Getting to Know Our Neighbors: My Time at the Transition U.S. National Gathering

Nine human needs exercise. Photo by Jennifer Battles.

Nine human needs exercise. Photo by Jennifer Battles.

Thanks to a generous anonymous donation, I had the pleasure of joining Mark and Kathy Juedeman (Mark is an AERO board member) in St. Paul, Minnesota for the first ever national gathering for Transition U.S. If you have watched the documentary Tomorrow, you are familiar with the Transition Movement. If you haven’t had a chance to see the film yet, Transition’s vision is that “every community in the United States has engaged its collective creativity to unleash an extraordinary and historic transition to a future beyond fossil fuels; a future that is more vibrant, abundant and resilient; one that is ultimately preferable to the present.” Some communities have formal Transition groups (shout out to Transition Town Bozeman, Transition Missoula, and Transition Livingston!), while others are doing transition type work, without formal affiliation. There were hundreds of participants at the gathering in St. Paul, attending workshops, intensives, and keynote addresses... Throughout the weekend, the wisdom of leading by nurturing relationships was demonstrated time and again. I left inspired and excited to bring some of what I learned back to AERO and to you.

Water Protectors Phyllis Young and Pearl Means spoke to us about the Women of Standing Rock uniting to stop the pipeline that threatens their land, their water, and their families. Audience members brought water from the streams and rivers of their own places, to be blessed and returned to their places of origin – a symbolic reminder that we are indeed, all connected to each other and to this Earth.

Richard Heinberg, from the Post Carbon Institute, spoke about the special challenges and opportunities of striving for a sustainable future now, what he called, “Transition in the Age of Denial.” He reflected on the research that shows how, in times of crisis, we come together to help each other (WWII is a good example), but over a long period of time of not having needs met, people look for scapegoats, which often derails the conversations that will bring solutions. Learning to avoid this tendency and include everyone in the conversation about what is possible will be vital to our successful shift to a sustainable future.

Workshops on topics as diverse as community solar projects, food access and resiliency, and economies of scale, all provided a wealth of knowledge (including refreshing stories about what did NOT work), and all contained a common thread; the idea that building community, getting to know your neighbors, is the force that ultimately creates positive change.

There is so much to DO, and part of doing it well is doing it together with those around us. This approach is where, I believe, AERO shines as an organization. From the farm improvement clubs and potlucks of our past, to the task force projects and harvest gleaning parties of our present, to the community workshops and “Take Action!” tables coming at this year’s Expo (in just a month!), our membership is actively engaged and supported. Our projects and programs aim to fulfill nine fundamental human needs (Manfred Max Neef): Identity, Affection, Subsistence, Idleness, Protection, Understanding, Freedom, Creation, Participation.

When we meet these needs (as many as we can at one time), we have social wealth, when we fail to meet these needs, we have social poverty (and over time, the scapegoating Heinberg mentioned). AERO understands that people’s motivations for any action are rooted in attempting to meet these 9 needs and that changing behavior at the community level and higher is also rooted here. Examining new ideas, AERO asks, does it meet many of these needs? Is it just? Is it ecologically restorative? Does it offer you, our members, an opportunity to connect with each other, be a hands-on participant, make friends and get to know each other? Because that is what the world needs more of... We need you... and your neighbors, and friends. We start with each other, knowing that ultimately, that is the way to save our humanity and our planet.