Bob Banner was tired of hearing the word no. So tired of it that he started his own magazine, Hopedance, to give people a forum where they could say yes—to solutions, to hope, to a sustainable future. The magazine, he says, is premised on one main question: “Granted the world is fucked, but are you going to sit there and complain about it, or are you going to do something?”
Banner admits that he had a more selfish reason to start Hopedance—he was looking for like-minded people in rural, mostly conservative San Luis Obispo County. Although he hails from the East Coast, Banner says he was more or less dumped in Avila Beach after being ordered to move there by a Canada-based cult to which he once belonged. All American members of the cult were told to move to Avila Beach and start a new colony, but in 1990 many of them dropped away. When Banner defected, he also left the magazine he had been publishing since 1980, Critique.
A few years passed with Banner supporting himself through his usual mix of odd jobs—mostly washing windows and cleaning houses. “Then I started dreaming about publishing again,” he says. “Whatever you need to be doing in this life will keep bubbling up.”
This time, instead of going full-bore into a four-color glossy like Critique, he decided to keep his day job, publish a cheap newspaper, and stay local. Since 1996, Hopedance has been published every other month on newsprint, and although it was once printed in four-color, it’s reversing industry trends by downsizing to spot color.
He chose the name by using a literary technique he’d learned from Allen Ginsberg. Banner made a list of nouns and verbs he felt described the project and then played with the words. That may explain how he got the name, but what does it mean? “I think it has a lot to do with my own dance between hope and despair,” he says.
Banner does it all—sells ads, coordinates with writers across the country, produces the magazine. Volunteers help distribute to libraries, restaurants, bookstores, coffeeshops, natural food stores, and news racks throughout San Luis Obispo, Ventura, and Santa Barbara counties. He prints between 10,000 and 13,000 copies of each issue.
Banner also shows documentaries at libraries, theaters, and cafes. The films, he says, “are a great way to bring people together”; he uses them as fundraisers for Hopedance and organizations such as Code Pink and the Green Party. He hopes to expand the film showings throughout the country. In January he brought The Real Dirt on Farmer John, a docudrama about a Midwestern farmer struggling to deal with the changing agricultural economy, to Sebastopol, Santa Rosa, Willits, and Ukiah. He plans to expand content and distribution to Sonoma and Mendocino counties, and his food-themed issue was printed with two covers, one for the northern counties.
Banner relies on Hopedance (www.hopedance.org) to pay for it-self through advertisements and donations. “One of the commitments I made was that I wasn’t going to put my money in it,” he says. “I’d put my time and energy in, but the money is separate.” Although the magazine generates enough to cover printing and pay its contributors a bit, Banner washes windows to pay his personal bills. Window washing is seasonal, he says, so he has to ensure that he makes enough in the spring and summer to carry him through the rest of the year: “The biggest challenge is keeping money coming in to Hopedance.”
Banner recently opened a shop where he rents films and sells CDs and organic chocolate. When asked how he keeps up with running the magazine, the shop, and his window business, Banner replies that he’s a very busy man. “My slogan is, ‘I’m slowing down as fast as I can.'”
Meanwhile, he’s chal-lenging his readers while inspiring them. “With each issue, I’m trying to inundate myself as well as the readers with solutions that are out there,” Banner says. “I don’t want to focus on the things that are getting worse—I know about those—I want to focus on things that are getting better.”