Hoss Firooznia’s recent article, Is it time to rethink the Landa Kongreso? has kicked off some interesting and useful discussion, especially on our new Telegram channel. This kind of discussion is important, as it allows us to clarify our goals, to adapt, and to grow as a movement. In that spirit, I would like to offer my personal thoughts. I hope that other members will also write in!
There is a great deal of enthusiasm for in-person events after the years of lockdowns and canceled events. Everybody whom I’ve spoken to who was in Montreal last year or Raleigh this year has spoken about the amazing experience they had at those events, and how excited they were for the next one.
For me personally, both events were very profound experiences. When Alex Miller and I were driving back from Raleigh, we couldn’t stop talking about how the event had exceeded what we’d even imagined was possible. There were so many exciting “firsts” for Esperantujo: the first-ever live podcast episode; the first-ever workshop in long-form improvised theater, culminating in a live show; the first-ever Contra Dance, where we hosted local non-Esperantist dancers. It was amazing to realize that these were areas where the movement in the US was paving the way!
Cultivating an ecosystem of Esperanto events
In Europe, many Esperantists participate in multiple events during the year, which weave together to form a living “ecosystem,” a real sense of community, of Esperantujo.1
We should aspire to cultivate an ecosystem like this in North America, by weaving together different kinds of events happening at different scales—national as well as regional.
The regional event that I have the most experience with is Printempa Esperanto-Renkontiĝo (PER), in North Carolina. I went in 2019, and remember about twenty people in attendance. About five could hold a sustained conversation in Esperanto, and I believe one of those had been paid to come from out of the region to help guide the event.
Events like this are important. PER was a big step forward for Esperanto in the Southeast. I’m very glad it came back this year, and I’m looking forward to going next year. But an event like PER simply can’t replace something like a national gathering where we can get 60-100 people together, including dozens of fluent speakers. These events have very different characters, serve very different purposes, and complement each other very well.
Our regional and national events also build enthusiasm for international events. In 2019, 23 Americans registered for the UK in Finland. In 2023, for the UK in Italy, there were … 51 Americans who registered!2 That is more than double the number for Finland, and is probably the biggest number for any recent UK aside from Montreal. This is a huge, very significant increase. I believe that this can be attributed in part to the enthusiasm that was generated in Montreal and Raleigh, and shows that there are many Americans who are eager to participate in high-level Esperanto events, and willing to travel for them.
How should we use our resources?
People will support things they like, and they won’t bother to support things they don’t like. If our national gatherings consistently inspire and excite people, they will support the next one, and encourage people to go—and they’ll do the same for regional events.
Of course, not all of our members have the same personal resources. I remember my first couple of Landaj Kongresoj, in which I stayed on a friend’s couch or at a dingy hotel far from the Kongresejo, and skipped the Bankedo because $35 was way out of my price range for one meal. Our members should not have to make this kind of choice. I think many of our members would support a “solidarkaso” to encourage participation by members with limited funds.
Reducing the climate impact of our events
The other aspect of resources to discuss is, of course, our natural resources. The entire Esperanto movement should be finding ways to reduce the climate impact of our events.3 In fact, the movement in Europe has been experimenting with many things which we in the US could borrow from: bicycle and train caravans which are often a fun part of the experience; “green discounts” to those who will opt for the plant-based menu; 1 euro deposits on the plastic holders for name tags.
How would it look to adapt these ideas to the US? Could we offer a discount to people who carpool or take a train rather than fly? Could we organize train caravans? Los Angeles, the site of our next Landa Kongreso, is well-connected by train to the entire West Coast, and also has direct trains from Chicago and New Orleans. Maybe we can have a competition to see whether a bigger caravan comes via the “Coast Starlight” (from Seattle), the “Southwest Chief” (from Chicago), or the “Spirit of New Orleans.” Just imagine the fun Telegram banter and social media posts!
Another thing to consider about the climate impact of traveling for events is that the particularly heavy carbon footprint of travel in the US is a political issue. The lack of practical passenger rail transit in most of the US is because of political decisions that were made. Subsidies and deregulation for fossil fuel production and air travel are political decisions that continue to be made. Those are problems that are outside of our capacity as a movement to address.
We as an organization can–and should–take steps to reduce the climate impact of our events, but not at the cost of ceasing to have national-level events.
Looking towards the future
We still can’t know what the true post-Covid world looks like, including for Esperantujo. We need to remain open, to experiment with our events over the next few years, and to learn and adapt as we go. I believe that we will see a continually growing interest in in-person events as people feel safer to participate in them, and more inspired to participate by what they’re seeing.
We have a big opportunity to cultivate an ecosystem of flourishing and inspiring events happening at national, regional, and local levels. These events can and should experiment with all kinds of things: ways to reduce their climate impact, engaging the participants with exciting and inspiring content, and incorporating “mini-NASKs,” to name just a few. I’m excited to see how this ecosystem grows and develops over the next few years!
I generally try to avoid setting Europe as the model to follow, as I think that we have many more strengths in the North American movement than we sometimes give ourselves credit for. However, in this case, I think it shows an example of how a diversity of events can generate a vibrant ecosystem. There are of course also important differences between North America and Europe which have to be accounted for. ↩
And not just our events! I’d love for us to look at other aspects of our movement: Can our next batch of t-shirts be produced locally, ethically, and ecologically? Can we reduce the carbon impact of how we ship books? Can we verify that our investments are in ecologically-responsible funds? ↩