Resistance and Regeneration

The growing movement for regeneration offers a much needed reframe of how to fully show up in our humanity at this critical moment in our planet’s history. We need to move beyond incremental change and a narrowed fixation on reducing our carbon footprint. We cannot treat social injustices and ecological crises as separate, unrelated phenomena. Nor can we surrender to despair and distraction, or waste time on projects that make us feel good but lack deeper impact. The task at hand—our great calling—is to simultaneously regenerate our ecosystems AND integrate the design of new social and economic systems that can truly center and support life.

Image from US Department of Arts & Culture’s “A People’s WPA” project advocating for a federally funded public works program. Learn more @usartsdept and https://usdac.us/peopleswpa

At a foundational level, this ambitious project of regeneration requires us to RESIST or stop destruction, repair harm, and reimagine our world, our communities, and the systems upon which we depend. We must integrate an intersectional lens and approach our work with care and deep strategy; thoughtfully designing emergent systems of liberation, while understanding how existing power structures may operate and adapt to obstruct our goals. We must support and uplift the leadership of indigenous and frontline communities who are already doing some of the most important work to halt destruction, restore life-affirming cultures of care, and reminding us of our place within the natural world. Those who are closest to the harm and risk of the extractive paradigm are often the closest to the solutions we need to be most effective at proliferating and advancing in our work. At the same time we must remember that frontline communities and Indigenous land defenders are often most vulnerable to predations from the system and must be protected and respected. We must keep one another safe. Mindful of our unique constellations of positionality, privilege, and purpose we bring to this work, we come together to build truly just and regenerative economic systems, heal collective trauma, and repair cultural wounding. Standing Rock and the Floyd Rebellion both served as “watershed moments” for the climate movement and for our country as a whole: the connections between racial justice, climate change, and the extractive economy have become impossible to ignore.

“Regeneration is a radical new approach to the climate crisis, one that weaves justice, climate, biodiversity, and human dignity into a seamless tapestry of action, policy, and transformation that can end the climate crisis in one generation.“~Project Regeneration website

Paul Hawken’s newest book “Regeneration: Ending the Climate Crisis in a Generation” and the accompanying organization Project Regeneration provide a framework for engaging in some of the most important and impactful strategies for regeneration, from regenerative farming to reimagining healthcare and the military to uplifting indigenous leadership. Some of the strategies that immediately come to mind when I hear the term “regeneration” are planting trees and building soil, for example, the deeply inspirational work of the Ecosystem Restoration Camps movement. Hawkens points out that while these strategies are essential, keeping existing forests intact (known as proforestation) is even more impactful:

“…protecting intact forests as well as letting degraded forests recover and mature would have a greater impact on global emissions than any other land-based solution…Proforestation would have a forty times greater impact between now and 2100 than newly planted forests.”~”Regeneration: Ending the climate crisis in one generation,” pages 36-37

But within the context of the dominant extractive economy, with its massive wealth inequalities that proliferate speculative real estate markets, unsheltered people, and skyrocketing lumber costs; preserving forests—even ancient, irreplaceable, old-growth forests—won’t come without a fight.

Resistance is Strategic

While protesting is a form of resistance, resistance does not simply equate to “protesting.” Resistance can look like running our own candidates, growing our own food, riding a bike. Resistance is the essence of shared struggle, it means taking a stand for life in a system that perpetuates violent inequity, dehumanization, and extraction for the sake of power, profit, and control.

In the case of preserving and protecting forests, resistance may look like frontline forest defenders at Fairy Creek in BC, Canada, or policy advocacy to better regulate forestry practices and protect forests. But it could also look like community-based campaigns to address the housing crisis in ways that don’t lead to more and more new construction (think Moms 4 Housing in Oakland or regulations on vacation rentals and multiple home ownership). It could even look like building homes from earth bags rather than lumber.

Here’s another example, inspired by the work of Chester Residents Concerned for Quality Living and Transition Town Media, both grassroots groups outside Philadelphia that are utilizing zero waste practices as part of a strategy to shut down the nearby, highly toxic Covanta incinerator:

Imagine you’ve been trying for years to get your local government to adopt a municipal composting program. Eventually you learn that your community’s Waste Manager is blocking efforts to bring forward municipal composting due to pressure from existing waste removal contractors. Rather than let the program languish, you think strategically about leverage points that can help you shift the status quo. Perhaps that looks like a series of meetings with the Waste Manager presenting compelling information that will encourage them to have a change of heart. Maybe it looks like mobilizing allied groups to bring a large group of community members to speak on behalf of the composting program at your City Council meeting and explain to elected officials how a municipal composting program will help them meet their goals like climate action, food security, or green jobs (organizing an after-party always helps encourage folks to sit through a dry public meeting). Maybe it looks like electing new local officials. Or maybe it does look like organizing a protest in collaboration with frontline communities, like those most directly affected by incinerator pollution or the children who will inherit our mess in the future.

To create real, lasting change, what’s important is to engage in these acts strategically, intentionally, and creatively. A thoughtful campaign typically carries an analysis of existing power structures, a clear goal or desired outcome; and effectively connects the dots through a clear and empowering narrative that can influence public opinion, and mobilize further collective action. While the catharsis that comes with expressing grief or righteous rage can play an important role in helping impacted people and communities move into a place of action, protesting simply for the sake of protesting—without a clear campaign or goal—is not strategic or safe.

Strategies that support people in meeting their basic needs—housing, healthy food, clean air and water, livelihoods, healthcare, transportation, meaningful work, safety—are critical and create stability for individuals and communities, deepening local resilience and the capacity for deep transformation. Especially important in the era of COVID, Hawken’s’ “Regeneration” connects human health and wellbeing directly to ecological health.

Rooting mutual aid and social programs within strategies that build long-term regenerative economic and grassroots political power (community land trusts, cooperative farms, etc.) can grow the size and power of the regenerative communities movement. Put simply, once people have their basic needs met, they have greater capacity to participate in regenerative actions at the personal and community level.

The Metta Center for Nonviolence Education and their wonderful podcast Nonviolence Radio are two of many resources available to help us understand what makes resistance strategic.

Resisting Resistance

Transition has been criticized for “magical thinking,” or lacking a theory of change that critically accounts for the way existing power structures may oppose and obstruct our goals. The diagrams below represent theories of change from 4 different organizations with similar aims to that of Transition. Notice that each of these theories of change incorporate the role of resistance alongside strategies of building new systems, reskilling, raising awareness and shifting consciousness that are more central to the work of Transition.

Joanna Macy’s Work that Reconnects: 3 Dimensions of The Great Turning

Movement GenerationStrategy Framework for Just Transition

Metta Center for Nonviolence: Roadmap

Cooperation Humboldt Theory of Change

“Theory without action is mere contemplation. But action without theory is just ‘doing stuff.’ At Cooperation Humboldt, we try to be intentional about developing a shared theory of how the world currently operates, and to develop concrete actions to create a new world.”~Cooperation Humboldt website

Understanding that resistance is a necessary strategy in realizing the vision of Transition doesn’t mean that Transition groups always need to lead or catalyze acts of resistance. However, we do need to understand how existing power structures impact our work so we can support the resistance efforts of our allies and catalyze resistance when needed. That’s why going through processes of power analysis and community asset-mapping are so important in developing a project with a strong likelihood of success (the R4 workshop series will help you get started).

We must grapple with and address power structures that engender and perpetuate exploitation and extraction so we don’t perpetuate them, but rather create something different. Is it part of privilege not to look at or perceive power relations – or is it part of being in a world immersed in trauma that makes it difficult to perceive where power lies~Aleisa Myles, Transition Town Media. From the Transition US National Network Strategy Conversation “Deepening Our Analysis: Developing a Power Analysis” on March 23, 2021.

“More like a party than a protest march” was a description of the Transition Movement in its early days. The palpable joy that permeates many a Transition potluck or repair café is an asset to our movement, attracting people through the spirit of community and connection lacking in mainstream culture. And Transition’s positive, solutions-oriented approach is refreshing and empowering to folks who are burned out on protesting. Transition and similar solution-oriented groups fill a niche a in the growing social movement ecosystem of our time.

Some folks who have embraced the Transition model seem to have interpreted “more like a party than a protest march” as encouragement to shy away from engaging in or even talking about resistance as it relates to our work growing just, regenerative and resilient communities. And this holds us back from living up to the promise and potential of Transition. We can’t just sit back and allow corporations to capture, enclose, and profiteer from public resources like land, water, forests, schools and gathering places. We cannot build resilient communities if our water is privatized and poisoned, if our public spaces and farmland are consolidated by the wealthy elite.

But we can make a protest feel more like a party.

Resistance is Beautiful

Resistance is Beautiful. Black Lives Matter is beautiful. Standing Rock was beautiful. The Civil Rights Movement was beautiful. Despite acts of violence by oppressors and provocateurs, these iconic struggles represent the beauty of the human spirit, the ability of love (and organizing) to overcome serious adversity.

Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.~Cornell West

Even protesting can be done in the spirit of Transition. Like Transition, nonviolent resistance is rooted in love and respect for human dignity (nonviolence even respects the dignity of oppressors as a reflection of shared humanity). And nonviolent resistance is more effective than violence in creating social change. We know that art moves culture, and resistance is fertile ground for art and creativity to blossom and flourish. This story about grassroots organizers in Philly using the “Cha Cha slide” as a strategy for resisting voter suppression and intimidation during the 2020 election brought tears to my eyes.

Both Urban Tilth in Richmond, CA and Atmos Totnes—a community-led multi-purpose development project organized in party by Transition Movement co-founder Rob Hopkins—are utilizing art, play, and community-building to resist corporate consolidation of critical community sites. Urban Tilth launched their grassroots campaign with a community gathering that included mural painting and music, while Atmos Totnes projected guerilla art onto the historic building at the center of the proposed community hub site. These are just two current examples of the many creative resistance strategies taking root in the larger regenerative communities social movement ecosystem.  The Dandelion Insurrection trilogy by one of my favorite authors, Rivera Sun, provides dozens–if not hundreds–of examples of beautiful, nonviolent, strategic resistance tactics, most of which are drawn from real life events (also check out Nonviolence News, edited by Rivera).

When done strategically, rather than externalizing our power, resistance inspires us to feel our power, to own our power, and to reclaim our institutions and our democracy. Like participating in Transition, engaging in acts of resistance can provide a visceral knowledge that a more beautiful world is not only possible, but is actively being built, one action at a time.

Join fellow organizers, visionaries, and community leaders across the country in building toward a national coordinated Week of Action this fall as part of the ReGeneration Nation campaign! Learn more by registering for the R4 (Resist, Repair, Reimagine, ReGenerate) workshop series.