The environmental community of SLO County converged upon the Oak Glen Pavilion to take a break from bad headlines and combative politics and get some much-needed positive input at the 9th annual Central Coast Bioneers Conference, held on November 3. Attendees were greeted with drumming by Timo Beckwith as they dined on breakfast prepared by SLO Natural Foods Co-op. The morning was spent watching four of the keynote speakers from the National Bioneers Conference whose talks had been videotaped. Breaks were taken with the exhibitors outside and free kombucha on tap, courtesy of Whalebird Kombucha. Reports were made by Charles Varni of the Coalition to Protect SLO County and Sharon Rippner on the Environmental Voter Project. The Erin Inglish Trio entertained the lunch crowd as they had soup and sandwiches prepared by Natural Foods.
The conference revved into high speed after lunch with an energetic performance presentation by author Paul Engler, who had the audience at various times clapping and up on their feet as he explored social movements and the strategies and tactics it takes to win. He compared the quiet, steady, one-on-one work of community organizing with the splash of civil disobedience and public demonstrations and how each have their place in transforming a society. A really enlightening discussion was around how movements can change the conversation permanently and significant ways without necessarily becoming institutionalized as a permanent entity. An example of this is the Occupy movement. Although the movement itself has largely dissipated, none of the banking reforms that took place would have been possible without it. And “the 99 percent” has become a permanent part of our language. During his workshop, Paul split the attendees up into three separate groups to brainstorm the positive and negative impacts of personal transformation, changing dominant institutions, and coming up with alternatives to the current institutions.
Our closing was beautifully performed by Roberto Monge, who shared with us a beautiful Lenca Nation creation story. He and Erin Inglish sang a duet that the audience joined in on.
The post-conference event, Peace of the Circle, was attended by 12 people and was very enlightening. Dr. Evelyn Zeller led us through the beginning stages of these deep method of intentionally designed yet flexible methodology for communication and change. There is an art to meeting people where they are and then inviting them to another place in a respectful way.
Many thanks to the hardworking volunteers without whom we could not put on this conference, and the generous attendees who donated funds to pay for scholarships for students to attend. See you next year!