The North American Bioregional Congress is coming to Tennessee in 2009. Its three hundred or so participants will arrive at The Farm, in Summertown, next September. They will spend a week in intensive interaction, and then journey back to their respective bioregions, inspired through communion at the Congress to ever more deeply reinhabit their home watersheds and bring their friends and neighbors back–or is it forward?–to Earth as well.
What in the world am I talking about? Bioregions? Communion? At a Congress? Reinhabit their watersheds? Maybe I’m the one who needs to get “brought back to Earth”?
Well, thank you for your concern, but I feel pretty well grounded. I am reinhabiting the place I live–staying home a lot, learning my local flora and fauna, water cycles, weather, dirt, and my human neighbors–though sometimes that seems like the hard part. It’s the culture we live in that has come ungrounded.
Now, in the course of human events, it has become obvious that the political system we have built since 1776 no longer serves us, or most of the other inhabitants of the planet–human and otherwise–either. We need to reimagine our relationship with our communities at all levels. Politics is a function of culture, and to truly and deeply change our politics into something that will work in the coming centuries, we have to initiate a culture change, a psychological and spiritual change that starts with renewing and revisioning our felt connection with the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the plants and animals that make it possible, as well as the way we relate to our children, our mates, our families, and our friends. The North American Bioregional Congress is a safe space in which to join with like-minded people and do all that.
“Bioregonal”? What’s “bioregional”?
A “bioregion” is, to quote from the North American Bioregional Congress’s website,
A geographical area whose boundaries are roughly determined by nature rather than human beings. One bioregion is distinguished from another by characteristics of flora, fauna, water, climate, rocks, soils, land forms, and the human settlements, cultures, and communities these characteristics have spawned. “Local community is the basic unit of human habitation. It is at this level that we can reach our fullest potential and best effect social change. Local communities need to network to empower our bioregional communities. Human communities are integral parts of the larger bioregional and planetary life communities. The empowerment of human communities is inseparable from the larger task of reinhabitation — learning to live sustainably and joyfully in place.”
and a “Congress,” in the Bioregional view, is
a way of holding a working meeting of fully-participating, well-informed, aware equals who see themselves in some sense as representatives—officially or unofficially, formally or informally—of groups, or organizations, or movements, or ideologies, or philosophies or of regions or watersheds, or of natural ecosystems, and plant and animal communities. It is an assembly of peers working consensually in a representational capacity. In this a congress is much different than what we commonly call a “conference”.
In order to allow this community of equals to fully form and maintain coherence, there are no “drop-ins” allowed. Participants come for the whole thing, or not at all, and that includes the media. Everyone helps with the cooking, the cleanup, and the childcare. This is not a “conference.”
At a “conference,” attendees’ main duties are to show up for workshops and meals and have food and information poured into them. At a “conference,” there are well-known outside speakers, big-name entertainment, and a set schedule of workshops. A “conference” tries to draw in as many people as it can. This ain’t no stinking conference. This is do-it-yourself, participatory, and by invitation–and, by the way, you are invited.
This temporary village is considered a “sacred space,” not in any narrow, sectarian sense, but in the broadest possible terms–that the gathering of this intentional community for the purpose of reconsidering everything from one’s most intimately personal thoughts and attitudes to the state of the planet is itself a holy purpose and that all participants are worthy of respect. Rituals and blessings are shared and invented. Lives get changed.
Bioregionalism goes far beyond mere “environmentalism.” Here’s another quote from the website that explains it better than I could:
While environmentalism does much good work in consciousness raising, it is only a part of what must be done. Environmentalism fails to propose comprehensive and systemic change at all levels — based on ecology. Bioregionalism does, reaching for something far deeper and more holistic that must be manifested.
Bioregionalism is an all-inclusive way of life, embracing the whole range of human thought and endeavor. It advocates a full restructuring of systems within a given bioregion, orienting toward regeneration and sustainability of the whole life community. This inclusion of the nonhuman in the definition of community is vital. Indeed, one of the basic tenets of bioregionalism is the notion of “bio-centrism,” or “eco-centrism,” where reality is viewed from a life-centered or ecologically centered perspective, rather than from a human-centered focus (anthropocentrism).
Bioregionalism speaks to the heart of community. If we are to continue to live on Earth, the definition of community has to include all the living things in our ecosystem. Without the flowers, mammals, insects, trees, birds, grasses, and the living soil and waters in community with each other, we would not be here at all. Humans need other life forms in order to survive. Without a respectful, cooperative relationship with others, we are both physically and spiritually impoverished. Without their ecological teachings we are ignorant and cannot know how to live.
Elsewhere on the website, somebody comments, “If you think you’re an independent organism, try seeing how long you can hold your breath.”
The bioregional movement is a seed for a new human culture, one in which the proposals of the Green Party, so often a voice crying in the wilderness, would be as sensible and obvious and implemented as the next breath you take. We need a new culture and a new politics, and we’re running out of time to get on the road there. Got ideas? Bring ‘em to the North American Bioregional Congress. We’ll listen.
music: Kate Wolf: “Medicine Wheel”