What Might a Transition Response to the Syrian Refugee Crisis Look Like?

The civil war in Syria was triggered by a five year drought, which laid waste to a large portion of Syrian agriculture.  This drought, NOAA has confirmed, was considerably exacerbated by global warming.  We in America are disproportionately responsible for climate change.  We are responsible for the war, the killing, the increased terrorism, and the refugee crisis—at least in some measure.  I knew all these things, but the moment I said them altogether and out loud, the wheels of remorse and action intermeshed and began churning in my gut.

Just as I was putting these obvious two and twos together, I caught word that my governor in Wisconsin, along with a score of other governors, is trying to block all Syrian immigration to our state, on the grounds of “security.” Why? Because of the one in two hundred million or so chance that someone here might actually suffer direct and immediate consequences of our collective way of life.

(Image at right: NOAA concluded in 2011 that “human-caused climate change [is now] a major factor in more frequent Mediterranean droughts.” Reds and oranges highlight lands around the Mediterranean that experienced significantly drier winters during 1971-2010 than the comparison period of 1902-2010. From NOAA via Climate Progress.)

Apparently we need a grassroots response to this as well.  We need a response that extends a loving hand while raising a fist of protest, a response that takes responsibility for our actions, raises awareness, draws people in, proves to ourselves and others what we are all about and how we can remake a better world.

Here’s my idea.  What if every Transition Initiative in America would (or would help) sponsor a Syrian family seeking refuge?  Could we find housing, clothing, aid in employment and acculturation in our cities and towns?  Could we pry open the arms of our larger communities?  I think so; I think because of its lack of abstraction, the coming together and the growing understanding that a project like this could inspire might be immense.  Many of my liberal, but non-Transitionny, friends are as angry and upset as I; but without the Transition sense that we are the people we’ve been waiting for, nor the in-place network of action-oriented and likeminded people, they don’t know where to begin.  Many would join us in this sort of project.

I know where to begin, but don’t know much beyond that.  For even supporting one family is a giant project with all sorts of legal and logistical implications.  I would like to start a conversation about how we might make this happen.  I welcome anyone who has good ideas and a sense of the possible, but am especially interested in seeking the help of those with connections to Syria, experience with relevant government agencies, an understanding of the struggles and needs of displaced people, familiarity with relevant laws, a member of a transition group that might want to be first in line, and all the other sorts of challenges I have yet to even consider.  This is an all hands on deck project.  We’ve heard “the message” our leaders want to send to terrorists and the (other) nations they come from.  Let’s send them a Transition message.

If you're interested in having this conversation, contact Erik at artisan1@milwpc.com

Erik Lindberg received his Ph.D. in English and Comparative Literature in 1998, with a focus on cultural theory. After completing his degree, Lindberg began his career as a carpenter, and now owns a small, award-winning company that specializes in historical restoration. In 2008 he started Milwaukee’s first rooftop farm, and was a co-founder of the Victory Garden Initiative, as well as a member of Transition Milwaukee’s inaugural steering committee. He lives in Milwaukee with his wife and young twin boys.

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