When Ann Manning journeyed to Utah two years ago for the first Women’s Congress for Future Generations she was struck by the quality and depth of thought of those in attendance – about shifting current cultural thinking about environmental rights away from property rights and into human rights. The Congress focused on how women could change cultural attitudes and behaviors to support a sustainable environment and provide economic justice for future generations to thrive.
Upon leaving the first Women’s Congress, Manning felt there needed to be a second one – and that it needed to be in Minnesota. People told her that it would take at least three years and that there weren’t enough resources, but she got to work. The second Women’s Congress was held Nov. 7-9, 2014, in the Twin Cities with more than 475 people in attendance.
“Most of us, I think, are asleep to the fact that we lack solid rights to clean water, air and soil, to a chemical-free life,” Manning says.
At that Utah Congress, Manning met Carolyn Raffensperger, founder of Future First and a leading expert in the U.S. on the rights of future generations. Raffensperger lives in Ames, Iowa, and their Midwest connection drew the two women together to organize the second Women’s Congress.
Manning is a natural networker, with what she calls a “checkered career history.” Now, in her mid-60s, she’s had multiple careers – as a CPA, a psychologist, a strategic planner at Medtronic, and she’s worked in organizational development as a consultant. At 60, she attended the Harvard Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, MA, and afterward ran the national agency, United for a Fair Economy, in Boston. It was there, she says, she began to understand at a deeper level how economic structures need to be changed. She drew on skills developed in all of her career paths to organize the Women’s Congress.
While Manning spearheaded the work on the Women’s Congress, she didn’t do it all alone. She pulled together a core team of about 25 women and a list of allied organizations. They organized and facilitated lectures and workshops on climate change, clean energy solutions, pipelines, fracking and mining, bees and birds, public policy and the rights of future generations.
National leaders in environmental, economic and public policy issues, such as Mary Pipher, Riane Eisler, Joanna Macy and Sandra Steingraber, joined local experts for panel discussions, including Cecilia Martinez, J. Drake Hamilton, Lucia Watson, Karen Oberhauser, Rebecca Masterman, Sharon M. Day, Becky Rom, Teddie Potter, Julia Frost Nerbonne, Julie Ristau and many more.
Congress attendees divided into groups creating a Caucus of All Waters, representing the Great Lakes, the Pacific, Atlantic and Arctic oceans, the Mississippi, Missouri and Colorado rivers, the Ogallala aquifer, the Gulf of Mexico and clouds. Together, they drafted a Bill of Rights for All Water.
“These ideas have traction,” Manning says. “It will take all of us linking our arms and adding our voices to put [these ideas] out in the world. It’s a political movement, but it’s not about being partisan. We have to change policies.
“I truly believe that events combined with big ideas can change history,” Manning says. “My hope is that people will see that it’s not too late. We are the generation, right now, that can truly make a difference.”
BE A CHANGEMAKER:
“It’s a launch, not an endpoint,” Ann Manning says of the Women’s Congress. Education, awareness and action are three of its key goals. The work continues after the November gathering through monthly meetings and workshops. A field guide has been designed to continue the conversations and education about environmental and economic issues. The guides can be downloaded at futurefirst.us/get-involved/take-action. Groups are working on drafting state constitutional amendments for the rights of future generations.
FFI: To join the momentum, find more information at futurefirst.us.