It was a tiring journey to Italy. I spent the night in the Tel Aviv airport, then took two flights to Italy (via Greece for a cheap flight) and then two trains to Bologna! By the time I got to the hostel and found out they didn’t have food for sale, I was too tired to go find some and instead crawled into my cot and fell into a deep sleep. I felt refreshed the next morning and was excited to see the city and meet new friends. Bologna is an incredibly beautiful city with many in-tact, medieval buildings still being used. It’s home to Europe’s oldest university, established in 1088. I wandered the meandering streets before and after my meeting with Transition folks, and explored a couple of churches. I was transfixed by the beauty surrounding me. The greater metropolitan area is home to about 1,000,000 people and is a crossroads for train travel in Northern Italy. According to the most recent data gathered by the European Regional Economic Growth Index (E-REGI) of 2009, Bologna is the first Italian city and the 47th European city in terms of its economic growth rate.
Photo: Massimo, Silvia, and Cristiano of Transition Monteveglio
At lunch time Cristiano Bottone, Silvia Neri, Massimo Giorgini, and I met at an organic, vegetarian restaurant in the city center. They are from Transition Monteveglio, a rural town of about 5,000 people on the outskirts of the metropolitan area, though much of their transition thinking includes the greater Bologna area. Silvia and Massimo and their two children currently live in Bologna, but have purchased a place with land for growing food in Monteveglio and are in “transition.” Some successes for them have included entering into a strategic partnership with local politicians, helping a new school go solar and geo-thermal energy which will provide energy, not only for the school, but for the town, and retrofitting old buildings to be more energy efficient, along with all the usual presentations of talks and films and food. Cristiano and his wife also have two children. It’s exciting to meet young families taking an interest in this work.
Massimo is working with Transition Monteveglio first because he thinks the earth needs our work and our creativity to solve the problems. And second because the Transition movement is the first environmental movement he’s encountered that is interested in inner transition and in the awareness of the change of our consciousness. He believes we must first change ourselves to change the world. Also the Transition process helps people express themselves and empowers people to change the world and gives people hope. Silvia Neri, married to Massimo, is drawn to the Transition movement because she appreciates the participatory methods, where everyone can take part, where everyone can share their talents, and where everyone can find their way. She likes that she doesn’t need to do everything, that people share in the work. She’s excited about changing the current, individualistic society to one more focused on community. Learning about permaculture touched something deep inside her and so it was a natural for her to work in the Transition movement.
Cristiano, a Transition Trainer, works in advertising and from that point of view he saw what was the truth of what is happening in the world, since advertising paints the truth with a cover. He was searching for how to make a change and the day he found out what Rob Hopkins was doing in England changed his life. He learned how to be less controlling and how to allow people to bring their own energies and ideas into a collaborative process. He also saw how much fun people were having while doing this important work. He recognized that it’s tiring, but fun. He saw how easy it was to encourage others to join. He imported the Transition process to Italy. One problem was that all the books are in English. So he and others of the core group started translating the materials to Italian. And now more are involved and he’s incredibly moved by the simplicity of welcoming people in.
Massimo’s vision for greater Bologna includes another way to collaborate, to fully communicate, to go beyond the false separation of ideas and to build a beautiful and peaceful city with clean air, clean water, and clean streets. He feels they have a great opportunity to be an example for the rest of Italy because it’s an important historic and geographic place.
Silvia’s vision is all about communication. She wants to see many Transition groups in every part of the city and in every street. She wants a city where people naturally go into the streets to talk with one another. She wants to see more people walking and biking about because when people are in cars, they don’t communicate with each other. Massimo and Silvia bike to work, risking their lives in a car-filled city without many bike lanes. She envisions more green spaces, she’s tired of all the cement. Cristiano believes that Bologna has been a town where revolutions have been started and so believes it’s ripe for a new type of revolution. Politicians and cooperatives in Monteveglio are very interested in what is happening. He believes they can plant this idea throughout Italy and there are already 20 Transition initiatives in Italy. “Here we have the potential, so why not try,” he said.
Learning from other big cities in Transition
Massimo believes that Italy, home of an earlier renaissance, can use that model for a new renaissance for a global vision. Silvia thinks its important for everyone to work locally but always with a global vision in mind. She likes the idea that she is not alone. Knowing what other parts of the world are doing, even if they don’t call it a Transition movement, helps with the feeling of doing a larger, important work for the world. Transition Monteveglio has learned from other large city initiatives and were impressed with Transition Los Angeles. This knowledge helps her trust that it is possible to make a difference.
There’s already a global vision for big change, according to Cristiano. People are trying to make changes using the old system. He believes that systemic change is necessary and has been inspired by the work of Donella Meadows on systems thinking. The current system is very good at squelching the new ideas. But Cristiano believes that, by thinking “outside of the box” new possibilities exist, that there are incredible, creative people just waiting for the opportunity to participate. He believes the global vision is already there, we just have to tap into it. After the interview was over, Cristiano talked about the “people who are standing outside the open door” of the transition movement, not knowing whether to walk in. He talked about being patient, continuing to set the example, and eventually some will cross the threshold. One woman took 1 1/2 years to walk in.
What an added bonus it was to my trip to encounter people involved in a movement that apparently is growing. In Madrid people took over a major plaza to bring to attention that they believed Spain was not a true democracy. They occupy the plaza day and night. This inspired others to do the same in their cities in Spain and when I was walking through Bologna, Italy I found a piazza occupation going on. It started a week ago. There were a lively bunch of mostly young people with hand painted signs who were enthusiastically talking with anyone who would listen. I spoke with several of them and they all directed me to Antonio Liguori to give me a little interview. Antonio said that some Spanish students put on an event on Facebook about the “Spanish revolution” and they decided to start the “Italian revolution.” They want people to participate in the life of the country, feeling that the political system is not inviting all to participate. For example, there is a referendum next month that has had many signatures to bring it forward. In response the government is creating laws that would prevent the referendum to move forward.
Next stop: Barcelona
So, wouldn’t you know it, the same movement is going strong in Barcelona and that was my next stop! There a number of the Transition Barcelona folks were participating in the activities at Piazza Cataluna, the most central and probably most visited piazza in Barcelona. There were hundreds of people milling about, workshops and talks going on, a vegetable garden growing in what little green space there was, and a straw-bale house being erected with people preparing the cob facing. Music, massages, free food, child spaces, and booth after booth with people sharing different ideas about what a true democracy would look like. The movement is called “Real Democracy Now” according to Daniel Turon. He said that Spain’s government is selling it’s assets due to the poor economy, the unemployment rate is very high (especially for young people), and people are very upset about it, but don’t feel they have a voice. Many passers by were drawn into conversations and seemed genuinely interested. There hadn’t been any police involvement when I arrived. The demonstrators were very respectful of the place, keeping it clean and had a good relationship with the regular folks who clean the area. The next morning the police moved in and, with a strong arm and rubber bullets, cleared the piazza. A number of people were injured. There was to be a celebration about a soccer match the next day and they wanted to clear it. Now I read that the government in Madrid want to clear the piazza as well. Apparently they are invited to return on Sunday, but I’ve heard they are moving back already. It will be interesting to see what happens next.
Read about the Barcelona Transition work in my next blog.
Ruah Swennerfelt is a member of Transition Charlotte, Vermont. She and her husband and live in an off-grid house, making their electricity from solar energy and growing much of their own food. Ruah has embarked on a search for answers to the question of how our civilization will survive the current “perfect storm” of peak oil, climate disruption, and economic contraction. "Like a quilt, each piece (each initiative) is unique and beautiful on its own, but the finished quilt is something greater than the parts. I hope that my research will reflect this whole as a blueprint for our necessary transition," writes Ruah. Her search will take her to Israel, the Palestinian Territories, Europe, and North America. See her recent blog entries >>