Transition US National Gathering

National Gathering Banner

Since I was visiting a dear friend and former colleague in St. Paul, MN, I thought, “Why not attend this Transition US National Gathering!” Although I moved on from direct involvement with Transition Asheville in 2014 to join the Steering Committee of the Creation Care Alliance of Western North Carolina (a program of Mountain True, see www.creationcarealliance.org), I consider both of these efforts to be part of the same work to build local resilience and get more folks involved with saving the planet.

I was surprised that after nine years of overseeing the Transition Movement in the US, this was the first‐ever Transition US National Gathering. An understandable concern is the carbon footprint incurred by gathering people from all over the nation. This concern led the organizers to live stream portions of the conference and inspired Rob Hopkins to send in a video for his keynote presentation rather than delivering it in person. (I highly recommend this video, now on YouTube under the title, “Transition at 10 Years Old.”)

Opening Ceremonies

The weekend conference began with ceremonies of orienting and blending work that had all of the maybe 150 participants on their feet to broaden, deepen, and scale‐up Transition work in the US. It was both interesting and energizing!

To broaden our sense of Transition in the US, we spread out to make a rough map of the US. Once oriented to the directions, each one came to stand in our respective regions of our states. As the conference convened in the Midwest, a big clutch of folks filled the middle of that large open space. There were also a lot of folks representing the whole Western seaboard as well as a goodly number from the Southwest and the Northeast. In the Southeast, there were five of us: three from
Florida, one from Knoxville, and me. We introduced ourselves and collectively vowed to get more people from our region to the next National Gathering!

To deepen our sense of Transition in the US, all of us managed to make a time line. On one side of the space, those who perhaps all their lives had been working on efforts to live more sustainably and/or work within the environmental movement were asked to stand. And, on the opposite side of the room, those who were just learning about the Transition Movement were asked to stand. The rest of us then had to shift around and ask when folks got involved in order to find our places. It was interesting to speak with people from other places who had a similar amount of
experience doing the work, about what projects they’d done, and how they were currently engaged.

Sessions Attended

There were many sessions that interested me during the weekend conference, but my schedule allowed time for only a few of the sessions. Below are comments on two of the events.

1. Tom Llewellyn, a former resident of Asheville who helped start the Tool Library and now builds community resilience on the West Coast, led "Sharing Cities: Activating the Urban Commons." In his session, he introduced a very wide range of solutions useful for rethinking the economy and developing community resilience. Among these solutions were community land trusts, tool libraries, community asset mapping, time banks, bike and car sharing systems, and participatory budgeting (where citizens decide how a portion of their taxes get spent!). NOTE: The title of
this session is also the title of a resource manual Llewellyn and others are publishing online this September.

2. "Collaborating with People of Faith," organized by Ruah Swennerfelt, author of Rising to the Challenge: The Transition Movement and People of Faith, spoke directly to the work I am doing through the Creation Care Alliance. Swennerfelt traveled to successful Transition Towns in various countries and searched out individuals of faith who have been instrumental in that Transition Town’s efforts. The interviews she conducted then became the substance of her book.

Encouraged to “jump in” whenever we wanted, I jumped in when I saw the phrase “moral witness,” asking whether anyone in the room saw this phrase as a particularly powerful tool in moving the Transition Movement forward. Following a lengthy silence, a Mennonite Minister asked, “Could you say something more about what the phrase ‘moral witness’ means to you?” I had not expected this, but I launched into it, trying hard to remember what Reverend William Barber III said about this in The Third Reconstruction.

Although I stumbled around a fair amount, I managed to name the substance of what the phrase means to me. Though it is all too common for well‐intentioned people to respond to moral claims with a relativistic skepticism, no one questions the moral assertion “thou shalt not kill.”

In the Transition Movement, with a moral vision, we focus upon the injustices of “business as usual,” the injustices of ignoring impacts of our current course on future generations, the injustices disproportionately visited upon the poor in our country and around the world by climate change.

A comprehensive moral agenda can unite people in opposition to the status quo because in some very specific senses the status quo is wrong. A comprehensive moral agenda can leverage policy change by politicians and managers at every level. A comprehensive moral agenda can stake out some common ground between groups and causes that could not find ways to cooperate before.

This is what Reverend Barber is finding in the Moral Monday movement he has so brilliantly led. Transition can take lessons from this.

Parting Thoughts

I had fun at the Gathering. I engaged in a variety of interesting and occasionally arresting conversations, and I remembered many Transition Asheville events I helped to organize during my time on the Steering Committee. With fondness, I still remember the others on the Steering Committee with whom I had the privilege to serve for five years.

Perhaps because I did not explore any of the pre‐Gathering intensives or more of the weekend‐long conference sessions, I was also disappointed. I was anxious to discover ways that the discussions around the Transition Movement had clearly moved on. I had hoped especially to hear new, more persuasive justifications for amending our daily habits and conventional thinking. I had wanted to find new tools that held some promise for shifts on a broader scale befitting Transition as a “movement.”

Still, I am filled with hope that the richness and diversity of talent now dedicated to Rob Hopkins’ consequential vision will transform communities on a scale sufficient to face the dramatic changes to come, and that it will serve as a significant engine of the Great Turning.