Building Community Resilience: Before, During, and After COVID-19

Growing Seeds

Dear friends and fellow Transitioners,

So much has changed in so short a time: tens of thousands of people are now testing positive for the coronavirus daily in the US, most of the world is self-isolating at home, large sectors of our economy have ground to a halt, and politicians are currently debating how best to spend trillions of dollars to combat the global pandemic. We are definitely riding the exponential growth curve, and there’s no end yet in sight.

Both strangely and predictably enough, this crisis has presented a massive opportunity for those of us who have been or are currently engaged in building local community resilience. Our job is now, as it has been in the past, to offer relevant and practical solutions that meet real needs. In fact, many groups all over this country have already been taking inspiring and meaningful actions to counter the economic, social, and health impacts of COVID-19: scaling up efforts to teach people how to grow their own food, banding together to provide local investment for struggling local businesses, organizing mutual aid networks, and advocating for a “green stimulus.” These efforts should be celebrated, supported, and replicated throughout the US. Many more should be developed to help meet skyrocketing needs.

The difference is now that we have the wind at our backs. Through these projects and others, we can reach out further to unprecedented numbers of people who are just now waking up to a more acute sense of their own vulnerability, interconnectedness, and responsibility for the well-being of others. We can share our visions with them and encourage them to develop their own, invite them to step into a leadership role or join a local community that’s already working on something they’re passionate about.

Relationships that are built through hard times can be exceptionally resilient. If we take care to cultivate them now and provide pathways for involvement beyond this current crisis, they may endure when a “new normal” begins to take hold (which it eventually will). Some may even help us to more effectively rise to the occasion when the next crisis inevitably hits.

Due to accelerating impacts from climate change, as well as ongoing economic and political instability around the world, these crises will continue to periodically crash up against our shores, more and more frequently in coming decades, threatening to significantly erode our capacity to respond. In order to successfully counter this reality, those of us who are called to leadership will need to learn how to respond skillfully during these periodic crises and build local community resilience long-term.

Here at Transition US, I think we have been balancing these needs reasonably well. We are currently offering online forums for Transition Initiative leaders and others involved in community resilience-building efforts to connect, provide mutual aid, and learn from each other; collecting and disseminating key resources to support our national network; assisting our national working groups with producing more free webinars for an international audience that’s largely stuck at home at their laptops; and preparing Ready Together: A Neighborhood Emergency Preparedness Handbook for a nationwide roll-out later this year.

In addition to these more external actions, we've also been busy laying the foundations for future growth internally by drafting a new National Organizing Framework for feedback from our network; surveying and interviewing dozens of local, regional, and national movement leaders to develop a new organizational strategy; and constructing a new (more attractive, informative, and easy-to-navigate) website. While these kinds of tasks typically go unseen and underappreciated, we believe they are very important for expanding the Transition Movement here in this country over the long-run.

Novus Food Forest

Frontyard food forest at the intentional community I started two and a half years ago in Sarasota, Florida. I've found a lot of peace lately through the simple act of gardening.

One realization that has deepened for me over the past few weeks – thanks to Naomi Klein, Otto Scharmer, and others – is that we currently find ourselves in the midst of a historic struggle for the future. This is particularly obvious right now – when millions of lives and trillions of dollars are on the line – but we can acknowledge that this has actually always been true and will continue to be true in less extraordinary times as well. This is a struggle between disaster capitalism, on the one hand, and just transition on the other. I know who I’d like to see win.

Rob Hopkins, on the occasion of Trump being elected to office in 2016, reminded us that the Transition Movement had been “chopping wood and carrying water” for over a decade at that point and would need to continue to do so long after the Trump administration becomes a distant memory. He argued then, as I would now, that what we’ve been doing has been important in the past, is even more critical now, and will continue to become even more essential in the future. We need to recognize that we’ve been ahead of the curve for the past 15 years and much of the world is just now starting to catch up.

I hope all of you are washing your hands and social distancing and all the rest. I recognize that some of you might be sick, caring for loved ones who are sick, have lost your job, or are supporting others who have lost jobs. My heart goes out to you and I hope you can find the support you need.

However, for the rest of us who are just sitting healthy at home, waiting for this particular storm to pass, I would like to encourage us to take good care of ourselves and those around us, find ways to stay connected over distance, and spend at least some of our surplus time reflecting on how each of us (as individuals, households, neighborhoods, and communities) can help build local community resilience now, not just as a response to COVID-19, but for all the joyful and challenging times yet to come.

Please stay in touch by subscribing to the Transition US mailing list if you haven’t already. Send us your most inspiring stories of positive responses to COVID-19 so we can share them with the world, and consider making a tax-deductible donation (if you’re able) to help us scale this work. Find a local Transition Initiative near where you live and ask how you can help. Check out our Transition Streets program and host a group online with your family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues. Turn off the news and plant a garden for yourself and others, write up a business plan for that social enterprise you’ve been dreaming about for years, and prepare yourself now for even more tough times ahead.

When I'm not working hard for Transition US, I've been outside a lot lately, tending to the plants in our food forest and vegetable garden, opening up additional spaces for planting, and seeding vegetables, herbs, and dry beans, mainly to increase household food security at the intentional community where I live. However, we also made sure to plant more than 100 extra starts for our friends and neighbors, who are increasingly starting and expanding their own gardens. Making a significant contribution to your community during and after COVID-19 could be just this simple: a few friends coming together for a few pleasant hours in the sunshine, pooling maybe $20 or less of their supplies.

But even as our own physical and economic health are being threatened like never before, the health of our planet and our society as a whole have been declining rapidly for decades now. So we need everyone who can to join the fight. This applies equally during this crisis as it will long after it has receded. Whenever we come together to “reimagine and rebuild our world,” we find our power to encourage and uplift each other, learn and grow from each other’s experiences, and amplify our collective impacts. My most heartfelt appreciation for all those who have already been doing this work – in some cases for many decades or generations – under many different names.

For those of you those of you who haven't been so active lately, I invite you to find ways to connect with Transition US more deeply in these pivotal times, reach out directly to us, and offer anything you think might help us, together, to better the future.

"Turn Off the News and Build a Garden"

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