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A CONUNDRUM: Transition to a Gift Economy — Who gifts to the mothers?

In my lifelong search for women’s public authority, I’ve been studying the gift economy, especially the maternal roots, as facilitated by scholar/philanthropist Genevieve Vaughan and many other women. Vaughan’s websites are filled with resources featuring scholars from around the world: articles, videos, event proceedings, etc.
— Original website  Gift Economy
— Newer  Maternal Gift Economy Movement

A new anthology (2021) explicates some details of the vision: The Legacy of Mothers: Matriarchies and the Gift Economy as Post Capitalist Alternatives. Details of the book, including an excerpt and the Table of Contents, are on the publisher’s website, Inanna Publications, a feminist press in Canada. 

The 15 contributors (including Genevieve Vaughan) are a very international group of scholars who have been working in this arena for a long time. I have been following some of these scholars since 2015, including:
— Erella Shadmi, the anthology’s editor (an Israeli crimonologist and peace advocate)
— Heidi Goettner-Abendroth (who has been documenting matriarchies, past and present)
— Barbara Alice Mann (a Native American scholar who has written the most important book, in my opinion, on real democracy, women’s public authority, indigenous worldview, the truths about U.S. history, abundance for all, the spiritual foundations of life—Iroquoian Women: The Gantowisas). 


The more I know about the matrifocal gift economy the more worthwhile it seems as an organizing goal, to both facilitate and codify women’s public authority. The model makes a lot of sense to me and the historical antecedents make it seem possible, do-able.

But, in 2022, in the midst of disaster capitalism, stupid billionaires, and fear-mongering grifters, how do we get there?
— What are the first steps?
— Are there any organizers who are actively in the trenches working to make it happen?
— Who are getting paid to make it happen?

Is that an oxymoron? 
I.e., can a gift economy coincide with a money economy?

It sounds like Shadmi’s book has some ideas, especially in the last section — Motherhood as a Post-Capitalist Alternative. Unfortunately, I have not read the book, primarily because I am down to my last dollars and cents, 2.5 months behind on my rent, with no income on the horizon (other than my social security which covers about 1/4 of my living expenses).

In the interest of identifying the first steps towards a gift economy ASAP, I’ll use my own real life experience of the last ten years (How it started…) and my current status as a 70-year old (How it’s going…) to set the stage for some practical ideas. Maybe something will sprout.


To highlight the difficulties in transitioning to a gift economy, let me describe my own experience of the last sixteen years.

In 2005, as an empty-nest 54-year old looking to deepen and expand my lifelong earth activism, I started working on food & farm policy from a “local foods” perspective: How do we feed ourselves? The work took off immediately and, even though I was still working as a professional gardener (my career for 25+ years), I threw myself into growing a movement in my hometown (Evanston, IL) and helping to grow the existing movements in Greater Chicago and the State of Illinois.

In just over 15 months, I found myself as one of the leaders of the Illinois movement, largely due to my savvy state representative, Julie Hamos, who agreed to write a bill to create a 2-year task force. The purpose of the task force under the first Illinois Food, Farms, and Jobs Act (2007) was to write a report about the economic benefits and opportunities for Illinois farmers to feed Illinois people. The report was to make recommendations to the Illinois General Assembly for growing, processing, distributing, etc., Illinois food (and other farm products) instead of importing 95% of our food (and exporting our $$)—the status quo in 2007.

I became one of the two coordinators of the task force (2008-09), which wrote the report and drafted an Illinois Local Food, Farms and Jobs Plan, including creation of a state-level food policy council and Goals for 2020. The plan was adopted by the state in 2009 (the second Illinois Food, Farms, and Jobs Act) and the first meeting of the new Illinois council was in March 2010.

Unfortunately, the timing of the whole initiative coincided with the “great” recession. In addition, I was new to both the non-profit world and to academia and didn’t know how cutthroat the funding was, especially in the food & farm justice world, especially in the Midwest, and possibly especially in Illinois. Two colleagues from different states both told me at two different times that the turf wars in Illinois were way beyond their experiences in Wisconsin and California, respectively, where collaboration was more the norm.

Without going into all the gory details, here was my experience in 2007-10 regarding funding and collaborative relationships:
— In 2007-10, I got cheated by multiple food “justice” colleagues.
— The major funder of Midwest food projects (Fair Food Foundation, Michigan) closed down two weeks after the Madoff ponzi scheme was exposed (late 2008). Many colleagues lost funding.
— I, too, lost funding (approx. $30,000-50,000), even though I’d done a good bit of work already, too many colleagues were stringing me along, and some just cheated me outright.
— A lot of other unnecessary bad behavior accompanied the understandable trauma of one’s financial plans going bust.
— Some of the bad behavior was especially unnecessary because some of the colleagues who cheated me had (a) big houses, (b) a good university salary, and/or (c) some other means of survival. In other words, they traded their personal integrity and a collaborative movement for their status and their lifestyle. 

The bad behavior (including refusing to talk to me about any possible misunderstanding) happened so many times by so many different people in so many different ways that I was forced to stop everything and take stock. Was it me, my colleagues, or something else?

Because I had had a 25-year successful gardening career, largely based on referrals and good relationships (with no financial stresses or misunderstandings), I was able to eliminate myself as the major source of the problem (while also copping to occasional and minor mistakes along the way, the kinds of things that are a daily part of working in a large coalition).

In terms of my individual colleagues, yes, there were things that I could point to in certain individuals that would have been red flags from the beginning. But in the context of the larger initiative, with so many moving parts, there’s not much that I would have done differently vis-a-vis those individuals.

Thus I was led to conclude that something else was going on, on a cosmic cultural level. I decided to reflect on the deeper aspects of money because people seemed to be acting out of fear rather than reason. One of the questions I started with was, Did other people have a different perspective on money than I did? If so, what were the differences? How does one begin to look at money as a structural problem, beyond individual greed?

A 5-year discount Ph.D.
What happened over the next five years is that I got a “Ph.D.” in the science, history, and mythology of money. Even though I don’t have an official credential, I’ve made peace with the $30,000-50,000 that I lost by being able to thank those who cheated me for showing me the way. At $6,000-10,000/year, I figure the Ph.D. was well worth it. (This does not absolve the cheaters of their need to apologize to me for any “add-on” bad behavior.)

My “post-graduate” curriculum started in 2011 when I discovered public banking, which cracked open the whole world of monetary reform, money creation, and ultimately led me to The Money Question — a major civic question during colonial America and during the first 150 years of U.S. history.

Now in 2021, I am an active proponent of a variety of money & banking reforms, all of which are needed in order to remove obstacles that have prevented us from having a real democracy on a sustainable planet founded on truth and spiritual knowledge. These include (but are not limited to):
— Public sovereign money
— Public banking (national, state, county)
— Funded sovereignty (guaranteed income for being self-governing voters)
— Economic metrics: Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) as an alternative to GDP
— Gift economy (women’s public authority)
— Parity agriculture
— Ownership questions: private vs. public, cooperatives, etc.

My vision of a Real Democracy, including a working definition and numerous monetary reforms, is fleshed out on my webpage. 

Although I still work on food & farm policy, my experience working with food & farm folks on all levels — hyperlocal, Chicago metro, state (Illinois), region (Midwest), and national — is that most food systems practitioners are almost completely ignorant about (a) The Money Question (which underlies every other issue facing U.S. voters), and (b) real democracy. I have spent the last ten years trying to share democratic practices with my food & farm networks and likewise the last seven years trying to share information about The Money Question.

Two recent blogs describe the knowledge gaps:
—  CONFIRMED: U.S. “food democracy” folks are super-ignorant about democracy
—  U.S. MONEY SUPPLY: Why the numbers ($$ + time) don’t add up — American Monetary Institute conference (Nov. 5-7, 2021)

A third recent blog describes some missing links in academia and educated Americans in general:
— THE “PERSONAL MISERY” OF ACADEMICS (and other U.S. folks): Some Remedies and Resources


My personal conundrum on January 5, 2022 then is that, even though I have been actively working on these issues (and many others since 2011), I have been unable to find any income for my grassroots intersectional work. For a few years I lived off my savings, but had to sell my house in 2015. It was a traumatic event, but was the right thing to do for a 64-year old. But now I am at the end of my resources, 2.5 months behind on my rent, along with minor delays on my utility bills, unable to live on my social security ($650/month).

Two days ago, the day my January rent was due, I went to talk to my landlord (a good guy). He gave me another month to figure things out. I’ll have to come up with 3.5 months rent on Feb. 1, or move out. As he said, he can’t let me live here for free.

— The piece of me that’s working on a gift economy wonders, Why not? Why can’t I live here for free?
— The piece of me that knows about property taxes, water bills, property maintenance, etc., understands why not
— But the piece of me that’s been giving my work away for free for ten years (that has benefitted or will ultimately benefit my landlord and others) wonders, why can’t I continue to live here until (a) I can’t live independently, (b) I die, or (c) some income appears?

What does the transition to the gift economy look like? Is it just a discontinuous evolutionary step—an evolutionary jump? or is there a step that I can take right now that will support my gifting?

The underlying question is even more of a conundrum: If the mother gifts to the infant and to everyone else in her family, clan, and circle, who gives to the mother?

Answers — practical first steps — would be welcome, especially before Jan. 31, 2022.