No 1911 Posted by fw, March 15, 2017
“Transition communities are re-imagining and re-designing the vital systems upon which we depend (food, water, energy, transport, housing, healthcare, etc.) to be community-oriented and ecologically regenerative. Like Gandhi’s cotton campaign, Transition — and countless other organizations and movements around the world — are building an alternative economy from the bottom up, an economy that will someday either displace the dominant extractive economy or serve as a lifeboat when the dominant economy collapses. Look at what has happened in places like Greece and Spain, where economic collapse has led to the rise of solidarity, gift and sharing economies. People are coming together and helping each other meet their basic needs.” —Marissa Mommaerts
Stephanie Van Hook, Executive Director of the Metta Center for Nonviolence, interviews Marissa Mommaerts, Director of Programs at Transition US, a nonprofit that supports transition initiatives across the US and works in partnership with the UK-based Transition Network, which supports the international Transition movement.
In a wide-ranging Q&A session, Stephanie asked Marissa these questions —
Below is a repost of Stephanie’s Q&A session with Marissa, absent some of the photos. To read the interview and see the photos on the website of Nonviolence Magazine, click on the following linked title.
Transition is about preparing for a world that drastically reduces its reliance on fossil fuels, building local renewable energy sources and localizing economies.
Stephanie Van Hook — As an early childhood educator as well as a meditator, I am aware that the most challenging moments of the day are during transitions — when we are in the midst of shifting our mind and focus from one thing to the next. We need to pay attention to transition moments and prepare for them with constructive skills that will help us move to where we want to go.
What about transitions on the mass scale, from one worldview to another? From one way of operating a community or an economy to another, one that’s more just, healthier and nonviolent?
The Transition movement comprises communities around the world and is dedicated to moving away from dependence on fossil fuels and resilience: personal, political and ecological preparedness. To glean insights on this movement, I spoke with Marissa Mommaerts, Director of Programs at Transition US, a nonprofit that supports Transition Initiatives across the United States and works in partnership with the UK-based Transition Network, which supports the international Transition movement as a whole.
Van Hook — What is the mission of Transition US, and when did this work begin?
Marissa Mommaerts — Transition US is a national nonprofit hub for the international Transition movement, a network of communities that are re-imagining and rebuilding our future, moving away from dependence on fossil fuels toward local resilience. Our mission is to catalyze and strengthen a national network of citizen-powered groups who are building local resilience through community action.
Transition started in Kinsale, Ireland in 2005, when a British permaculture educator, Rob Hopkins, was teaching a two-year permaculture course at a community college. Permaculture is an ecological design methodology based on how natural ecosystems work. For their final project, Rob and his students came up with an “Energy Descent Action Plan” to transition their entire community off fossil fuels, emphasizing localization, renewable energy, reducing consumption, eliminating waste, etc. What emerged was a model for healthier, more connected and resilient communities that use less energy than we currently consume. The concept began to spread organically, and the Transition Towns Movement was born.
Since 2005, Transition has spread to more than 50 countries around the world, and in 2009, Transition US was formed to support and nurture the grassroots movement in the US. More than 150 Transition Initiatives have formed in communities across the US, from Maine to Texas to Washington and everywhere in between. We are a bottom-up, decentralized movement. Transition looks different in every community, based on local context and the strengths and interests of local organizers.
Van Hook — If you could think of a song that would be the anthem of the Transition US movement, what would it be?
Mommaerts — What immediately came to mind for me was REM’s “It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine).” I was at the Transition Network conference in the UK last fall, and we had an amazing international dance party with Transitioners from around the world. When this song came on I thought, “Yes, this is our anthem!” and really let loose.
Right now our civilization is powered by fossil fuels. Transition is about preparing for a world that drastically reduces its reliance on fossil fuels and relies instead on reducing energy consumption, building local renewable energy sources and localized economies. We believe this transition is both necessary and inevitable, because we cannot continue with an infinite growth model on a planet with finite resources. We know the future will look very different than the present. But we believe it will be a healthier, more connected, abundant, joyful and fulfilling future — one that works for humanity and for the planet.
Van Hook — How did you get involved personally and why?
Mommaerts — When I started college, I was on a mission to learn how to solve the world’s greatest problems: poverty, war, hunger, environmental destruction, etc. Five years later I had a master’s degree in International Public Affairs and had traveled, studied and volunteered in Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya, Peru and throughout Central America.
My first job out of college was at a think tank in Washington, DC, where I staffed world leaders on a project to increase global access to family planning by educating policymakers about the link between women’s health, population growth, global sustainability and national security. After less than two years I was very frustrated. I saw how many resources are poured into global summits like the international climate change negotiations and Rio+20, without having much of an impact.
I wasn’t sure what the alternative was, but I knew in my heart there must be a better way. So I quit my job, began traveling and ended up in Northern California on a friend’s permaculture farm. I realized permaculture was a bottom-up strategy for feeding people while healing the natural environment and our societies. I began looking for opportunities to get more involved in this work, and found Transition.
Van Hook — If I wanted to start a Transition town, what would I have to do? Do I have to start an entire town? Can it be a household?
If there isn’t already an active Initiative in your area, I suggest starting small and building relationships. There’s a permaculture saying: “Start where you are, with what you have.” That could be your home or neighborhood. One thing I love about Transition folks is that most of us really “walk the talk.” We embody a low-carbon lifestyle in our homes and personal lives, and can draw from that experience as we teach others in our community.
Transition Initiatives can form at whatever scale is most appropriate for your group and community (that’s why we’ve changed the name from “Transition Town” to “Transition Initiative”) — a neighborhood, town, city, island, valley, etc.
The neighborhood is an important scale for building community resilience, because we’re only as resilient as those around us! We have a great project called Transition Streets that helps people make changes to their own homes, meet their neighbors and start organizing on a neighborhood scale.
We also recommend building a small team of committed individuals that represent various parts of the community. Then as the effort expands, it will find a foothold and grow naturally within these circles as well as connect these circles to each other.
After this “initiating group” or “core team” has solidly formed and begun to spread within the community, register with Transition US to become an Official Transition Initiative, which means your group will be listed as part of the US Transition network and receive extra support from Transition US.
Van Hook — What are some key skills that help people in the Transition US movement feel most effective and inspired in their daily labors?
Mommaerts — Great question! Becoming an effective, inspired Transitioner is a constant process — this is challenging, cutting-edge work. We have a huge mission and a small budget, so we have to be very resourceful and conscious of avoiding overwhelm. Here are some of the skills I see as especially important:
Transition founder Rob Hopkins (turning compost) and members of Transition Milwaukee at the Kompost Kids community compost site in Milwaukee, WI_Dan Felix, Transition Milwaukee
Van Hook — Gandhi created models of Transition Towns during his campaigns, but he called them ashrams, or spiritual communities. How do you see the Transition movement fitting into the nonviolent revolution — building the world that works for everyone?
Mommaerts — Much of the violence in our society is the result of an economic system based on exploitation and extraction and an accompanying culture of disconnection and isolation. Racial injustice, extreme wealth inequality and even terrorism are all tied to the violent and oppressive methods the dominant economy utilizes to extract resources, exploit labor and consolidate wealth.
Transition was created to be a model for empowering individuals to take constructive action in creating a world free from dependence on fossil fuels and a violent economic system, while at the same time re-weaving the fabric of community and connection.
Transition communities are re-imagining and re-designing the vital systems upon which we depend (food, water, energy, transport, housing, healthcare, etc.) to be community-oriented and ecologically regenerative. Like Gandhi’s cotton campaign, Transition — and countless other organizations and movements around the world — are building an alternative economy from the bottom up, an economy that will someday either displace the dominant extractive economy or serve as a lifeboat when the dominant economy collapses. Look at what has happened in places like Greece and Spain, where economic collapse has led to the rise of solidarity, gift and sharing economies. People are coming together and helping each other meet their basic needs.
Van Hook — The Metta Center for Nonviolence encourages people in the nonviolent movement to personalize their relationships. How do Transition communities build supportive, nurturing systems that undermine separation and competition?
Transition is all about relationships and mutual support: we believe connected communities are the foundation of the social change and ecological resilience we need in order to survive as humanity on this planet.
We strive to create localized communities where people know their neighbors and see each other as friends and resources; where the economy is based on relationships, and businesses exist to serve the community rather than extract wealth and resources; where elders are valued and integrated into society; where diversity is seen as beneficial and where fewer people are marginalized, vulnerable or isolated.
As much as we can, we embody these ideals in our daily lives, and we know at a visceral level what kind of societal transformation will be possible once this fabric of community and connection really spreads and permeates our culture.
One of the most inspiring and unique things about Transition is the type of people it attracts: folks who are warm, open-hearted, welcoming, tolerant, caring, generous.They share a positive vision of the future (despite being all too aware of the realities of the world in which we live). I know I can visit any Transition Initiative in the US and meet people who feel like family, who will open up their homes and share meals with me. And I will return the hospitality.
Van Hook — What community guidelines might people consider adopting, based on the experiences of those in the Transition US movement?
Mommaerts — We don’t have any official guidelines, but rather a collective culture or ethos. Here are a few informal guidelines for developing a more resilient community:
To learn more about each of these guidelines and tips for implementing them into your daily life, visit Transition Streets. You can also find a list of principles and ingredients for Transition Initiatives at Transition United States.
Van Hook — In three words, what is the REAL transition you are trying to manifest?
Mommaerts — Thriving resilient communities.
Van Hook — Describe a joyous moment in your work.
“Work parties” are a staple of Transition. It’s a way to build community while getting our hands dirty and creating concrete manifestations of the positive future we envision. The saying “many hands make light work” really rings true — it always surprises me that we seem to accomplish exponentially more work at work parties.
A couple of months before I moved out of my last rental house, we hosted a garden work party to help get our garden in good shape for the next tenants. We hoped that if the garden was attractive enough, future tenants would put as much love into it as we did. In the three years we’d lived there, our backyard had grown from a barren patch of earth into a lush habitat for birds, bees and humans, with lots of food and medicinal herbs. We wanted it to continue thriving.
I had expected a couple of people to show up for the work party and help us pull some weeds, but we had so many eager helpers that we were able to not only tidy up our backyard garden but also install a beautiful front yard garden with raised beds and a raspberry patch. It was an intergenerational, multicultural affair. My friend’s elderly father from Ecuador, formerly a carpenter, was having a blast building raised beds with help from a few younger folks. Neighbors drove by slowly, some of them taking photos of us. Everyone was just thrilled to be enjoying a beautiful day together, “paying it forward” by creating this beautiful garden for whoever would be lucky enough to move in next. Looking around and seeing those happy faces — and how the front yard had been transformed — I was filled with joy.
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