Act: Inspiration

Initial Report on the Transition US National Gathering and Movement Strategy Session

September 18, 2017

The first-ever Transition US National Gathering (and the follow-up Leadership Retreat and Movement Strategy Session) was a great success! TUS staff, board, and our growing network of supporters and volunteers around the country remain hard at work integrating this amazing experience — including harvesting stories, videos, images and other artifacts — but for the moment, it feels necessary to give our blog readers at least a very basic sketch of the magic that we co-created in the Twin Cities this summer.

The events this summer — both the Transition US National Gathering and the leadership retreat — were historic in nature: It was the first time Transition US hosted a national-level gathering of Transition-minded folks from around the country, and the Movement Strategy Session represented the first-ever gathering of some of the most engaged grassroots Transition leaders in the same place at the same time, building a vessel to continue working together in this new post-gathering era. In this regard, the gathering and retreat were de facto successes: Simply by virtue of coming together, we accomplished something major. And that is to say nothing of what even happened at these events, the breakthroughs we had together, all that we taught and learned from one another, the community and trust and understanding we built with one another, the resources and skills and inspiration we shared.

The events took place in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota from July 27th through August 1st. The wider National Gathering attracted over 300 participants of various levels of engagement in the Transition Towns movement to build thriving resilient community all across the country. Included in this event were two days of intensive trainings, a public screening of the documentary film “Tomorrow,” keynote presentations by Richard Heinberg, Rob Hopkins, and Phyllis Young, 43 workshops on various topics, bioregional breakouts, Open Space sessions, shared meals and dorm lodging, social time together after hours, and, finally, the two-day Leadership Retreat and Movement Strategy Session (which I’ll describe in greater detail below, and even more deeply in the next installment of this multi-part series).

Early feedback about the Transition National Gathering has been overwhelmingly positive. In addition to hearing much sincere appreciation informally from dozens of attendees, as of late-August, 63 people had responded to a formal survey assessing the Gathering. When asked to rate their “overall enjoyment of or satisfaction with attending this National Gathering,” participants provided an average score of eight out of ten. The most valuable activities chosen by respondents were “1-2 Hour Workshops” and “1-2 Day Intensives,” followed by “Breaks/Informal Time” and “Keynote Speakers.” The most popular topics at the conference were “Big-Picture Thinking,” “Effective Collaboration and Healthy Groups,” “Inner Transition and Personal Resilience,” and “Neighborhood-Level Organizing,” respectively. All of our logistics (“Communications,” “Cost,” “Venue,” “Housing,” “Food,” “Accessibility,” and “Wayfinding”) received average scores of “Good” or “Very Good.” In answer to the question, “How likely would you be to participate in another Transition National Gathering?” 54% said that “I’d encourage all my friends to join me!” or “Definitely count me in!” 40% responded “If I’m nearby or could participate remotely.” Only 6% answered “It’s unlikely.”

Common areas for improvement cited included the quality of the food served at Macalester (although I personally found the cuisine to be delightful!) and the high cost of attending the Gathering (which is understandable, though it bears noting that we offered a great many full and partial scholarships, several substantial discounts and work-trade opportunities, and turned no one away for lack of funds). Survey participants also indicated a desire for more practical examples of Transition work, fewer concurrent workshops to choose between, greater diversity of participants, simplifying the registration process, and providing more time for networking, self-organization, and celebration.

It may come as no surprise that the most frequent highlight mentioned, by far, was connecting and bonding with fellow Transitioners. Specific sessions that received shout-outs included all three keynotes, our screening of “Tomorrow,” almost all of the intensives, bioregional breakouts, and the leadership retreat. As part of this survey, 15 people offered testimonials about the Gathering. This one kind of sums them all up:

“The T-Town conference was off-the-charts inspiring. Just walking into the first event gave me ‘electric shivers’ – so many like minds & hearts gathering together as one. Creative, flexible, courageous, clearsighted, compassionate – the quality of this group was beyond outstanding. We’re forging a new culture – it’s already happening, right in our Transition movement, and became tangible and real for me at the Twin Cities’ conference. Lives on as a bright flame in my heart: what we’ve most needed, we are creating together: do not despair!”

The Movement Strategy Session, which followed the main gathering, was a smaller and more intimate convergence of some of the most active Transition organizers around the country. There were 34 participants, including four TUS staff, four TUS board members, and the initiators and citizen-leaders of dozens of local transition initiatives from Puget Sound to Northern California, New Mexico to Colorado, Montana to Minnesota, Pennsylvania to Vermont, Boston to Florida — and many places in between.

This was the first Transition US Leadership Retreat of its kind: for most of these high-level transitioners, it was their first time in the room with most of the other leaders present. And while there were a number of direct and concrete deliverables that were achieved, perhaps the most important and consequential result of this meeting was the community-building that we did — the relationships forged, the trust built, the experience of looking each other in the eye, hearing one another’s voice, and embracing each other as brothers and sisters and kindred souls with a common purpose.

The retreat was convened chiefly not by Transition US staff, but by a newer participatory body of volunteers from around the country known as the Collaborative Design Council of grassroots leaders of high-functioning Transition initiatives, which serves in advisory capacity to the TUS staff and board. One of the main intentions — and delivered results — of this retreat was expanding the size, participation and scope of this Collaborative Design Council. Indeed, it feels like the greatest upshot from our entire week in the Twin Cities, above and beyond simply getting to know one another and hang out in person, is the greater participation and decentralization we are seeing take shape across the Transition movement, from the growth of the Collaborative Design Council to the formation of National Working Groups, to the rise of Regional Hubs across the country.

As you may be aware, Transition US has a very small staff (approximately 2 “full-time employee” hours shared among four less-than-full-time staffers) and rather limited capacity (traditionally with a budget less than $200k/year). Rather than letting this limit us, we’ve oriented more and more staff time toward cultivating a grassroots-and-tops nationwide community of citizen-leaders who are working together with more and more clarity and focus on scaling up and supporting the national project of Transition towns in the US.

The Transition US National Gathering and Leadership retreat yielded at least four solid national working groups and communities of practice to carry forward the national-level work of Transition in a grassroots capacity — a Heart and Soul group, a Social Justice & Transition group, a revamped Transition Streets cohort, and a REconomy community of practice. Furthermore, with the event’s bioregional breakouts and the overt emphasis placed on organizing at a regional level, we witnessed a surge in the growth of Regional Hubs, from New England and the Mid Atlantic to NorCal and Puget Sound. And, perhaps most importantly, nearly a dozen retreat participants indicated an intention to commit time to growing the Collaborative Design Council and to regional Transition Hubs. This growing set of participatory circles will allow us to continue to “broaden, deepen and scale up” our work in Transition long after the National Gathering has come and gone. Supported in community, we will continue to carry our work forward in an ever-greater collective spirit.

In our local Transition initiatives, we “honor the work already being done” and provide a vehicle for passionate citizen-leaders to come together and do their work more effectively in community. We do not impost transition in our towns from the top-down, but rather inspire people to some together and do the work from the ground up. A small initiating team inspires and supports the action of even larger working groups, and provides a context for local change-makers to come together and accomplish more than we ever could alone. In our local initiatives, no one person sets the agenda for the collective, or carries the entire “transition” on his or her back. The work — and play — is shared, in community. Why should the work of Transition be any different at a national level?

There are over 160 official Transition Initiatives in the United States, and countless more mullers and unofficial groups — and that is to say nothing of all the other small-t “transition-like” activity happening in our communities, kindred individuals and organizations doing the work of building thriving resilient community without explicitly using the word “transition” to describe it. And, as William Shakespeare might have said, “Transition, by any other name, smells as sweet.” In our towns, and at a national level, we place ourselves in service to the ever-growing movement and network of real people coming together to re-imagine and re-create our world in a good way, in a just way, in a way that respects and honors our interconnectedness with our planet and with each other.

What a huge undertaking this is! How ever will we do it?

The only answer I can seem to come up with is, “together.”

As the old saying goes, “if you want to travel fast, go alone; if you want to travel far, go together.”

As we look ahead to the next phase of Transition here in the US, there certainly seems to be a growing sense of “togetherness,” which is demonstrating itself not only through events like the Transition National Gathering and Movement Strategy Session, but also through a countrywide (and, indeed, international) community that is growing to carry forward the true work of Transition. With our neighbors in our own Transition initiatives, with our nearby bioregional allies in the Regional Hubs we are forming, and with our wider circles of kindred transitioners in National Working Groups and advisory bodies like the Collaborative Design Council, we are going farther and farther — together.

And, to paraphrase the age-old Hopkins-ism: It may be just enough, just in time.

In my next dispatch, I’ll share more from my day-by-day experience at the Transition National Gathering and Movement Strategy Session, and I’ll link you to the many photos, videos, stories and other bits of media we’ve begun to collect chronicling this truly historic summer in our domestic wing of the global Transition movement. I also look forward to sharing more from my experience earlier this spring at the Transition International Hubs Gathering in Santorso, Italy. For now, I hope I’ve given you a little taste of the recent National Gathering, and a sample of some of the exciting decentralization and increased participation taking shape to steward this movement to ever-greater heights and respond ever more effectively to these urgent times. Together, we are capable of such great, great things

On with the Transition!

Tags: building resilient communities, Transition movement, Transition strategies