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How to Build Trust in Transition

Pamela Boyce Simms is the Convener, Mid-Atlantic Transition Hub (MATH); Pamela Haines is with Transition West Philadelphia.

Trust makes Transitioning “stick.” Trust in people, trust in a nonhierarchical process, trust that we can joyously cope with uncertainty and the unknown, is the “stuff” of Transitioning to resilience. Diversity work is synonymous with embracing the unknown, affirming egalitarianism, and trusting that uncertainty doesn’t have to be frightening. Trusting at this level is a consciously acquired and cultivated skills-set.

Figuring out how to diversify the Transition movement is a litmus test that can indicate how prepared we really are to embrace a future in which the old navigation coordinates will have evaporated. The degree to which we can calm the discomfort that often grips us when among people who appear to be radically different from us, is the degree to which we can truly deepen our resilience as we wade into the unknown.

Recently, Transitioners of the Simplicity Institute, in a critique, The Transition Movement: Questions of Diversity, Power and Affluence, asked: 1) How can Transitioners pay more attention in our work to community power dynamics conditioned by the racial, ethnic, gender, and socioeconomic stratification that shape relationships? and,  2) How can we ensure that Transition isn’t primarily a pleasurable movement for predominantly white, educated, post-materialist, middle class small community people?   

The Mid-Atlantic Transition Hub (MATH) will offer a webinar series entitled:"The Maturation of a Social Movement: A Regional Response to a Critique of the Transition Movement" on the Transition US website. The series will explore diversity in Transitioning among other issues raised in the critique. The first webinar session will be offered November 6, 2014, 2:00 PM ET (Click here to register).

There are Transitioners who are fired up and acting to deliberately cultivate the trust-building skills-set that underlies the formation of a diverse Transition Initiating Group. Pamela Haines in West Philadelphia is doing just that.

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True Relationship-building with Diversity in Mind Takes Time
Pamela Haines, West Philadelphia Transition (in… formation)

While at an upstate New York Transition workshop in April, we puzzled over the next steps in our big diverse city of Philadelphia. We are deeply committed to Transition and passionate about bridging the racial and class divide in our urban neighborhoods.  Susan lives in a majority poor and working-class African American community with a strong minority of activist white folks.  Pamela lives in neighborhood that is mixed class and race, gentrifying and university-dominated, adjacent to a solidly working class African American one.

Clarity emerged about half way through the workshop. It’s a simple concept:  “Our core group needs to look like our neighborhood!” Although we could get quicker “results” by moving forward with those who share a common background and culture, we’ll go farther in the long run by taking our time to build the relationships that bring greater diversity.

Susan, who founded a neighborhood sustainability network, was thrilled with the diversity of the initial network meeting.  When subsequent meetings progressively turned whiter, she slowed down to do more targeted outreach to pull people of color back in.  They are now networking around sustainable food systems.  People love these opportunities but the Transition core group has yet to materialize.

Susan is also considering a “Transition Building” initiative in a YMCA facility that is now a Single Room Occupancy (SRO) building for men. A successful new garden project has begun, but there are challenges to engaging the men. It’s a labor intensive process.

Pamela set a goal for herself to build relationships with her neighbors in the adjacent African American community that would allow for a truly diverse Transition core group.  She has pursued several strategies:  growing relationships (in addition to vegetables) with the handful of African Americans in her local community garden; looking for common ground around environmental concerns with women she’s met through her work in the child care community;  and reaching out to acquaintances (like the friendly woman at the credit union), looking for kindred spirits.

She has supported community initiatives taken by friends and neighbors such as an “Honoring Our Elders” event. Neighborhood groups and congregations gather to honor an elder from their midst whose life has been long, fruitful and inspiring.  It is a simple, lovely event that unites everyone from the diverse and changing neighborhood in gratitude for the lives of these elders.

Another neighbor organized a yearly “porch hop” during which blocks designate one porch as a gathering point, and a map is made of all the participating blocks. Neighbors are invited to drop by to mingle and enjoy food on a series of host porches. Pamela helped make this year’s porch hop happen intending to recruit in the adjacent neighborhood as well. The porch hop didn’t bridge the divide but seeds for the future were sown. Still, a transition core group is no visibly closer. 

The closest Pamela’s gotten to forming a Transition core group is a nascent quilting/sewing group —a common interest shared by some elders, child care workers and the woman from the credit union who have expressed concern for the earth.  In the meantime she has joined the board of an urban farm in the neighboring community, and is building relationships there with the farmer and neighbors who are glad for reasonably priced fresh vegetables.

So, Susan continues to generate energy in the neighborhood around food systems, hoping for some ongoing commitment.  Pamela is excited about possibilities at the urban farm, holds out hope for her quilting group as a context for conversations about shared interests, and intentionally pursues relationships with her African American neighbors.

With no Initiating Group to show for all our efforts, we’re both a little jealous of Transition folks who have made more visible progress.  Yet we believe that we’re on to something.  We both have found others who we wouldn’t typically have gotten to know before, and, who care deeply about the earth.  We are both weaving a web of relationships, not knowing what those webs might be able to catch in the future. We both have bigger lives as a result—and we remain hopeful that what might grow from this work will be Transition in the fullest sense of the word. 

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Join the conversation on November 6, 2014, 2:00 PM ET for first segment of a Mid-Atlantic Transition Hub (MATH) Teleseminar Series: "The Maturation of a Social Movement: A Regional Response to a Critique of the Transition Movement." (Click here to register)

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