This spring, the ten-day Village Building Convergence (VBC) event played out across the streets of Portland. There was a wide variety of community-based projects to participate in, from painting large murals at intersections to constructing an urban duck pond.

Ticketed events were also scheduled in the evenings of the VBC, each with their own theme and unique set of speakers and activities.

The VBC is produced by City Repair, a nonprofit based in Portland with a focus on improving the community through street beautification and permaculture projects.

To gain a better understanding of the VBC and its community and goals, I signed up to volunteer for their “Justice, Humility, and Recovery” event on June 8th. The event featured two speakers, Shilo George and Starhawk, as well as musical performances by Flying Caravan and Blacque Butterfly.

The hours leading up to the official start of the night were a flurry of activity as chairs were laid out, food was prepared, spaces were spruced up, and ticketing was organized. I shuttled from one task to the next; first laying out rugs and pillows around the pickup truck tea lounge out front, to arranging chairs around tables, to chopping mushrooms and shredding rainbow chard in the kitchen.

I found myself at the ticketing booth for most of the evening though, checking people in and answering questions about the event. Within a few hours, the stage was set: chairs arranged around tables sporting centerpieces of fresh flowers in mason jars, dishes of roasted vegetables, stir-fried tempeh, and salad laid out, ticketing booth set and ready to go. Once enough guests trickled in, the evening kicked off.

Shilo George was the first to speak. A Southern Cheyenne-Arapahoe and Scottish woman, George spoke about the importance of land acknowledgement, the vocal recognition of the specific tribe’s land on which an event takes places before the proceedings of that event. This
displays respect, awareness, and an understanding that so many of us are guests on the land on which we stand.

She went on to speak about cultural humility, a state achieved through lifelong learning and recognition of both power imbalances and institutional discrimination. George encouraged audience members to— above all— educate themselves, demonstrate that knowledge, and be open to new ideas; a worthwhile goal on the path to achieving one of the themes of the event: recovery.

Starhawk took over the stage next. Dressed in flowing robes beneath a halo of long white hair, she looked very much like a kindly, woods-dwelling witch; which, in essence, she is. With a background in writing, activism, and permaculture design, Starhawk travels around the world giving workshops and lectures on “earth-based spirituality, the tools of ritual, and the skills of activism” (VBC).

Her talk centered around the acknowledgement of environmentalism as a balanced relationship with the earth and the “understanding that everything is interconnected.”

At the end of the lecture she led everyone in a spiral dance, a ritual meant to invoke positivity and healing for the self and the planet.

I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect going into this event. Grassroots, community-based events in Portland have a way of attracting the more free-thinking and bohemian side of the city. It is a crowd I will admit I feel lost in at times; a little too plain for: a pony in a herd of zebras.

As the evening wore on though, I found myself agreeing wholeheartedly with much of what was being said, even if it was presented differently than I imagined.

I could feel a certain warmth and compassion hovering in the air of the warmly-lit room, tinged with something subtler: hope. I was surrounded by people who maybe didn’t look like me but saw, if nothing else, an opportunity to view the world in slightly better light, and in turn: themselves. And that is a desire I can certainly relate to.

For anyone interested in gaining new perspective on their community and their neighbors, I would recommend not only attending the Village Building Convergence but volunteering for it as well. The VBC is over for now but will roll back around next summer.

If you can’t wait that long City Repair hosts place-making project throughout Portland year-round (more info on their website), go check it out and see what you discover.