A Tale of Two Initiatives and The Power of Just Doing Stuff
Today a new Transition book, The Power of Just Doing Stuff by Rob Hopkins, is launched. So in celebration we’re publishing an extract from the book featured in our summer issue. The TFP Profile page is a regular news feature about the workings of Transition initiatives around the world.
“It is fascinating to hear stories of how Transition is emerging and developing its own identity in some of those countries in southern Europe most impacted by the financial crisis,” writes Hopkins, “Here I’d like to share stories from Coín in Spain and Portalegre in Portugal.”
Portalegre em Transição
The economic crisis is being acutely experienced in Portugal. I spoke to Sónia Tavares from Portalegre em Transição, who said that when she heard there was a public presentation about Transition coming up in her town she “went berserk”:
I felt finally that in Portalegre, my town, the town where I was born and live, there were people who felt the need for change, just like me. I thought that was amazing, and when I saw so many people going to this presentation, I thought, ‘This is it, we can do something. We can actually change something.’
One of the key aspects of the presentation was that, after introducing Transition, those holding the event said: “But now we don’t know what to do”. This principle has run through their work, a refreshing antidote in difficult times where politicians claim to have solutions but no-one believes them. It means, as Sónia put it, “facing the danger that we don’t know what to do”.
As a result, Portalegre em Transição has been founded on a principle of always turning outwards for ideas about what to do, inviting suggestions and then supporting their realisation. They have also consciously tried to do whatever they do without asking for money, trying to be “completely true and generous”, embodying Charles Eisenstein’s concept of ‘The Gift Economy’[i].
As one of their first projects the group, together with neighbours and local people, created a garden on a small patch of urban ground just outside the town’s main market. It has proved a huge shift both for the group and the wider community in terms of their sense of what’s possible. Neighbours turned out to create the garden, others turned up with flowers and plants, and tended and nurtured the garden. As Sónia put it:
It’s amazing. I’ve been living in Portalegre for ever, 37 years, and I have felt my community and my city crumble, people turning their backs on each other. This community garden we created tells me it is possible to do things with other people. It is possible, we just need to wake up to each other again.
Members of the group often sit on a bench by the garden and have conversations with passers-by, which lead to many ideas for future projects for the group. One neighbour told them: “We were living in this block and did not know our neighbours. We had nothing to tell each other. Now, in the morning, we have a smile to share, we talk about the plants, how they are doing and whether we will meet downstairs this evening…”
Another of their key projects has been the ‘Poiso’ (Portuguese for ‘perch’), a unit at the local indoor market, used as a drop-in resource for Transition in the town. It includes a ‘costuroteca’ (which translates loosely as a ‘library of sewing’), a living room, and swap markets; it is also home to all manner of activities, including a community kitchen used for food preparation and preservation workshops, right in the “nerve centre” of the community.
Future plans include a heritage fruit tree library and a new local food market. Adapting Transition to the Portuguese context has meant making the economic crisis the key driver, finding ways to do things that don’t expect a lot of financial input from the community, and a concept of ‘service’, the ideas being implemented coming from outside the core group rather than within it.
[i] A concept explored in depth at Eisenstein, C. (2011) Money, gift and community in an age of Transition. Evolver Editions. Available to read online free at www.sacred-economics.com/read-online/
Ajudada, a Transition-inspired gift economy festival, takes place this weekend in Portalegre
One of the first Transition initiatives in Spain is in Coín, a town of around 20,000 people, with a history of being home to alternative thinkers who had existed largely in parallel to the mainstream political culture. The first meeting attracted 30 people from a range of political backgrounds. It took a while for the group to establish a structure and find the best way to work together, but an event where local kids were invited for a day at a community garden earned them a lot of credibility and respect.
In their second year they began ‘Mercado Local Coín’, a local producers’ market, which has been very successful. The following year they held a big festival on renewable energy which focused on the many strategies for reducing energy consumption at the domestic level. José Martín, one of the founders of the group, told me that he has observed that:
once practical things start happening that people can see and touch, something changes in the culture. It feels like something is happening, that the reality is changing.
More recently the cash-strapped local council announced a plan to privatise the town’s water supply. Coín en Transicion started a campaign to stop the plans, and after one week in which they gathered 3,000 signatures and held public meetings, the council announced they were dropping the idea, and invited the group to work with them on an alternative plan, which is currently underway, based on Coín en Transicion’s assertion that the solution requires the input of everyone in the community. Increasingly the council is asking for the group’s advice, as respect for their ability to make things happen grows.
I asked Jose for a special moment that he had found especially thrilling. He told me of a meeting they called about food and farming, where 180 people, mostly farmers and producers, came together to talk about strategies for feeding Coín into the future. He was amazed that most of them already knew about him and the group, and how people who were often quite conservative were very open to new ideas about ecological food production, local food and so on.
“I felt a mind-shift happening,” he told me. “People feel there is a big shift happening but they don’t know what it is a shift to. I feel Coín en Transicion’s biggest achievement so far has been to catalyse an openness to this shift and its possibilities.”
Photographs: breakthrough community garden in Portalegre, Portugal; new Transition market opens in Coín, Spain from The Power of Just Doing Stuff (£7.95, Green Books) You can order your copy of the book here.
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