Women’s group brings green ‘buzz’ back to Chico
Susan Wooldridge was driving from New Mexico to Chico when she happened on a broadcast that made a big impression.
The public radio show, “Sounds True,” spoke about an environmental conference that—like she was doing—had relocated from Santa Fe to Northern California. Wooldridge, a poet and author, stopped her vehicle to take notes.
“I decided to go,” she recalled last week. “And I dragged my poor son. He was 21—he didn’t want to go.”
The organization that captured her attention back then, in 1999—and holds it to this day—is the Bioneers. Marking its 30th anniversary this year, the nonprofit group describes itself on its website (bioneers.org) as a “hub of social and scientific innovators with practical and visionary solutions for the world’s most pressing environmental and social challenges.”
Its annual conferences, held since 1993 in the Bay Area (San Rafael specifically since 1999), draw acclaimed experts such as environmentalist Bill McKibben, activist-author Naomi Klein and civil rights attorney Valarie Kaur.
“After listening to a few talks, my son, who’s very shy—in this giant auditorium of men and women, no young people—stood up and yelled, ‘Bill McKibben for president!’” Wooldridge said. “He got very excited.”
As did Wooldridge. After settling into her new home, she got involved with the Chico Women’s Club. There she made two friends who share her passion for the environment and proactive solutions: Judy Fox and Rosemary Quinn.
Fox and Quinn began attending Bioneers conferences—and became convinced the Bioneers experience should come to Chico. So, five years later, they inaugurated events at the Women’s Club at which they’d replay videos of conference speakers.
That tradition resumes tonight (Jan. 23), after a 10-year hiatus, with a new element: live presentations. The organizers have invited local speakers to augment the conference talks. Those include Chico Vice Mayor Alex Brown and City Councilman Karl Ory—co-authors of the Chico Green New Deal—and Mechoopda ecological educator and artist Ali Meders-Knight.
The Bioneers series will run three consecutive weeks (see infobox).
“The buzz [conference-goers felt] in the audience was important to me,” Fox said. “I want Chico to get together to create its own buzz, a local buzz, and in creating the program for this month it was important that we have local speakers on local issues as well as the global and national issues presented at the conference.”
The Chico Women’s Club group stopped holding Bioneers screenings after the organization began streaming conference speakers online.
“I thought, ‘Why do we need to do this if people can listen to this in their living rooms?’” Fox explained. “But I’ve since found out from people who used to go how much they miss seeing it and hearing it together as a community.”
Moreover, Wooldridge added, “Chico is central right now; I feel the whole world is focusing on Paradise and the Camp Fire.”
Bioneers focuses on proactivity, answers and positive outlooks, Wooldridge explained. A presenter examining, for instance, gridlocked traffic may discuss how to repurpose highways once new modes of transportation replace cars.
“The reason it’s struck me as so important is it’s unbelievably dedicated to solutions, not problems,” she said. “And [in localized efforts] we keep reinventing the wheel; the Bioneers is worldwide … there’s such a larger vision to connect to.”
The local Bioneers series comprises three topics, with talks culled from three years’ conferences. “News From the Front Lines” tonight features Klein, McKibben and Kaur. “Solutions” (Jan. 30) features Bioneers co-founder Kenny Ausubel, environmentalist Paul Hawken and the activists known as Climbing PoeTree (Alixa Garcia and Naima Penniman), plus Brown and Ory. “Youth and Indigenous Voices” (Feb. 6) features 350.org’s May Boeve and forest biology professor Robin Kimmerer, along with Meders-Knight and student Meleiza Figueroa.
“As hard as any of us work in any particular trench, you get [from these talks] the big picture that everybody is working as hard in other fields as you are in yours, that there are these other worlds you know so little about,” Quinn said. “Somebody brings you up close and personal.”
What would the organizers like participants to glean from the Bioneers events?
“I would like each and every person, in his or her way, to value the rights of nature over corporations,” Fox said.
“For me,” Wooldridge said, “I would like people to take away that there’s a really large network coming together to solve things—a loving network—and there is hope.”
Quinn pointed to the Bioneers’ slogan, “Revolution from the heart of nature,” and typography emphasizing the word “love” within it.
“It must be done with our hearts,” she said. “Anger can be fuel; the urgency [of the climate crisis] can be fuel. But we must be together doing everything, from the heart—and there’s room for everybody in this revolution.”