Almost 200 people gathered last month somewhere on the high-grass prairie--formally known as northwest Missouri--for the first continental bioregional congress the world has ever seen. At the end of it, most of them came away with a sense not only of what the awkward word "bioregional' means but also of something very much like a movement growing around it.
It was a motley crew, in the best sense, drawn from all over North America: Oregon tree planters mixed with New Jersey video experts, Ozark farmers with British Columbia communards, Minnesota soil experts with Vermont antinuclear organizers. After five days of workshops, speeches, panels, slide shows and endless conversations, most of them saw their lives and their visions become unified and energized under the banner of bioregionalism.
Strange word, that, but useful. A bioregion is simply a section of the earth with unifying characteristics of flora, fauna, soil, water and the like--a watershed, say, or a mountain range--and bioregionalism is the philosophy that argues such regions, determined by nature and not legislature, must be understood, safeguarded, developed and honored.
This is how the idea was tentatively put by a committee at the congress:
Bioregionalism recognizes, nurtures, sustains and celebrates our local connections with: land; plants and animals; rivers, lakes and oceans; air; families, friends and neighbors; community; native traditions; and local systems of production and trade.
It is taking the time to learn the possibilities of place.
It is a mindfulness of local environment, history and community aspirations that can lead to a future of safe and sustainable life.
It is reliance on well-understood and widely used sources of food, power and waste disposal. . . .
The bioregional movement seeks to re-create a widely shared sense of regional identity founded upon a renewed critical awareness of and respect for the integrity of our natural ecological communities.
Perhaps it doesn't seem like much. But when you get 200 people who have never met before making connections with one another and sharing ideas under a single banner, a philosophy as abstract as that can take on a life of its own. What I and those I talked with felt was that the philosophy gave people a new way of seeing their lives, of touching others, of involving friends and neighbors in the paramount task of rescuing the earth's communities--and our own.
One of the principal ways of doing that, Green politics, came in for exhaustive (or is it exhausting?) discussion at the congress. I'm not sure there ever was a complete consensus-- the manner by which every issue at the congress was decided-- but there was a general feeling that some kind of Green political movement, grounded in the philosophy of bioregionalism, was a vital and immediate necessity in every local constituency across the continent.
Accordingly, a Green politics network has been formed (Green Organizing Committee, Box 91, Marshfield, Vt. 05658), with contacts throughout the continent, to start bioregionally based Green parties and movements, aiming eventually to run candidates for local office and put pressure on local agencies and officials. Its guiding principles are simple, among them:
Human consciousness, society and governance must be rooted in, observant of and in balance with ecological imperatives. . . .
Appropriate governance should be largely decentralized to local and regional levels. . . .
A sustainable economy must be based on nonviolent ecodevelopment that acknowledges finite resources, decentralization and diversity.
The next few years will tell whether Green politics--or the bioregionalism behind it--will take hold on this continent. The ecological imperatives we face demand it, of course, but I would not be so optimistic about its power to win over the stultified hearts and minds of our populations if I had not seen it at work during one hectic week in Missouri. The past is killing us; the present is inert and unheeding; this is the politics of the future, and an awful lot of people seem to sense it.
Congress proceedings and additional information are abailable from the Bioregional Project, New Life Farm, Box 129, Drury, Mo. 65638.