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Women’s Councils: A high-impact election platform in 2016

Women’s Councils: A high-impact election platform in 2016
Published April 12, 2016

Five days before the March 15 Illinois primary, this 65-year old voter realized that no presidential candidate was addressing my high priority issue: restoring women’s collective public authority to U.S. soil. This is a high-impact platform that could unify our nation, move us more quickly to full implementation of the American Dream, and move the U.S. into national adulthood—sooner rather than later. Currently, however, candidates are talking only about women’s rights, not official group authority.

As of April 12, 2016, there are a number of primaries still to take place and no candidate in either party is running away with the nomination. Both races seem so close that the July convention proceedings may be unusually susceptible to proposals of new, high-impact issues.

In the interest of influencing the remaining primaries and the conventions, here are the primaries still to come:
Democratic primaries (April 19 – June 14): NY, CT, DE, MD, PA, RI, IN, WVA., KY, OR, PR, CA, MT, NJ, NM, ND, SD, DC
Republican primaries (April 19 – June 7): NY, CT, DE, MD, PA, RI, IN, WVA, NE, OR, WA, CA, MT, NJ, NM, SD

If your state is one of these or if you think that American people can still impact the nominating process at the conventions, please share this with voters in your networks.

This is a campaign platform that would get this old lady’s attention. Here’s why, along with three suggestions for platform planks.

BACKGROUND. For most of my adult life, U.S. women’s groups organized primarily around individual rights. But individual rights are inseparable from the experience and visibility of adult women acting as a public and authoritative collective essential to the continuation of the human species. Now in the 21st century we are organizing around that collective visibility.

Enough women are taking ownership of the fact that women’s birthing, nurturing, socializing, and spiritual capacities are at the center of the species, not just a pole at one end of a spectrum. With the goal of making the best day-to-day decisions with and for all Americans (including non-humans), more U.S. women are daring to articulate long-suppressed but highly practical truths. Three of these truths are:
1. U.S. women need to be dialoguing and deliberating together more, as women.
2. U.S. women need to understand how existing national structures governing and influencing our daily lives are inadequate for gathering and disseminating women’s individual and collective wisdom.
3. U.S. women need to design our own structures of authority based on women’s collaborative leadership, on women’s ways of knowing, and on women’s ways of disseminating knowledge.

Acknowledging these truths is necessary for Americans (and the global community influenced by U.S. policies) to move forward towards peace and security for all life. Hundreds of women’s organizations, old and new, are expressing and implementing various versions of these truths. To name just a few, the short list includes: Women’s Congress for Future Generations (Eugene, OR), Grandmothers Speak: The Net of Light (Laguna Beach, CA), Women, Food and Agriculture Network (Ames, IA), World Pulse (Portland, OR), Institute for Circle Work (Ithaca, NY), Wise Woman Center (Woodstock, NY), Suppressed Histories Archives (Oakland, CA), Small Planet Institute (Cambridge, MA), Public Banking Institute (Sonoma, CA).

Although the list of women-run, women-centered initiatives has been growing at a rapid pace (and being encouraged by many men), our message is still not unified. Hence, no presidential candidate is recognizing that restoring U.S. women’s collective authority to an effective, public, and official place is a practical, high-leverage platform for a political campaign.

MODELS OF WOMEN’S COLLECTIVE AUTHORITY. What do women-designed structures of authority look like? Seeking models, many groups and researchers are tapping into indigenous peoples’ traditions, such as that received by shaman Kay Cordell Whitaker from her indigenous South American teacher (“Sacred Link” 2005): “You knock the woman out of her place at the center and your world begins to spiral backwards into destroying itself.” As Whitaker’s mentor explained, “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.”

So, how to return women to the center? Where are those councils? What are the opportunities for creating those structures here and now in 2016? How can candidates in the U.S. presidential election move their campaign to another, deeper level that will benefit everyone?

CAMPAIGN PROMISES FOR 2016. Here are three campaign promises that candidates can make to show their consciousness and support for restoring women’s collective authority to U.S. soil.

1. Commit to appointing women to 51 percent of Cabinet positions, similar to the campaign promise made and recently implemented by Primer Minster Trudeau of Canada.

2. Adopt the slogan “What do the women think?” as a bottom-line question for any decision in any venue or jurisdiction— election campaign, dinner table, corporation, institution, neighborhood, board of education, town, food council, state, nation, international summits. Ask not only A woman, not A FEW women, not women as an abstraction, but THE women—all the real, living women of any given jurisdiction. Ask the questions and listen to the answers:
What do WE women think?
What do THE women think?

3. Tap into traditional indigenous wisdom of North America: ask to meet with descendants of the Iroquois League to learn about the Iroquois Constitution, also known as the Great Law of Peace. The Iroquois League not only lasted for at least 500 years, right up through the first 100 to 200 years of European contact, but it existed on this very land, in the exact region that gave birth to the U.S.

Readers of Charles Mann’s “1491: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus” (2005) may remember that he ended his book with a 9-page Coda on the Great Law, citing early European visitors to the northeast woodlands, the Iroquois League’s territory. These observers wrote admiringly about the combined “tradition of limited government and personal autonomy” among the Iroquois nations (more accurately, the Haudenosaunee). The Coda’s final sentence poses a wistful question, paraphrased here: In terms of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, might 21st century non-Indian Americans feel more at home with the Haudenosaunee than with our own non-Indian ancestors?

A member of the Seneca nation, Barbara Alice Mann (no relation to Charles Mann, so far as I can tell), has put her finger on the stabilizing factor in the Iroquois League: the public authority of the Iroquois clan mothers, much of it codified in the Iroquois Constitution. Just reading the chapter titles of her book “Iroquoian Women: The Gantowisas” (2000) is eye-opening:
“They are the Soul of the Councils”: Women’s Role in Political Life
“Good Rule: They Assist one Another”: Women’s Control of Economics
“No Whips, No Punishments, No Threats”: Women’s Control of Social Life
“Come. Let me Untangle your Hair”: Women as Faithkeepers

The facts and analysis are even more eye-opening and heart-warming, to the point of restoring sanity to one 65-year old. The people of the Iroquois League seem to have recognized, honored, and benefited from women’s rights and natural authority in a way that 21st century America still does not. In terms of achieving the ideals of the American dream (as expressed in the Declaration of Independence and the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution), women’s collective and public authority is a missing link.

Any one of these election commitments would get this old lady’s attention. Adopting all three might get my vote,

THANKS to the following for their support and feedback during my writing process.
The OpEd Project (Chicago seminar)
Anna North, BuzzFeed (senior editor) and mentor-editor for The OpEd Project
Cassandra West, journalist, photographer, new media consultant, teacher (based in Chicago area) and mentor-editor for The OpEd Project.
Evanston friends & colleagues: Carol Zsolnay, Beth Steffen, Ursula Rose, Vikki Proctor, Carole Mark, Sue Carlson, Catherine Buntin, Sandy Bowen,

Copyright 2016
Debbie Hillman
Evanston, Illinois

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