The "C" Word

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. 

The Transition movement, with its roots in Permaculture, is focused on crafting a proactive response, on actively and creatively designing the descent.  It’s about constructing options and alternatives, and setting up parallel, more-resilient systems.  It's pretty much the antithesis of freefall, chaos, and “I give up” collapse. 

We really make no pretenses about it.  The Transition movement is about hope, optimism and proactivity as drivers for action.  It’s right there on the website under “What Makes Transition Different,” as well as in the Transition Handbook as part of the basic definition of the Transition approach.  Baker seems to want to twist the Transition movement into something it is not.

Baker seems to think that if we focus on the good, somehow people will begin believing that the bad ceases to exist.   In on-the-ground practice I simply haven’t seen this happen!  On the contrary, the people who attend our sessions here in the greater L.A. area seem to be quite aware of “the bad,” and perhaps that knowledge is precisely what drives them to come back again and again to learn about what they can do. 

Maybe it’s a geographical thing.  A recent study indicates that our Pacific Region has the least optimistic outlook in the U.S. about the present economic situation (9.8 Consumer Confidence index) and the expectations for the future.  Maybe Baker lives in that dreamland where they have those index figures of 55 and higher. 

Around here, we're far from Baker's vapid "whistle a happy tune."  We have plenty of the long-term unemployed attending our Transition events, the “99ers.”  They’re realists, for sure.  We have plenty of small business persons, the type who are having a tough time making ends meet.  Don’t need to pound them with “our entire way of life is dying”; many of them saw it coming long before the Wall Street Journal did.  I won’t for a moment begin to tell them Baker's line that they are “profoundly fooling themselves.”

Sure, we have the neighbors in the big houses with the big SUVs who are desperately trying to hold on to what they’ve got and pretend it is all still afloat.  Deep inside, they know they’re kidding themselves and they’re totally freaked out.  To them, we offer a steady presence.  They know we’re here.  They see us building our community gardens and offering classes and creating events and they go out of their way to tell us they're really glad we're doing this stuff.  We know they’ll come join us when they’re ready.

So how effective, really, is Baker’s “C” word?  Would we bring in audiences if we used it left and right?  No way.  I’ve written about that before.  We attract far more people with positive solutions than we do with doomsday talk.  We attract the kind of people who want to roll their sleeves up and get to work solving problems. 

It takes people to create community-based solutions.  And the way we get people working together is to give them a common cause they can believe in and can rally around, something positive like digging a rainwater harvesting garden or crafting solar cookers or building an urbanite wall.

On a recent rainy December Saturday, our realists showed up for a garden swap, with homemade walnut bread in hand, despite looming foreclosures, lost business, failed election attempts, clients who cannot pay them, and painful loss.  That December day we had plenty of “C” words – comfort, connecting, caring – not in theory but in practice. 

At that garden swap, we bartered garden goods for LETS credits – a real, live, parallel, working financial system.  Admittedly it’s fledgling, just getting off the ground, but we’re setting up the framework.  And that is what the Transition movement is really about:  setting up the frameworks to have backup systems in place as the conventional systems crumble and fail.

With several religious leaders of different spiritual traditions among our city hub core team, we offer plenty of"inner Transition" opportunities.  One of our local core teams holds their leadership meetings over an intimate chai, a community garden team connects each Friday for potluck lunch, and another garden team gathers monthly over wine and cheese.  Current "inner Transition" program offerings include Positive Thinking, Gratitude, and Using Mantras to Strengthen your New Year's Resolutions.  I've blogged about our experiences (and our lessons) working within spiritual communities here and here.  We understand that our role within these communities is one of applied spirituality, of Karma yoga, of Social Justice in action.  Deep level change isn't solely a circle-chair experience -- for many of us, inner Transition happens where the shovel meets the dirt.

Baker and her cronies don’t seem to understand that the Transition movement is about the second of Joanna Macy’s dimensions of the Great Turning.  This is a movement that is Creating New Structures, and it is the most panoramic, pragmatic, and considered "second dimension" approach I have found.  We’re creating backyard food redistribution networks, group purchases of bareroot fruit trees, Community Wellness Clinics of alternative health care, and Seed Libraries for heirloom vegetables.

These examples aren’t made up – they’re real projects we created here in L.A., out of hope and optimism and courage and confidence and caring community members.  We’re not kidding each other that this is pretty much a flat-out race against time, to get systems set up so that they are in place as people discover how much they desperately need them.  Tim Jackson, with a quiet voice amid a Totnes circle, reminded us all that the project at hand is creating resilience through collapse.

Maybe that is why the Mayor's office is so eager to work with us, and the massive local school district too.  Maybe they “get it” much deeper than they will publicly admit, yet they are willing to pour their fears into action.  And that action means we may be breaking ground on a new community garden on January 17.

This isn’t idealism.  This is clearheaded and considered action.  It has taken painstaking coordination, endless conferences and considerable connections to make this happen.  One “C” word we don’t have a lot of is Cash, but we’re moving forward anyway, showing the powers-that-be how much can be done with existing materials, repurposed items, in-kind contributions, a committed volunteer workforce, and the scarce resources currently at our fingertips.

Let’s not delude ourselves.  While Baker and her armchair warriors nit-pick Hopkins about “scared versus sacred,” we’re busy getting things done.  We’re getting more-resilient infrastructure built, creating valuable network connections, and crafting real-live working models that can be replicated in other sites around our city.  The first garden in my local neighborhood has been feeding people for three years, and with a little luck the second garden will be producing by summertime.  I don’t think any of it would happen if I hounded people with Baker’s favorite “C” word.  I prefer my list.

This is part of a dialog about the nature of the Transition movement that includes: Rob Hopkins' "A Critical Response," and Joanne's earlier piece "The Power of Positive"

Joanne Poyourow is one of the founding core team members of the Transition Los Angeles city hub.  She is the cofounder of the Environmental Change-Makers, the initiating group for Transition ideas for many areas of L.A.  Her fingers are in the soil regularly as she designs community gardens, grows vegetables for her family, homeschools her children, and raises chickens ... all in the middle of the city, within 6 blocks of LAX International airport.

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