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Count Me In — a new film on real democracy

Count Me In — a new film on real democracy
Money, Voting, and Participatory Budgeting — or what we’ve been missing for 200+ years
Published October 11, 2016

This is a modified version of an announcement originally posted on Oct. 5, 2016 to U.S. food-and-farm networks.
COMFOOD (North America – Tufts University)
Food Policy Networks (North America – Johns Hopkins University)
North American Food Systems Network (Cornell University)
Illinois Local Food and Farms Coalition (Illinois – Yahoo Group)
Advocates for Urban Agriculture (Greater Chicago – Google Group)
Sustain Evanston (Evanston, IL – Google Group)


In a 2009 article, Frances Moore Lappe wrote one of her most memorable lines: “Hunger is not caused by a scarcity of food but a scarcity of democracy.” She wrote this while describing some key public policies put in place by one Brazilian city and by which the city — Belo Horizonte — “ended hunger”.

The three policies were: (1) the creation of a food council, (2) declaration of food as a right, and (3) the use of a specific process that was already in place but doubled in participation when policies #1 and #2 were added. The process is called Participatory Budgeting.

Participatory Budgeting is one of the game-changers that many of us have been waiting for since the American Revolution and since the writing of the U.S. Constitution. A new documentary film, Count Me In, might be the tipping point in helping Americans see what we’ve been missing and why the ultimate goal seems to finally be in our sights: U.S. Democracy — The First Generation.

One might well ask, “What do you mean, First Generation? The U.S. has been in existence since 1776, with an official Constitution since 1789. At 30 years per generation, that would make Americans born in 2016 the 9th generation. ”

But that would be correct only if the U.S. was actually a democracy.  Despite the mythology of the U.S. as a democracy — mythology promoted by most schools, media, government officials, and candidates for public office — the U.S. Constitution was never a democratic document, either in process or in content. And in 2016, 200+ years and 27 amendments later, it still isn’t.

In fact, the U.S. Constitution adopted in 1789 was a regression from the democracy that existed in North America when Europeans arrived. Not only was the Iroquois League already on this land when Europeans arrived.  It had existed for centuries, structured by the Great Law of Peace, also known as the Iroquois Constitution. For about 500 years, the Iroquois Constitution existed before refugees from a beleaguered European populace replaced it with the U.S. Constitution.

In the interests of being witness to the First Generation of U.S. Democracy, here is why I think democracy in the U.S. might become a reality, sooner rather than later.

1. Participatory Budgeting is
— one of many new civic engagement techniques that are being tried by many organizations (including corporations) to increase the democracy level of our group decisions.
— being tried in multiple U.S. locations, in a variety of jurisdictions — ward, municipality, county.
— being facilitated and promoted by a variety of organizations, most notably Participatory Budgeting Project based in New York City.

2. Count Me In — a new independent documentary by a top-notch filmmaker
— follows the Participatory Budgeting process as it has taken place in Chicago, first in the 49th ward (thanks to Ald. Joe Moore) and then in other wards.
— just had its world premiere on Oct 9, 2016 and is scheduled for 155 screenings on public television stations across the U.S. in the next few months.
— is available for community screenings in conjunction with the filmmaker, expert panels, and various partners.

3. Food-and-farm system decisions
— can make effective use of Participatory Budgeting in allocating public resources ($$, land, time, etc.)
— are powerful motivators for voter engagement in civic processes, such as Participatory Budgeting


Here’s the details:

COUNT ME IN: Money, Voting….and Participatory Budgeting in Chicago
by Ines Sommer – Sommer Filmworks

Local public television listings   (Fall 2016)

Watch the trailer

Community screenings
To partner on a community screening, contact Ines Sommer directly.
ines (at)
Send details about your event: date, venue, expected number of audience members, etc.


A Guide to Participatory Budgeting in Schools (57 pages)
by Valeria Mogilevich
with project support from Melissa Appleton and Maria Hadden
This manual was developed for schoolteachers and schoolchildren. The process is described in clear, detailed steps and the manual includes worksheets to facilitate the steps.


Participatory budgeting in the U.S. is being promoted and implemented directly by Participatory Budgeting Project, based in New York City. Exec. Director Josh Lerner and Chicago-based Project Manager Maria Hadden are featured in Count Me In.

Here’s the link to Lappe’s 2009 article in YES Magazine.
Food for Everyone:  The City that Ended Hunger
This article demonstrates (a) the power of the food issue to get people involved, and (b) the power of participatory budgeting as the process to organize that involvement.