By Brandon Letsinger
From Eugene to Portland: a Weekend Report Back
As with the earlier day, and the night before, it continues to dump rain. The nearby river runs with a muddy brown color, and all around we’re surrounded by the verdant green of moss dripping from evergreen branches. It must be the beginning of the Cascadian Spring.
The six of us are huddled around a white van, eyes slightly glazed over. Mel is smart and the only one inside staying dry while Casey gives Tavis an introduction on the proper etiquette of drinking raw egg. Much like shot gunning a beer, they slam each end on the corner of the van door, before downing the dairy product. Devin decides he needs one too. Mike and I try not to laugh too hard as Tavis works to get the extra part out of his beard.
The van we’re surrounding belongs to Cascadia Matters, a collective of writers, artists, educators and media activists out of Bend who are working right now to finish their documentary Occupied Cascadia. They’re parked just outside of City of Eugene Campbell Community Center and we’re all bit exhausted after attending the 8-hour open space conference on building Community and Bioregional Resilience.
Hosted by the organization Unifying Cascadia, a network of groups from Corvallis, Ashland, Eugene and Portland that formed earlier in the month after setting up a speaking tour for author Charles Eisenstein, the conference brought close to 50 organizers together to discuss issues surrounding bioregionalism, community resiliency and envisioning strategies for regional networking and coordination. Among the topics talked about were building local food systems, local currency exchange projects, gift/alternative economic ideas, importance of peer to peer and decentralized organizing structures, buy local and sustainability movements among many others. The conference was held in an ‘open space’ format that allowed for participants to design the focus of the event, and allowed for anyone to submit a workshop and panel. The format worked to help catalyze and create space for collaborative discussions around a host of issues and placed emphasis on making sure individuals were where they wanted to be. Don’t like the chosen discussion? Leave. Have something you find very interesting? Host a workshop or talk.
Coming from Seattle, our primary interest lay heavily in envisioning a bioregional network. Hence, a large portion of the day for us revolved around creating a collaborative dialogue with the Cascadia Matters, Unifying Cascadia and Portland folks over what this network would look like and how we can better coordinate and mutually support our projects. Organization went into talking with the Bend people how we could use the opening of their film to help launch a bioregional film opening tour to help new groups that are forming collaborate, as well as a lot of talk with Portland about organizing around a July 1st – 4th convergence of some sort in the symbolically important place of the peace arch, in between Victoria Day in Canada on the 1st, and Independence Day on the 4th.
The next day dawned with only intermittent rain storms and we were lucky enough to be able to grab some great breakfast, coffee and the occasional patch of blue sky with Patrick and his housemates who had organized the weekend event and provided us with sleeping space (and 2 very cuddly cats) before we headed back northward.
On the way, we stopped off in Portland, to continue many of the collaborative discussions that we’d begun in Eugene the day before. Adam and Abby from the Seattle group also joined us, as well as Ian, who helped form the Olympia chapter of the CascadiaNow group and is doing a documentary about the Cascadia movement as a student project at Evergreen University.
In Portland, we were lucky enough to meet with Alexander Baretich, designer of the Cascadian flag in 1994, Illona who is responsible for organizing Cascadia merchandise, having now sold or distributed more than 500 flags, and working now towards creating a centralized online store, as well Lumen, who has been integral in organizing the recent Cascadia potlucks. Meeting at the Foster Eco-Village, we were able to really focus on organizational strategies that we could work towards in the future. Portland, Olympia and Seattle folks were all able to share projects they had been working on, talk about what a Cascadian space and group looks like, and what roles and interactions with things like the Occupy movement should look like, as well as setting several different mutual projects and events that we’ll be working together on in the future.
These collaborative discussions have helped continue a transition that’s been taking place over the last several months as people begin to get active and meet face to face that has transformed the organizational structure of the Cascadian Independence Project into a group and network of groups dedicated to raising awareness of Cascadia, mobilizing people interested in the idea, and working to support and connect these individuals to support and empower our communities throughout the northwest.