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A Feedback Loop: MATH Asks Itself Some Tough Questions

by Pamela Boyce Simms     
Public scrutiny and feedback are welcome and essential in the Transition movement. Learning, broadening our reach, and the healthy evolution of the movement are all fueled by constructive feedback. Transitioners know that they don’t have all of the answers. Creating a global web of localized resilience-building initiatives is a massive, open-ended social experiment. Listening deeply and responding to feedback can help the Transition movement hone the appropriateness of its actions in the alternative-creating adventure on which we’ve embarked.  

In its critique, The Transition Movement: Questions of Diversity, Power and Affluence, The Simplicity Institute sets a mirror before the Transition movement, offering Transitioners an opportunity to take stock of their eight year resilience-building journey, and consider pathways forward.
The Mid-Atlantic Transition Hub (MATH) welcomes this opportunity to self-refine by coalescing regional Resources Persons to engage with issues raised in the critique in a monthly teleseminar series. An overview of the series: The Maturation of a Social Movement, A Regional Response to A Critique of the Transition Movement, was offered on December 4. There will be follow-up phone conversations with MATH teleseminar panelists on January 6 and 8.
The Mid-Atlantic regional network, comprised entirely of engaged Transitioners in seven states, generates pragmatic, positive, alternative-building activism in response to climate change, resource depletion, and economic contraction. Fourteen of the thirty-nine Mid-Atlantic Transition initiatives are located in New York’s Lower and Mid-Hudson Valley, Capital District, Tri-County, Mohawk Valley, and NYC subregions. Teleseminar listener feedback contributes to keeping our work grounded, providing public perspectives on strengths and deficiencies and potential pitfalls and windfalls that exist within, and lie ahead of, the Transition movement.
MATH will fold listener feedback into the ongoing process of building an ever-adaptable operating system for its regional network. Feedback helps MATH 1) enhance fluidity of communication, and the responsiveness of our regional work to needs as they arise in the moment at several scales; 2) affirm and create practices that sustain Transitioner vigor, enthusiasm, and passion for the work region-wide; and 3) cultivate a voracious Transitioner appetite for self-transformation and self-awareness in order to gauge ongoing operations effectiveness.
The Simplicity Institute accurately depicts the Transitioner demographic as predominantly white, educated, post materialist, middle class, small community people. This information isn’t offered as inherently good or bad, but as the prevalent, de facto reality within the movement. That being said, we in the Mid-Atlantic, a region that incorporates the most highly diverse and population-dense corridor on the planet ask: How does that Transitioner demographic reality impact the reach and relevance of our work? The juxtaposition between the current Transition population and the demographic mix in the Mid-Atlantic region prompts us to explore:
• Whose resilience are we concerned about, and to what end? i.e. Transition to what, where, by whom, for whom?
• Should Transition be more explicitly concerned with social justice?
• Does inclusion in Transition mean assimilating others into our way of viewing the world?
• How do we encourage diversity without “othering” and perpetuating social stratification?
• How might we fold community power dynamics conditioned by ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomic stratification that shape relationships into our work?
• How can we honestly look at and skillfully work with various levels of vulnerability between communities, and competing interests within communities?
On the other hand, attempts at all-inclusivity that stem from a lowest common denominator  approach could dilute the movement’s impact by valuing “the stretching process” itself over actual meaningful change.
Power & Control Dynamics vs. Non-Hierarchical Balance
• Is there too much top down steering of the movement through the Transition Network and/or national hubs that runs counter to the grassroots driven modus operandi? (Consider this in juxtaposition to the movement’s need to preserve cohesion, coherence, and some semblance of mainstream recognition.)
• Is relocalization capable of solving political as well as environmental problems?
• Are we making a strong enough distinction between “unhealthy localism,” i.e., romanticized insularity, isolationist, protectionist exclusion (to be avoided); and “healthy localism,” i.e., inclusive, intentional, open, relational, connected (to be embraced)?
• Can acts of resistance and micro-transformation destabilize macro-systems?
• Can we dispassionately analyze political power without becoming embroiled in politics?  
Affluence or Not: Consumption Patterns and Taboo Topics
Do Transitioners with one foot in the old paradigm and the other in the new gingerly side-step the latent tensions around issues that might alienate people from our “big tent” movement? Here are some:
• Are we directly addressing the fact that consumer capitalism created our current predicament (acknowledging all the ideological associations that loaded term might have for Americans)?
• Are we addressing the reality of downsized material consumption lifestyles on the horizon?
• Are we skirting the issue of ecological damage wrought by continued meat consumption. If yes, what is the projected impact of continuing to do so?
• Can self-organizing Transition communities “ignore capitalism to death” by building a new economy in the shell of the old?
Pamela Boyce Simms is a Transition Trainer with the Mid-Atlantic Transition Hub (MATH) of Transition US. This will be the last “Transitioning…” column in Country Wisdom News. For more information or to register for MATH events and teleseminars, visit transitionmidatlantic.org.