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Going back to diversity?

This week's Transition Social Reporting Project's guest editorial is from Catrina Pickering. Catrina Pickering was the Diversity Coordinator at Transition Network from March 2010-September 2011. For blogs, newsletters and projects on diversity in Transition see the Transition Network Diversity sub-site: http://www.transitionnetwork.org/diversity-and-social-justice.

One of the moments from my childhood that will always stay with me was the day that we read The Fox and the Hound at school. The story tells of a young fox called Tod who befriends a young puppy named Copper. They spend the summer playing together by the river, a sense growing in them that they’ll be the best of friends forever.

Then winter comes and Copper is taken away for several months to be trained by his master as a hunting dog. When he returns, his master insists on hunting down and killing that darn fox Tod. A dramatic hunt follows ending in Copper standing in front of the gun of his master, refusing to allow his best friend Tod to be shot. Although Tod’s life is saved and although in their hearts they know they'll always be the best of friends, Tod and Copper part knowing that the rules of the world have dictated that it is not safe for them to stay in contact.

This story came at a time for me when I was just starting to notice the social divisions around me. I remember I knew exactly what it was that made me feel so sad and angry about the story but I didn’t really understand what it was about it that grounded me with hope. Now I understand. The hope I felt was that no matter how far we become divided from one another, we all started with a sense of togetherness, of knowing that there is more that binds us together than that which divides us.

When we’re young, as Tod and Copper were when they became friends, we simply don’t see the differences the world has created between us. We have to learn the divisions that set people apart. In the global north, we learn that black is a colour of danger and negativity and that white is a colour of purity and light. We are taught how to divide people up according to their accents, their clothes, their jobs. We learn that the so-called “middle-class” culture is the one that gets people places. And before we know it, talking about “us” and “them” has become so second nature that we’ve no idea how to get back to the wholeness that we were born with.

I’m reminded of the white children who grew up in 1960s America, nursed by their black home helps who they often loved at least as much as their own mothers. My hope is that because this sense of acceptance is where we started, this is also what we can go back to. But it’s a challenge. Times are getting harder for many of us. The tendency when times get hard is to shrink back into our comfort zones and to look after our own. That means looking after the people that are like me rather than the people that live the other side of town. It means feeling sadder when someone from my country dies than I do when someone from a country far away from me dies. It means building walls and allowing our worries and fear to breed prejudices.

But what is the alternative and how do we work towards it? For me the Transition I want to build is one which makes sense to everyone, not just the minority of the population that are currently doing it. It will involve stories I’ve never heard of before, that help me to create a vision beyond any which I could create by myself. It’s a Transition that unleashes a diverse collective genius. It will provide a means for people to identify and meet their needs. It’s a Transition that strives to build bridges so that we can collectively re-build the damage that has been caused to each and every one of us through the divisions we’ve endured.

This kind of Transition I think can only really happen when Transition becomes about responding to a diversity of needs using a diversity of strengths. These needs could be anything from me needing to reduce my high carbon footprint for the sake of the earth to you needing access to affordable housing. It could be me needing a safe environment for my children to play in to you needing to have a sense of a community in a local environment characterised by high-salary earners who have little time for anything other than commuting to and from a demanding job everyday.

Let me give you a few examples so you can see how Transition is already doing this.

In Transition Pittsburgh, Chris Condello is transforming his street, turning abandoned gardens into community gardens and involving the local children who had previously been misbehaving and driving people away. In Sao Paulo, the first Transition slum is thriving with seven community gardens, income generation projects and a documentary recording the knowledge and experiences of the elders in the community. In Transition Lancaster, a project by the name of “community conversations” is getting going. The aim of the project? Nothing other than simply going out to listen to people, to hear what people want and need.

For me, Transition is absolutely a movement that has the potential to rebalance not just the equilibrium of the earth but the equilibrium of the people. At the other end of the scale, I fear Transition could be in danger of evolving into something that is for people with a good deal of resources building more resources and more resilience against the shocks that are coming to us all.

Transition is at a crossroads and it’s up to each and every one of us which path we choose to take. The time to launch out of our comfort zones with the creativity and playfulness of Tod and Copper is now.

Photos: Transition Pittsburgh's forgotten farm stand. This is food that they've grown in the gardens of boarded up houses that they're selling the excess of...; Diverse Roots to Belonging poster, Transition Scotland; telling a story, singing a song from Bengal at the Transition Companion Book launch last week (Mike Grenville)

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