Transition Movement moves on a step: becoming a global family

Lyon venueI’m just back from a wonderful 4 day international meeting of the Transition National Hubs, in and around Lyon, France. There were about 35 of us, a few coming and going over the days, from 17 countries around the world. To sum it all up, there were great discussions (moving the Transition movement forward, in my view) but also silliness, great people, fun social events, lovely food and beautiful venues. I will report mostly on the parts with which I was most involved.

good discussionTo start with the substance, the ‘national hubs’ are groups of people that support the local transition town groups (‘transition initiatives’) in their countries. Last year in London, as an extension to the Transition conference, there was a two day meeting of the national hubs, but this was the first time they met by themselves. Last year we came up with the metaphor that we are a family, supporting each other and the planet. To be clear, this means that local initiatives would no longer be isolated, simply working on their own projects, but would part of an active network, where they were in regular contact with each other, helping each other in whatever ways were appropriate. This year we did a lot of work on that idea, with lots of plans to make it practical.

eating lunchMost of us came from Europe, but a few were from farther away. We had people from: Belgium, Brazil(!), Croatia, Denmark, France, Germany, Holland, Israel, Latvia, Luxembourg, Norway, Philippines(!), Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, and the UK. Some of the hubs were large and well-established, like Sweden which has 172 initiatives and has funding, while others were small and just starting, like Latvia with only 1 initiative.

serving lunchAs we talked about how we could work together, it was clear that there were lots of possibilities. We planned some regional gatherings, like one for the Baltic countries, where the stronger Scandinavian nations could support the newer ones like Latvia. There might be an Eastern European meeting, a German-speaking one (Germany, Austria, and the German part of Switzerland), and possibly others. We talked about a ‘buddy’ system or ‘twinning’ or ‘mentoring’ where two hubs were paired, and would keep in regular contact. (“Have you called your family this month?”) We want to have a few smaller conferences each year, probably regional, and one bigger one for everyone.  The hot favourite for 2014 is Copenhagen. And then, we want to have a much larger number of smaller, informal connections, through Skype or similar, or telephone, some on a regular basis and some informally.

park where we picnicedThe easiest and most obvious ways we can help each other would be organisational support. There are the beginnings of a ‘Transition Initiative Health Check’, that could be developed further, and could identify and help with difficulties. One particular area would be to develop a system of handling the conflicts that so often arise, and sometimes cause initiatives to fail. There could be help with trainings, or with translations of materials, with sharing of materials, and joint funding proposals. (In fact, the funding group set up last year was very successful, with a contribution to the costs of the event. Several of us had our traveling costs paid.)

meeting French transitionersAnother dimension to this, perhaps later, would be practical and economic support. The first example was couch surfing, when people are traveling. In fact, all of us stayed with local couch surfers. We speculated on a future Transition exchange system, where we tried to patronise each others’ ‘Transition businesses’, extending some of the REconomy ideas.

Sun morning workshopThe Transition Network (the Totnes organisation), took this meeting very seriously, sending Pete Lipman (Chair of the Trustees), Sarah McAdam (the new Delivery Director), Ben Brangwyn (International Development), Naresh Giangrande (training and education), Fiona Ward (REconomy) and me (Trustee), all of whom presented their work with a view to engaging the national hubs in the changes of organisation and strategy that have been happening recently. We will try to include a representative of the Hubs on the Board from next year.  We speculated on the possibility of setting up a UK hub that is separate from the Transition Network.

There were some exciting discussions with Fiona, which means that at least 3 hubs will be participating in the REconomy project this year, with small funding.

Saturday night partyThe first two days of the event, Thursday and Friday, were held in Lyon itself, meeting at the ‘Maison Associations’. Wonderful food was provided by people from the Lyon initiative, first for lunch, and then a picnic in a local park, after a long walk.

On Saturday morning we took a coach to Charette, a small country town, where we met on an organic farm that was simultaneously hosting a French regional transition meeting. That meant that we met with and worked with the local French transitioners in a few activities. These were bilingual, with everything translated from French to English or vice-versa. It was all very lively, with a party on Saturday evening with a local folk band and lots of ‘crazy French dancing’. Again, there was great food prepared for us by the locals.

Sunday there were more workshops in the morning. In the afternoon we concentrated of becoming clear about the next steps that would be taken during the coming year.

meeting French transitionersOne of the roles that the Transition Network is becoming clearer about is ‘keeper of the DNA’ of the movement, the core ideas, values, and identity, such as the statement, “Transition Network supports community-led responses 
to climate change and shrinking supplies of cheap energy, building resilience and happiness.” As the international work is progressing, perhaps that DNA will be extended to include “Transition Network is building a ‘family’ of people around the world that are at the same time separate and autonomous but also are looking after each other and the planet.”

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What does Egypt tell us about democracy?

All the media comments about the Egyptian army’s ‘coup’ take for granted that the model of ‘democracy’ in the West is obviously right and the best.  We assume that a party with a parliamentary majority, no matter how slim, and regardless of whether it reflects a majority of the voters, can impose it’s will on the country.  This approach is actually an elected dictatorship, that legitimises ignoring the will and desires of minorities.

As we explore new forms of social contract, with more autonomy towards communities, one dimension must also be a new approach to democracy, that is much more oriented to consensus, and to autonomy within connection at all levels.  So the new vision is one where all are respected and given as much control over their own lives as possible, not one where an elected group can run roughshod over the rest.

 

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Rob Hopkins at Downham Market

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I had a lovely afternoon when Rob Hopkins came to Downham Market for one of the ‘Transition Thursdays’. It was a delightful little event, with about 20 people, in the garden of John and Carol’s eco-house in Stoke Ferry. After the usual wonderful Transition shared lunch we talked about what it is about Transition that adds to the usual projects that people undertake.

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AJUDADA: Third day – Hands

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The theme for the third day was ‘hands’ and was dominated by doing practical work.  The Council gave us (free of course) a one year lease on an unused building that was a real mess. The building had formerly been used by a motorcycle dealer and had some very interesting interior spaces, a big mirror wall, what might have been a bar, a raised platform, and several tiled rooms that might have been workshops.  The floor was rough pieces of slate, which I felt would be very difficult for dancing.

One group spent the day at the building and cleaned and painted it, while others stayed in the park to make furnishings for it. By the end of the day, most of the exterior was painted, but I don’t think the interior had been started. The furnishings included tables and sofas made from wooden pallets and cork, a marvelous wall hanging, and some cushions and curtains made by a sewing group. Everything was made of reused, donated materials. A local sculptor spent most of the day making a wall plaque for us.

The atmosphere in the park was very relaxed.  Lots of people were busy making stuff for the building. We had a great picnic lunch, with all sorts of food that people had donated.  In the afternoon, to accompany the work, was a series of music and dance performances by local artists on the bandstand near where we were working.

My overall reactions to AJUDADA

I was totally blown away by the event, and still haven’t come down to Earth. Perhaps most powerful for me was the depth of connection I found with people, so many of whom I now think of as very good friends. And such interesting, intelligent and committed people they all are! And of course everyone came and contributed at their own expense, out of commitment to the idea of the event.

The largest proportion of the people who attended were from all over Portugal, more than from Portalegre, with a sprinkling from around Europe and a few further afield, but many of the volunteers doing the detailed work and making the food were from Portalegre.  There was a sense of like minded people from the whole country coming together, to help Portalegre and also to find out how they can work together afterwards.

And of course there were many inspiring and informative workshops and presentations, as well as lovely entertainment and lasting works of art (like a wall mural painted by school children). The programme was huge and wonderfully creative. The details, like the cork badges, and all the signs and posters, very artistic. It is hard to believe the group of organisers could manage so much in such a short time.

We don’t know what this will all lead to in the future, but we had a taste of a living gift economy, and the unpredictability of it is a large part of its charm.  The mood and openness of everyone was wonderful.  I am sure that it will have a wonderful effect on Portalegre, on Portugal and on all of us who were there.

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AJUDADA: Second day – heart

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I’m writing this report of the second day of AJUDADA on the morning of the third day, which promises to be great too, as we are turning a derelict building into a permanent home for AJUDADA. More on that tomorrow. … Continue reading

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AJUDADA: First day – head

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The first day of AJUDADA is now over, and I’m back at the home of Olga, who is putting up a lot of us, including Charles Eisenstein and a group from Tamera community.

All parts of the day were special.  Registration was in an old church, and people were given wonderful badges that were hand made from slices of cork, a Portuguese speciality, with cork oaks trees all over.

The opening introductions were out in the open, but only about 100 people were there. Many more arrived during the day, and nearly 700 are expected overall. There is a wide age range, including a group of children, with various activities arranged for them.  I think I am probably the oldest.  Most are Portuguese, but some were from the rest of Europe, and even some from Brazil, Columbia, New Zealand and the USA.

After the introductions, we went into the Cultural Centre for a series of ‘Flash’ or short presentations from people and groups with relevant projects, including bicycles in Portalegre, Portalegre in Transition, Bioenergy and of course, AJUDADA itself. All events had immediate translations into Portuguese or English, depending on the language of the presenter, which was quite a strange experience.  It highlighted the diversity among us, but did slow down everything.

We then walked across town to the public market, where I had worked yesterday on the exhibition, for lunch, which was a lovely salad, prepared for us by volunteers. But by the time we had eaten, and walked back, we were nearly an hour late starting the afternoon programme.  The first event was a round table discussion, between Charles Eisestein, Ana Margarida Esteves, Anselm Jappe and me. People seemed to like it, as it led to quite a few interesting conversations for me. After that, there was another series of Flash presentations.  My favourite was a short film made this morning by a group of small children, who were all there in the auditorium.  After the film each of the were asked to say what children could offer to AJUDADA more than adults!  Very sweet.

From there, we again walked across town, this time to the secondary school, where we had two ‘fish bowl’ discussions, one in English and one in Portuguese, the only events of the day without translation. For me, this was the highlight of the day.  For a fish bowl, there are five chairs in the middle of the room, which are for the people who want to speak.  Anyone in the room can choose to speak, but only 4 are filled at one time.  When someone fills the 5th, someone in one of the others must leave. So there is quite a rapid turnover of speakers, and all are equal.  People told there stories and others commented on them.  Much of the time was spent with one women who started by saving she was a farmer, but it turned out she was actually pioneering a bit of gift economy around her.

We finished the day with another meal, quite similar to lunch, with lots of interesting conversations.

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AJUDADA: final preparations

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I arrived in Portalegre yesterday evening and I’m very excited to be here.  Alvaro collected me and Juan del Rio, and drove us to an old church in Portalegre, where a large group of people were working hard at the remaining tasks before AJUDADA starts on Friday.

The three of us went out for dinner, and to get a flavour of Portalegre. It turns out that it was a special day, the feast day of San Antonio. It seemed like the whole town was in the streets, eating sardines and dancing to live music.  We joined in with that.

Then we went back to the church, where the meeting was continuing into the night. It was after midnight when we left and they were still going strong, but looking very tired.

Today, we reassembled, and they gave us a task. We went to the Public Market, where all the AJUDADA participants will be eating, to set up an exhibition of ‘letters to Portalegre’ which were little art objects from all over Europe.  We left space for the participants to add their own later in the week. The Market is a large and quite handsome public space that is hardly used these days, due to competition fron the supermarkets.  Of course, it would be ideal for use by a localised gift economy.  Perhaps that might be an eventual outcome of AJUDADA.

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