A movement or an organization?

Within the circles of Transition initiators and steering groups across the country, a question recently circulated: How have you avoided the pitfall of merely creating an organization, and what has been successful in the goal of creating a movement?

At first, I laughed, because here in Los Angeles it has always felt more like a small circle that is representative of a movement, and we seem to have our greatest difficulties when we try to get people together for "organization" topics!


Certainly, I've personally railed against the idea of creating traditional-style not-for-profit organizations to do this Transition work. In this time of economic contraction, traditional style not-for-profit organizations don't work very well. The format seems doomed. One Transition initiative (sorry, I've lost track of which one!) wrote on their materials:

For the people, by the people -- no members of this Transition initiative are funded or paid for the work they do for their community. We rely on the power of the people, inspiration, time, skills, and donations.

If we're truly aiming for a movement --rather than an organization-- this is what it will look like. Roll up your sleeves, get down to work, neighbor shoulder-to-shoulder with neighbor.

Thus in Los Angeles, we have not formed a not-for-profit organization. In fact, we haven't (yet) even created a formal "organization" per se. We don't have fiscal or legal status, nor does our initiating group (in operation 4 years). We're quite simply a circle of people who gather around a purpose. I put the "yet" in there because we do talk about it, from time to time. For instance, we did draft a mission statement, and off and on we have worked on Sophy Banks' "Good Practice for Groups" But since no one seems interested in embracing "legal organization" as their pet project, it hasn't happened.


I said in the opening to this piece that it feels like our Transition Los Angeles group are representatives. There is a lot going on in Los Angeles. It is a huge place, with many pockets of radical-thinking people. There are all kinds of organizations, doing all kinds of things, working many purposes, many of which are actually moving in the general direction of Transition even if their founders and their participants don't quite "get" the fullness of the Big Picture.

It's really important to get that we're not creating a movement. Directing, guiding, or nudging perhaps, but not creating.

Recall Paul Hawken's Blessed Unrest, and Joanna Macy's Great Turning. The movement is already underway.

That said, our Transition LA city hub has a unique roll to fill. We need to supply the "thread" onto which to string all the "beads" of positive, resilience-oriented action. Our job is to educate the public about the fullness of the Big Picture (peak oil PLUS climate change PLUS biocapacity PLUS economic contraction), and help these myriad organizations see where they fit in, how they can contribute, how they are serving the larger pattern. It's up to us to help them see how, with all their little corners and specialties, they add up to a cohesive whole. They are all working toward a similar big purpose: reforming society.


I have often said that the EDAP (Energy Descent Action Plan) is what distinguishes a Transition Initiative from "just another green organization." While we have barely begun our EDAP process in L.A., we're very aware that it is our reason for being. At the current point, TLA is working the preparation-for-EDAP phases of networking and raising awareness. As we move further into the EDAP process, we'll help string these "beads" together, and the unified collective-creativity direction will emerge. Thus we aren't "creating" a movement, we're pulling together the raw materials (the existing organizations of people), and helping to organize or orient that which is already there.

For us in L.A., reskilling classes are another big piece of the "movement" puzzle. As I write this I'm reminded of Rob Hopkins' story about the Transition initiative that "met itself to death." (Handbook p. 164) If we forget about the movement, and just focus on meetings, we don't get any further along the road toward real change.

Here in Los Angeles, we're certainly not the only ones who offer reskilling classes. But as we do, we encourage our local groups to keep our classes free-to-low-cost; to make them hands-on (rather than lecture) as often as possible; and to offer them about real, practical topics that people are truly yearning to hear about (we do take requests) so that we avoid becoming an odd spectator sport. We sprinkle in peak oil and climate change and powerdown and Transition -- even in gardening classes. We try to always have Transition brochures and meeting notices available.

When you hold lots of reskilling sessions you get new faces. And you grow your email lists of people to expose to these ideas. And attendees start to get to know each other as neighbors and community members. And you get people doing things at home, real action, real lifestyle changes. And you get people who are interested in doing something more. All of that list of "ands" is much more of a movement than an organization.

By offering an ongoing stream of reskilling classes, our initiating group (in existence the same amount of time as Transition Town Totnes) has gained significant name-recognition in our local area of the city (local area = 51,000 people). In his July 2009 survey, Rob Hopkins boasted 74% name recognition for TTT, in a town of 23,000. Perhaps we're not yet at 74% in our LA neighborhood, but our informal "survey techniques" indicate that we're on the radar with lots of people. And since most of our publicity is quite candid about peak oil, that means those ideas are circulating out there.

The final big piece of the movement versus organization puzzle that I'll mention is Walking the Talk. It is quite possible, as we "do Transition," to continue on with the "regular" patterns: those of driving and flying and consumerism. But we're only going to make a difference if we start action. And action has to start with us, the leaders. Thus we lead the way by biking or walking to meetings (I pull a kids' wagon full of my visual displays to many of our local meetings). We lead the way by taking the no-fly pledge and exploring electronic conferencing. We lead the way by wearing handmade or repurposed clothing to our speaking engagements, and by planting food gardens at our meeting place. We need to try these techniques out, not simply talk about them.

As we try out the new techniques, we'll discover what works and what doesn't work. We'll learn how the rainbarrel first-flush filter doesn't work like it said in the manufacturer's materials and what it takes to do the overhaul. We'll learn which vegetable varieties like our local area so much that they reseed and become feral. We'll speak from real experience. Our words are made all the more powerful because we have been there. We are now veterans rather than idealists. We are showing people what is possible, and how it fits into our lives, and how it is indeed more fulfilling, more connected, more joyous.

Rob Hopkins provides a great model. Despite running an international movement and maintaining a rigourous speaking schedule, he has embraced the no-fly pledge. Despite coauthoring multiple books and pamphlets, he has upgraded the insulation in his house (himself), and he is growing vegetables for his family. Read his blog regularly - he's sharing stories about all of these things. And as he does so, he offers inspiration: we can do it too.


So if your daughter, like mine, likes to sit on the floor and thread multicolored beads on long pieces of yarn, take a moment to curl up with her and thread a few.  Enjoy the time with your kid, enjoy the process, enjoy the pattern selection, and the feel of the smooth bead between your fingers sliding down the thread into place.  And realize the simple parallels. 

(in all likelihood) your daughter didn't create the beads, nor will you or your TI create the multitude of solutions which will appear in your local EDAP.  There are many others who will create them, many other organizations hard at work.  The "beads" themselves will probably arrive in many shapes, sizes and colors.  Perhaps events put on by your TI will inspire people and coax them to reveal their dreams, but you and your TI won't be the sole creator of the ideas themselves.  The ideas are (even now, as your TI gets going) welling up out of the movement which is already underway.

Your job is simply to find a way to sort the ideas and thread them together, these many visions and manifestations of the Great Turning taking place in your hometown. Hopefully, you have an art to it and can create a pleasing or artistic pattern.  In any event, the mere ordering of it, the very fact that all these pieces are now being assembled together in one place is the end goal.  Where once there was merely raw potential -- loose beads rolling around the floor, getting lost behind the bedpost, getting sucked up in the vacuum or stolen away by the cat -- there now is a necklace, a complete work, a coherent vision for all to see and to try on for size.

The assembled necklace, an EDAP, a town's Transition, cannot be done by a single organization.  The beauty is in the coming-together.  Far from "creating a movement," the beauty is in the combined authorship, in the community ownership, and in the mutual recognition of our interdepencence.  If you do it well, your bead threading project might also inspire further glimmers of solidarity, that missing element within our American communities.

Newsletter Signup


User login