Transition Culture

An Evolving Exploration into the Head, Heart and Hands of Energy Descent

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1 Jun 2011

Lock on – notes towards an article on activism and transition

Charlotte Du Cann’s piece on Transition and activism has generated much debate and discussion.  A few people have mentioned that they were concerned that people were commenting on my response without having read her original piece.  So here it is… reposted with thanks.

“To take in what is happening an inter-disciplinary vision is necessary in order to connect ‘the fields’ that are institutionally kept separate”.

John Berger, Hold Everything Dear

“No is one of the most honourable words in the English language,” said Deepak. “It needs to be reclaimed.” Deepak Rughani is a campaigner and co-director of Biofuelwatch and he’s talking about the defence of natural ecosystems, an area he feels the Transition movement ignores. Without action to prevent the exploitation of the wild lands reduction of carbon emissions becomes meaningless. Without stringent protection of the pristine grasslands and rainforest in the Amazon basin the world’s rainfall patterns are dramatically disturbed and thus our ability to feed ourselves.

I’m researching a piece for the Transition newsletter about the relationship between activism and Transition and finding it’s a giant subject. Too large really for one voice and one blog. And when we say activism what exactly do we mean? Does this include campaigning and grassroots community activism, as well as direct action and civil disobedience?

I had met Deepak at our meeting to discuss Nicole Foss’s talk on financial deflation and our economic future where he had given an introductory overview. That’s when I noticed a shift that was happening in Transition. We had been working diligently on our community projects, building culture and infrastructure, when BAM! the world stormed right back into the room. Although we were talking about local solutions we were also debating the big global issues: civil liberties, civil disobedience. There was a buzz in the air I hadn’t felt in a long while. It brought a reality and an urgency into play that had been missing.

2011 is not 2010. It is the year when politics came back into all our lives, as we found ourselves marching against the Government’s public spending cuts, watching the uprisings in the Middle East with fast-beating hearts – a time when we are being challenged to take a stand in a way that was no longer just about saying Yes.

It’s frustrating that (activism) is usually framed as “negative” campaigning, as it’s all about making a more positive world and those positive messages are usually there but just not heard as loudly. For example the campaign “against” GM crops also pushed the alternatives of organic very heavily, campaigners “against” nuclear power sing the praises of renewables, and “anti”-incineration campaigners promote reduction of waste, effective recycling etc. Climate Camp not only highlighted problems but modeled a sustainable eco-village of thousands with its own energy production, grey water, compost loos, vegan food, democratic decision making structures etc. Far more than just opposing stuff. As I said before – holistic. (Rhizome Co-op from the Transition Network Forum on Activism and Transition

The fact is many people in Transition are also activists and campaigners and as I began speaking with some of them I realised that we don’t talk about it much. We live our lives in separate stories. In our meetings we are Transitioners and in the “outside world” we are someone else. It’s a phenomenon of our culture that Paul Kingsnorth writes about in the second issue of Dark Mountain. In Transition Norwich there are people who are activists for Greenpeace, for CND, who go on climate actions and marches, who sign petitions, who fight for the NHS, for the forests, for the libraries, who protest against Tescos, against the Northern Distributor road, who lobby politicians and councillors, who are those councillors, who are the people who speak with everyone and do not close down.

Some of us find that saying yes inevitably means saying no. Chris Hull, a founder of TN and also an active anti-Tesco campaigner (see right as Darth Vadar!) observes that being involved in local business and local food production means you will be against supermarkets by default and no matter how far you go to speak with those in power and civic office, “you get to a point where you are pulling in different directions in subtle and sometimes in subliminal ways, where the business-as-usual model is directly conflicting with Transition.”

Christine Way has just returned from successfully blockading a port in Scotland to bring attention to the containers of “green” bio-mass woodchips from Brazil for electricity. A fellow founder of TN she has always maintained that both forces for change need to work together. And that just as Transition needs to keep the bigger picture in mind in all it does – those drivers of climate change, peak oil and economics – so activism needs to include the positive moves that Transition works hard to provide, and not become snared up in battling against the Establishment.

What alternatives are you providing?

One of Transition’s strengths is its fluidity and I’m becoming aware of this fluidity the more I speak with everyoone. It’s not stuck in ideology or dogma and deliberately doesn’t fight the enemy. It works by including many kinds of people and a diversity of approach. In this it has a unique ability to connect and work alongside the many forces for change that already exist. The empire divides and conquers. To embrace activism as a dynamic force within the whole pattern of Transition strengthens it. We need to include those dramatic actions that highlight our planetary dilemmas because our consciousness is shifting towards what Rifkind calls the dramaturgical and the bio-spheric. Acting within the collective consciousness of the earth. And that means making moves in real life, not just in our heads. Because This Is It is not longer a slogan.

For a long time we have been able to be the audience to history, to live our lives theoretically. We can watch everything on our screens, at arm’s length. But now history is coming into our streets and into our lives and we need to know how to act, or support those who act on our behalf. If we cheer for those bold protesters in Tahrir Square, in Wisconsin, for the thousands of campaign groups that Paul Hawken wrote about in Blessed Unrest, we need also to cheer for those who occupy Fortnum and Masons and the Royal Bank of Scotland, who protest against the corporations who threaten those fragile eco-systems on which we depend. The people who climb nuclear power stations and coal smokestacks and oil rigs to bring attention to the crucial debate about energy and the citizen journalists that write and blog about them.

In the current forum on the Transition Network you can find the famous quote: Be the change you wish to see in the world used to enforce the positive nature of Transition. Many people have fled environmentalism and activism and joined initiatives because they felt to say only NO was an exhausting and often deeply negative experience.
However in this desire to get away from the bad stuff we forget that Ghandi was an activist par excellence and encouraged people to put their bodies before the brute force of Empire. And went to prison for it more than once. We forget that The Guardian newspaper came about when the media of the day failed to report the Peterloo Massacre in Manchester in which 60,000 peaceful protesters were attacked by the army. We live in a society that is the end result of thousands of civil uprisings and direct actions: thousands of people whose names we do not know who have put themselves on the line. Understandably we would rather be working steadily on our energy descent action plans over the next 2o years and shifting happily towards a low carbon way of life.

But 2011 is not 2010. And Transition is changing its tempo. We’re not in the slow movement right now. We have to see that the strength of Transition initiatives lies in its secure root within communities, in its network of communications and that these provide a stable base for changes in the way single-issue actions, existing as they do on the edge of society, over a short time, do not. We have to see equally that our ability to think in many disciplines at once, which we have practiced over these years, puts us at an advantage, gives us an ability to resist splitting into polarity, the kind of polarity that causes the violence and hatred that activism and protests can descend into.
The recent riots in Bristol were right in the middle of Transition Montpelier’s neighbourhood. They focused around the new Tesco, although there was a lot more to it. A local campaigning group (No Tesco in Stokes Croft) had been peacefully protesting against the supermarket for well over a year.

The riots weren’t really about the Tesco, but it became ‘the story’ that the media hung their hats on. They began when the police raided a squat across the road on an unfounded suspicion at rush hour on Maundy Thursday. They then stayed there for hours, winding everyone up, and everyone got very over-excited and it ended up in a big punch up. Tesco was only involved when the police mysteriously retreated, and left an unlocked police car outside the un-loved store at 1 am, after hours of street punch ups. Unsurprisingly, the crowd, left to their own aggravated devices, smashed up the car and then laid into the store. Then the police came back and the fighting continued.

The campaigning group had nothing to do with the riots, and everyone was saddened by the riots.The campaigning group became involved in the media storm that followed the riots; they were bombarded with calls and emails from journalists, and tried to present a balanced response under a huge amount of pressure.Some of the stories painted un-favourable pictures about the campaigning group, as you might imagine! A few local papers used the story as a
way to stir controversy.

Transition Montpelier had supported the peaceful protest from the beginning, as we weren’t that keen on Tesco, and the campaigning group had always been suggesting positive alternatives to it.They still are – food hubs are underway, local cafes and more. And they are our friends and neighbours. We did have discussions about whether we should support the campaign as we’re not a ‘campaigning organisation’, and agreed to share news and so forth about the campaign.

The riots, unsurprisingly, scared a lot of residents. The stories in the media, particularly the negative ones about the campaign, made a few of the residents feel that the campaign was negative and causally related to the riots. Transition Montpelier’s support of the campaign was therefore seen in not agreat light by these folks. Naturally, we don’t know how many people it is, but didn’t feel great about it all. It’s all very complicated! We continue to support the campaign group and local food groups. (Ed Mitchell, Transition Montpelier)

Being rooted in neighbourhood, in place, people and plants, is what Transition Heathrow discovered after running a successful campaign against the third runway at Heathrow. When they began to grow plants in a deserted greenhouse in the once-threatened village of Sipton with explicit support of most of the locals, the local MP and a spokesman for the local police. Here’s a spokesman from the highly active initiative that has brought a fresh burst of energy into the movement

Before the Transition Heathrow project had even begun, one of our initial key aims was to combine climate activism with local community initiatives by adding a more radical edge to the Transition Towns movement. The co-founders of Transition Heathrow all had a background of taking direct action with anti airport expansion group Plane Stupid and so we had experienced the massive success and impact that direct action had on framing the debate around aviation in the UK. It was off the back of Plane Stupid’s successful work around the third runway at Heathrow that Transition Heathrow was born. Although everyone in the movement against the 3rd runway was extremely proud that the runway was cancelled, as individuals we wanted to go beyond putting our bodies on the line for a day, to a way of creating change that lasts way longer than front page headlines in newspapers the day after an action. This is where the transition movement comes in and has a big part to play.

What was most appealing about the transition model for us is that it is about the direct action of everyday life. We all know that governments and corporations are failing us when it comes to environmental issues and so clearly we need to take matters into our own hands. This is why transitioners “just do it themselves.” So when we wanted to plant stuff – we did some guerrilla gardening. And when we wanted a site we squatted some abandoned land and brought it back into use. When we wanted to support the BA cabin crew strikes we took part in a solidarity bike ride through terminal 5. (Joe Ryle, Transition Heathrow).

It takes a lot of courage to take direct action, to cross the line, to look the public and the policeman in the eye as you challenge the status quo. Even in small ways. The first time I took part in an action was a simple thing: we were a group defending a patch of green land in Oxford against developers and rode in a barge up the canal to paint the builder’s hoardings with our loud protest. But my hands were shaking as I wrote Blake’s lines on the wall:

Bring me my bow of burning gold, bring me my arrows of desire.

That day something changed utterly within me. I had taken a step that a whole lifetime of well-behaved conditioning had tried to prevent. We all have those preventions in place inside. Our cultural conditioning keeps our minds compartmentalised, our emotions trained to seek stabilisation at all costs, to appear to be moral and upstanding citizens at all times. We have to see that without talking about our actions, without coming out about our radical nature, without sharing our private thoughts about the future, all our self-education that includes Marxist theory, Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, the history of Levellers and Diggers, without connecting with all the land sovereignty movements that now exist around the world, Transition does not have the strength or wit or daring to challenge the dominant worldview. It runs the risk of becoming hidebound by convention and fragmenting, as indeed some initiatives have done in different places.

Without an ability to embrace different aspects and incentives for change, the Yes in the No and the No in the Yes, we run the danger of living in a never-never land of allotments and spiritual cliches. Being the change we want to see as a result, rather than the being change that is the (often messy) process.

Not all activists who are also Transitioners agree with the two things working together. In Lewes currently there are two interesting things happening: the construction of the UK’s first community-owned 98kW solar power station, and the occupation of three acres of green land near the centre of town. The first is seen as a Transition project and the second is not. Superficially unrelated but in fact close in aim (localisation of production), the two activities have many people involved in common including councillors, Transition members and residents:

This is quite hard for most people to grasp in my experience. Long- term strategic planning and R&D are understood in terms of industry but not in terms of cultural and social change which mostly comes about through single-issue campaigns resulting in pieces of legislation which can also unfortunately be reversed. Transition is a design framework for cultural change which does not require changes in the law.Which is not to say that designers can’t also be campaigners and vice versa. Many initiatives have convergent aims but differ in methodology. These range across political, philosophical, economic, social and psychospiritual pursuits. So for example someone who protests in London against tax evasion can also be setting up a local food group in her home town and developing personal effectiveness and empowerment. She’s engaging in activism, transition and transformation! While these categories overlap and provide mutual positive reinforcement, they preserve functionality best by remaining distinct.(Dirk Campbell, Transition Lewes) 

This is a working document. It’s an ongoing conversation that’s happening in Transition at the moment, one that has only really just begun. So I’ll leave off now with a review of a documentary about activism that brings home the kind of courage and energy and risks many people take on our behalf. It’s a grassroots film that like Inuit Knowledge and Climate Change is a story told from the people who take part. It’s not Hollywood, it’s not the BBC but it is what is happening right now in a town near you. Lock on.

 

Just Do It reviewed by Adrienne Campbell (Transition Lewes)

Just Do It is a new documentary film that follows the lives of several environmental activists over a year of civil disbedience and direct action.

Watching the various actions, I started to feel involved and even concerned for some of the young people as they put their bodies in the way for the sake of what they believed in. Although I’m a dyed in the wool transitoner, I’ve done a little playful, lawful activism on the side, and was inspired and emboldened.

I recommend this film to transition groups who might want to attract a younger audience and who also might wish to explore the wide, largely unexplored zone of playful activism, which sits beween normal behaviour and unlawful behaviour. Of course, Transition isn’t about campaigning or activism but there is significant overlap and perhaps attitudes and skills to be learned.

The world launch of the film, which was funded through crowdsourcing, at the Sheffield Documentary Film Festival in June will be followed by showings at local cinemas. If your transition group would like to encourage your local cinema to show it, please contact the film makers from the informative website here

Holding the banner at The Wave, 2009 (Mark Watson); protest banner, Greenpeace USA; Writing on the Wall in Bristol (Ed Mitchell); Poster from Grow Heathrow; ZAD (Zone a Defendre) demonstration, France; South East climate camp, St Anne’s School, Lewes.

Comments are now closed on this site, please visit Rob Hopkins' blog at Transition Network to read new posts and take part in discussions.

12 Comments

Shaun Bartone
1 Jun 12:52pm

This is a brilliant synthesis of the local sustainability movement that is Transition Towns and the anti-globalization, anti-corporate movements that promote direct action against the Corporate State. Local sustainability provides an independent, positive and nurturing home base in which to build community, and that home base gives us the strength and power to attack the Corporate State with all our might.

John Robertson
1 Jun 4:56pm

The appeal of the transition movement for me and others is that individuals can help each other solving the technical challenges of transitioning to a low energy lifestyle.

Activism reached a dead-end in Copenhagen. The world political order effectively neutralized activists. China is a key player in any climate consensus.

It is time to take off the clown suits and deal with the reality of global warming by individual action. I hope the transition movement is not co-opted by some self-appointed Savonarola as it is doing useful work.

josiah Meldrum
2 Jun 10:03am

Hmm, not sure I agree with you John.

Fairly obviously none of us want Transition to be taken over by hair-shirted book-burners, but I’m pretty sure that isn’t happening and won’t happen (though there will always be those opposed to Transition who will characterise us as exactly that).

As to the world political order neutralizing activists at Copenhagen: Probably worth talking to some Egyptians, Algerian’s or even campaigners for public services here in my own county of Suffolk (UK): none would agree.

Individual action is, in my view fairly obviously, only part of the answer. More to the point I think Transition is actually all about collective action for change (as you acknowledge in your first para).

I’m more than happy with this definition of activism (the first that Google found – it’s from Wikipedia):

“Activism consists of intentional action to bring about social, political, economic, or environmental change”

Transition is activism and, like it or not, it is seen in that light by many involved and by many who come into contact with it.

Shauna
2 Jun 7:54pm

Maybe Charlotte could start a “Transaction” group — which would use the ideas she likes from Transition — and also include lobbying and protesting as a tactic.

That would make the distinction between the two models clear and those of us who are not interested in protesting and lobbying under the banner of Transition can continue using the Transition ingredients as they are now.

Nick Towle
3 Jun 2:36am

Rob, I’m left wondering if Totnes has experienced the sort of social or structural upheaval that many fledgling Transition initiatives are faced with? It appears the efforts of Transition Town Totnes are yet to pose a serious challenge to the status quo in the region and there may be little activity currently within Totnes, which significantly undermines the vision for a more localised and resilient. I acknowledge others who have mentioned the apocalypse vision where a shadow system is highly evolved and ready to fill the void as the dominant system collapses. This isn’t how I envisaged Transition being successful.

My feeling is that many communities may not have the time or resources in the future to effectively reverse damaging decisions that are made today. Examples I’ve seen include removal of cycling infrastructure to expand roadways or demolition of community infrastructure for multistorey carparks. When resilience indicators such as number of short trips taken by car and number of carparks per residents are considered then the local transition initiatives have identified such developments as undermining the vision to build a more resilient community. Existing research tells us that no amount of encouragement or active support (e.g. Dr Bike) will produce a transformative effect in the opposite direction.

In my experience in the health sector we talk about prevention being better than a cure and Charlotte’s article speaks to this maxim.

Yours in Transition,

Nick T

John Mason
3 Jun 5:41am

Nick, some interesting points and questions raised there.

Posing a serious challenge to the status quo wasn’t the initial reason why I got involved in the Transition movement, but I find myself as an individual doing just that more and more these days. The Machynlleth area has long been associated with the term “sustainability”, but the reality, once you look under the carpet, is more “business as usual”, with a few notable exceptions – and those are not necessarily where one might expect them to be!

The status quo as I perceive it is still a juggernaut going down a long hill with failing brakes, and it is going to take a lot more than sitting in a circle holding hands to deal with that.

Having said which, had I not got involved with Transition, I would not have become an avid veg-gardener, even with quite a few permaculture ideas blended-in, so I owe the whole thing an immense debt of personal gratitude for that alone.

I hope I’m not alone though in saying, “where do I take it from here?” Your medical analogy is spot-on yet everywhere I look around me I see so many symptoms.

Cheers – John

Carol Guilen
3 Jun 2:36pm

Well, I have taken part on a few simple campaigning acts here in Brazil. I consider myself a transitioner, eventhough only with personal and family initiatives untill now. But I’d like to share my view in this subject.

As I see it, transition, as well as permaculture, colaborative consumption, etc., are the evolution of activism itself.

It’s a way of confronting old degradating socioenvironmental structure just as it happens in tradirional activism. But instead of ligning up against machines or going to streets with placars, we’re in fact constructing the solution.

Just as someone said in the (R)Evoltuion movie, it’s about giving society a real alternative, showing the world it’s possible, right here and now. And it’s much more effective than just pointing out the problems. Getting our hands on in creating new possibilities for a new world, we’re doing a true activism, but a more positive one.

At the same time, this “new activism” allows us to see thw two faces of the coin – several times I’ve seen traditional activists fighting against metal industries, at the same time they were drinking coke in a can and driving cars. While you’re building a new reallity, you must have a more holistic and mindful approache.

One more advantage is that new activism is able to engage people that don’t like conflicts, and therefore were restistent about putting their bodies to defend a tree about to be cut down. It’s also capable of mobilizing people who are more practical then theoretical, people who want to use their wo hands to create instead of just communicating.

I value very much traditional activism, as it has contributed greatly to our History and is still useful for engaging people and communicating corporations and governments about ‘what we don’t want’. But I see transition and similar movements as an improved way of activism, the right one for the new millenium and the effective one to start and develop the new socioecnomic paradigm.

Ed Christwitz
5 Jun 3:16am

Politics, Spirit, and Pandora’s Box

I feel grateful for Charlotte’s balanced perspective. I wrote this before reading the comments and want to thank Shaun Barbone for his “home base” image, and Carol Guillen for her “holistic and mindful” approach, which address the ends of the spectrum which I see.
I think we all need to consider how and in which contexts we do politics, and admit that avoiding activism is also a political statement, one which usually plays into the hands of earth-despoiling power addicts and unscrupulomaniacs in worldly power.
Well known activists in the transition movement may try to say that their activism is separate, in order to insulate their transition town from attacks by polarity bears on either side. That caveat is laudable, but usually unrealistic, due to “guilt” by association. But the average activist without a media record may still find that they don’t endanger their gentle friends in the local transition movement, if using liberal disclaimers.
I agree with Rob Hopkins that it works better to try to offend the fewest possible people and use language which doesn’t trigger them when possible. Reputation means something to sponsors who may be getting some advertising through a popular and unpolarized organization.
At some point, however, we all need to look at substance and how it is impacted by our public persona. For example, Obama has tried to please everyone and now his polls are quite low. This is because he has not only sacrificed the substance of what he was preaching in the campaign, but has actively promoted the demise of the u.s. Constitution by supporting the worst and latest versions of the patriot act, and continuing the policies of torture and unaccountability and war which have destroyed the integrity and image of the u.s. His words have become almost as Orwellian as those of Cheney and Bush.
Gandhi, well quoted by Charlotte, emphasized his positive programs more than his negative non-violence. And so does Transition. And as people rise up out of fear and alienation through community resilience and hope, some are regaining the ability to take independent political stands, as Charlotte notes, even if only on the internet.
I believe Gandhi and India pulled it off not so much because he was a brilliant, British-trained lawyer and activist, but because he and his movement were grounded in Spirit, Love, Truth, and other wholistic interrelationships in deep twice-daily communion. Deep ecology, deeper transition.
Ahhhhh, Spirit, another way to alienate people, and religion, bubbling troublings from Pandora’s political pot. Rob has also warned us of the dangers of heart and soul going too far and alienating the scientific community. But both Martin Luther King and Gandhi, (and many others who together were and are the main satyagraha) for all the enemies they trigger, find that loving their way through conflict works miracles of substance.
Sustainability in my opinion is best served through a foundation of shared substance, which may include more people in the long run. I see this Substance or Quality in the many non-violent regime changes of the last century. Those “transitioners” also had values, principles, ethical processes and practical purposes.
The perversion of the so-called successes of fire bombing and nuclear terrorism used by NATO shows that in the short run, the public persona falls for so-called peace through force, and the media still eats it up. But a boring extension of 10,000 years of oppression and adrenalin doesn’t prove, and will never prove to me that might makes right. And since we don’t own the media, and the power and violence addicts seem to make it sell, we need our own “salt marches and spinning wheels”. These make us strong and substantial, and they eventually make a point. And mostly they make us happy and more resilient. When our communities are strong and happy enough, and when our world network is good enough, then our political activism will also have substance, and enjoy courageous sponsors who aren’t co-dependent upon the stocks, derivatives, leak-to-the rich-impossible-to-bail-out national currencies and national ad agencies, weapons, torture, sick secrets, hate radio, etc.
So paradoxically, I maintain that if healthy Spirit (whatever you call it) is our substantial, sustainable and yes eternal foundation, free of anti-scientific and anti-political and anti-environmental bias, then we will grow enough trees of principle and substance to produce a diverse and beautiful forest where personas and positions are respected but not worshipped. Then we will address concerns more than issues, and issues more than silly people-pleasing sound bites, and a healthy body politic may evolve. Starting here and now, please?

Shaun Bartone
5 Jun 5:58pm

There’s lots of places I know where people would be more likely to join Transition Towns if it was a more activist organization. Lot’s of people I know aren’t interested because it’s boring and lacks passion. After you’ve put in your garden and your solar panels, then what? I think it depends on where you are and what people you’re working with. Folks in my area are more activist and don’t find anything of interest in TT. If we designed it as an activist organization, many more people would be interested.

Carol Guilen
6 Jun 2:19pm

Dear Shaun, I value your courage. But I suppose there are also lots of people who would be more likely to join Transition Culture if it’s not a traditional activist organization.

And actually I don’t think these people (me included) are wrong or untrue. Perhaps we lack courage, or perhaps we just prefer a more positive approach (‘confront your enemies, avoid them when you can’). In fact, second thought, probably not seeing anyone as enemies would be more coherent with the world we’re trying to give birth to.

What really can’t happen is to fail in making our position clear. We have to be ‘radicals’ in the sense in whcih Paulo Freire used this word: our ideology has to be rooted in our minds and hearts, we have to constantly look for coherence between our values and actions.

But I think it would be an unnecessary, useless and sad lost to make a division here. TT movement should embrace the diversity of people with different political habits and orientations. I just think, as I stated in my last comment, that Transition can be seen as a new way of activism, with focus more in constructing alternatives then in communicating. Gadens and solar panels are ways through which we start to make real the change. They certainly would be ineffective if alone, but whit systemic changes and a good community engagement process, step by step we can make a systemic change.

Traditional activism and Transitionm are complementar. Everyone should be free to engage themselves trhough the way they feel.

adrienne campbell
6 Jun 2:47pm

A recent Climate Camp that was held in Lewes uncovered a plan to demolish a lovely Victorian building in 3.5 acres of biodiverse land in the middle of Lewes. The owners, East Sussex County Council, had turned down formal requests by Transition Town Lewes and local politicians to use it for allotments in the 6 years since this old special needs school had been closed down. The activists, who are still in place, have persuaded the council to start talks towards community use eg for allotments. They’ve also invited swathes of Lewes to the land for meals, ceremonies, loads of food planting activities involving loads of people including school children and teenagers. The ‘activists’ include climate protesters, homeless people, young people in search of meaning and local residents. I go up there a couple of times a week because I love what they’re doing and who they are.

A group of local residents and politicians have formed a ‘kitchen cabinet’ to go through the political process and Transition Town Lewes might end up facilitating a town-wide consultation on the future of the land.

I’ve tried to keep the different hats separate but in a way I feel that activism of this kind can be more effective and more … enlivening? … TTLewes has achieved a lot in terms of seeds of new public infrastructure and relationship building but I do wonder how much people in a wealthy town (where transition initiatives tend to take off) are willing and able to fundamentally change. Talking to the homeless people on site has opened my eyes to what it’s really like to live on the edge in Britain these days. And I don’t know about other transition intitiatives, but we have too many meetings – the more succesful our practical projects are, the more meetings they seem to entail! – and lack young people (Hmmm, are the two connected?); I’ve loved being around the positive skilled-up energy of some of these young climate activists.

Sorry not to be more succinct and thanks Charlotte for your article and Rob for opening up the debate.

Trevor Bending
6 Jun 6:44pm

Carol wrote:
“Dear Shaun, I value your courage. But I suppose there are also lots of people who would be more likely to join Transition Culture if it’s not a traditional activist organization.”

How I agree. It doesn’t take very long to see that the Transitions ‘movement’ has exploded across the world in a few short years in a way in which no ‘activist’ organisation has done before.

Perhaps you could distinguish between ‘militant’ activism and other kinds? It is inevitable that ‘left-leaning’, ‘alternative’ and ‘anarchist’ ideas and persons should be found within this new movement but its continued success and longer term efficacy will depend on it including a much wider political spectrum. It can and probably should be ‘apolitical’ in terms of existing structures and ‘parties’ but it suggests the possibility of a truly revolutionary politics which might transform the world without bloodshed.

Studying the Totnes ‘EDAP’ (Energy Descent Action Plan – 350 pages or so!) is inspirational and not least because it does involve local people of all ‘political’ persuasions and none, as well as the existing local government.

The kinds of ‘activism’ seen within the Peace movements may be acceptable but whilst it may be appropriate for those who in good conscience feel that sometimes it’s necessary to break the law in protest, this wonderful new Transitions movement should also appeal to all who see the problem and are prepared to change their own behaviour from turning off the lights to giving up the car or generally cutting down on their material and energy consumption.

The acceptance of zero or negative ‘growth’ may depend on a fairer and more equal distribution of wealth and resources ‘at home’ as many people are not going to be persuaded to consume and want less when a few (or quite a lot in fact) are wasteful, ostentatious and giving up little if anything. Of course this is political but the belief in a ‘fairer’ society does reach people of most political persuasions.

Like Obama, you have to recognise the ‘Art of the Possible’ (his current priority must be to get re-elected – then see) and in the UK, however wrongheaded one might feel government policies are, it is worth recognising that in parties of the right and centre as well as the left, there is a willingness to consider alternatives and begin to recognise that peak-oil, global warming, greater participation in community and politics are problems for all of us. Transitions offers a possible way forward across old boundaries.
Trevor (associated with Brentford Transitions – mulling – London)