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To survivors & other women, “I’m sorry, 20th century feminist strategy was wrong”

We made a big mistake. I’m sorry; 20th century feminist strategy was way off base.

On the other hand, to give my 70-year old self some slack, I never resonated with the mainstream feminist strategy of my generation — the Equal Rights Amendment. When it was passed by Congress in 1972 and sent to the states for ratification, I was never moved to be active in its passage. After a lifetime of living in a woman’s body and identifying better alternatives to many of our national mythologies, I became even less interested in the ERA as the pinnacle of feminist expression and political manifestation. 

In 2017, when the Women’s Marches inspired many more American women to political activism (in resistance to Trump’s presidency and policies), I was that much more dismayed at the energy being devoted to “finally” passing the ERA, even though the legal deadline was long past. But it wasn’t until 2018 that I finally started articulating a better feminist strategy. And it is only now that I am addressing that strategy directly to the Evanston community. It is for that failure — to share those alternatives more widely, more locally, more loudly — that I am personally most sorry in light of recent events in Evanston.

This blogpost documents (a) some current confusions here in Evanston, IL, (b) the rationale for a new U.S. feminist strategy, and (c) some basic details of that strategy. In a future blog, I hope to flesh out the strategy more and to outline practical steps for implementation, locally and nationally.

B. BIG PICTURE: 20th Century U.S. Feminist Strategy
C. 21st CENTURY FEMINISM: “Women are the Center”
D. FORBIDDEN FRUIT: Hiding the evolutionary truth
E. EPILOGUE: “It could actually take everything with it”
F. RESOURCES: Climate, Monetary Policy, and Time

A. TRAUMA & APOLOGY in Evanston, IL

Last week in Evanston, IL, two stories caught my eye in regard to feminist strategy:
— Evanston YWCA opens expanded facilities for victims of domestic abuse. “Doubles shelter capacity.” (EvanstonNow)
— Re City of Evanston’s treatment of 56 female lakefront staff who endured sexual misconduct by other staff and then a year’s stonewalling by City: During the last City Council meeting (Sept. 27. 2021), Ald. Peter Braithwaite called those who are demanding an apology from City “ill-informed idiots” (per Betsy Wilson on Evanston Fight for Black Lives Facebook).

I began this blog after I heard the second story. From a voter’s perspective, it was just one more public relations incident in the last four months, the only four months in a saga of 2+ years that have been public. Although the sexual harassment perpetrated by City employees on other City employees had been on-going since at least 2019 and a formal complaint was first made in July 2020, it took a local media story in June 2021 to make the issue public.

An independent investigation was finally started soon after and is still on-going, but survivors and supporters have been insistent that the City offer an immediate formal apology to the survivors and to the community for the treatment — the re-traumatizing — they (and we) have had to endure at the hands of the City over the last 15 months.

I documented this latest stonewalling in an Oct. 3, 2021 Twitter thread (7). But I had also wanted to tell survivors (a) that my alderman (who had not yet offered his compassion and apology as a human being) was not representing me, and (b) that I, as a lifelong activist and long-time resident of this City, was sorry for the treatment they received from the City in my name. At that point, I didn’t know what else to do.

The good news is that the Council has reversed course. At this week’s Council meeting (Oct. 4), an apology letter  was read, addressed to “current and former City of Evanston staff, parents and caregivers and Evanston residents” and signed by all Council members, including the Mayor, who is technically a member of the Council (don’t ask me why).

This would be a good time to thank Evanston’s mental health community, our spiritual community, as well as the community at large who have been very vocal and articulate about the individual traumas in this case, in addition to being more generally vocal about the intergenerational traumas that many of us have in our family, racial, ethnic, religious, economic, and sexual histories. 

Recently, shamanism teacher Sandra Ingerman mentioned in her weekly podcast (Shaman’s Cave) that traditional shamanic cultures generally performed ceremonies for trauma victims within three days after the trauma — not one year or two years. As Dr. Gabor Mate describes in his documentary, The Wisdom of Trauma, trauma that is not quickly addressed turns into all manner of painful disfunctions — depression, addictions, chronic physical illness. (This documentary, along with some fantastic interviews, meditations, and other content is currently available for free, through Oct. 10.)

I’d like to take this moment to say thank you to all who would not let the imperative of an official City apology be swept aside. Let us sit in ceremony in the knowledge that the City Council of Evanston has finally recognized its own humanity and issued such an apology. 

B. BIG PICTURE: 20th Century U.S. Feminist Strategy

Of course, there is also a bigger picture, older and geographically wider. As a lifelong feminist I believe that there are additional apologies to be made to young U.S. women who might have been led to believe that all the big feminist battles — right to vote, Roe v. Wade, maternity leave, etc. — had been fought and won and that now, in the 21st century, we just needed to tweak, reinforce, upgrade, etc. 

Such apologies must also be made to the women and children who have to seek shelter with the YWCA as a result of domestic abuse. Assuming that there is enough room for all the need, this is twice as much need as before. As a fencing referee was quoted  this week (when some fencing officials resigned for not properly handling sexual abuse complaints), “These terrible things keep happening over and over again,” said Essene Waters….”Nothing’s changing,” she continued, adding that she feels “constantly let down by the organization that’s supposed to protect victims.” 

I am glad that there is immediate sanctuary for women and children fleeing domestic abuse, but doubling a shelter’s capacity is not really a moment to celebrate, as the ribbon-cutting photo-op implied. It is proof that 20th century mainstream feminist organizing strategies in the U.S. were (and still are) wrong and even counter-productive — politically, economically, socially, ecologically, and spiritually. 

C. 21st CENTURY FEMINISM: “Women are the Center”

Thus, it is not surprising that our City officials dropped the ball numerous times when faced with massive sexual harassment charges. Our officials—like all of us—are constrained by our culture, systems, and institutions—all of which conspire to hide a truth of human evolution: Women are the center of the species and when women are knocked out of their place at the center “your world begins to spiral backwards into destroying itself” (South American shaman, Sacred Link, by Kay Cordell Whitaker).

Since the power structures of Western “civilization” are generally linear, uni-directional, and built around individuals — heads of state, heads of families, corporate executives — imagining a different power dynamic, a different shape and design, logically raises two basic questions. The first question is:

What does that look like, how do things work, how are things organized when women are at the center of a society? How would things be different than what we know in the first half of the 21st century? A nascent answer is described in my 2018 blog Women’s Authority, Women’s Lives: The ERA or the Great Law of Peace. In it I identify women’s public authority — women’s councils — as being the missing center of a healthy society. In American political terms, in a real democracy women’s public authority is the foundation for women’s personal authority.

The second question that this new concept may bring up is: Why would any culture want to hide this evolutionary truth, to go against nature, as it were, generation after generation? Versions of this very old story can be found in many places. For immediate context, let me submit a relatively short version from a 2005 book, Sacred Link (see below)The quotes are taken from Chapter 8, The Power of the Forbidden Fruit. They may help more of us to understand how we in Evanston got to this very uncomfortable — for some, very traumatic — situation.

D. FORBIDDEN FRUIT: Hiding the evolutionary truth

From Sacred Link: Joining Fortunes with the Unknown
Teachings of a South American indigenous shaman as told to Kay Cordell Whitaker
CHAPTER 8: The Power of the Forbidden Fruit

p. 178 
”Women are the center. That is what it is to be a woman.”

“We are the center of the family. And the center of the tribe, the nation, even our species.  Everything moves around us.  It is the woman who naturally set the rhythm, the mood, the pace.  We are the fire that is at the center of the hut, the smoke that rises up like a pillar to the Creator and the spirit nations.  For the generations of the Humans we are the source –the key to the future, the survival of our kind.  We carry the future inside us and we mold the makers of the world of tomorrow.”

p. 179
”I say it because everything comes from a womb.  We start there and we return there. You knock the woman out of her place at the center and your world begins to spiral backwards into destroying itself.”

“It means we are the way babies get here no matter what other tasks we find in our path. That gives us a certain way of thinking. Women think in terms of making life continue. In terms of creating. Of balancing.”

“It is in our cells, in our spirits. It is in the design of things.”

“To be the center means we are the first and biggest influence on the tiny newcomers from the time they are conceived. It is us who make the crucial shape of the generations being born and we keep affecting for seven generations to come.  We are the biggest influence on our mates. That makes us the biggest influence within our group. You have to come to know that, to know the weight of that.”

p. 181 
”It has to do with ability to collect attention and to alter inner atmosphere.  And about ability to connect with other beings. Because women bear and nurture the new life they have a greater need to do this. It is a matter of survival.”

”When a woman doesn’t stand up and honor herself and the center place where she belongs, then balance is lost. Just look around you. This struggle to get your power back isn’t about getting fair wages or equal jobs. It’s about learning how to pull yourself back to the center place. How to take responsibility for your woman power, your birthing power, your influence, and to see that when actions are taken they are to the benefit of the generations.”

“It’s about acting and living in such a way as to earn the honor and privileges of the center place—not force them to be given to you no matter what. A woman who doesn’t have her head screwed on right trying to take the center place is only a little better than a man trying to force himself into the center place.”

p. 182 
“A woman who has been taught to override her natural way of being and thinking like a man of your white culture. To think with the same walking-dead masks that he is preoccupied with serving and imprisoning himself in.

“This is like you were telling me about your baby boy when he was born. You wanted to touch and hold him, feed him from your breast. But the white culture said, ‘No, we have to take him away.’ You knew it was not good. It was wrong. But you talked yourself into trying to believe they knew what was best for you, that they were right. Do you see?”

“…my people say women are sacred. It is not just your men who need to live with this as their guide. The women need to discover this for themselves, to know and honor their sacredness within their own hearts. It is part of their Song, their identity as a unique individual and as a whole group.”

p. 185 
”Men do what needs to be done to honor the women and keep women’s lives fulfilled and safe.”

“Their job is to make it possible for the women to continue bringing and caring for life in as much health and beauty as can be possible. She is the center. He operates around the center, for the center. Not the other way around.”

“The woman by her nature is daring and devoted. She never gives up. Even to her death. This is what the birthing paint is all about. This is the way of women that comes with the womb. Men have no womb. They must earn their power. In this way they imitate the woman, her willingness to never give up. They put on their war paint and choose to take an action that maybe will be as grand and bold and complete as hers. There is power in the decision to take an action and not go back on it. A woman does this every time she decides to keep a man’s seed and make a child. That is an action and commitment that is kept to her death.”

p. 189
“Women’s power reaches from inviting a man to her vagina, to the cradle, to the crops, to the building of villages, to what is decided at her table and in the councils.”

p. 190
“Your sexuality is one of your most private treasures and it was slipped away from you. The white people that marched to conquer, what they could not take by force they conquered by words, ideas. Beliefs. They destroyed the power of the women and the place of the women by the use of poisoned words. Blind beliefs. The church of Rome wanted to conquer and rule the world and they figured out how.”

“When women are at the center place, and know how to be the center, then there is equity and balance. Each individual lives in their own power. They are connected to the life around them. Things can grow into harmony and continue and prosper. Things are there in a good way for the generations.”

p. 191
“Take the woman out of that and make everyone believe she is a thing unworthy and broken, then you have a world where something is always wrong from the start. There is no balance, no harmony, no connection, nothing of value, no equality, nothing fulfilled. Everything begins falling into destruction.”

“You take her and her Mother Earth from being sacred and turn them into unclean devils, then you have made war on your women and the very land and planet that sustains you. You have made war on the foundation under your feet, the roof of sky above your head, the blood in your veins. You have made war on your own survival.”

“This way of being cannot continue on itself. It has…no balance. It has no center. It destroys everything in its path. It’s coming to the end of its course. Do you see? It could actually take everything with it.”

E. EPILOGUE: “It could actually take everything with it” 

Sacred Link was published in 2005, documenting conversations that took place in the 1970s-80s. Since then, more and more of us have been learning what the war on women, on indigenous peoples, on the land, on non-humans, and the planet looks like and feels like.

In Evanston, we have been desertifying the soils and natural habitat at least since the 1980s. Illinois landowners — rural, suburban, urban — have been poisoning our soils, rivers, and streams for at least that long, much of the poisons and “nutrients” ending up in the Gulf of Mexico. September 2021 was the 5th warmest September in Chicago.

More and more farmers and farmworkers are dying (age, COVID, suicide, exposure to injury/poisons) or getting out of food production (going bankrupt). Where will our food come from? Even though Illinois is a farm state (80% of our land is working land), we import 90-95% of our food. 

Why are farmers going bankrupt when the population is increasing and the supply chains are disrupted? Income disparities are increasing everywhere, even as people scramble to 2 and 3 jobs. I don’t think I have to tell Evanstonians about how many people are homeless—and how many more might be homeless soon (including myself). Why don’t women have the resources to feed and house our children, ourselves, our families? Why doesn’t Mother Earth have the resources to restore and re-stabilize our climate?

This is why I work on the intersection of climate, monetary policy, and time. A basic fact is that our current U.S. (and global) monetary system induces over-production, over-work, and over-use of everything, at an ever-faster pace. Just changing the money system, from a private system back to the public one intended in the U.S. Constitution, would slow climate destruction greatly. As would all of us just slowing down—and slowing the systems down.

Below are a few resources that may be of interest.

F.  RESOURCES: Climate, Monetary Policy, and Time

1. Monetary Policy  
Some hyper-current national resources, involving Evanston, Chicago, and Illinois connections…

New series of short, very readable articles by Greens for Monetary Reform
Part 1: The Private Money System, by Sue Peters

b. 17th annual AMERICAN MONETARY INSTITUTE conference
Nov. 5 – 7, 2021 (Zoom)

Organized by Evanston resident Steven Walsh (Exec. Dir., AMI)
Conference cost is $35, but no one will be turned away.

Updating Dennis Kucinich’s 2011 NEED Act  (precursor to Green New Deal)
Current working version of AMRA:

National sponsoring organization: Alliance For Just Money (action spin-off of AMI)
Founding president: Lucille Eckrich, Bloomington, IL

Legislative Action Committee (LAC)
Tom Wilda, chairperson (Chicago resident)

2. Time

a.  WHO’S YOUR CLAN MOTHER? Saying STOP is women’s public authority—including Impeachment 
2019 blog includes this quote by Alice Walker. (NOTE: The Amazon tribe that Walker identifies as “Swa” is more frequently spelled “Shuar” according to my research.)

“…I listened to a CD called Shamanic Navigation by John Perkins. In it he talks about the Swa (sic) people of the Amazon. These are indigenous people who’ve lived in the Amazon rain forest for thousands of years. They tell us that in their society men and women are considered equal but very different. Man, they say, has a destructive nature: it is his job therefore to cut down trees when firewood or canoes are needed. His job also to hunt down and kill animals when there is need for more protein.  His job to make war, when that becomes a necessity. The woman’s nature is thought to be nurturing and conserving. Therefore her role is to care for the home and garden, the domesticated animals and the children. She inspires the men.  But perhaps her most important duty is to tell the men when to stop.

“It is the woman who says: Stop. We have enough firewood and canoes, don’t cut down any more trees. Stop. We have enough meat; don’t kill any more animals. Stop. This war is stupid and using up too many of our resources. Stop. Perkins says that when the Swa (sic) are brought to this culture they observe that it is almost completely masculine. That the men have cut down so many trees and built so many excessively tall buildings that the forest itself is dying; they have built roads without end and killed animals without number. When, ask the Swa (sic), are the women going to say Stop?”

pp. 59-60, in essay All Praises to the Pause; The Universal Moment of Reflection
in We are the Ones We have been Waiting For:  Inner Light in a Time of darkness — Meditations (2006)

A Mayan Tale of Ecstasy, Time, and Finding one’s True Form
by Martin Prechtel
2nd edition, 2005

A retelling of a Mayan tale, with three interpretations. A bonus for climate folks is that one of the interpretations is about the fresh water cycle.

c. “Funded Sovereignty”: Universal basic income for self-governing
I cannot repeat this insight about democracy frequently enough. It comes from a Native American scholar’s 2000 book on the Iroquois League. It means that our primary job as U.S. voters is to be active participants in our government(s) — local, state, national. It also means that (a) we should be paid for that job, and (b) that the work week (controlled by private corporations) should accommodate that job.

The short version: 
“It is this mismatch of popular but unfunded sovereignty bound to the naked exploitation of capitalism that is short-circuiting American Ne” gashasde”’sa’  today, subverting the political will of the people through the undue economic pressures exerted by a financially privileged elite.” 

The long version:
“It is interesting to me that, in all of the debate furiously raging ever since Bruce Johansen’s Forgotten Founders (1982) rubbed academia’s nose in the fact that the authors of the U.S. Constitution had been strongly influenced by the Iroquoian Great Law, few have noticed the main disparity between Iroquoia and the United States. It was not the political presence or absence of women, or trial by jury, or a standing army, or any of a dozen other, readily spotted political differences that marked the distinction. It was, instead, the failure of the Founding Fathers also to adopt and adapt the Iroquoian system of grass-roots economics that complemented its political base of Ne” Gashasde”’sa’ (popular sovereignty).  

“The true failure of the resultant hybrid lay in the unthinking assumption by the Founding Fathers that European war-lord economics and Haudenosaunee Ne” gashasde”’sa’ could operate in harness without the plunder economics of Europe throwing the political system of  Ne” Gashasde”’sa’ into disarray. By furthermore ignoring the sibling principles of Ne” Sken’no” (Health) and Ne” Gai’ihwiio (Righteousness) as practical tools of economic prosperity (as opposed to mere moralistic pieties), the Founding Fathers sabotaged hopes for real participatory democracy by writing the proprietary economics of Europe into their Constitution. It is this mismatch of popular but unfunded sovereignty bound to the naked exploitation of capitalism that is short-circuiting American Ne” gashasde”’sa’  today, subverting the political will of the people through the undue economic pressures exerted by a financially privileged elite. No such unbalancing access waspossible in the prototype, however, for the clan level where Ne” Gashasde”’sa’ was fomented was also the level at which the confederated economy was managed. Power, will, and weal did not trickle down in Iroquoia; they percolated up.”  

pp. 212-13, Iroquoian Women: The Gantowisas (2000)
by Barbara Alice Mann, Prof. of Humanities at University of Toledo
Member of the Bear clan, Seneca nation
Gantowisas = clan mothers, indispensable women, mature women acting in public authority