Ecotopia 2007

Ecotopia is an annual gathering of environmental and social justice activists. This is what it might say on the website of the host organisation but for me ecotopia has become so much more. I have been to four ecotopias and it is becoming like a pilgrimage for me. Ecotopia takes place in a diferent country each year.This year it was in the Algarve in the south of Portugal. The first one I went to was in Holland in 2004. In the intervening years Ecotopia has been hosted by organisation in Moldova and Slovakia.

Ecotopia is a self organising camp with no hierarchy in how it is run. Participants take part in all aspects of the camp from cooking and woodchopping to building/maintaining the toilets. Everyone brings a tent and a temporary village springs up in a field or on a river’s bank. The camping area is always a nice place to chill out or take a nap in the daytime. There is bound to be someone having a chocolate feast or strumming on a guitar nearby and you generally get to know your neighboursBack in the main, central area there is bound to be lots happening. Workshops will be going on in the tents and various other meeting points outside. Smoke may be drifting across the campsite from the cooking area where the kitchen coordinator will be whirling around as volunteers chop carrots or other vegetables and get to know each other. Not everyone will be helping or at workshops and there are likely to be plenty of easily joinable knots of people sitting around having a smoke or a chat.

A typical day at Ecotopia starts with the wake up call. This could be someone singing and playing guitar or someone shouting good morning in many languages. The wake up call is something people volunteer for so its whatever noise those people can make that they think might be nice to wake up to. One of my favourite memories of Ecotopia in Holland is of getting out of my tent while the wake up call was still being played on the tin whistle. Ecotopia that year was on an island in a river and there was a mist all around. The sun was just starting to disperse the mist, but it clung to the ground among all the tents, still full of sleeping Ecotopians. It was one of the Irish guys Eoin playing the whistle. At the time he had dreads down to his waist and he really completed the picture as he walked among the tents playing his tune. It was a scene that I won’t forget.

After breakfast, morning circle is held in the biggest tent or main gathering area. Morning circle is the main decision making process for ecotopia. It is facilitated by two different people each morning who have the task of leading silly warm up games and more importantly, keeping to the timeframe and making sure different voices are heard. It is at morning circle that people volunteer for different task including facilitating the next morning circle. Also the timetable of workshops for that day is announced. Any major concerns that people have with anything happening in the camp are also brought up in the circle, and dealt with by the camp community as a whole.

The workshops are one of the best things about ecotopia. I have learnt so much from a truly broad range of people about lots of different issues. I remember first learning about the huge impacts that flying has on the climate from a British guy from the organisation rising tide who had cycled to Holland. This year I had to guess how much energy various different appliances used in a carbon reduction workshop. Harder than you might think! I have been inspired by the fabulous clowning workshop in Slovakia when someone ended up in the compost bin! Workshops are often given by local activists and it is really nice to visit an area and learn about the political struggles going on in that region. It is not always a one way flow of information as the non hierarchical organisation of ecotopia asserts itself throughout camp life. I well remember learning about what strong feelings the disputed territory of transneistria arouses when a workshop in Moldova developed into a heated debate.

Evenings in Ecotopia are never dull. In Portugal campfires weren’t allowed due to the obvious dangers of it spreading across the dry ground. However in other years my abiding memories are of nights around the campfire. Dancing complicated traditional dances or making up silly games involving rolling around in the grass and as the nights draw one sitting more peacefully and listening to music or just getting to chat to young activists from all over Europe. There also are more organised nights of entertainment, including the wonderful ecovision, when each country performs an act. This is usually a song but not always and this year the German contingent had the whole audience in giggles with a wonderful mime parody about German efficiency.

The Irish at Ecotopia have become quite a phenomenon often even rivalling the host country for the number of participants. I hear more Irish spoken in far flung countries such as Moldova and Slovakia than all the rest of the year at home. Thanks to Roisin, I’ve learned more Irish dance moves outside of Ireland than in. It was at ecotopia that I first heard of Gluaiseacht and decided to get involved. In fact considering the great Irish attendance at Ecotopias in the past, it is a bit disappointing that there isn’t a stronger grassroots environmental movement in Ireland. Hopefully that will all change soon and I hope some of the skills and ideas gained from Ecotopias can start to seep through. I look forward to seeing the colour and vibrancy that I love filling and driving the movement in Ireland.

I have probably not done justice in this short article to what Ecotopia means to others.. I am by no means an authority on Ecotopia, many people have been going for years and years. Talking to them makes me sorry I missed so many, especially the one that was held in Ireland in county Clare in 2002. People talk of mud fights and saunas and it all sounds like it was great craic. From a very personal point of view what keeps me going back is that it recharges my batteries. Not only do I get to learn so much about issues that are important, but it is really refreshing to find other young people who really care too and it drives me on to do more when I see how hard and with such amazing energy other activists work.

Everyone will gain different things from Ecotopia and find different elements of it more important than others. A good friend of mine came to Ecotopia one year in part due to my harping on about how much I’d learnt and how inspiring it was. One night when everyone was leaping around for some reason she came over and said
“Why didn’t you tell me Ecotopia was so much fun?”

See you all next year in Turkey!!


Ecotopia 2002 Ireland - coverage from TnaG