Call me a day late and a dollar short. Or maybe behind-the-times with respect to Facebook. But I completely missed the posting blitz where Facebook fans used the "urban homesteading" term as many times as they possibly could in a single day. In fact, I learned about the posting blitz via our Transition U.S. newsletter, which, when I opened my email, at first shocked me with the brazenly open use of the term.
I'd heard about the urban homesteading controversy itself, of course. Much of it is unfolding in my own hometown, the greater L.A. area.
I bought a new pair of shoes lately. All my friends gleefully applauded my purchase, and my husband was very pleased too.
You see, about three weeks ago, while on the construction site for the new community garden we're building in my neighborhood, I sprained my ankle pretty badly. Limping awkwardly, I discovered very quickly that I simply didn't have the right kind of footwear. City shoes, even "practical" shoes with just a little bit of heel don't work with an injury, and you can't grip a slide-style shoe when you're sporting an ace bandage.
That got me thinking about Transition footwear.
Cheery, charismatic, creative, constructive ... There are many “C” words which describe the Transition movement, its basic ideas, and the way this movement is manifesting itself in hundreds if not thousands of communities worldwide. In a recent piece, Carolyn Baker complains that many members of Transition are unwilling to use what seems to be her favorite “C” word: collapse.
Frankly, I don’t see the point of it. I do occasionally use the word “collapse,” although I’m much more likely to modify a bit and use the word “contraction,” particularly with respect to economics (as in, “economic contraction,” getting smaller, pulling inward). It has been plenty adequate to get the point across.
To me, collapse goes hand in hand with chaos. Baker is adamant that we put collapse at center stage. And to that I say: You’ve got the wrong movement, sister.
Why is it that sometimes we work on a project or give a presentation and it feels like such a struggle? Other times we give a similar presentation or work a similar project and it goes smoothly and effortlessly; the pieces fall together so well that we can hardly keep up with all the great positive energy.
This week several events have me thinking about positive approaches and what creates the flow of change.
The first event was a very successful presentation that Transition Los Angeles gave at Bioneers LA; the energy in the room afterwards was tangible excitement about positive possibilities.
The second event was a key meeting regarding the community garden we've been trying to install in my local neighborhood. For ten years this land has sat empty, caught in political quagmire; this week it felt like someone had greased the skids as the project zipped into high gear.
The third incident reared up in harsh contrast: a piece I read by Michael Brownlee which asserted -- among other things -- that the rate of the Transition movement in the U.S. "seems to be slowing." Whoa, certainly not around here!
Hello Atlanta, Boston, Houston, New York, Salt Lake, San Francisco, Seattle ... and any other place that has an airport:
Here in Los Angeles, LAX International airport is trying yet again to expand, and we have been working on a response to the environmental impact report (EIR). We're making our letter public in case you can use any part of it in your backyard. (What is an EIR?)
Transition Los Angeles and our predecessor organization, the Environmental Change-Makers, have been active voices in responding to local Environmental Impact Reports. When these projects solicit public comments, we ask questions, underline problems, and highlight discrepancies regarding the issues of climate change, peak oil, and biocapacity.
When Joanna Macy describes the three types of action required as we experience The Great Turning, she lists "stopping action to prevent further destruction," as well as "a shift in consciousness." Responding to EIRs with pertinent peak oil and climate-change points is a form of stopping action. As we raise these points again and again in front of our city's decision-makers, it is our hope that we can help cultivate a shift in consciousness.
We Transition groups are perhaps the sole champion for these ideas -- rallying against further construction and spending in the wrong direction, and rallying for preparedness. Think about it: who else is going to ask the question "how do you plan to complete this massive project without oil?" We have a job to do, to make that position be heard.
In the Q&A section of public presentations we often get asked "How do you tell people about Transition ..." Then the questioner launches into a vivid description of how his attempts have failed to get through to his Hummer-driving brother-in-law, or his boss who vacations in the Bahamas, or his fellow churchgoers who rhapsodize over malls and "bargains" at big box stores, or his neighbor with the pristine, overwatered chem-lawn.
You can plug in a multitude of variables to describe the opulent consumption but in each of these instances the approach has failed for the identical reason: Our questioner doesn't understand how to use and work with the dynamics of cultural change.
In his 1999 book Believing Cassandra, Alan AtKisson outlined a model which has helped me enormously in targeting my efforts, relieving frustration, and becoming much more effective in my approach. In a nutshell: don't start with the people who are natural laggards and reactionaries.
This past weekend, Transition Los Angeles had a small table of information at the Renewal LA event. Our initiating group, Environmental Change-Makers (ECM), is relatively well-known within the Southern California Interfaith Power and Light circles. ECM co-founder, the Rev. Peter Rood, is an Episcopal priest who is active in interfaith dialog groups. In fact, Peter gave the Welcome for the Renewal LA event.
For tabling at Renewal LA, we brought some of the handouts that we have developed specifically for faith communities, such as "Environmental Suggestions for Large Events,"
This past weekend, I attended "Renewal LA," an interfaith gathering here in Los Angeles which included sections of the documentary film "Renewal" by filmmakers Marty Ostrow and Terry Kay Rockefeller. The event offered speakers such as Mary Nichols of the California Air Resources Board, and it featured renowned environmentalist and 350.org founder Bill McKibben.
Renewal LA was hosted in an Episcopal cathedral. The opening blessing was given by representatives of the B'hai, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Later Day Saints, Moslem, and Unitarian traditions (listed here in alphabetical order). It was amazing to see all these religious leaders standing shoulder-to-shoulder, reading pieces from their individual traditions -- so many paths toward the same end, that of humanity living more gently upon the earth.
I came to this event in the wierd capacity of both outside observer and insider. While I consider myself fairly spiritual, I'm not a participant in any particular religious tradition. I have the unique opportunity, however, to participate in many events which explore the crossover of religion and environmentalism because I am the co-founder of the Environmental Change-Makers community group (which became the initiating group for Transition Los Angeles). My co-founder at ECM is the Reverend Peter H. Rood, Jr., an Episcopal priest. I often refer to myself as the "secular environmentalist" part of the partnership. Because of Peter's connections and charisma, we are frequent speakers at religious communities in Southern California.
As Transition US explores the topic of diversity, and proposes setting up a working group for Transition and faith communities, there has been a lot of interest in Peter's and my work. In today's post I want to share with you a bit about the Renewal LA event, and in a future post, some reflections about Transition issues and faith communities.
Myrto wrote about Raising Funds for Transition. Several months ago, here in Los Angeles, we were discussing similar issues. But thoughts which began with "how do we get money" soon ventured into a different realm: "What does a sustainable service organization look like in this powerdown era and time of economic contraction?"
Here in the Transition movement, we understand that with the end of cheap oil, we will experience an inevitable (and likely severe) economic contraction. In our Transition Trainings we discuss the fallacies of the Industrial Growth Complex. We know what lies ahead: simpler times, less affluent times, less cash available, and necessarily more community participation in every single aspect of life.
Nonprofit organizations won't be immune. Already, most nonprofits are struggling for funding, and the fun's just beginning. Just like the energy surplus which is disappearing with the end of cheap oil, the cash surplus which used to fund nonprofits is disappearing with the credit/banking/economic crunch. We have witnessed "peak nonprofit."
Ever feel like you're zipping through the fast-paced hours of your day, the crowded pages of your calendar, like you're on a swiftly moving sidewalk?
Then you learn about alternative lifestyles, other ways of living and pacing one's life. As you learn about the Transition movement, perhaps you get caught up in community events and activities within this other way of viewing life.
It begins to feel like you've hopped off that swiftly moving business-as-usual sidewalk onto a second moving sidewalk -- one that isn't necessarily headed in the same direction as the first one.
This image of two moving sidewalks -- each headed in a different direction -- was posed by Sophy Banks in our Training for Transition in Los Angeles in December 2008. The image has stuck with me, and come back to me many times since.