I originally wrote this as an appendix to my blog about my maternal grandparents emigration to the U.S. from Belarus in 1920, BELARUS to U.S.: 1920-2020, a family story. But now that I’ve updated—perhaps finalized—my Real Democracy webpage I think it useful to have My American Dream as a stand-alone blog.
This is especially true as my American dream seems to be different from the American dream talked about in the media, by politicians, and in general conversation. Indeed, my American dream seems to be different from that of most people in my family–immediate and extended. When I hear other Americans refer to the American Dream, I get images of a house and an automobile, not a council of adults discussing a community issue. How to bridge those dreams? How to achieve something like the Haudenosaunee’s “One Good Mind of Consensus”?
As Charles Mann noted in his book 1491, the Haudenosaunee combined a level of personal liberty that was the envy of the first waves of European colonizers with a highly communal self-governing decision-making process. Even in 1848, the year of the first women’s convention at Seneca Falls, the combination was still strikingly different from European-Americans’ level of freedom and participation in government. The European-American women who organized the convention took the Haudenosaunee League as a model, not vice versa.
I think the webpage speaks for itself — Real Democracy. But this is a good place to repeat my working definition, followed by My American Dream.
REAL DEMOCRACY: A Working Definition
My idea of a real democracy is one where
—All adults participate in all group decisions about all group issues.
—All adults get compensated for doing the work of self-governing (funded sovereignty, a type of basic income).
—The governing document(s) (e.g., U.S. constitution, state constitutions) is re-ratified on a regular basis (e.g., 5-10 years). This will help youth and young adults, as well as immigrants, find entry points into the U.S. power structures, sooner rather than later.
—All children have access to some level of observing the participation, decision-making, compensation, and re-ratification that goes into a real democracy.
MY AMERICAN DREAM, 1951 — ?
For a few years, I was a leader in the “local foods” movement, in Evanston, in the Chicago area, and in Illinois. In 2005, I had co-founded the Evanston Food Policy Council and even though it was an unincorporated grassroots group with no budget and no by-laws, the name made it sound serious. And indeed it was. Indeed I was deadly serious about finally becoming the adult of my dreams, 54 years after my birth in 1951.
From 2005 to 2010 or so, I was invited to all kinds of meetings, sometimes as a speaker. At one of the first Chicago Food Policy Summits, I was part of a team presentation on the Illinois Food, Farms, and Jobs Act of 2007. In my short remarks, I shared a personal meme that I had been carrying around with me since my pre-teens. It was the picture that I had of myself as an adult and had carried with me all those years.
My American Dream, 2008
In my image, embedded in my brain for decades, I was sitting cross-legged on a wooden deck surrounded by a circular wooden fence. I was sitting with the other adults of the community in a circle, a council of peers, discussing a serious and important decision facing our community. The issue was water.
Standing on a small stage in 2008 in the Chicago Cultural Center, a grand place for a grand people’s gathering, I compared my personal vision to what the local foods movement was creating—a place where ALL adults sit together in council to discuss a basic community need—food. Hence the food policy council — FPC — as a piece of central infrastructure of the local foods movement, even though, to this day, most food folks are not interested in the policy piece.
I now see that that image was my version of the American Dream, the image that I must have started crafting in 7th or 8th grade when we studied the U.S. Constitution under the tutelage of Mrs. Sylvia Light, the history teacher at Solomon School on the far north side of Chicago. Mrs. Light was unabashedly devoted to the ”promise of America” and to the rule of democratic law as delineated by the U.S. Constitution. Our assignment for the semester was to re-write the entire Constitution in our own words.
My American Dream, 2020
Years later, a new friend of mine, a retired Chicago Public Schools teacher who grew up in Albany Park, just south of my neighborhood, told me how so many of the Jewish teachers in CPS during the 1950s and 1960s were so in love with the U.S. The reasons were obvious: either their families had emigrated to the U.S. just before the Nazis began overunning Europe or they were actual survivors of the Holocaust.
Mrs. Light’s assignment caused me to fall in love with constitutions, with the U.S. Constitution, and with the process of writing constitutions as a group process, ostensibly open to all. Only now, at the age of 69, do I fully understand that “We the People” was not intended to mean ALL the People.
I wish I had my 7th grade version of the U.S. Constitution today. But I had crafted it so lovingly, decorated with watercolor drawings, that Mrs. Light asked me if she could keep it. I was too flattered to say no.
The good news is that I have gone on to learn about other constitutions, especially the homegrown constitution drafted by and for the Haudenosaunee League, indigenous peoples of the northeast woodlands of North America. The Great Law of Peace predates the U.S. Constitution by about 500 years and is now the sum and substance of my American dream.
For some details and current indigenous resources on the Great Law of Peace, see my 2018 blogpost:
In Case of Constitutional Crisis…Start here: The Great Law of Peace.