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Bioneers: an Oasis of Hope


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The 18th annual Bioneers Conference is coming up October 19 -21, in San Rafael, just north of San Francisco. I was lucky enough to be given the gift of attending the conference last year, and found inspiration as an activist and renewal as a human being there. Their brochure says:

Why will 10,000 people gather in October at the National and 20 local Bioneers Conferences across North America? Bioneers is an oasis of hope, a wellspring of leading-edge ideas and fertile connections. We bring together the most innovative and effective leaders, from the grassroots to the canopy, who are creating the world we dream for our grandchildren.

Each morning for three days, speakers address the crowd of about 3000 (plus another 7000 via satellite) in half-hour lectures. These give participants a shared framework with which to approach the rest of the day, filled with workshops, film screenings and conversations. Each day builds on the previous one, providing insight, new tools and approaches, cold hard reality, and mutual support.

Last year's plenary speakers included Paul Stamets on How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World, Michael Pollan, on Beyond the Bar Code: the Local Food Revolution, Amy Goodman, on Static: Government, Liars, Media Cheerleaders and the People who Fight Back, and Paul Hawken on Biology, Resistance and Restoration.

The conference introduced me to many powerful and innovative leaders I'd never heard of before, including Tzephora Berman of Forest Ethics, Sarah Crowell of Destiny Arts, and Thomas Linzey of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund. He had the place buzzing with his lecture on Turning Defense into Offense: Challenging Corporations and Creating Self-Governance. He said "You can't regulate, consume or invest your way out of this [evironmental degradation].", and talked seriously about town secession as a tool for reclaiming the power of the people.

I took workshops in eco-art activism, cyber space strategies, herbs and biodiversity, shifting culture with stories and more. The best thing about the conference for me was meeting new people. All the participants are actively engaged in their own fields and communities. I had countless interesting conversations with people from all over the US: a guy from Alaska who ran an eco-tour and hostel, an architect from New Mexico building a green community, a young filmmaker from Santa Monica making a film about dirt and many more. It was the first time I'd had three solid days of grownup conversation in eight years so I may have been a bit desperate, but I know a whole bunch of Los Angeles folk that go up there every year for their "Bioneers fix", and they tell me the same thing.

This year's conference promises to be another inspiring event. Speakers include Van Jones, Majora Carter, Carol Bebelle , and Winona LaDuke. Workshops are being offered with intriguing titles like: No Nukes or Green Nukes: the Debate Over Global Warming and Nuclear Power; Cultivating the Land and the Narrative; Gimme Shelter: Green building in an Age of Mega-cities and Meta-collapse; Mainstreaming Hope through Popular Culture; Community Food Sovereignty, and Original Instructions: Perspectives from First Peoples

As Bill McKibben describes it:

Bioneers has been consistently ahead of the curve. It is now a hatchery for the next wave of important ideas that five years hence people will be talking about in Rotary Clubs

Not to mention the awesome exhibit hall, full of books I had to buy, and the super fun dance party on Saturday night....

To learn more, see the Bioneers website. The conference costs 255.00 to 324.00 for three days. They offer partial scholarships, work exchanges and a special youth program. There is a hotel at the Marin Center, there where most participants stay, but you can find shared housing as well as rideshares on the website.

photo: Sarah Crowell of Destiny Arts in Oakland

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