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Beyond Capitalism, Before Billionaires: A New-Old System


Posted February 13, 2017

Adapted from a post published on COMFOOD listserv (Tufts University), Feb. 3, 2017.
Written in response to a January 2017 thought piece by Ahna Kruzic and Eric Holt-Giminez (Food First), Beyond Trump: How Will a Billionaire’s Privatization of the Presidency Affect our Food?
(posted on COMFOOD by Hugh Joseph on Feb. 2, 2017)


In the last paragraphs of their analysis of the 2016 presidential election and what it means for our food-and-farm system, Ahna Kruzic and Eric Holt-Giminez call for a new system:

“This system isn’t broken – it’s working exactly how it was meant to: it consolidates wealth and power and passes off the economic and environmental costs to society. Under a Trump administration, we have a profound opportunity to reflect, and to fight not just for farmers markets, food security, racial equity, or farm justice—but together, for transformation, for an entirely different system built to serve workers, farmers, women, people of Color, and more.

“We’ll have to fight the same battles we always have but under new circumstances. The old ways of doing things, including petitions, sign-on letters, farm-to-school efforts, community gardens and other alternatives don’t work in isolation—not when the corporate elite is not just represented in our political system, but is becoming our political and economic system.

“Forty-five percent of eligible voters chose not to participate in an electoral system they felt did not address their realities. What time is it when both the political class and the ruling class have lost their social legitimacy? Time to unite efforts to build a new system.”
I agree with the authors that the 45th U.S. president is not the problem and that we need to get past personalities and stop searching for a messiah.

New System? If anyone wants to read about a model for the new system, I would recommend diving into the details of the Iroquois Constitution and the Iroquois League. I think the answers have been right under our noses, in plain sight — an old system that is suddenly new again.***

1. Iroquoian Women: The Gantowisas
by Barbara Alice Mann
2000, Peter Lang Publishing

“Gantowisas” is variously defined in the book as:
— clan mothers
— government women
— indispensable women

This is the most detailed book that I have been able to find. The chapter titles will give you an idea of the structure of the book and of the League itself. To me, it reads like a poem:
1. No-Face Husk Doll: Women Wiped Clean from the Record
2. The Direction of the Sky: Gendered for Balance
3. “They are the Soul of the Councils”: Women’s Role in Political Life
4. “Good Rule: They Assist One Another”: Women’s Control of Economics
5. “No Whips, No Punishments, No Threats”: Women’s Control of Social Life
6. “Come, Let me Untangle your Hair”: Women as Faithkeepers
Epilogue: Now our Minds are One

Dr. Mann is a humanities scholar at University of Toledo. She is also a member of the Seneca nation, Bear Clan, which is part of the Iroquois League. The book is both scholarly and fun. Dr. Mann does not hold back, in truth-telling or in humor.

2. Basic Call to Consciousness
Akwesasne Notes, ed.
2005, Native Voices

The bulk of this small book are position papers presented by the Haudenosaunee — the Six Nations Iroquois — to the Non-Governmental Organizations of the United Nations in Geneva (Switzerland) in 1977. Includes a new introduction by the late John Mohawk and an afterword by Jose Barreiro (Indigenous into the 21st Century).  Thanks to Grace Gershuny, drafter of the original USDA Organic Standards, who recommended this book to me.

The main chapter titles are:

The Haudenosaunee: A Nation Since Time Immemorial
Thoughts of Peace: The Great Law
Deskaheh: An Iroquois Patriot’s Fight for International Recognition
— The Last Speech of Deskaheh (March 1925, from a radio microphone in Rochester, NY)
Geneva, 1977: A Report on the Hemispheric Movement of Indigenous Peoples
A Basic Call to Consciousness: The Haudenosaunee Address to the Western World
— Introduction
— Spiritualism, the Highest Form of Political Consciousness
— The Obvious Fact of our Continuing Existence
— Policies of Oppression in the Name of “Democracy”
Our Strategy for Survival

This is an historical account and more of a conceptualizing rather than a detailed description of how the Iroquois League worked on a day-to-day level. But we who are living on this land — North America, U.S., Turtle Island — need to know this history and will take much heart that the Iroquois League exists. It is the model that most Americans have been looking for.

Of interest to food-and-farm folks are the last sentences of the last chapter (Our Strategy for Survival): “Many of our communities are struggling against colonialism in all of its forms. We have established food co-ops, survival schools, alternative technology projects, adult education programs, agricultural projects, and crafts programs, and serious efforts at cultural revitalization are underway.”

Sound familiar?

3. Formulating the new system
I believe that we can do no better than to ask the Haudenosaunee (and other indigenous peoples) for their help in re-designing the U.S. system to create:
— a true democracy (direct or participatory)
— a human structure in line with natural laws
— a living & resilient document
— ? other system changes ?

Per the issue of a “living” document, I think politically savvy Americans will be interested to know that at least one version of the Iroquois Constitution includes a renewal clause (in addition to a separate amendment process):
Great Law of Peace (Iroquois Constitution)
Official Symbolism, Article 55. The fourth paragraph reads:

“Every five years the Five Nations Confederate Lords and the people shall assemble together and shall ask one another if their minds are still in the same spirit of unity for the Great Binding Law and if any of the Five Nations shall not pledge continuance and steadfastness to the pledge of unity then the Great Binding Law shall dissolve.”

What if the U.S. Constitution had had such a clause from the beginning?

More to this moment in time, what if women’s councils (public authority) had existed from the beginning and were codified in the U.S. Constitution, state constitutions, and municipal codes?


***NOTE:  Thanks to Hank Herrera for replying to my post on Feb. 4, 2017 with this message: “Right under our noses, in plain sight” indeed. In historical fact, the Constitution of the United States is explicitly modeled after the Iroquois Confederacy and many of the democratic principles in the Constitution come from the Iroquois Confederacy.

A Congressional Resolution passed in October 1988 acknowledging the contribution of the Iroquois Confederacy of Nations to the development of the U.S. Constitution, Iroquois Confederacy is Foundation of United States Constitution.