Image credit: Roger Blackwell & Lisa Parker, used under Creative Commons license.
As the massive impact of just one Transition group has shown, this community-led response to peak oil and climate change is having very real influence on how villages, towns and cities around the world operate—and it is often doing so by avoiding the traditional realm of political activism, instead focusing on grass-roots projects and inclusive, community-focused initiatives. But some in the movement feel like this is a mistake. Voices are being raised that suggest that unless Transition embraces political activism, it risks being sidelined and becoming irrelevant. So could political activism help take Transition to the next level, or would it ensure that it will forever be a niche movement for a self-selecting group of people. Activism Already Evident in Transition
In many ways this is not a new debate. And many in the Transition movement are already engaging actively with politics. From Transition Heathrow's squatter activism and subsequent police raid, to Transition activists engaging in debate over swinging government spending cuts, it's certainly true to say that to draw a fundamental line between community-building and politics is both impossible, and probably counter productive. Everything we do is political, and everything is influenced by politics.
Must Transition Embrace Political Activism?
Charlotte DuCann, writing over at the Transition Network, argues that it is time for the Transition Movement to "lock on" and embrace explicitly political activism as a means to furthering local resilience. She notes that many folks involved in Transition are activists anyway, but they find themselves keeping quiet about these activities within the movement—almost leading separate lives depending on what role they are in. DiCann suggests that by accepting that Transition is political, the movement could both gain strength and reach a larger audience:
To embrace activism as a dynamic force within the whole pattern of Transition strengthens it. We need to include those dramatic actions that bring planetary dilemmas into the limelight because our consciousness is shifting towards what Jeremy Rifkind in The Empathic Civilization calls the dramaturgical and the bio-spheric. Acting within the collective consciousness of the earth. This is a radically different position from the one of control and safety most of us have adopted. And it means making moves in real life, not just in our heads. BecauseThis Is It is not longer a slogan on the workshop wall.
Inclusive Nature At Risk
DuCann acknowledges, however, that one of Transition's current strengths is its ability to engage dialogue between disparate and often divided groups. You can, she says,find yourself equally at ease talking with a "Tory politician as you can with a TUC shop steward, a local Green Party mayor or an anti-nuclear activist."
It's this unifying quality of the movement that founder of the movement Rob Hopkins worries, in his response on Transition and activism, would be lost if political activism became a larger piece of the puzzle. Avoiding adopting the trappings - both ideological and cultural - of any existing political movements is the best way to invite everyone into the dialogue. Quoting a young, black founder of one Transition group, Rob points out that there is already a concern that the movement lacks diversity and is the preserve of the white, liberal middle classes:
"I didn't feel there were that many people like me ... I remember being in a meeting and there was someone just chatting complete s*** for 15 minutes... I often just found it really hard to talk".
The point is, of course, not that politics or political activism are the preserve of the white, liberal middle class. But that everyone has a lot of baggage when it comes to traditional politics, and that baggage can be hard to overcome. By engaging people on common ground—how we feed our community; how we run our schools; how we ensure a sustainable, local economy—we invite real dialogue and pragmatic solutions. We also find ourselves challenging our own assumptions and considering alternative points of view.
What Role Politics in Environmentalism?
This is a question that reaches much beyond Transition, of course. I've written before about why I believe environmentalism is not socialist, and I know people with profoundly conservative political viewpoints that believe deeply in the need for environmental sustainability.
Of course, from climate legislation to exploring whether no growth economics is the way forward, political debate will be absolutely central if we are to reverse the environmental destruction we face. But that debate will be so much more productive if we build community with those we disagree with.
More on Environmentalism, Politics and the Transition Movement
What Would No Growth Economics Actually Look Like?
The Massive Impact of Just One Transition Group
Transition Heathrow's Squatter Activism Meets Community Development
Is Environmentalism Socialist? Comrade, Please...