Carolyne Stayton is Co-Director of Transition US. As part of PCI’s “Weaving the Movement” project, a series of interviews and group conversations with leaders in the new economy and community resilience movements, we spoke with Carolyne about reframing, reskilling, REconomy, and more:
Interview with Carolyne Stayton (edited transcript)
Tell us a short story of a time when you were most inspired, effective and engaged in your work.
Something that happened in Sebastopol, where I live, that’s associated with the Transition Movement. Early on in Transition in the US, Transition Sebastopol had recently formed and was really blazing with creative activity and they held a Reskilling festival at one of our local farms with a number of different workshops happening simultaneously: some in the barn, some under the oak tree, and some in the area where the CSA is distributed.
There was a mushroom workshop–how to inoculate mushroom spores, another on how to fix your tools, one on composting, and one on bees. I was involved in some of the organizing and went to it knowing we had this full plate of different types of skills to meet the needs of different types of people. Families came and there was a lot of interest.
What was remarkable to me was the reframing in my own head: this event had a lot of practical information, it was free, well organized, and the presenters were passionate about their craft. But what happened that was more moving was the impact of people sitting next to each other, finding out they had common interests, finding a connection around where they lived, that their kids went to same school, getting each other’s phone numbers and exchanging cards, making plans about getting together to continue learning and practicing their new skills.
So I had the reframing that it’s not about the practical skills– which are so important too – but the heart and soul of this event was relationship building.
Food was served in potluck, greens picked from the farm, and it was this visceral realization that I was witnessing community being born before my eyes. It was palpable. I’ve seen that recur over and over again. And that’s the real gift and strength of the Transition movement, providing context for people to get together in a way that they can participate with different levels of entry, different ways to engage. That’s the strength and center-point of this movement, the wealth of Transition is building those connections and relationships in all of these places around the world.
And it still really moves me because it was such an epiphany of reframing. It’s recursive and I see it happening over and over again, and it’s palpable and it’s alive. It’s really indicative–that was the first breaking open for me of community being born before my eyes.
What is most alive in your work right now?
What seems to be most alive–in my life and my work– is I really feel like I am experiencing a paradigm shift. How it is appearing in Transition is that it is more of a phase shift from the early adopters to more of the early majority. And it’s also moving from simple to much more complex. What’s most alive in that is negotiating that shift from simple to more complex. It’s quite a leap on so many different levels.
We’re seeing regional hubs emerge, and more countries and conversations between national hubs and regional hubs and within Transition. There’s an effort to see what is "fractal". What is recursive on the different scales of interaction. What is the "through line" that makes the coherence real and anchors common values and maybe some common processes and ways of getting information through all of those different scales of activity?
We’re exploring and learning about different organizing frameworks to see what might work. I’m having conversations with people on the international and regional fronts. Then around all the edges there are the opportunities that come from partners and allied groups that are building resilience. What is the best, most effective, most elegant way of collaborating and working together for greatest gain, and what could those systems look like? What’s that architecture and communications structure, that’s as simple as possible but gives enough bones to the structure so it is coherent and strong? I’m very interested in "cracking" some of that, especially with the regional organizing that is happening in a number of areas in the US.
Everything is kind of messy and "squeezy," really fraught with edges and opportunity, very dynamic. It’s a wonderful, interesting place we’re finding ourselves in – exploring these edges.
I think in this country we’re a bit of the Wild West and Transition is very open source. Multiple regional hubs are forming and in very different ways. One is more housed within an existing nonprofit, another became one. In Northern California, there is a big tent of regional organizing, with smaller subsets within. With all of this building there’s some friction and we’ve been called to sort of police/mediate. It’s that human stuff, group process, power dynamics. In some ways it’s a little bit of a power grab here and there, in some ways lobbying. Nothing new. Yet this is the area that we really need to crack. As a society moving into this paradigm shift! We absolutely need to figure out how to work well together. A clear system and structure could help. It could remedy some of that messiness; provide more clarity of roles and responsibilities for the regions and for the Transition Initiatives represented.
There are regions that are growing and bumping up against other regions. But what do the groups on the ground want? All this is calling for a lot more communication and input, hearing from the Transition Initiative leaders, looking at conflict resolution processes that can be agreed upon, getting clear group agreements in place. A mutually built and light infrastructure that offers maximum flexibility, so all scales of activity can make their unique contributions– that just provides that scaffolding.
We’re not at the very beginning of that stage either, we have some good thinking in place and some areas identified that seem to be recursive. Plus there are a lot of really talented people looking at this. Like folks from the international Transition community who are dealing with regional organizing in Sweden and Belgium. What are they learning and what can they share with us? Yet we’re the biggest country that is taking on Transition – our regions themselves are bigger than most European countries, our contribution to the international scene may be very rich indeed.
Another example of moving into more complexity is with other national hubs – how can we effectively learn from each other? Communicate? Provide support? All interesting and chock full of creative thinking around all of this.
Is that what you meant by "complex?"
Yes, the complexity of garnering input/agreement at different stages, scales, while maintaining a through-line of coherence.
It suggests that people really do care, or you wouldn’t be having this kind of conflict and complexity. Yes, people really do care passionately.
People can hold really strong visions of what Transition is, which is encouraged. And they aren’t all going to be the same. We see this too on a regional scale. You might think of your region as bigger than someone else might. So it’s very dynamic.
Reminds me of the forming, storming, norming, performing phases of Effective Groups – we’re in the storming phase for regional architecture. The coherence is important so that the term "Regional Hub" has a meaning of sorts that can be recognized. Simple and elegant is what I’m imagining that fractal structure will be.
Beyond Transition: With partners and allies, what are those opportunities to work together with greatest effect? Looking for what’s elegant and streamlined and as simple as possible.
Imagine it is five years from now and your work has succeeded wildly. Frame your next responses as if you are speaking from that future point in time.
a) What has been catalyzed in the world?
As you know, we’ve experienced a whole shift to a new economic paradigm. In the process, we’ve really learned how to work together through all that messiness, all that regional organizing, all the different organizations and efforts entering the resilience field, we’ve figure all that out. There’s economic control/power at the local level and more cooperation than competition. It’s a mature ecosystem, symbiotic and different organizations have their niches. Together, the overall system is thriving.
In 2019 we see businesses are more locally owned. Most assets are held collectively since we’ve identified that that is the most advantageous way to live. One human family. There’s a lot more interconnectedness and connectedness in our locales. I think one of the main things is that community wealth is measured not by GDP but in the health of relationships of mutual support and cooperation, on the well-being of community.
Hand in hand with all of that – which could only take place because of it – is a change in consciousness. Having gone through some really tough times, some big squeezes, forced humanity to take a deep dive into looking at how to live upon the earth. The introspection and fire of so many events made the diamond on the other side, so there’s definitely an epic change in consciousness and it really is a more enjoyable life.
We’re living with fewer resources, but the quality of life and connectedness and relationships is much more pleasurable. The norm is "enough" for all. Transition played a vital role in that, galvanized communities on various scales from local to regional to national to international. Along with its partners and allies, we all really learned how to work together effectively. There was a real change from the competition that really characterized the US to cooperation. A lot of the work of Transition and allies made that shift happen.
The US was ready – because it was not working for more and more people. The shift, when it happened, was quite rapid. There was so much in place at that point that there could really be that shift from competition to cooperation, to more mutual support. Almost like that reskilling festival – you think you’re going for this event, but what you end up with is a network of mutual support that’s breathtakingly stronger than what the participants originally thought they were creating.
There’s a new norm–a way of living more lightly and more pleasurably on Earth. People are engaged in a mutual support structure.
That might sound all like a pipe dream, but I do think it’s really happening!
b) Imagine that the emergence of the New Economy Coalition in 2014 was a key to the success of your work over those next five years. Tell us how that happened.
I think the conference was the right thing at the right time. It was open enough that participants could really make a stamp on it. It was affordable enough that a lot of different people could go. So they did it right. And they were in the right area to influence the economy. It was a good spark plug for more mobilization, and more coalition building. It wasn’t that NEC did it alone, but they definitely helped to build some of that initial scaffolding. What happens often when a group or an effort does something at the right time, in just the right way, is that it anchors what’s going to grow. So they started a good scaffolding that a lot of other groups and networks and organizations could build on, and in that way so much more was built.
They drew a good, solid, steady group of organizations and individuals together. There was driving interest to inhabit the space of the faltering economy with something real and strong and cohesive.
So there was an opportunity to do it as a coalition, rather than a single organization being the star. It really was a foundation that could be built upon — a mutual support system scaffolding. It invited something at a time when there was a void — a faltering of the old paradigm. Brilliant!
Marissa: throughout these interviews, we’ve heard a lot about communities, localization, sharing, organizing at the grass roots. We haven’t heard a lot about moving out of the cash economy in terms of alternative currencies and also the REconomy model.
Alternative currencies – people think about time banks or different paper or electronic currencies. But I think the currency is in building that mutual support system, so there really is more of a sharing done in our day to day habits, in our lives. Talking with the folks at Transition Lab yesterday – and one of the things they are bringing forth is more of a systemic change – so if you have an extra room in your house, and a backyard that could have food growing in it, and if there is a young person in the community who needs housing and could grow food, to share in the community, you would bring those elements together. In the process you all learn a lot about communication and how to get along.
This is a different way of living and sharing resources and being on the Earth together in a way that works for more people. Sharing passion, working together, learning, and flourishing. It’s prudent to divest from the US dollar economy too. Diversify!
REconomy really is looking at an economic paradigm shift. It’s more about how, while we’re in the US economy using dollars, we can shift to more community owned business and assets. Let’s move to these now, so as things falter in the economy, there’s more already built.
Let’s bring together stakeholders in a single place, and have the conversation about resource constraints. What are the businesses we can populate that will actually build the resilience of this locale? What businesses are needed so that we’re not so dependent on things coming from great distances and we can lessen our spending on transportation costs? More local business creates recirculating dollars and creates economic structures that provide mutual support.
But it is a paradigm shift. It’s putting the economy in the context of the times, and because of that it’s creating more localized and resilient businesses.