An elaborate mushroom sculpture in a conference hall
The Bioneers conference is being held April 6-8 in Berkeley. Courtesy: Bioneers

If you happen to be in downtown Berkeley or on the UC Berkeley campus this week, there’s a higher than usual chance you could run into a notable activist, environmentalist or politician.

The 34th annual Bioneers conference, bringing together leaders of  environmental and other social justice movements from around the country, will be held on the Cal campus and in venues across downtown Berkeley from Thursday to Saturday. It’s Berkeley’s first time hosting the conference, which has usually been held at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco. 

This year’s lineup of around 200 speakers includes the writer Rebecca Solnit, U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, whale biologist Shane Gero and Saru Kayaraman, president of the One Fair Wage coalition. Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín and schools advocate and chef Alice Waters will also be speaking.

Free, outdoor interactive art exhibits will be coming to Berkeley’s streets as a part of the conference. Allston Way between Shattuck and Oxford will be closed to traffic between 12:20 p.m. and 5 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday to make way for a giant street mural painting — using non-toxic tempera and natural clay paints, of course — and a display of climate justice-themed art by Bay Area artists David Solnit (Rebecca Solnit’s brother), Kellie Bornhoft, Nimisha Doongarwa and Tracy Flanagan. 

“The fundamental goal is to actually gather changemakers, people, organizations who are working across a wide swath of movements to come and get together at an annual event, to basically cross-pollinate, to share ideas,” said Teo Grossman, Bioneers’ senior director of programs and research. 

YouTube video

Bioneers, a nonprofit founded in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 1990, aims to highlight “interdisciplinary and practical solutions” to pressing issues, from fighting climate change to safeguarding democracy, Grossman said. 

For most, a ticket to the conference itself (not including the free art exhibits) will cost $450, though discounts are available for seniors and students. About 2,500 are registered to attend. Videos of the panel discussions will be posted online after the summit concludes, according to the organizers.

This week’s activities will also include evening film screenings at the David Brower Center and Indigeneity, a Native-led “conference within a conference” that includes seven panels on topics including the landback movement, Indigenous climate solutions and tribal identity. 

“This is not about coming up with new ideas so much as figuring out how we actually take action and implement,” Grossman said. 

Avatar photo

Iris Kwok covers the environment for Berkeleyside through a partnership with Report for America. A former music journalist, her work has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, KQED, San Francisco Examiner...