The first time I attended Bioneers in 2002, I wept. Full of tantalizing ideas, nourishment and insights delivered by outstanding "movement" heavies, conversations with new colleagues also doing "the work," and floating with inspiration and aspiration, I was overcome by a sense of how much human excellence and spirit had been drawn together under one roof in service to Mother Earth, Father Sky, and the Ocean of All Our Ancestors. What touched me so deeply was how the intersection of movements – environmental, social, racial, and spiritual – was realized so beautifully in the Bioneers agenda.
Luminaries as well as common everyday front-line workers stood shoulder to shoulder for four days, witnessing and supporting each other's The plenary speeches, workshops, receptions, meals, and, even the outdoor marketplace of booths hummed with energies of hope, deep intelligence, activist consciousness, responsibility, service, purpose, and pleasure.
My tears were, in part, on behalf of all the people with AIDS who had introduced me to the wonders and heartbreak of activism beginning in 1985. "It's the only game in town," said my friend, Don Schmidt, a legendary "systems activist." A handsome lion of courage and charisma, Don inspired me to do things I had never dreamed of doing before – to raise money and advocate for public policies that might protect or help people who were marginalized because of their color-class-sexual orientation-or culture, to drive across the border into Mexico to smuggle experimental retroviral drugs back into the U.S., to testify in front of the New Mexico legislature, to counsel priests and ministers on how to extend pastoral care to dying patients and their families, to establish a rural mail order pharmacy to serve the Navajo Nation, and more – all so that the killer epidemic no one knew how to stop or control in those early days could be a catalyst for change.
Being identified with the AIDS epidemic was not my first experience as "a movement chick." Having already participated in the anti-war movement, the women's liberation movement, the farm workers' movement, and various organizing efforts, I had seen how different issues often divided and polarized support rather than brought people together in a united force field. And, while the AIDS epidemic looked, at first, to be just a medical issue focused on a mysterious infectious disease, it eventually mobilized changes across a spectrum of issues that brought about revolutionary progress in doctor-patient relationships, drug research, public health policies and services, sexual practices, gender and racial reconciliation, civil disobedience, literature, artistic expression and much more. It was a deeply challenging, tragic, and auspicious time in human development – a time when connecting issues and people triumphed over separation and isolation.
Now, at Bioneers, the conference I had wanted to attend for many years, I saw how other movements were trying to dance together. How environmentalists and indigenous people were beginning to talk. How communities of color and conservationists could sit down at the same table, begin to speak in different tongues, and emerge with the first words of a common language.
At this year's Bioneers (2010), Tides is once again co-hosting a panel that seeks to bring more depth and rigor to the values and practices of environmental advocacy work. "Everybody's Movement: Environmental Justice and Climate Change," is a remarkable paper written and published in 2009 by Angela Park, Executive Director of Diversity Matters. It is particularly aimed at educating us about how "many people of color and low-income communities regard climate change and the environment as priorities," but those issues are framed as environmental justice issues – the ways in which climate change affects communities, impacts public health, and is intertwined with social justice, transportation and labor issues.
Jane Lin, Senior Philanthropic Advisor, who facilitates Tides' funding efforts on such areas as the Gulf Coast Oil Spill and Tar Sands of Canada, will join me and three others in a spirited panel discussion. Come join Mary Gonzales, California Director of the Gamaliel Foundation, Maya Garza, Development Associate of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, and Jakada Imani. Executive Director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights as we listen and learn from each other at Bioneers on Saturday, October 16, 2010.
john a. powell is also speaking during one of the plenary sessions on Sunday, October 17. He is a Tides board member and an internationally recognized authority in civil rights and liberties, structural racialization, ethnicity, housing, poverty and democracy.
Bioneers annual conference is being held in San Rafael, California, from October 15 – 17. It is a unique gathering that offers unparalleled opportunities for donor education, networking and learning. Bioneers features leading-edge innovators and visionaries with breakthrough solutions for people and the planet. As a large networking gathering, participants can hear or meet up with projects and people whose work may resonate with yours. Much of the conference is devoted to Earth Justice, environmental education, conservation and protecting wildlands and creatures, racial justice, women's leadership and youth initiatives. Thought leaders and activitsts explore issues of localization, community organzing, srt for social change, eco-psychology, consciousness and climate change. The full program is viewable at http://www.bioneers.org/conference.