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Putting the DEMOCRACY into Food-and-Farm Democracy: A Food-and-Farm Bill for and by All Americans

Putting the DEMOCRACY into Food-and-Farm Democracy: 
A Food-and-Farm Bill for and by All Americans

(posted to food-and-farm list-servs on Nov. 11, 2013)

To:  Jasia Steinmetz, University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point
COMFOOD list-serv
cc:  Frances Moore Lappe, Small Planet Institute
Women, Food, and Agriculture Network (national organization based in Ames, Iowa)
Food Policy Network (national forum based at Johns Hopkins University – Baltimore, MD)
Advocates for Urban Agriculture (Greater Chicago)
Illinois Local Food and Farms Coalition  (Illinois)

Ms. Steinmetz —

I don't know if Frances Moore Lappe was able to answer your question about references for "effective actions" about power imbalance.  I, too, have been feeling the urgency to "democratize systems" — and to do it as peacefully as possible.   I appreciate your questions and framework and have a few thoughts, including a proposed plan.

I, too, appreciate Ms. Lappe's comments about power imbalance and her clear formulation about "the three conditions proven essential to human social problem solving — the continuous dispersion of power, transparency, and mutual accountability."   That's a good checklist for gauging our progress towards democracy.

Over the last year or so, I have identified some high-leverage action items that:  
—  promote the "democracy" part of "food-and-farm democracy"
—  ground "democracy" in the basic realities of our lives — the food-and-farm economy
—  are already being worked on (but not necessarily as part of a larger plan)
—  would benefit from scaling up of all kinds, especially coalition-building around  FOOD + FARM + DEMOCRACY  

Taken together I think they form a plan for moving forward easily, quickly, and organically.  Individuals and organizations can get engaged on multiple levels.  In fact many of us  already are engaged at multiple levels, but not at a critical mass.   I've divided these leverage points into three categories:   

A.  SHORT-TERM:   2014 Congressional Elections:  Make Food-and-Farm Democracy a National Issue
B.  LONG-TERM:   U.S. Constitution:  National book club,  Amendment, and Constitutional Conventions
C.  ON-GOING:   Other Food-and-farm Democracy Tools:  Grow, Democratize, and Connect

ANYONE INTERESTED?   The three categories are described briefly below.  Over the next few weeks, I will flesh out each one in separate emails.   I would be interested in participating in any group effort that wants to actively implement any or all of these areas.   Obviously, the 2014 elections is the most time-sensitive area.   It's also the simplest one to implement.

Unfortunately, I have no resources to convene or support such a group, other than my own time and effort.   If anyone wants to put a stake in the ground, let us all know, so we can gauge collective interest and get to work (if there is enough interest).  

Or, if someone already has put a stake in the ground on any one of these, I'm happy to join a current effort.   Just point us in the right direction.

Here's my suggested plan for moving us towards a real democracy:

A.  SHORT-TERM:   2014 Congressional Elections:  Make Food-and-Farm Democracy a National Issue

1.  CONCEPT:  Issue, Platform, Candidates

    a.  Brand the Issue.  Take control of the framework — and become a critical mass.  Currently, "food-and-farm democracy" is not on most lists of national issues.  Food-and-farm issues usually show up as:  Hunger, Agriculture, Poverty, Nutrition, Jobs, Social Justice, Civil Rights, Public Health, Environment, Sustainability, Economy, etc.   "Democracy" shows up as Civic Engagement, Government Reform, Community-based, Transparency, etc.   This is confusing to legislators, to media, to the average citizen.  Let's decide on one term and use it.

    b.  Draft a Non-partisan Platform.    
Short (3-6 points ?) that satisfies advocates of food security, farm justice, and participatory democracy (not just food, not just farm, not just democracy).

    c.   Identify Candidates.   Target all candidates (incumbents and challengers) for the U.S. House of Representatives  (435 seats, 435 races — every voter can get involved)

Here's the minimum organization that would be needed to mount a successful 2014 campaign to put "food-and-farm democracy" on the national agenda.  (If I left anything out, I hope someone will fill in the blanks.)
    a.  People:  Host organization, 50 state coordinators
    b.  Infrastructure:  website, list-serv, conference calls
    c.  Timing:  Target general election (Nov. 4, 2014).  
    d.  Tasks:  Brand over-arching issue (food-and-farm democracy), create platform, identify candidates
    e.  Funding:   Is do-able without new funding if people can donate their time and use existing infrastructure

ACTION  Step #1:  Find a host organization with food, farm, and democracy credentials willing to provide 2-3 staff (coordination and webmaster)


B.  LONG-TERM:  U.S. Constitution:  National book club,  Amendment, and Constitutional Conventions
I personally believe that a national discussion about something real and where real power is at stake is the only way we are going to re-unite our country (and the only way that we will stop exporting the worst of American culture).  A Constitutional amendment that would connect directly to our food-and-farm economy and create democratic processes within that economy would be a very grounded, very exciting national conversation to have.   It would give us all a chance to re-think the foundations of our country and identify the places where our legal structure (public policy) does not match the American (human) dream or the legal structure of life (natural laws).

1.  National book club:  Everyone in the U.S. read the Constitution.
2.  Propose an amendment from the food-and-farm democracy perspective.
3.  Constitutional Conventions in every state.  

ACTION Step #1:   Find a host organization to sponsor a national book club on the U.S. Constitution.
Create a coalition of co-sponsors.


C.  ON-GOING:  Other Food-and-farm Democracy Tools:   Grow, Democratize, and Connect
There are many people already working in all of these areas.  All would benefit from a variety of scaling up activities — more funds, more outreach, more partnerships, more democracy, etc.   Collectively they will all have a larger impact if connected to each other, if organized and operated with democratic processes, and if connected to an umbrella organization  — a food-and-farm democracy coalition — in order to create a critical mass.

Food-and-farm systems (as systems):  planning, professional development, communications
Public banking
Participatory budgeting
Food-and-farm councils, food-and-farm action groups, policy councils
Co-ops of all kinds
Farmers markets

Farm-to-school:   cafeteria, curriculum, school garden
Women's leadership
Electronic technology: websites, publicly archived list-servs, conference calls, surveys, film, webinars
Spiritual technologies to re-connect with the universe, the Earth, each other, and ourselves:  dreams, intuition, coincidences, shamanism, prayer, meditation, blessing, divination
Re-thinking government:  Subsidiarity principle, Open Meetings acts, data transparency, timely data access, Pre-cautionary Principle

Living wage campaigns
Mass actions:  strike, sabbath, sabbatical, interruptions, service projects, elections
Partnerships with anyone and everyone (because everyone eats and everyone lives on the Earth)
Shared resources:  merging, umbrella organizations as fiscal agents for smaller projects, incubators of all kinds
Crisis budgets vs. Prevention budgets
Public events:  conferences, workshops, listening sessions, regular government meetings at all levels

Measurement, indicators, evaluation
Meeting facilitation, dialogue & deliberation techniques
Lobbying, legislative pipeline, civics
Community schools, living skills curriculum
Research:  data needs, collaborative research, research on research

ACTION STEP #1:  Just keep plugging along and connecting to each other, other sectors, other networks.   Pretty soon our network of networks will equal critical mass.   


I hope this provides some ideas for democratizing our systems — starting now, building on what's already in place, bit by bit.   I look forward to any thoughts, comments, and other ideas you (or anyone else) might have.