This piece was originally published in Cascadia Spoke, a community publication dedicated to raising awareness of the Cascadia movement and bioregionalism.
This article is a bit unusual, which is, in fact, part of its purpose. Instead of having a single author, it is the product of a collaborative effort by seven individuals, all living in different places around the world and who are part of a larger group called the Bioregional Catalysts (BCs).
This composition is a living exercise for the BCs who are actively experimenting with how to approach tasks and objectives as Commons, thus minimizing emphasis on individualized ownership of the work. This has made the process of the writing itself as integral to the group’s purpose as the production of a finished product. Another anomaly here is that while this article has a beginning and an ending, with several points of interest in between, the discourse it contains isn’t complete. Like an old-fashioned Polaroid picture that starts blank while shapes and colors begin to materialize so that a recognizable image can be discerned, the story of the BCs is still emerging and awaiting full definition.
That said, it very clearly begins with a singularly pressing issue: planetary collapse. Regardless of the forum or platform in which it is raised, planetary collapse is always a complex and disturbing subject. Just saying those words can trigger strong emotional reactions, not to mention social and political turmoil caused by the many differences in understanding and acceptance of what is actually occurring on Earth at this time. These differences run the gamut from militant denial, to the wide middle range of those who believe that life on earth is at risk but there is still time to change and avoid collapse, all the way to those who consider themselves “collapse aware.”
This small but growing contingent, when presented with compelling narratives such as Joe Brewer’s book The Design Pathway for Regenerating Earth, understands that collapse is already underway. This understanding, which acknowledges both the complexities of our biosphere and that we aren’t separate from nature, comes with the hope of a sobering-but-plausible path to restore planetary balance and health.
Bioregionalism, as a movement, invites all humanity into a new paradigm where social, economic, and decentralized governing structures prioritize ecosystemic independence with land, water, life and living systems.
It is at this end of the perspective-continuum that the BCs live, learn and find their purpose. They are answering the call to create the cultural scaffolding of relationships and resources necessary for establishing a world wide network of bioregional hubs for sharing wisdom, learning, and other vital resources. Like any pioneering process, it has started with more questions than answers.
Currently, Bioregional Catalysts is a 77-member subset of a larger group called Earth Regenerators, a decentralized ecosystem of people and activities held together by a global platform of more than 3,400 members worldwide. Earth Regenerators is two years into a discovery process that begins with building productive, equitable and collaborative groups through prosocial gatherings based on evolutionary science. Group configurations have been forming organically around a variety of common interests and innovations with a consistent focus on cultivating emotional regulation and psychological flexibility for the constituent members. Out of these groups, capacity for regenerative leadership is evolving and inspiring new strategies for living and working in this transitional time when existing systems and structures are giving way to emerging bioregional paradigms. Many of these strategies focus on regenerative action in the real time settings and situations wherever the individual members find themselves.
Bioregional Catalysts is one such evolving group within the Earth Regenerators prosocial framework. Initiated and stewarded by Benji Ross, it is attracting a growing number of bioregional “Weavers,” another descriptive label for those who are exploring and engaging in this living laboratory. However, beyond the labels, establishing comprehensive definitions for the people and activities of this movement is an ongoing challenge. To understand what BCs are, we need to look at what they do. Some close synonyms might be network builders and/or community organizers. However, these common terms are associated with transactional relationships contextually familiar to us from the marketplace, non-profits, and political activism where groups are separate with limited opportunities or incentive for generative collaboration. As such, they don’t adequately reflect the relational aspects of interdependence, decentralization, and the holding of prosocial Commons that are essential aspects of effective bioregionalism.
Bioregional weaving is a form of social cross-pollination. By initiating dynamic processes that connect social and economic systems at multiple levels, BCs seek to create coherence across the entire system by encouraging the system to become visible to itself as an intergrated whole.
Individual BCs are forerunners who may be deeply committed to a particular place, but not always. Members also cultivate bioregionalism, or “bioregioning,” in virtual “placeless spaces” currently called bio-cyber-regions. This designation acknowledges a common experience in our world, often an outgrowth of our globalized civilization, where many people live mobile lives, or in other ways may not be living in a physical location where they can currently dedicate their on-ground lives. Recognizing this placeless space makes it possible for anyone, anywhere to fully participate in bioregioning, directly or indirectly. And yet, being a Bioregional Catalyst is more than an individual role or job description. It is a collective learning journey as well as a supportive, generative community that is becoming an integral component of an emerging ecological, social and cultural paradigm of bioregionalism.
As a learning cohort, BCs come together from around the world for weekly Zoom meetings, exploring subjects and ideas proposed and chosen by the participants. One especially productive activity, stewarded by BC Penny Heiple, has been the use of a prosocial ACT Matrix that has helped develop group cohesion and articulating shared values and purposes. A number of defining statements about the identity and intentions of BCs, individually and as a collective, have come to light through this process. These include being comfortable with complexity and paradox, cultivating life balance and appropriate boundaries, engaging in inner work and shadow work, dropping victimhood and cultivating empowerment, as well as being a community of mutual support and honesty.
Looking ahead, during a BC session in early January, the subject of aspirations for the new year was raised and received a variety of fulsome responses. Among them were many expressed intentions for deepening relationships within the BCs as well as for reaching out to potential collaborative partners and opportunities outside the group. There was a general agreement that the BCs desire more confidence in articulating and promoting the concepts of Bioregionalism as well as promoting the benefits that Bioregional Weavers offer to their respective communities and the world at large.
There have been several energetic conversations about vocational development for Weavers through the creation of a guild that would coordinate internships and apprenticeships for bringing new people into this work, as well as provide the structures for engaging with public and private funding sources. It is agreed among the group that developing social and economic support for this work, and for the people who are blazing a trail forward, is at the top of the current priority list.
It is an exciting time to be part of this burgeoning movement but it is not without considerable challenges, most notably how much is unknown.
As with the experiment of writing this article, there is no tried and true template, no assurances of outcome, nor any reliable gauges to measure how it will be received.
The Bioregional Catalysts are learning by doing and evolving as they learn, which is arguably the most intriguing and salient attribute of this group to date.