank you for putting so much time into this and for asking for feedback. I have some questions and some comments.


1. What is the current working definition of “equity” and “empowerment” for this Plan?

2. Other than workforce equity, what relationships does this Plan address? Is this Plan dealing with equity
— within City government?
— between City government and residents, businesses, institutions, etc.?
— among residents, businesses, etc. (in which case the City’s job is to maintain a level playing field)?
— some other relationships in Evanston?
— all of the above?

3. Privilege in 2017 Evanston takes many forms. In addition to white privilege, does the Plan recognize and plan to address any or all of the following:
— male privilege
— Christian privilege
— human privilege (vs. non-humans, including the land, air, and water)
— ownership privilege
— money privilege
— adult privilege
— “expert” privilege (degree, title vs. life experience)
— privilege of a name (e.g., Tanya vs. John)
— privilege of “stakeholder”
— privilege of organization (vs. individual)
— employer privilege
— other ?

4. Will there be a place within the City of Evanston to file discrimination complaints — e.g., a Human Rights or Human Relations Commission? What about complaints about city employees?

5. What is the budget of the office of Equity & Empowerment office for implementing the Plan over its timeline (18 months)? Can a portion of that budget be allocated through a public participatory budgeting process — which would demonstrate equity-in-action?


My experience in equity issues is that most inequitable situations arise from inadequate or incomplete democracy, i.e., decisions that get made without the benefit of everyone’s input and everyone’s personal authority (a vote). Problems arise especially when those who would be impacted by a decision are (a) not included from the very beginning, and/or (b) excluded from some or all of the process.

So far as I can tell, the draft plan does not question many of our existing processes both within city government and elsewhere. This includes:
— the structure of city government, looking specifically at how decisions get made
— structure of boards, commissions, etc.
— the electoral process
— deep cultural traditions of all kinds that impact our everyday decision-making processes (e.g., absence of women’s public authority, public education teaching to the test rather than living skills, fear of public discourse)
— other places where decisions are made (e.g., county, state, federal government)

Thus, I would recommend reviewing, at minimum, three specific areas of public decision-making to see how they inhibit equity and participation in the decision-making process:

1. “Representative” democracy a contradiction. The deepest problem is the belief that someone can represent someone else or represent an entire community — or that nine people can represent an entire community in all ways. Logically, that is not truly possible. Politically, “representative democracy” is an oxymoron that we have all bought into for far too long. No one can represent me but myself. No one can represent the community except the totality of all the community members.

2. Boards, commissions, etc. Our systems of boards and commissions — appointed by one person (the mayor) and approved by nine others (the City Council) — creates a second level of distance between my voice and any public decision.

3. Private meetings by public officials. Public decisions in Evanston are often thrice removed from most voters’ voices by the quantity and frequency of private meetings that take place between officials and private interests regarding a project, an ordinance, an allocation of city resources, etc. Often these meetings take place long before any public meeting, hearing, or announcement.

This issue of private meetings has become more insidious since the expansion of Evanston’s Economic Development Department. The insidiousness lies in the conflict between (a) the City’s legitimate concern about the global extraction economy’s impact on the City of Evanston (and on Evanston’s residents, businesses, and neighborhoods), and (b) the City’s key purpose as a governmental jurisdiction in the U.S. — to maintain level playing fields in all areas, including economic development.

Recently it seems as if City staff have been encouraged to have “internal working groups” where the public is included only by invitation. No agendas or minutes are posted. This may violate our current Illinois Open Meetings Act. It most certainly violates modern trends towards more participatory democracy.


Job Posting for the Women’s March organization — AKA the real West Wing, the real Executive Branch

Job Posting for the Women’s March organization — AKA the real West Wing, the real Executive Branch
Posted July 31, 2017

This is an updated and reformatted version of a July 26, 2017 announcement posted on two food-and-farm listservs serving U.S. and North America.

To: Women, Food, and Agriculture Network (national organization based in Ames, Iowa)
North American Food Systems Network (professional development organization based in Ithaca, NY)
bcc: Women who know what it means to wear birthing paint and warrior paint — at the same time

In the six months since the Jan. 21 Women’s March on Washington, I have come to think of the Women’s March organization as the alternative White House, the real West Wing, the real executive branch of this country. The Women’s March Twitter page is my go-to site for the latest in implementing the ideals of the U.S.A., as written in human law and nature’s design.

In truth, women are manifesters and implementers, as well as consummate group thinkers. For my money, the Women’s March organization has been manifesting women’s natural authority big time — and inspiring millions of women to do the same. After thousands of years of systematic dissolution — 200+ years in the U.S. — women’s group authority is now being codified and instituted — for the betterment of all (humans and non-humans).

The recent announcement by the Women’s March to hire an Executive Director is just another step in this codification. Here is the announcement as it was posted on the Women’s March Twitter account and website.
Executive Director, Women’s March

Interesting job description — very 21st century professional and very Women’s March (thank goodness). And, for those who might want to apply, the website says very clearly that the job description is just a general overview, not a mandatory comprehensive list of qualifications: Data shows that women more frequently do not apply to a job because they don’t feel that they meet all of the qualifications listed…. If you feel passionate about our efforts and believe that you have the skills to contribute and lead in this role apply! We want to hear from you!

Location is listed as New York with the following parenthetical comment: But we are most interested in finding the best possible candidate.
Salary is commensurate with experience.
Application. There is no application form. Interested candidates are invited to email resumes + cover letters.

I think it likely that the Women’s March will get a lot of good applicants for this position. If the job search committee is looking for some nuanced input in terms of making the final selection, here’s my thoughts:

1. A TANDEM JOB SHARE? I wonder if co-Executive Directors is the best model. The Women’s March leadership has already shown how effective (and fun) team leadership is. Plus we’ve already had thousands of years of toxic top dog personality leadership (male and female). I myself have enjoyed numerous co-leadership relationships and seen many other successful ones.

— more geographical representation to a heavily NYC organization
— more rural voices
— more indigenous voices
— voices from other sectors (e.g., food-and-farm) that have not yet been centered or amplified in the Women’s March activities. It would be great to have a food-and-farm person in this position, because I see food-and-farm folks as some of the most practical people I know — especially when experienced in public process and committed to real democracy. People connected to the land are tuned into earth cycles and earth spirits on a daily basis.