People have asked me about my impressions of my trip and there is one word I want to communicate: Local. The stops were so varied, the needs so diverse, the problems so different, it is difficult to generalize, but I’ll try anyway:
Really get down to the street and neighborhood level, and stop thinking about the “city” as anything other than a group of neighborhood groups that rally for change. To really go local, you’ll need to make what you work on relevant to the people who actually live there. What do they care about? Have you asked them? Do you know them? Flamingo Fridays is a great place to start. Hate your neighbors? Time to either learn tolerance or move.
Ask Eugene or Portland. One of them (I can’t remember which) has done this great project of re-owning their street corners with decorative paint and bookcases to share books. Anything that gets it down to the street or neighborhood level get it to stay very very real.
You Don’t Need a Crowd
Everyone wants to know how to get more people involved in their Transition community and I would say “Focus on doing important work.” If you have one person, you have an action plan. If you have two, you have a committee. If you have three, you have a team. You don’t need thousands of people. You need a few people you can learn to tolerate, and eventually like and appreciate. Do whatever you or both of you, or your team feels is important to do, and only do it if you have enthusiasm for it.
Avoid Trying to Generate Money “for the future.”
The best way to kill a group is to get someone to fund it with seedling money early on. Or hire a professional staff person early in the process. Or insist that you need a grant to fund anything you’ll need to do. The first statements volunteers make when a group gets a “part-time” staff person is “Have him/her do it.”
Forget about money, grants, bank accounts, or mission statements. I know this sounds harsh, but it seems to me that when a group got bogged down with that stuff, the “process” starts to feel like molasses.
Forget about making an agenda
In one group, the idea of running their group more formlessly seemed to generate enormous energy. They were truly distressed that they were unable to settle on a mission statement, and their agenda took too long to get through. When I suggested just setting up the agenda with the people that bothered to show up, the mood seemed to lighten. Hey, if you can’t even show up, why should your “agenda item” be on there? If you really care enough, maybe you need to send it with another person who IS attending, and make sure THEY care enough about it to want to talk about it. Don’t be too worried about chaos. Be more worried about deadening the spirit of the people there.
I’ll write more about the trip later. It was wonderful to meet so many dedicated people, and all the hosts who made my stay welcoming and warm.
You can hear a version of the speech (it was made much better after Jon Cooksey got through with giving his advice) at Radio Ecoshock with Alex Smith, and an interview with Alex and I, and an interview with Two Beers with Steve below:
LoFi Hour-long version (there is an 80 minute version too, but how much can one take?)
Interview with Alex and me.
and an Interview with Steve Patterson at Two Beers with Steve