A State of Transition

At the weekly informal Transition gathering at the Blue Moon Coffee Cafe this morning, prompted by a new and thoughtful presence (welcome, Pierre!), we considered the state of Transition in the Twin Cities. Here is one take . . .

Diffuse. There are pockets of Transition interest and activity in various neighborhoods around town and in various community groups. At present, none of these nodes has coalesced into a formal ‘Transition Initiative’. The Blue Moon gathering continues to provide a safe haven for folks concerned about Peak Oil and Climate Change, but awareness (or willingness to consider) these issues is largely absent from the general public as far as we can see.

This observation prompted discussion of just what Transitioners hope to – and can reasonably – accomplish, given the real world in which we find ourselves. We acknowledged that getting the message out is not among our strengths (we’re clearly not getting that job done – as wonderful as our tiny group is, it’s still tiny). Thus the massive systemic changes that most of us believe are needed are far beyond our reach – at least for now.

Given that, what might be more modest but achievable aims? The consensus this morning was: leading by example. Mostly around food but also energy and community, individuals are increasing their skills (reskilling?). In our collective view, the larger society will come to grips with the issues only when it is forced to do so. When that happens, we’d like to be ready to provide examples of resilience in our lives, homes and communities.

And we want to have fun doing it. Sharing food, music, dancing and the arts is essential as we work together towards our attractive shared vision of a more connected, more human and lower energy world and as we cope with our ‘End of Suburbia’ moments and other challenges.

What is the State of Transition in the Twin Cities? No one has the authority to say, but by example and by trial and error we all hope our individual efforts may serve not just ourselves and our families, but others as and when they decide to join the party.


  1. jonathan bucki on July 14, 2010 at 4:13 pm

    “as far as we can see” is an interesting qualifier. The evaluator in me wants to say “show me the data.” I don’t think we have good data on the mainstream, or if we do, it’s obscured by corporate media. I think, like the myth of the middle class, we have a surprising myth of normalcy that actually holds a whole lot of contradictory behaviors. If our measure of change is the change number of cars on the road, we’ll get one picture. If our measure of change is the average age of vehicles on the road, we’ll get another. I’m willing to bet that the average age of vehicles on the road is rapidly rising. If we’re waiting for all the cars to go away, we’re going to way a while (unfortunately), meanwhile, I think we’re likely to wake up one day and say, “hey, is this my country? How did this happen?”

    We’re used to being able to “see” the other side of the world thanks to Google earth, or news-feeds, or the web or TV. However, we are largely estranged from our immediate geography and geographic community. We can’t see the local ground-swell because the feedback loops are so long, they feel so far away. Our communities are in transition, whether it’s called that or not; there are amazing new ways of being together that are emerging or re-emerging more likely. We’re used to seeing the earth from the satellite images of our minds that we get fooled into thinking that those computer screen images are real. Here’s what’s real: my neighbors are loosing their jobs, my rainbarrels are overflowing, all of the berries in my yard came at once instead of over the course of several weeks like “normal,” my clients have much less money than before, there are for sale signs all over my neighborhood for the last several months. What’s also true is that people are paying attention to what’ s going on; my neighbor started carrying a handgun, another neighbor started a garden (“you never know”), chickens in my neighborhood are far less rare, I’ve noticed many, many bikes on the road, etc.

    I think the “modest aims” you mentioned are the only one worth focusing on right now: lead by example. Then we become living depositories of wisdom and know-how.

    Here’s my longer version: The systems are quickly unwinding and there is no stopping them because the systems are fundamentally not sustainable; We _will_ by our very nature continue to try to sustain them. Building resilience is sometimes the mirror opposite of sustainability. It looks similar but its radically different. Only when we reach a limit will we collectively change, and along they way we will do a lot of damage to each other and to Mother Earth. There is no key to the ignition; there is only a gas tank and an accelerator.

    Therefore, work from the smallest possible unit: yourself, then move to your household, then to your block. Re-purpose existing assets (this includes the Transition Movement) to adapt to the current realities and prepare for what seems likely for the next two steps into the darkness. Own real, shareable assets. Build social capital. Build spiritual capital.

    To the extent that the Transition Movement focuses itself on being a movement instead of propagating patterns of hyperlocal adaptation, it will not serve its purpose of building resilience. It will fall into the same trap as so many other movements, so many other attempts to “revitalize” that which is terminal.

    I say with all the authority I can muster in my voice that the work of transitioning our communities (Transition) is alive and well and _decades_ old in Minneapolis/St. Paul. Now is the time to join forces with those who have been doing it here and to reconnect with our own legacies and lead the way little by little by example. Because, someday sooner than later, our neighbor whom we barely know will knock on our door hoping for some food, and I hope we’ll be able to give it to him _and_ teach him how to grow his own. Maybe, just maybe, before the knock, some of our other neighbors will learn how.

    Here’s another thought that’s been with me for a while: What is the incentive for a local transition initiative to be formally recognized? Besides bragging rights (Go 1# in MN Northfield!), what concretely does it give to us? (i.e. this is no money available, no technical assistance pool, no additional magic etc.) The process to me seems valuable, but there are lots of things valuable a group can do together. I’m really interested in this question and would love to hear what people think.

  2. Bob on July 15, 2010 at 9:01 am

    Thanks for your thoughts, Jonathan. I agree that, in some ways, transition has a long history. On the other hand under various rubrics such as ‘sustainability’, ‘Natural Step’, ‘Green Step Cities’ and others, a common, shared vocabulary is lacking. I’m reminded of the band 3 Mustaphas 3 and their catch phrase: ‘Forward in all directions’. Yes, things have been happening for a while, but they’re so diffuse and disconnected that they’re hard for me to see as a unity.

    I was surprised that you didn’t comment on the art/music/party aspect of my post. I’m thinking that one of the important things that Transition offers, is that positive vision and emotional/spiritual dimension which I haven’t heard mentioned much in other sustainability memes.

  3. Charlotte O'Connell on January 15, 2013 at 11:41 pm

    Hi Bob,
    I didn’t miss the art/music/party aspect. And I love it. I think you are onto something. As I do my community composting “Bring out your manure!, bring out your manure!” I think that emotional/spiritual ties are what will rebind our communities. I just received a note from a friend who reminded me that 15 years ago we used our recyclable euro shopping bags and now there are signs in the parking lots, “Did you remember your bags?” Sometimes we do things because they are right and we know it. In your quote “In our collective view, the larger society will come to grips with the issues only when it is forced to do so. When that happens, we’d like to be ready to provide examples of resilience in our lives, homes and communities.” I’d like to be ready to provide examples also. It ain’t easy and watching our representatives is discouraging, but i love it that you have a group with whom you actively address the issues. Any thoughts on a good grassroots roundtable where my posse could meet your posse?
    Also, read your blog on Obama, sad. Capitulation, yep. From my view, where are the 50% women in the cabinet? The times are never easy, but the times they are a changin’

  4. Bob on January 16, 2013 at 2:16 pm

    Thanks for reading, Char, and for your comments. I love the idea of posse connections! As for the the times a changin’, we’re leaving a lot to Mark and Kate and Smack and Lolo. I hope we can give ’em some tools for the challenges our generation’s mostly sidestepped. I hope the farm can be such a tool if not for them personally, then for someone of their generation.

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