Co-creating Transformative Narratives

Last month, Transitoin US's Diversity Working Group along with Bay Localize, smartMeme, Movement Generation groups convened a conversation about co-creating transformative narratives in the Bay Area. The event had a great turnout and created new momentum around sharing stories and successes. Here's a piece by Dave Room, TUS Board member on creating transformative narratives, including a video from the event. Enjoy!

(Originally published on

A Cairn in the Oakland Hills

A Cairn in the Oakland Hills

How we find a way to live differently?  How do we communicate that to ourselves, community members, and decision makers?  In an era of global warming, fighting racism, working for social justice and equity, how can storytelling help shape what we do and how we talk about it?

Narrative is the Lens through which We See the World

In a world so out of balance, we need landmarks and milestones to help us see the way forward. Narrative is like a series of virtual cairns that help us stay on the path. Our personal narrative puts our experiences and the stories we tell ourselves into a meaningful context. For example, when my marriage fell apart, I evolved my personal narrative so that I experienced the pain as an integral part of my growth process. Just as personal narrative can keep individuals on path, shared narratives can provide the basis for keeping communities moving forward together.

It is widely acknowledged by the eco-justice community that, in the transition towards a more sustainable future, we need collective action that addresses the needs of people, communities, and nature on an unprecedented scale.  The first condition for effective collective action is shared values but values in of themselves can be ambiguous or lack clarity. They are subjective, meaning different things to different people. “Heck, any given value can mean different things to the same person at different times in their lives or within different contexts” says Consultant Thaler Pekar.

We need ways to clarify and articulate both stated and underlying values. Story and narrative are highly accessible forms of values expression; they bridge the gap between values and meaning, helping us clarify abstractions like integrity and hope.  Just as our bodies are made of flesh and bones, our identities are made of stories. Narrative is the connective tissue that links our stories, providing the context of where we are, how we got here, and where we are going.  Because of the intrinsic connection to values, the narratives we internalize shape our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.  Hence, creating narratives that highlight shared values can be a powerful first step in organizing, creating alignment, and building alliances for the collective action we need so desperately.

Transformative Narratives are the Answer

Last month, Bay Localize, smartMeme, Movement Generation, and Transition US convened a conversation about co-creating transformative narratives in the Bay Area. There was agreement among the over twenty participants who met in the Central Historic Building of downtown Oakland that the Bay Area needs a new story that shifts the dominant conversation from the dead-end road of consumerism/growth-at-all-costs economics towards vibrant, resilient communities where all of us can thrive.

According to growing number of community leaders in the Bay Area, narrative is the heart of collective action.  If we are going to somewhat gracefully transition to a more healthy relationship with the natural world and each other, and build a strong locally focused economies, we are going to need a new story - a transformative narrative that provides an inspiring and viable alternative to the status quo. People need to be able to see themselves and their role going forward in the narrative.

The Show Goes on the Road --- to South Africa

Later this month, local organizer Melia’s Papa and the Collective Liberation Listening Tour head to South Africa for a cultural exchange on narrative.The tour will bring digital stories and the latest thinking on "Flippin' the Script" from California. The Tour will record the stories of community leaders and engage organizers in conversations about narrative. The tour is raising money on Kickstarter as well as developing "open source" questions on narrative for community leaders.  They are preparing a digital story asking Nelson Mandela (or his designate) to be the first world leader to answer the questions.   

In preparing for the trip, Melia’s Papa learned a lot about South Africa that he didn’t know he didn’t know.  He found it “tragically ironic” that Apartheid started in the same year of the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948).  He was disappointed to learn that the United States had tipped off South African police, landing Mandela in jail as a terrorist for nearly three decades.

He recommends that people interested in the use of music in movements watch Amandla: A Revolution in Four Part Harmony Its available (legally) for free on Youtube.

For more information on the tour or become a backer, visit Kickstarter:

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About Dave Room

Dave Room's picture
Dave Room works with Bay Localize, is a co-founder of the local Clean Energy Alliance and performs as Melia's Papa.

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