Bioregionalism Rising: The 1984 Bioregional Congress

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Illustration by Fotolia/Rawpixel
Growing interest in bioregionalism is bringing activists together from across the country.

This past May, more than 200 people from all over the United States and Canada, as well as from places as far away as Germany, Australia, and South Africa, gathered near Kansas City, Missouri, for the first North American Bioregional Congress (NABC). The participants—including MOTHER EARTH NEWS staffer Emily Stetson — were a decidedly diverse group of individuals involved in organic farming, urban reforestation, Green politics, water conservation, appropriate technology, the rights of native and tribal peoples, and more. During the cooperative five-day event this multifaceted body came together — in the true sense of the verb congressto work toward and celebrate the vision of a sustainable, harmonious North America.

Although folks in various bioregions — the Ozarks, the Great Lakes, etc. — have been meeting in separate congresses for some time, NABC marked the first continental convening of bioregionalists. The congress, a result of more than two years of planning, was coordinated by the Bioregional Project of New Life Farm, the NABC Coordinating Council, the Ozark Area Community Congress (OACC), and the Kansas Area Watershed (KAW) Council.

Using the four years’ experience of the OACC as a guide, the participants at the congress formed committees to address various topics of significance to bioregionalism: Green politics, permanent agriculture, the bioregional movement itself, forestry, water, appropriate economics, communications/media, education, arts and culture, community empowerment, environmental defense, peace, and native Indian and land-based peoples. These committees met several times each day to develop draft statements that were later presented to the congress as a whole. A myriad of workshops, panel discussions, slide shows, and projects — including the handcrafting of a 17-square North American Bioregional quilt — filled the time not devoted to daily congress meetings or committee work.

The week-long work of the committees culminated in the final plenary session, when the draft statements and resolutions of each committee were presented to, discussed by, and decided upon by consensus of the entire congress. Taken as a whole, these detailed resolutions form the joint statement of all those in attendance at NABC.

The most powerful result of the congress, however, was perhaps one that couldn’t be recorded as such on paper, but it was felt by each of us who participated. We came to the congress as a diverse conglomeration of individuals and organizations and causes from all parts of the continent but left as one body, with our visions and energies unified. Through our sharing of ideas and learning about one another’s efforts, we became aware of the interconnectedness of our purposes. Green politics, antinuclear efforts, and organic methods of agriculture, for example, all have a place within the larger picture of the bioregional movement. And with this awareness came the recognition of our enormous combined potential as one grassroots effort to make our alternative vision for this nation, this continent, and this world become a reality.

EDITOR’S NOTE: You can obtain a copy of the NABC I Congress Proceedings — which includes committee reports, resolutions of the congress, and various articles — for $10 prepaid from the Bioregional Project/NABC, New Life Farm. Copies of the Voice of the Turtle (the four-issue in-congress newsletter) are also available for $3.50 per set prepaid.