A Life Long Journey
Stop for a moment, and envision the world that you would want to live in, if all reality were stripped away. A world free of exploitation, where people lived happily, their needs met and in balance with their environments. What kind of society would that look like? What kind of steps would it take to get us there? By taking that moment – you have begun your lifelong journey to becoming a bioregionalist. To achieve our dreams, we cannot work within existing paradigms, rather we must create our own.
Pre-Amble: Welcome Home!
A growing number of people are recognizing that in order to secure the clean air, water and food that we need to healthfully survive, we have to become guardians of the places where we live. People sense the loss in not knowing our neighbors and natural surroundings, and are discovering that the best way to take care of ourselves, is to go out, and take action for ourselves. News of crisis permeates our society daily and is slowly seeping into the consciousness of America and Canada, and after many years of denial and willful ignorance, many are finding latest barrage harder to deny or ignore.
No longer restricted to isolated areas, threats assume regional and global proportions. Warming caused by greenhouse gasses has wide spread implications, while a pandemic challenges assumed realities and status quos – and the interconnectedness of all of our movements, human rights, climate change, economic justice, criminal reform, racial and social equity is on display like it never has been before. Every year forest fires and droughts are becoming a yearly norm, while heavier flooding, natural disaster and waves of economic migration increasingly strain our food, resources and ecosystem.
Everywhere in the world right now, and everywhere across our countries and region, people are saying that we need a change, but no one is saying how, or presenting a real way of how to achieve it.
In the midst of widening and deepening crises, and over the last 40 years, a new movement is emerging across the North American continent that offers solutions — solutions not only to ecological problems, but social ones as well.
In the face of a society growing ever more centralized, bureaucratized, homogenized, militarized, industrialized, and beyond popular control, this movement calls for a scaling down of human institutions, the decolonization and dismantling of colonial and arbitrary constructs and borders, technologies to be more rooted in, and controlled by local communities, and more adapted to local environments. It calls for more participatory democracy, more equity, justice for past wrongs, more cooperation, and more awareness of our interconnectedness — with other people, other cultures, other species, and our planet.
It can be difficult to put a single name on such an all-embracing, still-coalescing movement, but “bioregionalism” serve as a useful umbrella term that include many strands of the movement, such as appropriate technology, permaculture, environment, feminism, Black rights, Indigenous nationhood and community self- reliance and empowerment, civil rights, privacy and digital rights, LGBTQ2A rights, equal representation and equity, social justice, and peace.
We do not seek superficial reforms, but a fundamental rethinking and restructuring of our society. Here the task is to think globally, and also think, plan, and act locally. The bioregional perspective not only criticizes prevailing mass institutions, but creates positive alternatives that can be controlled by the local community and adapted to the constraints, opportunities, and rhythms of the local environment, people and its inhabitants.
People have begun coming together in gatherings during the past several years to discuss how to bring about some of the needed changes in our own regions and homes. For example, what is an appropriate and sustainable balance between getting jobs and useful products from our forests and preserving the wilderness unique to our bioregion? How can we manage our rivers in a way that balances hydroelectric energy, fishing, recreational uses, and wilderness? How can we build communities that can provide for all of the people living within it and account for historic and systemic imbalances? How can we meet our region’s energy needs without dependence on non-renewable fossil fuels or nuclear power? How can we reduce our economic dependence on economic systems we don’t like? How can we create community economies that provide sustenance and dignity for all without dependence on unsustainable growth and environmental abuse? How can we honor, learn from, and include the many First Nations indigenous to this bioregion in both the stewardship of our land and represented in government?
Can we find a new way before it’s too late?
When we define our places using the Earth as the frame of reference, taking into account flora, fauna, landforms, climate, and so on, we are talking in terms of bioregions. Can we move from our status of internal colony of the American industrial system, used for resource extraction, technology services and holiday vacationing, to a more self- reliant and self-determining bioregional community? Can we gain greater control of our common destiny at the local level?
Can we? Perhaps. But it all depends. It depends on what we do and how we do it. The challenge of change is great. Without a clearly articulated, collective vision for what we want to do and coordinated strategies for how to move forward, our ability to effect deep and widespread change is stymied. Is there a way to create greater “connective tissue” between various parts of our movement for change, so that we can strengthen and nourish one another? Can we interject a clear and comprehensive agenda for change into the stale debate that passes for politics these days?
These are the questions and challenges that we must face, and it is in that hope that we have drafted and created these documents, not as an answer to this debate, but hopefully, to open up a conversation. It is up to bioregionalists, each in their own way, to create and promote these changes, and lead the way forward, rather than wait for someone else to do it for us.
Bioregional movements create these spaces, both physically, and and as a terrain of consciousness, so that every person has the space to lead on issues they care about, and to provide solidarity to magnify the impacts of each to the greatest extent. Each community will know the issues it is facing the best, and it is only when all of these answers are working together, that we will find the solutions to the problems that are greatest in our society.
While it seems simple, these first steps that a bioregionalists takes can be incredibly powerful, revolutionary to some. Most importantly, by helping someone to better know their home, it challenges us to reconceive how we relate to place, breaks down established mental and physical boundaries and if done properly, and most importantly, can get someone to care. By taking these first steps, we cease to be American or Canadian and become citizens of our neighborhood, our watersheds, bioregions and places that are meaningful to us.
Developing a Sense of Place
A key part of bioregionalism is developing a sense of place.
Developing a sense of place is a skilled art that every person can master. It means slowing down. Taking the time you need, to stop, to wonder to learn. From this comes the most revolutionary action – caring about our places. To know what is around us and at risk and being lost.
We cannot fight a problem if we do not know it exists. A sense of place is the first step to directly confronting the faceless nature of globalism, and many of ills that stem from a rootless society.
“Once in his life a man ought to concentrate his mind upon the remembered earth. He ought to give himself up to a particular landscape in his experience; to look at it from as many angles as he can, to wonder upon it, to dwell upon it. He ought to imagine that he touches it with his hands at every season and listens to the sounds that are made upon it. He ought to imagine the creatures there and all the faintest motions of the wind. He ought to recollect the glare of the moon and the colors of the dawn and dusk.”
–N. Scott Momaday, The Way to Rainy Mountain
Developing a sense of place means digging our roots into one single, defined location. It might be our home, where our ancestors came from or where we live currently. It means grounding ourselves into ecological realities – the weather, how things change with the seasons, rainfall, plants, animals, and letting that guide us to making better choices for ourselves, and as a society that better fit with the constraints of where we live.
It also means understanding the human elements of a place. Of the culture, the history, the social makeup, both ugly and beautiful that can guide us to better understand how we got to where we are today, and lead us to a better future.
By understanding our place, we cease to be residents, and instead become inhabitants – that is part of our home places. This sometimes revolutionary act, of opening our eyes and ears, can move us from being solely defined by human made borders to citizens of natural ones instead, and reshift our identities from American or Canadian nationalities instead to our bioregions, watersheds, communities and home.
Many of the social ills that we are working to confront and heal stem from being disconnected from place. Economic systems that are removed from the impacts of it’s extraction, production and human costs. That shift people across cities, regions and continents, uprooted from familial structures and intergenerational wealth, knowledge and learning. Technology that heightens isolation and a removal from our natural environments. Through a sense of place we develop a richer personal connection to our bioregions and the communities which live within them, our commitments to each other and our homes, and a greater appreciation of the incredible interconnected systems we are a part of.
How to Develop a Sense of Place
- Get to know where you live. Take walks, identify plants and animals. How do things change with the seasons? Why does your area have the types of weather it does? What’s the geology like?
- Learn the lived history – how did the place you live get it’s name? How long has it been a city or community? Where did the street names come from? Who lived there before, and what languages did they speak? How did indigenous people live in your region, and what materials and techniques did they employ and why?
- Spend time: Realize all the rest means nothing if you don’t take the time to experience it. Get outside, cook, garden, immerse yourself, and enrich yourself through learning about place over months and years.
And Lastly – Take what you’ve learned to envision something better, then go out in your community to grow those efforts. Meet fellow reinhabitors, share, learn, connect, grow.
As inhabitants of our places, we are all the experts, and we all have something to share. Bioregionalism is effective because local needs and realities will always be slightly different and more effective than globally standardized monomodels, and that together, all of us working in a shared region have a far greater capacity for real impact and change.
The Job of a Bioregionalist
- On a personal level – work to better ourselves in our habits, principles, how we eat, consume, work and play – and improve our relationship to the land we live and rely on
- On a an interpersonal level – examine how we treat each other, approach others with respect and compassion, work to make every interaction a positive one, learn about the history and context of how we came to be to where we are, create spaces to address past injustices, and work in equitable and a just manner together in mutual aid, solidarity and support.
- On a societal level – create new models, tools, culture and identity – the sum of all of our interpersonal actions and choices, which is positive, inclusive and authentic, rooted in place, and create accessible pathways for the 15 million people who live here to hook in, get involved, and shift our impact as a region. Magnify the solutions already existing.
Together, a bioregionalist seeks to live bioregionally, to live and work according to bioregional principles, living in a sustainable manner with a net positive impact on their land and community.