Late last year, around the time of the November election in the U.S., I learned the name of a young man from a North Dakota Tribe. Translated, his name meant “Male Hope”. I was intensely curious about how hope could be gendered. His parents explained to me that hope is nuanced. Men hope to be able to fulfill their unique responsibilities to the family and community. Women have other responsibilities and so Female Hope is the constellation of prayer, duty and action directed at the future that is uniquely in the domain of women.
Women gathered January 21st to rally and raise their voices in the public square to give voice to that Hope that forms the women’s constellation. We rallied to show that the incoming government does not have the consent of the governed. We do not consent to have the environment destroyed. We do not consent to having our bodies treated as if they belonged to someone else. We do not consent to having our neighbor’s lives destroyed because of medical debt. We do not consent to privileging oil companies’ plunder of our drinking water and agricultural lands. We do not consent to the theft of the future from our grandchildren.
Consent of the governed is required for legitimate government. The alternatives to consent are anarchy or dictatorship. The basis of consent is respect. Respect is honoring the autonomy and dignity of the person. Taking away our authority over our bodies, taking away our ability to care for our children, our neighborhoods, and the Earth is to deny our autonomy and dignity.
How we treat women is a microcosm of how we treat all that is sacred—children, the Earth, the elderly, the future. Given the threats to what we hold sacred by the new administration, we must do two things, block actions that threaten our ability to care for our own bodies, each other and the Earth as well as to invent new legal ideas and policies that further our sacred responsibility to take this kind of care.
The Women’s March gave voice to the “hell no’s” —Hell no! you can’t take away the funding for Planned Parenthood. Hell no! you can’t give away our climate and water to the fossil fuel industry. Hell no! you can’t squander our children’s inheritance of the commons. But as every mother of a two-year-old knows, “no” is insufficient. We are also searching for and inventing the big “yeses”. Yes! to new legal ideas and policies starting with the basic question of, what is the primary role of government?
Some years ago, several groups came together and convened the Women’s Congress for Future Generations in order to give women a voice in policy and to advance the basic notion that not only did women have a right to be at the policy table, but we were claiming a responsibility to be there since we are the first environment for future generations as well as recognizing that women are fractals of the Earth—we are water. We are earth. We are hosts to living things. This is the basis for the distinctive hopes we bring to the policy table.
Basic policies that emerged from the Women’s Congress assert that government has a primary responsibility to be the trustee of the commons—all the things we share—for present and future generations. All of us have a right to equal access to these commons. Government must care for the commons in such a way that it protects the basic necessities for our survival and well-being—air, water, climate, wildlife, nature, public parks and art, public schools, roads and bridges.
Imagine a world where our federal and state government actually saw itself as the trustee of these things and treated each person and community with dignity, honoring their right to consent. This is the basis of our Women’s Hope and why I rallied with my sisters and brothers on the 21st. We hope for justice. We hope for a caring economy. We hope that our grandmothers and granddaughters will be treated with respect. This is our responsibility. We will not stand down. We are honing the axe.
Carolyn Raffensperger, Executive Director, Science and Environmental Health Network
“A version of this was previously published in the SEHN Networker, January 2017 issue. http://sehn.org/january-2017-networker-hope-politics/