Dispatches from the Building Resilient Communities Convergence

From Carolyne Stayton, Transition US Executive Director:

This past 4 weeks has been packed with gatherings, conferences and convergences. Starting in south England with the gathering of national Transition hubs (representing 26 countries), then the international Transition Network conference (representing 35 countries), on to the Building Resilient Communities Convergence (more on the BRCC to come), and culminating at the Bioneers conference in San Rafael, CA. What a ride!

Rather than reviewing the international Transition Network conference (some highlights in a blog here), or Bioneers (still digesting) I’ll mention a few potent highlights from the BRCC.

This was the second Building Resilient Communities Convergence and was once again held in conjunction with the Northern California Permaculture Convergence. About 450 people attended 1-3 of the event days (and nights) in an outdoor setting, in the middle of rural Mendocino County (Hopland, California). This year the attendees hailed predominantly from NorCal including a contingent from Lake County just north, a county that while I was enjoying the moors and mists of southern England was ablaze with the ‘Valley Fire’. This fast moving conflagration seared through 76,000 acres and 1,958 structures. These included, homes, livelihoods, schools, churches… the works. So we gathered together in Hopland, with a palpable overarching soberness that this resilience-building is real, needed and now.

A strong theme that wove through this event (and the Bioneers conference too) was social justice. The BRCC offered a range of SJ presenters, panels, and courageous conversations. Highpoints to me were a facilitated conversation by Susan Juniper Park on Cultural Appropriation and the panel moderated by Urban Tilth’s Executive Director Doria Robinson with Kelly Carlisle of Acta Non Verba Farm, Mateo Nube of Movement Generation, and Trathen Heckman of Daily Acts and Transition US. This was a lively dialogue about creating a Just Transition – towards local, living, loving, linked economies, rooted in racial, class & gender justice. The courage demonstrated in both of these sessions set the stage for a deeper dive into the forging of partnerships, the building of co-capacity, and authentic support of leadership coming from communities on the frontlines of ecological destruction.

Not only was it mind- and heart- opening to have shared days and nights with such potent leaders, it was also a launch into the next phase of ally-ship, unity, and enhanced possibility. It somehow feels that we are all arriving from various sectors to that tipping point and in the words of Joanna Macy “we are beginning to wake up, as from a millennia-long sleep, to a whole new relationship to our world, to ourselves and each other”.

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From Nils Palsson, Transition US Communications & Special Projects Coordinator:

There is great urgency in our work.

Indigenous elder ChoQosh Auh’Ho’Oh was one of the many ecological luminaries present at the 2015 Building Resilient Communities Convergence, and — as if to echo the very calls of Mother Earth herself in these transformational times of global warming and resource depletion — she reminded us of the words of a Hopi elder:

“You have been telling the people that this is the Eleventh Hour. Now, you must go back and tell the people that this is THE Hour, and there are things to be considered. Where are you living? What are you doing? What are your relationships? Are you in right relation? Where is your water?”

As reckless globalization and industrial capitalism continue to spiral out of control on a planet increasingly out of equilibrium, people of all backgrounds, all

colors, all ages and all languages are finding that we are all part of a common movement — and a movement that is much larger and more diverse than many of us may realize. Whether or not we recognize it, we are supported in our work, and we are not alone.

These words will reach an unknown number of community organizers and local leaders out there in the resilience-building trenches. Some of you may have been at this Permaculture Convergence that took place in, northern CA, from October 8-10, 2015. Perhaps you live far away and couldn’t make it. Either way, I hope to briefly distill and channel some of the movement-making medicine I experienced there. 

I journeyed about an hour by car, to the Convergence in Hopland, Mendocino County — just over the hills to the west of my native Lake County: a land now best known for the devastation caused there in the recent “Valley Fire,” one of the most devastating wildfires in California’s history.

Thanks to the generosity of the Convergence organizers and sponsors, dozens of Lake County residents displaced and otherwise affected by this fire were able to inexpensively attend the event, host a free booth, and share some time on the Main Stage along with such permaculture paragons as Toby Hemenway, Bryant Terry and Starhawk. 

I felt honored to represent my burned homeland and my displaced friends and family at this sacred gathering of kindred spirits — honored to sing the song of my people and our healing. It is a redemption song, a song of the Phoenix. In the wake of this massively devastating fire — and in the face of ongoing crises in housing the displaced people and remediating the land and watersheds — the people of Lake County are rising up together, like that mythic bird of flame, to rebuild in a regenerative way, a good way, a way that honors nature and ourselves and each other.

I noticed at this gathering a common, dawning realization that our work in transition and permaculture — our work in building resilient community — is also by definition emergency preparedness work. We are planting the food, saving the water, sharing the knowledge, and building the grassroots networks that we will all need in our respective communities as the chickens of capitalism and global warming continue to come home to roost (in the form of poverty, hunger, displacement, wildfires, droughts, floods, and other such consequences of our modern culture’s misguided ways).

Like those in attendance at the Convergence, most of you reading this are likely to be leaders already in this movement. As oil production peaks, sea levels rise, and the urgency of our work is revealed more and more clearly, we are each doing our part in to ride the wave of this big transition, and to build real community resilience in our neighborhoods and bio-regions before the hour is too late.

For folks like us — folks awakened or awakening to the epic and challenging truths of our times — gathering is essential. It may be an annual permaculture festival; it may be a monthly Transition potluck or a weekly cup of tea with friends; but another truth manifest at the Convergence was this: There is Medicine in Gathering. As community organizers and activists and teachers and transitioners, we need to take care of ourselves, get connected, and stay inspired.

That means peeking out from our own apparently isolated struggles every now and then to find how connected and supported, how united, we truly are in the greater community of this Movement.

I stand in awe of many of the great teachers and co-leaders whose work I got to witness at this beautiful gathering. People working on crucial issues like social justice and land sovereignty, folks sharing useful knowledge and skills on natural building, permaculture and tending the wild; presenters sharing cutting-edge technologies and ancient wisdom; blessed food, great music, dancing, camping… Inspiration abounded. And where most of it came from was the people, the participants in this movement (leaders, all!) interacting and conspiring — literally, breathing together — to bring further life to this movement toward thriving, resilient, abundant lives in community.

“Know your garden,” Grandma ChoQosh said, continuing the Hopi invocation. 

“It is time to speak your truth. Create your Community. Be good to each other. And do not look outside yourself for the leader.”

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