Taking Practical Action Toward Resilience: Falls Church Film Screening and Panel

By Ronald Lapitan, High School Student & member of Transition Mulling group, Falls Church, VA

This post is part of a series called “Taking Practical Action Toward Resilience” highlighting inspiring actions that people and communities across the country are taking as part of this year's Transition Challenge

Around 2:30, we went to the room we had reserved in the Falls Church Community Center to host the screening. We pasted three sheets of paper to the walls for community members to leave comments on during the event. Some partners set up food while others greeted community members who were entering. Our team did well with introducing ourselves to new neighbors and engaging them in conversation. People who attended included community members involved in local environmental actions such as creating wildlife habitats in the gardens of community homes, one of the high school teachers of the youth within the group, and many neighbors just interested in learning more.

 

At 3:00 our master of ceremonies Peter asked everyone to sit down, explained how our team became engaged in sharing Transition, and then asked us to turn to the person next to us, tell them our name, what interested us to come, and what we were excited about. This helped to create a social space. We started playing In Transition 2.0. There were points when you could tell the audience was being inspired or touched by what the were seeing in the creativity of the solutions and the fostering of relationships displayed in the different communities.

After the film, we set up the table for our question panel of four. Peter asked them two questions: 1. What were your reactions to the film? 2. How might you see such efforts translating to Falls Church? It's truly amazing how much you can learn just by creating the spaces for discussion and engaging your neighbors in your community.

Our first panelist was Maria, a junior from our local George Mason High School on the current steering group. What stood out to her was the way in which communities confronted the bigger challenges of our time by just focusing on the well being of their own communities which they could take ownership of. In bettering their own communities, they created holistic responses to respond to world questions like climate change and resource use. She suggested community members taking up this mentality of promoting a concern for the collective health of the world by becoming engaged in the health of our own community and said that it would be nice if local youth become more in touch with our local government. I think all of us in the audience and question panel were inspired listening to this youth who was participating equally in a social discourse with community leaders and grown community members.

    

Our next panelist Tim, also a steering group partner, is Chairman of our Environmental Services Council, a group that does research on topics such as the handling of community solid domestic waste and community energy use and makes recommendations to our City Council. In response to seeing the communities in the film who had established cooperatively owned energy sources or had connected with local government to plan "Energy Descent," he said that the energy of our community is generated by Dominion, a company that generates the energy hundreds of miles away and then sells it to Falls Church with a seemingly reasonable price. However, there are hidden costs in the form of environmental impacts and impacts to health which communities pick up later in their health insurance and taxes. For the moment, there are challenges for Falls Church establishing a cooperatively owned power-grid because Dominion, with some state help, has established a monopoly in Virginia and has ways of intimidating competition. He discussed some things that we were already doing, such as the EPA Challenge in which community homes buy "energy certificates" which go to companies producing renewable energies. Some time ago, Falls Church along with other jurisdictions put pressure on Dominion to allow this to happen.

Our next panelist was Dave Snyder, a member of our steering group passionate about the blossoming of this effort and also one of our City Councilmen. He started out by reading some concepts from the film that touched him which included, "This feels more like a party than a revolution," and, "Change without suffering." He said that he had looked into the green actions of the community and found that their were many community led efforts that received little attention, but people know little about them or don't even know they exist. He suggested that a good place to start would be to draw attention to these efforts, maybe having a booth for them at the next community Memorial Day parade. Later he would say that we should work for two things: consolidating the existing efforts of our community and building off of them. In response to the communities in the film who used Transition to find new strength in relationships and new ideas as a response to disasters such as Transition Fujino after the 3/11 disaster and the Transition community in New Zealand during the earthquakes of 2011, Dave said that he had spent more time in the Emergency Response Center in the past two years than in the past decade. Falls Church has recently experienced more storms such as the Derecho which shut off power to portions of the community, so the concept of resilience in support systems is becoming more relevant to us.

Our fourth panelist was Nikki Graves Henderson, a founder of our Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation which preserves and shares the culture of Falls Church, particularly the civil rights culture. She is an active contributor to our arts culture, and her grandmother on her husband's side founded our Mary Ellen Henderson Elementary School, originally founded as a school that African-American children would be allowed to attend. She said that she had often contemplated how a community might respond to the different aspects of problems like climate change, and what most touched her was how the communities of the film doing this seemed to find a common ground. They fostered new relationships and became almost like family, and she was moved by these forming of human relationships and connections as an underlying value of Transition. She shared that the other day she was having a conversation with a friend who, like herself, lives separate from all of her grown children. She asked her friend, "If something were to happen to us, how long might it take for someone in the community to find out?" It was moving for the audience to hear her comments. Mrs. Henderson hosts the Tinner Hill Blue's Festival, an annual community event where neighbors come together in the park for a day of Blue's music. She said that when she started hosting the Blue's Festival, she would have a booth for local non-profit organizations to talk about themselves free of charge, and she added that at the upcoming festival she could do this for some of the already existing environmental groups to make themselves known to the community.

Afterwards the audience contributed to the discussion. At one point, Mr. Henderson in the audience, having been impressed by Transition Brixton's "pay by text" digital currency, asked Mr. Dave Snyder if there were laws in Virginia that might prevent the community from creating it's own local currency to keep value within the community. "Knowing Virginia, there probably is," Dave said. We laughed, and Dave made a note to look into it later. It was awesome to be in this space where community members could pose questions so openly to a City Councilman who would give direct responses and make notes to personally look further into their questions. We'd established the space of egalitarian collective consultation that we had hoped for.

Afterwards, community members were engaged in discussion. We collected emails as neighbors met neighbors. Contact information was exchanged between many people, and we came away with a feeling that we'd generated not only the interest but the hope that we'd aimed for. The best conversations take more time than you have for them, and it was truly inspiring to have started such a discussion. We stayed there in conversation until a staff from the community center asked us to start wrapping up. Our next community event is planned at the Community Center for June 2 as a World Cafe style discussion. Participants in this event have been invited to join in the planning meetings for the next event, and a discussion on Transition by youth in the group is planned in the following weeks at the High School with the student Environmental Club to engage more of the local youth in this intergenerational discussion.

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