There is a new urgency for stronger alliances and more collaboration among progressive organizations and movements. It’s widely acknowledged that the window for averting climate catastrophe is closing fast. The election of a President who calls climate change a hoax, boasts of groping women, demonizes refugees and Muslims and gathers supports from white supremacist and neo-nazi groups has spurred these movements anew.
Against this backdrop, the upcoming 2017 Women’s Congress for Future Generations seems right on time – with a focus on climate health and justice. Its vision statement imagines a future “where people value the interconnectedness of all things: a future that shifts attitudes and behaviors from those centered in individualism and consumption to behaviors that care for the Earth, tend relationships and the intricate connections of all living things.”
The seed for the November gathering was planted in 2012, when Ann Manning attended the first Women’s Congress in Moab, Utah. Writing a “Declaration of Rights for Future Generations, and a Bill of Responsibilities for those Present” was a focus of the event. Manning recalls being “very struck by the Preamble,” which includes the words: “We withdraw our consent from the institutions and practices that have put the world in peril.”
With those words, Manning says, “I was hooked.” So much so, in fact, that she spearheaded a second Women’s Congress two years later in Minnesota.
Including women of color
This year’s Congress focuses on climate, health and justice, serving as an opportunity to build the “Beloved Community,” as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. prophesied – where all are welcome and work together to build a just, loving and sustainable world. Toward that end, organizers have worked hard to build stronger connections among allies in the environmental, economic, and racial justice movements.
“We can’t just stay in our little pockets,” Manning says. “We can’t see ourselves as competitors. The pie is big enough for all of us.”
That message resonates strongly with storyteller, facilitator and writer Rose McGee – who is also the creator of the Sweet Potato Comfort Pie project. “The system sets us up to be competitive,” McGee says – for example, nonprofit groups competing for funding. “It’s a beautiful thing to see a conference like this and to come together in ways that are sustainable.”
Manning stresses that the Congress is women-led, but not women-only: “All genders are welcome.” In 2014, 475 people attended the Women’s Congress, including 30-35 men. About 10 percent of participants were under 30, and five to 10 percent were women of color. “We have a strong focus [this year] on outreach to women of color,” Manning says. “If it’s just a room of white people, that’s not the Beloved Community.”
As McGee notes, the messages presented at the Women’s Congress are important – and so are the messengers. “If it’s not coming from people who have the reputation of walking the talk, who know the issues firsthand, people may get the content – but they’re not getting it from the heart, and they’re not taking it to heart,” McGee says.
Most of the speakers at the 2017 Congress are women of color, working on the front lines of the climate, justice and health crises. People of color and low-income people, Manning notes, bear the brunt of environmental destruction and climate change globally and here at home. Examples include the Northern Metals Recycling facility in North Minneapolis, exposing residents to air pollution and lead, and “toxic taters” caused by pesticide drift in northern Minnesota near the White Earth Nation.
Gathering and mobilizing
As this issue went to press, Sharon Day, an Ojibwe elder and executive director of the Indigenous Peoples Task Force, was walking the Missouri River from Montana to Missouri, praying for the water and reminding the river that there are still humans who care deeply about it.
“I am excited about the upcoming Women’s Congress because we will become more motivated, inspired and mobilized,” said Day, whom Manning reached by phone during her walk. “The speakers are extraordinary.”
The lineup includes both local and national leaders – such as Dr. Dorceta Taylor of the University of Michigan, one of the country’s preeminent environmental justice scholars, and Vien Truong, the new CEO of Dream Corps – a nationwide social and environmental justice advocacy group.
State Reps. Karen Clark and Susan Allen, who introduced legislation this year creating a commission to study reparations for African-American and American Indian Minnesotans, will lead a mock reparations commission.
A full moon is in the forecast for the first night of the Congress. “We’re going to try and wrap up a little early so we can do a full moon ceremony,” says Manning.
Saturday afternoon, McGee will conduct a healing circle focusing on racial justice. That evening, musicians Sara Thomsen, Claudia Schmidt and others will perform. The Congress will also feature an Open Space session, led by Alejandra Tobar Alatriz, where people can bring ideas forward.
Organizers hope the gathering will, as the mission statement puts it, “catalyze actions that shift laws, policies and norms that support a world in which future generations can thrive.” Because as Manning notes, “the withdrawal of consent for shortsighted and destructive policies and practices is not enough.
“We also need to ask: What do we give our consent to?”