Regional Tapestry of Alternatives reflections: Leadership of the Ecozoic

Exploring a regional tapestry for northeastern North America: initial steps and reflections

By Matthew Burke 1) and Juliana Neira 2)

The GTA community recognizes the importance of regional networks within a broader global tapestry. How can we meet this challenge within capitalist, colonialist, and imperialist “centers”, so antithetical to alternatives even emerging, let alone the flourishing? Here we share and reflect upon our initial experiences in collectively identifying and promoting a network of alternatives in the region of so-called northeastern North America. Despite the challenges, we believe this regional approach provides a necessary scale of action for realizing the GTA vision.

In May 2023, six members of the Leadership for the Ecozoic (L4E) program together organized a session for the conference, The Great Transition: Struggling in Times of Global Crisis. Hosted by the Historical Materialism network, Alternatives, and others, this four-day international event in Tiohtià:ke/Montréal, Canada brought together citizens, activists, academics, and community organizers to address the need for “a real project of transition out of capitalism, based on critical knowledge produced both in the university and in social movements.” As introduced in Weaving Alternatives #10, our group contributed a session through the L4E Ecozoic Policy Project entitled “Regional Tapestry of Alternatives: Exploring Ecological Political Economies for the Northeast Region.”

Poster by Deissy Perilla Daza and Matthew Burke. Image credit: Europe as the New World - Jordan Engel

L4E is a university network working towards a vision of the future founded on mutually enhancing relationships between human societies and the planetary community of life. Increasingly, we focus efforts towards realizing this vision within the region where our core university programs are based. Such efforts are challenged by realities on the ground, which typify both the “best and worst” of globalized modernity. This northeast region demonstrates complex patterns of enduring and emergent life-affirming modes of living, intimately enmeshed within the most unrelenting forces of their destruction. Inspiring our session, we therefore took it as critical to find, connect, and learn across this region from old and new “threads of alternatives” capable of supporting flourishing communities of life.

First Nations of Northeastern America -Luc Normandin / Musée des Abénakis

To do so, we prepared a set of alternatives that we believe offers contemporary expressions of the common criteria for alternatives, meaning those that break with patriarchy, capitalism, racism, colonialism, nation-state domination, and anthropocentrism. We examined various inspiring alternatives as relevant to this region including bioregionalism, commons, degrowth, eco-anarchism, eco-socialism, Indigenous and decolonial governance, pluriversal post-development, post-industrialism, social ecology / municipalism, wellbeing economy, and others. Through monthly meetings guided by sociocracy principles striving for equitable voice and contribution among all of us, we chose nine alternatives for this session, sharing the work to research and draft summaries for each alternative. We briefly describe several alternatives here. The set of alternatives as prepared for this session are available through our shared folder.

Bioregionalism: A “region definable by natural (rather than political) boundaries with a geographic, climatic, hydrological, and ecological character” (Thayer, 2003). Bioregions integrate the biophysical, i.e., the landscape and living beings, and the cultural, related to the peoples living in the bioregion. As a philosophy, it connects people and ideas within place in sustainable, just, and democratic ways.

Commons and commoning: A paradigm of social organization grounded in solidarity, care, cooperation, and ecosystem stewardship to sustainably meet communities’ social and material needs. Commoning actions resist market-based and top-down reliance and contest the misconception of the so-called tragedy of the commons, which described not a commons, but rather an ungoverned open-access system.

Degrowth: A movement committed to respecting ecological limits by collaboratively developing strategies to downscale production and consumption while building thriving human communities. It is a “ruthless critique to the dogma of … [infinite and continuous] economic growth” (Kallis, 2018, p. vii), calling for the substitution of GDP with better indicators of human and ecological well-being.

Ecofeminism: Based on the ideas that women’s marginalization and environmental domination are linked, ecofeminism challenges mainstream notions of the ecological crises as proposed through the lens of patriarchal and capitalist societies. Perspectives from the Global South have further challenged essentialism and elitism from white feminism, adding intersectionality, local-historical knowledge production, and notions of body and territory as places of resistance.

Ecological law and Nature’s rights: A plurality of place-based law founded in human-inclusive ecocentrism, ecological primacy, and ecological justice. Increasingly recognized as a new paradigm apart from environmental law, focused on establishing and maintaining mutually enhancing relationships between humans and the broader communities of life.

Indigenous sovereignty and decolonization: In the face of ongoing settler colonialism, understood as a form of resistance by relating to land differently, usually by a way of stewardship (Alfred, 1999) that demonstrates high biodiversity rates (Schuster et al., 2019). The entangled history of imperialisms, capitalisms, and colonialisms complicates decolonization, yet indigenous sovereignty is important in elucidating anti-colonial praxis.

Social ecology: Understanding social and ecological concerns as fundamentally inseparable, meaning ecological crises cannot be resolved without confronting hierarchies within society. Social ecology is practiced in cities, towns, and neighborhoods, governing through direct popular assemblies, challenging parochialism, and encouraging interdependence to promote reharmonizing society within nature.

A Turtle Island Atlas! – resilience

Our aims for the session were to promote and connect ecocentric political economies in northeast North America (Turtle Island) that align with the criteria of GTA, and to identify and create a dialogue between different post-capitalist models across this region. We structured the session using an open space meeting format, allowing flexible time and space for deeper discussions on these regional alternatives. Open space sessions operate under a small set of principles to provide just enough structure for spontaneous discussions: 1) whoever come are the right people; 2) whatever happens is the only thing that could have; 3) whenever it starts is the right time; and 4) when it’s over, it’s over. Open space also follows the law of personal mobility: if you find yourself where you are not learning or contributing, move to where you are.

We organized the room with nine stations, each with handouts to aid discussion. After introducing ourselves and explaining the format, we held the open space for about 30-40 minutes, and closed with a facilitated group discussion. For each station, we invited participants to consider the question, how do we envision and realize this alternative for our region? We encouraged participants to consider topics including real-world examples, opportunities, concerns, enabling conditions, and processes for transition. The actual content of each discussion emerged through the interactions among participants. In this way, the GTA community further informed this session: creating a space of collaboration and exchange, learning about and from each other, critically and constructively challenging each other, interweaving regional initiatives in common actions, and providing visibility to inspire people to create their own initiatives.

We found several challenges in this initial exploration of regional alternatives. First, a good challenge is the great plurality of initiatives attempting to realize differently—projects that center life. These alternatives often overlap in their premises to transition beyond capitalism and associated oppressive systems. However, in their efforts to challenge these systems, initiatives often lack capacity to connect with larger networks. Our session therefore only initiated a process to weave and strengthen regional networks, embracing the emergence that comes from connecting alternatives and from finding alternative ways of connecting.

The open space format allowed for parallel discussions to take place without prescribed expectations, with participants encouraged to engage openly with self-generated topics for as long as they wish. We believe this way of sharing knowledge and experiences, following interests intuitively, can enable genuine interactions, honest discussions, and new relationships. However, with limited familiarity, participants were reluctant to freely switch stations. In future iterations, we would explain and model the dynamics of an open space more clearly and provide specific opportunities for people to rotate and engage across groups, as making these connections across multiple alternatives is fundamental.

Our set of alternatives are relevant to the regional context where we live and work, and the Great Transition conference venue was fitting for our topic. As a limitation, this conference had an overall focus on and lens from the Global North, suggesting opportunities to engage alternatives, perspectives, and citizens from other regions, cultural backgrounds, and diverse lived experiences. On the other hand, developing a regional identity, narrative, and agenda is far from straightforward. Even among those actively seeking alternatives, we are often constrained—imaginatively, politically, materially—in our ability to develop and prioritize a regional orientation.

In view of rapid organizing of authoritarian projects, proponents oriented to ecology and justice must elaborate details. We need to discuss and experiment among different theories, practices, and visions beyond capitalism, think strategically about how to make them a reality, and ensure they are just, transformative, and ecologically beneficial. This brief experience offers insight for confronting the challenges of supporting new regional networks. In our commitment as part of L4E and GTA, we will further refine our materials for different uses, and organize, connect, and collaborate with diverse alternatives across our bioregion and beyond. We welcome folks to contact us if interested in using our materials, and to continue this conversation, share experiences, and support a regional network guided by learning and reflection.


The authors deeply appreciate the contributions and support of our session co-organizers and participants, and the Leadership for the Ecozoic program.


Alfred, T. (1999). Peace, Power, Righteousness: An Indigenous Manifesto. Oxford University Press.

Kallis, G. 2018. Degrowth. Newcastle upon Tyne, UK: Agenda Publishing.

Schuster, R., Germain, R. R., Bennett, J. R., Reo, N. J., & Arcese, P. (2019). Vertebrate biodiversity on Indigenous-managed lands in Australia, Brazil, and Canada equals that in protected areas. Environmental Science & Policy, 101, 1–6.

Thayer, R. L. (2003). LifePlace: Bioregional thought and practice. University of California Press.

Matthew Burke is a Research Associate in the Department of Community Development and Applied Economics and Leadership for the Ecozoic at the University of Vermont. Matthew’s recent research addresses political economy and ecology, sufficiency, post-growth just transitions, energy democracy, and energy justice, with additional teaching experience in food systems futures, food justice, environmental policy, and popular political education. Matthew is an affiliate with the Gund Institute for Environment and a Collaborator with the Institute for Agroecology at UVM.
Juliana Neira is a PhD student at the University of Vermont, USA, studying power and sustainability in food systems. Juliana is a fellow of Leadership for the Ecozoic, affiliated with the Institute for Agroecology and the Gund Institute for Environment. Her research explores intersections between place-based education, public policy, and agroecology in Brazil. Juliana is from Bogotá, Colombia, has a background in biology and sociocultural anthropology, and has been a schoolteacher in Colombia, USA, S. Korea, Spain, and Trinidad and Tobago, inspiring political awareness and activism. Juliana loves snorkeling, arts, and engaging with initiatives grounded in solidarity and care.