The first time I attended a workshop led by Starhawk (a peace, environmental, and global justice activist and trainer, a permaculture designer and teacher, an author of many books, and a Pagan and a Witch–www.starhawk.org) I was really put off the first night by her joking around with her teacher helpers and with the participants. I kept thinking that we were doing serious, spiritual stuff and that this required solemnness. This was probably in part due to my Quaker practice of sitting in silent worship, waiting for a message from Spirit and from my experience of church services where decorum is essential. It took me half the next day to understand how wonderfully rich our experiences can be when we bring joy and laughter into the mix. I am forever grateful for that learning.
Emma Goldman was a Russian-born anarchist known for her political activism, writing, and speeches. She played a pivotal role in the development of anarchist political philosophy in North America and Europe in the first half of the twentieth century. (Wikipedia) She is well known for her statement: “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution” or something similar. That quote has shown up on plenty of T-shirts.
In her book, Living My Life (1931) she wrote: (after describing an incident at a dance where a cohort admonished her for dancing and said it was not proper behavior for an activist)
“I did not believe that a Cause which stood for a beautiful ideal, for anarchism, for release and freedom from convention and prejudice, should demand the denial of life and joy. I insisted that our Cause could not expect me to become a nun and that the movement would not be turned into a cloister. If it meant that, I did not want it. “I want freedom, the right to self-expression, everybody’s right to beautiful, radiant things.” Anarchism meant that to me, and I would live it in spite of the whole world — prisons, persecution, everything. Yes, even in spite of the condemnation of my own closest comrades I would live my beautiful ideal.”
Well, that is essentially what Bill Metler of Transition Cheltenman, near Philadelphia shared with me when asked about why he’s involved with the Transition Town movement. He is involved because it’s fun as well as a successful model for change. It was so totally engaging to meet with him, not only because of his commitment and enthusiasm for the cause, but also because he’s a storyteller. No answer came without a story! I wish I could just let him speak for himself here, but I’ll try to do my best sharing his story.
Many years ago when Bill was in a “most broken” state he happened across a pirated tape of The Earth Story by Sister Miriam McGillis (who lives at Genesis Farm http://www.genesisfarm.org). He said, “That story is all about interdependence. My old paradigm was independence and that I would figure out everything. The Universe Story is about uniqueness of each living element, and diversity–that each element, each species is different from the other, and interdependence–the communion of all that diversity and those unique beings. That model of interdependence came right at the right time and changed my life.”
His continuing journey to Transition came through the group Beyond War, which morphed into Foundation for Global Community, moving from what to say “no” to, to what to say “yes” to. Then storytelling around the Universe Story led to working to get off fossil fuels and growing our own food which led into the discovery of the Earth Charter and performing his storytelling at the Earth Charter summits. In 2000 he came across Plan B by Lester Brown and the Earth Policy Institute (EPI) and in 2005 he performed the book at the EPI‘s 5th anniversary. In that same year he helped create the first “Beyond Oil” conference in Philadelphia.
In 2006 Bill organized a conference in Cheltenham on local food, clean transportation options, and homemade energy and energy conservation. But he didn’t have the follow- up skills to keep connected and “root” the work in the community. In 2007 he organized a Solar Towns conference at which he began thinking of the house as producer instead of a consumer. But still no ongoing structure to hold people together. Then in 2009, he read an article about Transition Towns and found that this was the answer to the structure he was looking for. And he saw that it included fun in the plans!
The Energy Decent Action Plan (EDAP) for each community is the ultimate result of the work of each Transition Town. Bill was impressed that Rob Hopkins said that the EDAP was not to be considered a technical manual, but instead a kind of holiday brochure! That comic twist cemented Bill’s interest. Bill and his brother then went to Genesis Farm to learn about TT’s and then had their first Transition Cheltenham training event and they’ve held numerous awareness-raising events since then. (Cheltenham is a township that includes 5 towns with a population of about 35,000.) He’s doing this work because it’s fun and it’s community.
I went to Philadelphia in early March to attended Transition Cheltenham’s “Great Unleashing.” Two years of community workshops and much work led them to become an “official” TT and this was the party to celebrate. Bill described the launch party as “racing down the stretch to the starting line.” The event was joy-filled, including music, wonderful local food (a zero waste gathering where folks brought their own utensils, cups, and plates to take back with them), and lots of great tabling of potential interest groups. With Bill emceeing the event, it had to be fun! People were encouraged to peruse the tables and then join with a group they would work with over the coming time. The initiating group would disband and those people from that group would join various interest groups. Then a new “hub” group, representing each interest group, would provide the networking and coherence. It was so incredible to feel the hope that was present. It reinforced my thinking that this is why I’m part of this movement.
What would Bill’s township look like in 10 years? Bill’s vision is not about what is politically possible, but what is spiritually and community possible. It’s really neighborhood focused. After transitioning his own home in 10 years to 50% use for the community and making it more efficient, he sees strengthening the community as essential. Everyone who wants to grow their own food would have a sunny plot, meaning some would offer their yards if they don’t want to use it. Also he sees the possibility of using public parks for garden allotments. Expanding what the farmer’s markets offer and how many weeks they operate, and using the trains to transport goods, as well as people, were two more ideas. Neighborhoods would be multi-use. Everything would be available in the neighborhoods. He sees communities of life, of people, bicycle and pedestrian friendly, not car-centered.
Bill had two ideas about a global vision, one passive and one active. The passive one is about where our food and goods come from. We know they are transported a long distance, food grown with petrochemicals, and lots of fuel used for transport. So if lots of people are growing food locally, it saves a hugh amount of fossil fuel use immediately. The active idea is that indigenous people around the world have the skills that we lack, that we don’t know, that we’re teaching ourselves. With the advent of the internet there can be a very respectful exchange of technology and basic living skills, back and forth. The sharing would be priceless. Instead of the super power approach that we know it all, we would be coming to ask for assistance engendering an atmosphere of equality and respect.
Wow, I feel so privileged to have met such incredibly committed, energetic, passionate, and compassionate people so far. And my journey has just begun!