The ‘Tramp to the Stamp’ River was an annual family trek to witness one of life’s sacred rhythms; thousands of salmon struggling against strong currents and the rush cascading falls, driven to gravel beds up ahead. Laying their eggs, depositing their sperm, and finally, their death is an epic story of Creation that impacted me in unexpected and extraordinary ways.
It was 2002, Amira (my 3-year-old 1st grandchild) did our first ‘Tramp to the Stamp’ together. Arriving at a viewpoint above the falls excited gasps and gales of laughter erupted and her sparkling eyes enlarged with the wonder of it all; one salmon after another soaring high out of the torrent only to fall back into the white churning of the river, rest for a while, gather strength and try again.
That day I experienced the spectacle as if for the first time. My tears flowed: they often did in this place and space. Wholeness, connection, indeed the sheer wonder of being alive at all; such a gift. This day, however, tears conveyed more than joy and wonder: they were laced with grief.
The day before I read a scientific paper setting out the temperature gradient within which salmon could continue to repeat this wonder. It is a thin band. Given water temperature trends, they said, the five salmon species returning to their birth river would not exist in 40 years.
Amira will be 22 this year. The salmon still return but are far fewer. Recent scientific predictions are holding; 20 years before extinction. Amira’s first grandchild, should she have one, will never witness this wonder. This realization shook me to the core.
The grief did not leave; indeed, it deepened for many days and months thereafter: my response? The usual: I threw myself into learning everything I could. Richard Heinberg’s ‘The Party’s Over’ and James Kunstler’s ‘The Long Emergency’ were my first deep dives. Nothing like these two deep thinkers provoking, extending, and amplifying a person’s capacity for deepening grief and being inspired to ask a whole of questions.
And so it continued, each question begetting new ones. Heinberg and Kunstler Kunstler’s clarity equipped me to share my own grief, including the people I worked with day in and day out. Core one was: what are the implications of Peak Oil and a never-ending Emergency for our work in community economic development and the social economy?
We dove deeper. My questions became shared, feeding several threads of inquiry and learning. We reached out to colleagues, clients, and networks across Canada to share our journey, and our questions. What would a shift in our priorities mean within the context of our relationship? What did our questions provoke with respect to their context, mission, and priorities? Are there ways we can walk together, hold the tension, risk exploring the questions in a deeper dialogue?
We wrote up our findings. The conversation broadened. We decided to invest further by inviting 25 long-time colleagues to a 2.5-day residential retreat along with a few network leaders we knew of but did not know. It was powerful far beyond our expectations. Shared tears, laughter, music, and much joy emerged from the intellectually and emotionally stimulating space we created together.
The result was dramatic. We took the first step; we consciously decided to shift our mindset and it went from there, starting with a radical revision of our mission focus -working with marginalized communities to strengthen their local economies – to one framed by the climate crisis upon us. Three priorities emerged; strengthening community resilience, educating, animating, and propagating of solutions – proven and promising – and last, agitating for the system change to advance the spread and the scaling of what works. These three priorities converged into one theme in my mind – Resist and Build – both of which are essential to bend the curve of history in a regenerative direction.
The complexion and scope of our work shifted rapidly, We became the lead Transition Town trainers in Canada. We became very picky about what consulting and training contracts we accepted. We organized and won a large bid to establish an international social economy research alliance (BALTA). The idea was to learn more about how to accelerate the spread and scaling of ‘basic needs’ innovations, including monetary reform and more on the ground financial tools. Pat Conaty, a fellow with UK-based New Economics Foundation, and I wrote a major book “The Resilience Imperative: Cooperative Transitions to a Steady State Economy” It received high praise, including from none other than Richard Heinberg, who helped me get started on this journey with ‘The Party’s Over’.
Among the people who became a member of BALTA was Dr. Mike Gismondi, a long time professor at Athabasca University and a 35-year pioneer in distance education. His expertise and interests intertwined with the array of dynamic collaborators in BALTA led to yet another question: how might we collaborate to design a highly interactive and creative online learning environment to share, in a popular, accessible format what we have been learning over the 8 years? Our rationale was simple. The crises are deepening: we want to reach more people, at low to no cost, to inspire and educate participants about some of the best innovations, frameworks, and tools we were using. Its aims: to empower individual and collective action in communities and regions, and to heighten consciousness of how important movement-building is to navigating transition in the perilous century we live.
Our vision was to draw in people from across the globe interested in:
- Making sense of the complex times we are living in
- Taking action to build a more just world
- Focusing their purpose and priorities for long-term learning and effective action
- Learning to identify strategic points of leverage to advance systemic change
- Understanding effective strategies to advance climate action
- Collaborating peer-to-peer and in small groups to deepen your understanding of transformative ideas and practices for social change
We are in our 6th year of this journey. Each member of the core team is a volunteer. Our first effort was a very rough pilot in which we engaged 40 of our friends from 8 countries who critiqued and helped shape our early thinking. We drew 500 registrants from 20 countries in our first full delivery and 1060 from 42 countries in our second in 2019. We were pleased with the range of responses. The positives helped us understand we were getting close to resonating.
I believe this course was extremely important and made the possibility of systems change feel achievable. It is easy to become overwhelmed. I am truly in awe of the effort and achievement of the course organizers for creating a remarkable integration of the many layers that make up our existence as humans in the community on this earth.
This course exposed me to many different ideas that I had not met before. It has changed the way that I look at and evaluate issues.
I shared many articles and case examples/websites with colleagues…. The material was solid! It added new information and helped me make sense of it all. It was clear and compelling. I agree with folks who talked about the huge value it has!!!
I will definitely recommend the resource to others, very useful for getting a group of people on the same wavelength to create further works.
I am considering using the course as a teaching tool in my local area, to get all ready active people with varying levels of understanding regarding what the group is actually up to to the same level of thinking. I predict this will increase the effectiveness of our creations in the future. I will organize a group next time it is run.
After the course, my activism took a new dimension. I had things moving with less effort.
Gratifying – yes! However, we have discovered lots to improve. For the last 15 months, content and pedagogy have been reworked plus virtual small group workshopping of material and discussions are integrated. We think what has emerged is close to the cutting edge (at least until the next evaluation) when, no doubt, we will learn more again.
Some new educational territory is being experimented with as well. The Canadian Community Economic Development Network raised some cash to advance community climate action. It enables them to select 12 Partners from their membership over the next three years to mobilize around the MOOC, This uniquely positions each partner to leverage the MOOC in two ways. First, promoting participation across their membership, staff, and stakeholders has a huge potential for cost-effectively shifting mindsets and discussion. Second, they are being supported to organize and support study circles of 5-10 people. Imagine how the relationships formed and strengthened through the MOOC could evolve in leadership for new initiatives. This potential is enhanced because part of the deal with each partner is to constitute an action group to plan and give leadership to climate action. It is going to be interesting, to say the least.
If you read this far you may want to take a look. Registration is open. Feb 7 is the launch. www.synergiainstitute.org
Teaser photo credit: By U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – US Fish & Wildlife Service – , Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3525119