On June 23rd, 25 Transition leaders from across the country met virtually to share and explore strategies for bridging community resilience and social justice. Our conversation focused on strategies that align with Transition’s approach of systemic–yet localized–solutions, and fall into two main categories: healing the damage of systemic racism and building equitable new systems.
In order to participate in healing the damage of systemic racism, we must first educate ourselves and each other on the many ways racism exists in our society. A number of Transition groups are already engaged in this work: Transition Palo Alto is one of a handful of Transition Initiatives running book clubs and discussion groups on “White Fragility”, while Transition Mar Vista/Venice is working through the “Me and White Supremacy Workbook” as a group. Sari Steuber of Transition Town Media wrote this excellent blog post “My Name is _______ and I’m a Racist” that was shared with the TTM community via their mailing list and discussed with volunteers at TTM’s FreeStore. The Transition US Social Justice Working Group, in partnership with the Inner Resilience Network, is hosting a webinar series “Building Bridges: Creating Healthy Collaborations for Climate Justice” aimed at educating our network on topics including Historical Trauma & Intercultural Healing, Unpacking Privilege in a Time of Crisis, Being an Ally, and Healing Justice.
The concepts of Healing, Restorative, and Transformative Justice all speak to the possibilities of moving beyond punitive strategies for keeping our communities safe as well as for building a culture that nurtures justice and equality in our movement and society. The June session of “Building Bridges” shared the process of Restorative Justice–based on the experience of Scott Brown (author of Active Peace & member of the Inner Resilience Network core team) running the Boulder County Sheriff’s Department’s Restorative Justice program–and explored how we can use Restorative Justice in our own communities. The Inner Resilience Network is interested in working with Scott Brown to provide ongoing support to local TIs who want to bring Healing/Restorative Justice work to their communities.
Another virtue of the concept of “Healing Justice” is the potential for this approach to foster truth and reconciliation, an important foundation for the positive evolution of our culture. One participant from Transition Town Media, a suburb of Philadelphia, shared that earlier this year 11 members of the Philadelphia City Council apologized for the 1985 bombing of the house of black liberation group MOVE, which killed 11 of MOVE’s members (including 5 children). Another participant highlighted the practice of land acknowledgement–recognizing and respecting Indigenous Peoples as traditional stewards of the lands on which we reside and the enduring relationship that exists between Indigenous Peoples and their traditional territories–as important foundational work for understanding and honoring our history.
Systems that are truly just and equitable democratize wealth and access to resources. Examples of these include worker cooperatives, community land trusts, and other solidarity economy models. This approach is embraced by Cooperation Humboldt (a Transition Initiative) and Cooperation Jackson, among others.
Community Land Trusts (CLTs) are powerful tools for combating gentrification by removing land from the speculative market and keeping people in their homes. For example, earlier this year, Oakland’s Moms 4 Housing received national media coverage when a group of houseless mothers and their families occupied a vacant house owned by a company that “flips” houses in multiple states. After being forcibly evicted by police, Moms 4 Housing was able to retain the home through the Oakland Community Land Trust. CLTs can also be used to preserve land for sustainable agriculture, ecological stewardship, and more.
Reparations and land tenure are important considerations in creating more just and equitable systems and communities. Two models highlighted in Movement Generation’s workshop series “Course Correction: Just Transition in the Age of COVID-19”–in which several Transition US staff and Collaborative Design Council members are currently participating–are the Sogorea Te Land Trust and Soul Fire Farm’s Reparations Map for Black & Indigenous Farmers. The Sogorea Te Land Trust exists to return traditionally Chochenyo and Karkin lands in the San Francisco Bay Area to indigenous stewardship, and raises money through the “Shuumi Land Tax,” which asks non-indigenous people living on Ohlone land to pay dues for the land that they live on. Soul Fire Farm’s Reparations Map for Black & Indigenous Farmers calls for reparations of land and resources to support food sovereignty in Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian and people of color communities, upon whose stolen land and labor the modern food system was built.
Policy work is also essential to building new just and equitable systems. The proliferation of police and law enforcement reforms in communities across the country is an important example of this, as are climate legislation efforts that make racial equity a priority.
Transforming our economic and political systems are long-term goals that require sustained commitment and a high level of organization to achieve. While we set our sights on longer-term goals, we can also adapt our existing projects and programs to ensure more equitable distribution of resources. For example, Transition Town Media is considering developing a campaign to encourage support for Black-owned businesses. Transition Sarasota’s Suncoast Gleaning Project has long focused on equal access to healthy local organic food. To date, Transition Sarasota has harvested over 350,000 lbs of produce from local farms for distribution through area food pantries. Through their annual Eat Local Week, Transition Sarasota has also supported and formed meaningful partnerships with other food justice organizations in their region, including the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (which advocates for migrant farmworkers) and Newtown Nation (which represents Sarasota’s African-American community).
This convening was in part a response to the massive civil unrest sparked by the murder of George Floyd, but also an important piece of Transition US’s ongoing work to elevate social justice in our movement. The need to prioritize social justice in our work is one of the key themes that emerged from the initial round of feedback we received on our strategic planning process earlier this year from more than 60 Transition leaders and other stakeholders. The international Transition Network shares our commitment to making social justice more explicitly central to our work:
“The Transition for which everyone is working can only happen, will only be meaningful, if it is a Just Transition for everyone. The struggles for climate justice and racial justice are the same struggle…” ~Transition Network Statement on Black Lives Matter
In order to successfully develop the kind of diverse, powerful collaborations necessary to heal the damage of systemic racism and build new, more just and equitable systems, we must learn to listen to and support the leadership of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color communities. And we must do enough of our own “inner” work around racism, privilege, power, and oppression to be able to show up in these collaborations in a truly constructive way.
To support Transition leaders in this work, TUS is currently partnering with Cooperation Humboldt to develop a Social Justice Community of Practice where we can collectively investigate and dismantle the structures of Capitalism, White Supremacy, Settler Colonialism, and Patriarchy. By learning how those structures, living within us, influence how we live and work together as change agents, we can then open to the possibility of dismantling those behaviors and replacing them with cooperation, pluralism, mutuality, and caring. The Social Justice Community of Practice is based on the successful model Cooperation Humboldt has used to train more than 100 community leaders.
Transition US is also exploring how to deepen our analysis around the connections between social justice, extractive economy, and ecological crises, and hosted a national network conversation on this topic on July 28.
Additional resources on this topic from Transition US include the Social Justice Working Group Recommended Resource Guide, the Transition US Statement in Solidarity with #BlackLivesMatter, a recent blog post on the evolution of social justice work within Transition US, and a video recording of the “harvest round” from the June 23 National Network Conversation on Bridging Social Justice and Community Resilience.