Timeless Respect: Honoring the Rights of Future Generations
"Treat the Earth well: It was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children. We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children." –Ancient Indigenous Proverb
Next month, the town I live in will play host to a very special gathering of those who feel called to serve as guardians of future generations. If this is something that resonates with you, read on and please consider joining us! The first ever Women’s Congress for Future Generations will convene September 27-30th in Moab, Utah. Men are invited to attend as ‘sacred witnesses’ to this exploration.
We are women from across the globe and from many different backgrounds coming together: lawyers, writers, scientists, activists, researchers, grandmothers, dreamers, and healers of all sorts. We are joining together to articulate a core set of rights for future generations, and to explore the responsibilities and opportunities for this present generation to codify, promote and defend such rights.
We will also explore what a movement to protect these rights might look like, and explore how each of us can, in our own unique way, engage in sacred activism on behalf of future generations.
This is all big stuff, and the beauty of it is that an exploration at this meta level may be just what it takes to tackle the myriad social and ecological challenges we face in these times. Imagine if every decision we made in the present moment, in this present generation, truly took the rights of future generations—human and all other life forms—into account.
What if all our actions and choices were guided by not just a moral imperative, but a set of binding laws, policies, economic models and societal norms that required our choices in the present uphold rather than violate the rights of future generations? How would we live? This is a powerful inquiry indeed. And it is one that compliments and is informed by a long standing body of work by indigenous communities, declaring the rights of nature and of Mother Earth at the United Nations level and beyond.
Carolyn Raffensperger is a catalyst for the Congress, and the questions on the table are a natural extension of her work on the Precautionary Principle, of which she is an architect and staunch advocate. Already at the root of governance policies from the European Union on down to regional governments around the world, the Precautionary Principle says:
"When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically. In this context the proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof. The process of applying the precautionary principle must be open, informed and democratic and must include potentially affected parties. It must also involve an examination of the full range of alternatives, including no action." - Wingspread Statement on the Precautionary Principle, Jan. 1998
You can imagine that bringing this to life requires that we transcend traditional strategies and ways of knowing. One of the exciting elements Congress planners are exploring is how to promote and host an event where the content is the star, and all attendees are ‘headlining the show.’ It can be tough to break the mold of traditional conferences and events, which promote the attendance of particular big names in an effort to draw folks in, but this noble effort is an experiment in the ‘post hero era’ I spoke of recently in this blog!
Another element is a commitment to ‘Radical Inclusion’ in all its forms. Here is a snippet from a recent outreach email about the Congress:
Our commitment is to work that is firmly rooted in Radical Inclusion, in all of its forms—not as an afterthought, but as a framework for how we come together and organize. What does reclaiming power as women look like? We recognize the double layer of oppression for women of color, Indigenous women, lesbians, transgender individuals, and women living on the frontlines of the environmental and social struggle. We recognize that nature—plants, animals, rivers, and oceans—have been abused. And we recognize that the rights of Future Generations have been neglected. This is our inquiry and the exploration we intend to deepen with the launch of our Congress.
In this vein, all are welcome, but we recognize that only a fraction of those who feel called to this gathering are privileged enough to mobilize the time and resources to convene in Moab. Women who need assistance and support to attend are encouraged to register and apply for scholarships to cover their expenses. We encourage those who can donate funds to do so, in an effort to support those who find it financially difficult to travel to Moab.
Finally, efforts are underway to allow for individuals to watch some of the proceedings live online, and to foster an ongoing dialogue after the Congress, taking advantage of a suite of Wikis and other internet tools that can unite us over distances in this inquiry, while keeping a low carbon footprint.
What do you think? Are you drawn to join us? Here in Southern Utah we promise to roll out the redrock carpet for you, so come on out! And if you can’t attend the Women’s Congress for Future Generations, consider writing a letter of support or counsel. Submit testimony or share your thoughts and experiences to be included at the Congress. Join the ongoing conversation on Facebook or Tumblr.