Monday 16 May 2011

Transition Themes Week #5 - High Speed Broadband Connection

FRIDAY 6.30PM "Hey Erik!" I said to a familiar form cycling up toward the Earlham Road. "Are you on your way to a meeting? You have that determined look on your face". "No," he said. "I’ve just come from one!" We laughed, and then exchanged news about the CSA up at Postwick (Erik is on the Norwich FarmShare board), about the new assistant grower, about rain and rabbit fences and lettuces, about how brilliant it was Kerry got her Transition 'green job' in Glasgow and where the Low Carbon Cookbook meeting was going to take place this week. 10 minutes intense communication and then he was gone and I was walking to my meeting at the Alex with fellow OneWorldColumnists. It was a warm night and the great street trees were shifting overhead with their new spring leaves.

Our meeting was unplanned. Our paths had crossed unexpectedly in the city. No-one could have organised it. I’m not in the FarmShare, yet after our conversation I feel I know what's going on up there, about the vegetables that Erik grows in his permaculture garden out in Hethersett.

On the train home I read an article about Tahrir Square in a magazine Trevor handed me as we parted outside the pub. What struck me reading about the events that took place were their spontaneous and speedy nature. People had been thinking and talking independently for years, activists had been campaigning and suddenly when the time came, they converged without planning anything. When they met up, they knew what to do.

Everything self-organised. Suddenly.

SATURDAY 1Pm “We were speaking from the same situation,” Josiah said, talking about his BBC radio interview with other community activists for Save Suffolk Libraries. Each of them had been running separate campaigns for their local libraries, organised individual events, written for their own blogs, yet when they came together they spoke as a united front. Each person contributing a different strand. We had just been to a meeting where people from different library campaigns, anti-cuts campaigns, Transitioners, TUC shop stewards and local movers and shakers sat round a table and discussed how we could co-ordinate and communicate with one another. What had struck us was how the old formal ways of running things didn't fit this fluid and composite structure. We could all be components together, but one way could not dominate.

That’s when I remembered how it was at last year’s Transition conference. You didn’t have to know anyone in the way you have to know people ordinarily at social events, or in the workplace, hidebound by procedures or protocol, you could just ask: what initiative are you from? and immediately talk as if you knew everything about each other’s groups and projects. Some other social structure was in place. Something we don’t have the language for yet, but recognise when it’s in play. When you find yourself acting and knowing what to do, even though you have never been told, or taught.

SUNDAY 3PM "This is a very medieval situation!" I say as I walk into the library courtyard. Men in the garden, and the women upstairs in the solar sewing!" Richard, Mark and Josiah are repotting a giant aloe and twenty offshoots that someone has donated to the community garden. Elinor, Eloise and I are discussing what we’re going to do for our Bungay Community Bees week at the local Primary School. Keziah (aged 4) is unpicking her skirt, stitch by careful stitch. I’ve gone downstairs to talk with Mark about teaching children to plant sunflowers and how bees collect pollen from their spiral centres, what’s it like to grow something from seed. How long it takes as it sits on a sunny window sill to grow to its full height.

"I don’t know anything about teaching," he says.
"None of us do," I say. "Ask Keziah about that plant."

Keziah looks gravely at Mark and gives a progress report on a liquorice mint he gave her a couple of weeks ago. She was concerned that it only had leaves. "It’s a little bit dry," she says. You need to water it some more, he tells her, and then the flowers will come in July.

That’s all you need to do. You make a connection and you foster a relationship. Something happens in your imagination, with your physical hands: you get tapped into life. Something happens when you hand the child the plant, and the responsibility for being its guardian. It seems like nothing is happening. That all our thoughts and desires go nowhere, that some of our best-laid plans in Transition have gone awry, that the meetings we thought were the real meetings did not give us what we imagined and what should have happened didn’t take place.

But it is taking place. Thousands of small encounters, hands held across the divide, all criss-crossing and making a new pattern. The kind of culture where it matters that we know how long it takes for a plant to flower, the whole process, not just the end result. And that provides living soil with proper conductivity and mycorrhizal underground communications that are normally destroyed by global mono-culture.

We haven’t flowered yet. We are patiently putting out leaves, waiting for rain, grateful for dew. What our roots tell us is that we are not alone. We are invisibly connected, not just to the people we meet in Transition but to many people we do not know, who have been working in the same way, now and for hundreds of years through time. We feel that connection when we meet in the street, or the library. Mostly it happens in public spaces and often by chance. It happens when we meet organically. Which is to say when we meet in an atmosphere that is conducive to our gathering, in which ideas flourish and actions follow swiftly. What matters is not the form, nor the shared meal nor the expert facilitator. Not the debate about legal structures, nor the sharing of our emotions in a circle. What matters is that we care deeply about the subject at hand and we get engaged in that subject as social beings. As beings in touch with all life.

MONDAY 10AM We live in a culture that is all about result and engineering that result. About spin and data, about power and control and individuals who make it to the top. But Transition is not built on that culture; it’s grown according to the principles of permaculture - the fostering of beneficial relationships between all living beings. Fairshare, peoplecare, earthcare. It takes time and relishes all the steps of that process that leads to an outcome we don't know yet, but will recognise when we get there in the same way we recognise a flower when it's in full bloom. What we need now is the kind of dynamic medium in which to flourish, in which the best of people comes out.

A lot of us "get" Transition, but it's the articulation of what we get and the physical action that follows that matters. That's what creates culture. Otherwise we find ourselves talking and operating from old structures - as volunteers, as controllers, as people who follow orders or give them - bound by class and hierarchy, uttering the buzz words and cliches of the day. The reason why many Transitioners do not want to take up political or civic office is because they feel hampered by form, old configurations that keep people stuck in fixed power positions, unable to change or to express new ideas when they meet together.

A bio-diverse culture needs us to be diverse, which is to say we need to be intrinsically ourselves - rooted in place and within our skills - and working as part of the whole. Coming from a broad frequency band, rather from a narrow, seperated point of view. This is a new way of working in the world: one that combines a modern city intelligence with an ancestral knowledge of the land. So a key move in Transition is allowing people within the initiative to be fully engaged in what they love and are really good at - Richard as the guardian of the community garden, Josiah heading the Library campaign, Elinor as chief beekeeper, Eloise as an organiser of events, Mark overseeing plants and reconnection with nature . . . and me, well . . .you guessed it! Co-ordinating communications and heralding the act that follows . . .

So here it is, the line up for our fifth Transition Themes week - blog diversity at its best. John (Transition Hethersett) with a toads-eye view of local Transport, Simeon with an introduction to TN's new Economics and Livelihoods group, Elena with a field report from Norwich FarmShare, Helen with an update of the Magdalen Street Celebration, Mark with a round-up on the Low Carbon Cookbook and Adrienne Campbell, cross-posting from her blog 100 Monkeys with a report from Transition Lewes and the Climate Camp at St Anne's School. Check us out!

Native sunflowers on a car in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico; Tarahumara sunflower, Suffolk; dancing the rainbow at Geldeston Locks, Suffolk on May Day - pics by Mark Watson

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