Count Me In — a new film on real democracy

Count Me In — a new film on real democracy
Money, Voting, and Participatory Budgeting — or what we’ve been missing for 200+ years
Published October 11, 2016

This is a modified version of an announcement originally posted on Oct. 5, 2016 to U.S. food-and-farm networks.
COMFOOD (North America – Tufts University)
Food Policy Networks (North America – Johns Hopkins University)
North American Food Systems Network (Cornell University)
Illinois Local Food and Farms Coalition (Illinois – Yahoo Group)
Advocates for Urban Agriculture (Greater Chicago – Google Group)
Sustain Evanston (Evanston, IL – Google Group)


In a 2009 article, Frances Moore Lappe wrote one of her most memorable lines: “Hunger is not caused by a scarcity of food but a scarcity of democracy.” She wrote this while describing some key public policies put in place by one Brazilian city and by which the city — Belo Horizonte — “ended hunger”.

The three policies were: (1) the creation of a food council, (2) declaration of food as a right, and (3) the use of a specific process that was already in place but doubled in participation when policies #1 and #2 were added. The process is called Participatory Budgeting.

Participatory Budgeting is one of the game-changers that many of us have been waiting for since the American Revolution and since the writing of the U.S. Constitution. A new documentary film, Count Me In, might be the tipping point in helping Americans see what we’ve been missing and why the ultimate goal seems to finally be in our sights: U.S. Democracy — The First Generation.

One might well ask, “What do you mean, First Generation? The U.S. has been in existence since 1776, with an official Constitution since 1789. At 30 years per generation, that would make Americans born in 2016 the 9th generation. ”

But that would be correct only if the U.S. was actually a democracy.  Despite the mythology of the U.S. as a democracy — mythology promoted by most schools, media, government officials, and candidates for public office — the U.S. Constitution was never a democratic document, either in process or in content. And in 2016, 200+ years and 27 amendments later, it still isn’t.

In fact, the U.S. Constitution adopted in 1789 was a regression from the democracy that existed in North America when Europeans arrived. Not only was the Iroquois League already on this land when Europeans arrived.  It had existed for centuries, structured by the Great Law of Peace, also known as the Iroquois Constitution. For about 500 years, the Iroquois Constitution existed before refugees from a beleaguered European populace replaced it with the U.S. Constitution.

In the interests of being witness to the First Generation of U.S. Democracy, here is why I think democracy in the U.S. might become a reality, sooner rather than later.

1. Participatory Budgeting is
— one of many new civic engagement techniques that are being tried by many organizations (including corporations) to increase the democracy level of our group decisions.
— being tried in multiple U.S. locations, in a variety of jurisdictions — ward, municipality, county.
— being facilitated and promoted by a variety of organizations, most notably Participatory Budgeting Project based in New York City.

2. Count Me In — a new independent documentary by a top-notch filmmaker
— follows the Participatory Budgeting process as it has taken place in Chicago, first in the 49th ward (thanks to Ald. Joe Moore) and then in other wards.
— just had its world premiere on Oct 9, 2016 and is scheduled for 155 screenings on public television stations across the U.S. in the next few months.
— is available for community screenings in conjunction with the filmmaker, expert panels, and various partners.

3. Food-and-farm system decisions
— can make effective use of Participatory Budgeting in allocating public resources ($$, land, time, etc.)
— are powerful motivators for voter engagement in civic processes, such as Participatory Budgeting


Here’s the details:

COUNT ME IN: Money, Voting….and Participatory Budgeting in Chicago
by Ines Sommer – Sommer Filmworks

Local public television listings   (Fall 2016)

Watch the trailer

Community screenings
To partner on a community screening, contact Ines Sommer directly.
ines (at)
Send details about your event: date, venue, expected number of audience members, etc.


A Guide to Participatory Budgeting in Schools
by Valeria Mogilevich
with project support from Melissa Appleton and Maria Hadden
Free download  (57 pages)
This manual was developed for schoolteachers and schoolchildren. The process is described in clear, detailed steps and the manual includes worksheets to facilitate the steps.


Participatory budgeting in the U.S. is being promoted and implemented directly by Participatory Budgeting Project, based in New York City. Exec. Director Josh Lerner and Chicago-based Project Manager Maria Hadden are featured in Count Me In.

Here’s the link to Lappe’s 2009 article in YES Magazine.
Food for Everyone:  The City that Ended Hunger
This article demonstrates (a) the power of the food issue to get people involved, and (b) the power of participatory budgeting as the process to organize that involvement.



U.S. Farm Movements and Monetary Policy

U.S. Farm Movements and Monetary Policy
Published September 27, 2016

The original of this blog was posted to COMFOOD listserv (Tufts University) on September 8, 2016 as “Questions re: U.S. Farm Movements, Monetary Policy, Acres USA”.  Some minor edits have been made.

Brad Wilson – farmer, writer @FarmJustice
Other 6,000+ COMFOOD members
Elizabeth Kucinich – Policy Director, Center for Food Safety
Stephen Zarlenga – Exec. Director, American Monetary Institute

Hi, all —

In our collective confusion about why we can’t fully realize our ideals for a food-and-farm system (AKA culture+public policy) that works for everyone, some of us have been wrestling with some related U.S. confusions:
— What is a real democracy (compared to a representative democracy, which is an oxymoron)?
— What is money and how does it work (or not work) for everyone?
— What are banks and how do banks work (or not work) for everyone?
— What is the difference between “making a profit” and “making a living”?

I recently read a book on money and democracy, which eliminated some of my confusion and identified some new avenues of thought and action (with potential for high impact). The book led to some synergistic connections, which which then led to some questions about U.S. Farm Movements and Monetary Policy.

If interested, please read on:

A. Recent book
Debt or Democracy: Public Money for Sustainability and Social Justice (2015)
Mary Mellor (British professor, emeritus)
This is a fairly short (215pp), very readable book, with a good index.

In asking the question, How did the U.S. government (and other governments) come up with lots of money to bail out bankers, but can’t come up with money and policies to stabilize the rest of us — including the planet?, Prof. Mellor connects a lot of dots (and cites many other thinkers who are connecting some dots).

In terms of contribution to public thought, my major take-aways from Mellor’s book are that she:
1. Distinguishes between the circuit of commercial (private) money and the circuit of public money.
2. Asks questions that economists and others don’t ask:
— What is money? (beans, shells, accounting sticks, gold, dollars, ciphers in a ledger, electronic transfers, credit cards, etc.)
— Who creates money?
— How does “new” money enter the economy?
3. Suggests that we need to have a very public discussion on these questions (in addition to public discussions about other governance processes and about ownership laws).

Although this book has a British-global perspective, Prof. Mellor mentions two interesting American resources regarding monetary reform and democracy:
— a bill introduced in Congress in 2011
— an American think tank

B. American resources connecting monetary reform and democracy
1. NEED Act – HR 2990 (U.S. Congress – Dennis Kucinich, sponsor)
From the press release by American Monetary Institute:
“On Wednesday September 21st, 2011 Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D, Ohio, 10th District) took a crucial and heroic step to resolve our growing financial crisis and achieve a just and sustainable money system for our nation by introducing the National Emergency Employment Defense (NEED) Act, HR 2990, into the 112th Congress.”

Major proposals of the NEED Act (according to AMI):
a. The Federal Reserve is dismantled and good parts are placed into the US Treasury. A Monetary Authority is created which avoids an inflationary or deflationary money supply.

b. Accounting rule changes prohibit the banks from creating what we use for money- from using debt for money – what’s known as fractional reserve banking is decisively ended.

c. The Congress originates (creates) new US Money and spends it into circulation, for infrastructure, health care and education; starting for example with the $2.2 trillion the engineers tell us is needed for infrastructure over the next 5 years. Later the human infrastructure of health care and education is added. This is estimated to create over 7 million good jobs quickly.

d. Lets the 50 states decide where 25% of the new money goes each year through per capita federal grants. Some general areas can be specified – infrastructure, health, education. Unfunded federal mandates, pensions. This is a big deal – no way that any local actions (e.g. mythical local currencies) can be as powerful in solving local crises.

2. American Monetary Institute
A think tank in upstate New York that has been advocating for monetary reform for a number of years. Supports the NEED Act.

C. SYNERGIES in September 2016?  Food-and farm + Monetary Policy
1. AMI 12th annual conference is coming up
Sept. 29 – Oct. 2, 2016 in downtown Chicago

2. One of the conference speakers is Elizabeth Kucinich (wife of Dennis Kucinich). Her current job is Policy Director – Center for Food Safety.

I do not agree with Ms. Kucinich on all food issues, but the fact that someone in the food-and-farm movement is also working on American monetary reform certainly caught my eye. In July I wrote to her to suggest a possible blog topic: connecting the dots between monetary reform and food-and-farm issues. On July 12, 2016, she replied, “good idea” and said she would see if she could get a copy of Charles Walters’ presentation to the 2005 AMI conference. Charles Walters was the late founder of Acres USA and, to use Ms. Kucinich’s words, “a prolific writer on food, farming and the economy.”

D. QUESTIONS re U.S. farm movements, monetary policy (reform), Acres USA
I am trying to decide whether this is a productive avenue of advocacy. Answers to these questions would help me (and perhaps others) to decide:

1. NEED ACT. Would the NEED Act help farmers (and other food-and-farm practitioners)?
2. AMI CONFERENCE. Would attending the AMI conference be helpful to food-and-farm advocates and practitioners?
It was the Exec. Director of AMI, Stephen Zarlenga, who first pointed out to me that Elizabeth Kucinich works on both monetary reform and food policy (July 2, 2016 email).
3. FOOD-AND-FARM ENTITY WORKING ON MONETARY REFORM IN 2016. Is Acres USA still working on monetary reform? Should COMFOODers and other food system professionals (and other food-and-farm listservs) follow Acres USA in 2016? or some other entity that already connects monetary reform with food-and-farm policy? NORM Economics
4. NEED ACT SPONSORSHIP. Given that Dennis Kucinich is no longer a Congressman, have any “local foods” supporters in Congress taken on the sponsorship of the NEED Act?
5. 2016 CONGRESSIONAL ELECTIONS. Are there any 2016 Congressional candidates running on a platform of (a) local foods, and (b) supporting the NEED Act (or similar monetary reform)?
Thanks to anyone for any thoughts, comments, history, etc.
PS Thanks to my neighbor, Laura Montenegro, a Chicago-area and international artist, author, and thinker, for telling me about Mary Mellor’s book, which she heard about on a WNUR radio show, This is Hell. Ellen Brown (Web of Debt) has also interviewed Mary Mellor about her book.