Sovereignty, Wholeness and Slow Money

(Originally published on OEFFA News Spring 2012)

Food sovereignty resonates vibrantly with Slow Money’s vision and action. But, what is sovereignty?

Although “We the People” is as close as three words come, this is a tricky question to answer. A 16th century French scholar devised the concept to legally ground the absolute power of his king. The same concept is used today by components of a transnational movement advocating for food security and justice and challenging the corporate oligarchy that has reshaped world food systems and much else.

It is a particularly timely question too. The unprecedented amount of money in politics is accelerating the drift of our democratic institutions. Even where local food self-governance ordinances are tested from Maine to California, it is still much easier to buy and sell automatic rifles than raw milk.

The dizzying feeling that the world might be upside down is particularly vivid in the financial realm. Woody Tasch repeatedly hit on this during OEFFA’s annual conference in Granville: even Wall Street insiders aren’t buying the fairy tales anymore—they are abandoning ship. Some are doing it discreetly, withdrawing long-term savings from the global casino and reinvesting it into more productive, often local and sustainable, uses. Some are doing it with a bang, like the Goldman Sachs executive who recently resigned after 12 years of diligent employment telling the public that “the environment now is as toxic and destructive” as he has ever seen it.

If we resist the urge to be cynical or ironic about the mourning for a bygone culture of honesty and integrity in investment banking, we can wonder what a financial system built on relationships might look like. Even before entering into fiduciary or business relationships (where we play fair with our clients or workers, buyers or suppliers), what does integrity mean to us as citizens, consumers, and savers/investors?

To achieve a personal (private) and civic (public) wholeness that can powerfully reverberate throughout our communities we can no longer keep money and “love-truth-beauty-spirituality” in two separate boxes. We can no longer engage in short-term purchases and long-term investments with two separate mindsets and geographic or industry preferences.

Woody invites us to reflect on the concept of investment: “If you ‘invest yourself’ in something, you commit yourself fully, deeply, you enter into relation with that in which you are personally invested. But if you ‘invest your money,’ the whole process is reversed. Financial investing…is about anonymity, limited liability, liquidity, exit–pretty much the opposite of investing yourself in something.”

In its attempts to bridge this gap, Slow Money is also shaping a universally appealing notion of sovereignty: investing oneself in something one can wholly understand and engage with, taking full responsibility before and on behalf of her or his whole community.

Along with kindred initiatives, Slow Money is here to help, and needs your help, in making sustainable agriculture and food systems investment within reach of more people.

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