Letter from the Publisher: Building Resilient Communities Convergence

Posted by – October 21, 2015
Categories: Ecology & Sustainability Event Info

Hello friends,

October is a busy month, filled with exciting events and opportunities for engagement, such as Bioneers and the Science and Nonduality Conference, both proudly sponsored by North Atlantic Books. As I write, I am just returning from the Building Resilient Communities Convergence in Hopland, California, collaboratively organized by a group of dedicated Bay Area activists. Held at the fantastic Solar Living Institute, the convergence gathered the regional permaculture tribe, Transition Town folks, and eco-activists for education, connection, and community. It was a time to connect with friends, old and new, as well as an opportunity to explore the state of specific initiatives and the greater arc of regional and global efforts to deal with climate change and its impacts.

Having last visited this event in 2013, my immediate impression was how much it has grown. There were many more people attending as well as expanded participation by new organizations and vendors. There was also a notable increase in diversity: an expanded younger presence as well as a more diverse racial makeup. A lack of diversity had been a concern in past years and it was heartening to see progress being made in this area.

There was a noticeable expansion of the themes explored and activities available. While the core focus remained permaculture and its core principles and application, there were presentations ranging from local currencies and economic resilience to trauma work and women-centered leadership. The village commons included a bodywork tent, a sound healing space, and a “temple” for grief work among other offerings. This expansion reflects a growing awareness of the integrated nature of the wider transformational movement and the need for self-care.

Over the course of the event, there were two clear themes that emerged. The first was an unmistakable positivity about local efforts. From the recent Permaculture Action Tour to the launch of the NorCal Community Resilience Network, there was a collective feeling of accomplishment and celebration. This feeling was bolstered by the fact that the greater collective rarely all comes together so it had the feel of a reunion of sorts, with people coming from all over Northern California as well as Southern Oregon, New Mexico, Nevada, the East Coast, and Europe.

But the celebration was tempered by the other theme that emerged: a concern that change is not happening fast enough to head off the challenges we face. I experienced this in many conversations, where people were eager, even a bit frantic to act, but were struggling with where to put their energies. Some people seemed overwhelmed by the enormity of the task at hand even while sharing their appreciation and excitement for all the good things they were hearing. It raised questions about the state of the greater permaculture and sustainability movements and reinforced for me the need for tools to do personal work—as author Carolyn Baker likes to say: “preparing your inner bunker.”

In hearing this mix of celebration and concern, I moved through the event listening for clues to rectify these conflicts. During the panel called Permaculture: An International Lens—which included Sustainable Revolution author Juliana Birnbaum and author, activist, and visionary Starhawk—the themes of structure and decision-making were discussed. Many of the organizations involved in the convergence actively seek structural models that deemphasize traditional business frames and eschew top-down management, laudable efforts. Many organizations are enacting tribal or community governance models, which can be very empowering at all levels. But as Starhawk discussed, while avoiding structures that disempower, these approaches can become counterproductive. As she put it, “Top-down hierarchy should not be confused with organization.” This is an important point for many progressive organizations to remember in order to make decisions in an efficient and effective way while still acknowledging the need to engage and empower all of the group’s members. It is a critical balance, especially as individuals are feeling such a sense of urgency.

But if the time to act is now, where do individuals put their energy and efforts? As noted above, motivation was not lacking at the convergence but I did get the sense that people are trying to find the most effective activities for their time and energy. So it was a breath of fresh air to listen to the talk on Designing Systemic Change Processes by Joel Glanzberg. Joel, a farmer, teacher, storyteller, and longtime permaculturist, reminded us that permaculture is not a way of acting, but a way of seeing, and that we cannot be successful shifting problematic patterns with the same mechanistic thinking that created them. In other words, it is critical to shift our thinking to new patterns, ultimately to being more in balance with the world around us. It was a strong reminder for the audience and inspired a lot of potent discussion. In speaking with him later, Joel gently critiqued many popular permaculture efforts (as well as his own), considering them a form of “symptoms management” as opposed to the greater shifts needed.

Starhawk and Joel provide some ideas to help understand how the incremental successes are not able to address the grief about the challenges ahead. It is clear that effective decision-making structures that balance people and process are imperative. Starhawk put it well when she said, “We need to create less institutional institutions.” But we also need to refresh progressive decision-making processes with a renewed focus, one that looks for the root causes of our current patterns in order to make small changes that have big impacts. This involves revisiting the roots of permaculture, indigenous practices, and living systems to inform our decisions and organizations. As Joel stressed, nature does not compete or cooperate: it maintains the appropriate tension and indigenous wisdom is rooted in these balanced systems. The wide-ranging and increasingly integrated pieces of the convergence program and village commons, particularly those incorporating self-care, demonstrate that we’re exploring the right questions and are on the right path.
 

Douglas Reil
Publisher/Executive Director
North Atlantic Books

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About the Author

Douglas Reil is a publishing industry veteran with more than twenty-five years served in various roles. Formerly the Publisher and Executive Director at the nonprofit trade publisher North Atlantic Books, he began his career with a six-year stint at Inland Book Company followed by a decade at Publishers Group West. Prior to joining North Atlantic, he built a web-based CRM system at Interschola, a B-Corp that assists schools in distributing surplus assets. In 2011 he founded Bay Food Shed, a community-based organization that creates initiatives at the intersection of local food and the gift economy.