Shanna Ratner was the speaker at the January 25 TTJ meeting, “Listening Across the Political Divide”. A resident of Fairfield, Shanna was a founding member of Franklin County’s local Braver Angels group in 2017. A national group, Braver Angels (BA) formed after the contentious 2016 election, and groups now exist in every state, with over 12,000 members.
About 25 people showed up to our zoom meeting, just a few reds among the more numerous blues, a microcosm of Vermont itself. Shanna began by showing two short BA videos, including Finding Common Ground in Ohio, a film of the very first BA workshop. It showed facilitators bringing together seven reds and seven blues in dialog and listening. After the workshop, people shared stories, describing heartfelt connections with people from the opposite side of the spectrum. Here’s the video:
In BA dialogs you see people listening to each other and finding their common humanity beneath political differences. People seem less alien when you see how their life experience leads them to their beliefs. Shanna led us in breakout groups that had us practice listening skills and finding commonalities in how we each arrive at our political views.
Some additional insights from Shanna:
-It’s not about changing peoples’ minds or arguing over facts; it’s about finding the 80% that we agree on.
-A local legislator who is part of Franklin County BA says it’s the only place he can really be honest, since he has to be politically correct within his political circles.
-To keep a local group going, you must (ironically) keep politics out of it, so it remains a safe place for people of all persuasions.
Shanna shared her story of forming their local BA group. She initially got involved after a BA Bus Tour came through her town. She asked her neighbor, a retired military officer to join her, but was challenged in finding more reds (groups ideally have equal numbers of reds/blues). She went to the local gun shop, fire station, and other places where she might encounter reds and invite them to participate.
The Franklin County group initially attended some BA workshops, including “Skills to Bridge the Political Divide” BA’s most popular course; they have remained together, meeting quarterly. In 2018 they wanted to go beyond simply talking, and tackled a couple legislative issues; this year, their team is leading a “Skills to Bridge...” workshop on March 4. To take part, contact Dan Pipes: firstname.lastname@example.org
TTJ is offering a follow-up meeting on Monday *February 22, for anyone interested in pursuing steps toward forming a local BA. If you missed the January 25 presentation, you can request it here: TTJerichoVT@gmail.com
*Meeting has been postponed until March 22
On Dec 14, Kaat Vander Straeten of Wayland MA and the US Transition Town (TT) team, brought eight of us New England TT organizers together to form a northeast regional hub. The idea is to provide mutual support, share ideas and provide forward momentum within the TT movement. Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Vermont were represented at the meeting.
During introductions, we got a sense of TT work within New England over the last decade or so. Whether working independently or with other resiliency/sustainability groups, TTs have been part of an array of activities, including repair cafes, reskilling workshops, community garden/gleaning projects, and discussion circles/zoom talks.
A couple groups recently conducted living history interviews with community elders, exploring the question, “ What does a low energy world look like?” (It’s helpful to be reminded that one of the initial goals of TTs was to provide Energy Descent Action Plans (EDAP) for communities).
There was discussion of TT’s future direction in these challenging times. Some people expressed urgency in moving forward, getting more people involved. Others wanted to promote diversity within steering groups and communities they serve. One group is working toward bridging divides between developers and their effected communities.
Looking toward the future, additional ideas people offered were:
*Creating more transition initiatives
*Being bolder, challenging peoples mindsets
*Bringing TT training to organizers and communities
*Using the Quaker model as a direction for the movement; i.e. having grassroots efforts steer the national movement.
I hope to continue reporting on these meetings, on the second Monday of each month; the next meeting is January 11.
On October 14, the US Transition team hosted an inspiring online presentation, “Stories For a Changing World”. Moderating was Marissa Mommaerts and guest speaker was author and nonviolent activist, Rivera Sun. Of the 45 or so participants, I recognized a handful of fellow Vermont transitioners from Jericho, Charlotte and Manchester.
Marissa said US Transition organizers wanted to pose the question: How can we uplift the moment, in this great pause? Organizers she said, have been inspired by Transition Town co-founder Rob Hopkins’ book, From What Is to What If? released during the pandemic.
Rivera is a storyteller extraordinaire, and her talk was peppered with colorful anecdotes, capturing the many paradoxes of the moment we’re living in. She said we’re feeling both the breakdown and the breakthrough of the present moment: so many of us have been wondering, what will it be like if things fall apart?
Rivera suggested that this IS what it’s like, that we’re IN that moment! She said beneath the political babble of the day, ordinary people are showing up in extraordinary ways, choosing to shift from the potentially terrible to the divine.
At some point, we were given a few moments to think about our favorite stories. Rivera said perhaps these particular stories embody something we need in order to get through challenges. Favorite stories break down expectations, and nourish the heart. Rivera mentioned how story themes are often negative, or the other extreme, utopian; if so, how can we journey from one to the other?
We often make the leap into the journey because we think we can make things better, sacrificing comfort and familiarity for the unknown. She mentioned the universality of The Lord of the Rings saying the times we’re living in, in some ways surpass that story. There are many themes we can relate to, she said; for example, Sam picking up and carrying Frodo to complete their journey; we need each other to balance out our weaknesses.
The typical story we hear is that we’re too small to make a difference or that we should just party because we all die anyway, in the end. Rivera suggested instead, to let our love for the world be our motivation. We then face our demons and begin some epic adventure. She added that if we can tell this story, more people will want to come and join us.
Rivera said in the story of our present time, all bets are off as it’s one of the most momentous times in human history!
For me, the breakout session was especially meaningful, as we were invited to share personal ‘transition’ stories within small groups. In the twenty or so minutes of swapping stories, I felt a quick bond with the three other people.
US Transitioner Don Hall also presented, telling the story of US Transition, saying the pandemic has given the national group a time to reorganize and strengthen, with three overlapping phases: Positive Visioning, Movement Strategizing, and Stories to Action.
Check out US Transition to follow their ever evolving story: www.transitionus.org
and Rivera Sun’s website: www.riverasun.com
In 2019 at a Transition Town Jericho meeting, Tucker Andrews, a local farmer, highlighted his frustration of not being able to find the labor to get gleaned produce out of the field and into the hands of those who need it. TTJ approached Tucker with the promise to do just that. During the Spring of 2020, Tucker announced that he would plant an extra row of butternut squash for donation.
With a good growing season under our belt, the squash was ready to harvest, and the weather was threatening to freeze the crop if we did not get it out of the fields quickly.
Laura from TTJ, contacted past TTJ participants and was able to round up 12 volunteers on short notice. On a Sunday afternoon, in one hour those 12 people harvested:
584 squash: on average, 2.5 lbs each; total weight 1460 lbs. (estimate)
After making arrangements with local food distribution agencies, the squash was divided between:
-Jericho/Underhill/Essex Food shelf, 50-80 families are fed once each month
-The Janet S. Munt Family Room, they feed 110 families a week
-Feeding Chittenden, 12,000 people are fed every year.
With such a success, Tucker wants to pursue this again in 2021. He said, “The partnership this year was a great start on something that could be an important aspect of food security in our community.”
If we could establish a mindset like that with other farmers, they may be willing to do more in support of the community, as they know the community supports them.
We’d like this not to be a fad, but to be a generation to generation sustaining behavior that supports the farmers and the local economy. Could we build such a model?
And finally, as Irene from TTJ posted on Facebook, “Thanks to Transition Town Jericho members and friends who picked 584 butternut squash on a beautiful Sunday afternoon from the rows planted by farmer Tucker Andrews, exclusively to feed our neighbors. Job well done by everyone.”
I finally got to see firsthand the Edible Landscape Project in Jericho Center, putting in some volunteer time last weekend (pulling lamb’s quarters from a compost heap, kind of fun!) On Brown’s Trace Road adjoining Mobb’s Farm, the project boasts plenty of space, as well as its share of challenges. (Read below about volunteer needs).
According to co-organizer Ann Gnagey, the site was a quarry years ago and the town dump after that, so the topsoil is compromised. She says, “we are working hard to make it more productive. In addition, we would like to establish native plants and sources of food for people and wildlife in the future. With challenges like climate change and uncertain food supplies, these kinds of activities will become important for the future of the people in our town.”
With the goal of establishing small scale food production using native fruit and nut trees, berries and pollinator plants, she and husband/co-organizer Tom Baribault, have already made some headway having planted to date: 100 feet of potatoes, four blueberry bushes, cranberry, elderberry, black walnut, asters, violets and poppies.
It was great to see the land, and to meet Kurt Melin, the very supportive neighbor (new dad and avid gardener himself) and I do hope to get back there for some more slightly grungy, yet rewarding work!
Ann and Tom are seeking more volunteers to help. Here are specifics on upcoming workdays, from Ann:
The next two weekends we will meet at the project site (across from 501 Browns Trace) from 10:00 to 11:30 am Saturday, Sept 18 and 26. (In case of rain, we will meet the following days, Sept 19 and 27.)
Activities: Plant trees, shrubs, wildflowers and learn the challenges of establishing native plants on land that has been neglected and soils impoverished.
What to bring: face mask, gloves, water to drink, tools (any of the following would be helpful: shovel, hoe, or spading fork, 5-gallon plastic bucket)
Work to be done: dig holes, haul compost, carry water, plant trees, shrubs, and wildflowers
We would be happy to give advice (and possibly plants and seeds) to people who wish to establish an edible landscape at the own home.
To sign up, contact Ann Gnagey or Tom Baribault at 899-6736
email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
Mutual Aid as a concept is surely as old as human existence on the planet. In some form or fashion, it’s about connecting people in need with those who want to help. I personally became aware of Mutual Aid during Hurricane Katrina and Tropical Storm Sandy, noting the numbers of volunteers showing up, responding to needs, then getting to work.
Locally, it popped up on Jericho’s Front Porch Forum at the beginning of the pandemic, in the form of a sign up for people to list needs and/or offers of help.
On July 19, Jul Bystrova facilitated a zoom meeting co-hosted by Transition Town US and the Inner Resilience Network, called “Mutual Aid for Climate Justice and Healing” with Raven Dodson (Open World Relief) and Jimmy Dunson (Mutual Aid Disaster Relief). I attended and learned how vast and far reaching Mutual Aid is in today’s world.
The Mutual Aid movement has become more visible with climate change disasters and is about making sure people in dire straits are helped. You could also say it’s about building a new world.
Raven has been at Standing Rock and countless other places where peril, disaster and need intermix. Of her work she says, “We fill the gaps, we go in and bring support that’s needed.” In March, her locale needed 2,000 masks for city workers; Raven solicited “twelve idle white ladies” to sew, and to date over 16,000 masks have been sewn for the Dine Nation and beyond.
Unlike FEMA and other larger organizations, Mutual Aid is grassroots and non bureaucratic. Jimmy says that instead of charity, Mutual Aid uses the Zapatista concept of “leading by obeying” Instead of imposing, you ask where the needs are; while providing aid, you address the root causes, moving toward structural change. Volunteering at Katrina was empowering for Jimmy, ultimately leading him and others to set up a national network.
Since then, Jimmy’s group, as well as others, have supported bottom up organizing rather than top down; backing up local groups, collective knowledge and complementing local organizing. As Jimmy says, “meeting peoples’ needs directly where they’re at, in a respectful way that is transforming”.
Jul asked if Mutual Aid could lay the groundwork for an alternative cooperative economy. Jimmy responded by saying that Mutual Aid is the antidote to capitalism in that it’s based on caring and loving and providing for one another; sharing decision making and empowering one another.
Another question posed was, how does one start a Mutual Aid group? Jimmy cited the Stone Soup concept, saying you can start small; just a cup of soup and a spoon, and build from there. Raven suggested setting up a kind of exchange table in your neighborhood where people could take what they need, then leave something for others, encouraging reciprocity rather than charity.
Jimmy added, “there are many storms on the horizon; every disaster now is a prelude to the future....it’s all about building foundations for what will spring up in the rubble”.
For information on Mutual Aid in Vermont, check out Seven Days:
Margit Burgess gave a fascinating talk on Ecological Economics (EE) at TTJ’s Zoom meeting on May 18. A senior at UVM in Community Development and Applied Economics, she is also a board member of Better (not Bigger), promoting steady state economics in Vermont.
Margit cited LA’s clear air and Venice’s clean canals during the pandemic as just two examples of how slowing down and stopping business as usual offers an opportunity to rethink our growth-at-all-costs economic system.
She brought us through the differences between current neoclassic economics, and EE by defining economics: the allocation of limited resources towards desirable ends; in other words, who gets what; when and how? She said the traditional measure, the gross national product (GNP), while lifting up people in the past, doesn’t work in today’s world (except for the one percent!)
Margit stated that the basic problem with neoclassic economics is what it doesn’t ask: where do resources come from; where does waste go? Nature is merely another asset, awaiting liquidation.
EE considers the Earth a finite resource and draws upon the first two laws of thermodynamics: 1) You can’t make something from nothing, and 2) Entropy increases in a closed system. EE promotes a so-called steady state; balancing extraction with regeneration. Wealth is measured by the genuine progress indicator (GPI) which values voluntary work, leisure time, and impact on the environment, among other things.
Margit said the reasons for opposition to steady state economics include: being stuck in the past, fear of loss of choice, and threats to our billionaire class; ending GNP as a measure simply scares people.
Margit sees Vermont, with its progressive community and smallness as being a model state for EE. In 2011, VT adopted the GPI (second state to do so after Maryland). Whether it’s initiating cap and trade, progressive carbon taxes, or taxing the wealthy more, there are many ways to implement EE. People cited Amsterdam with its “circular economy” and France with its four day work week as examples.
During the meeting, breakouts into small groups allowed ideas to flow around peoples’ visioning of what an ecological economy would look like: repair cafes, timebanks, community gardens, to name a few. These things already exist; perhaps they need mainstreaming. Margit said communities need to envision their future and groups like transition towns could be key, she added.
She said she’s never been more optimistic than now. Covid-19 has shown that if we had a better functioning economy, we wouldn’t have been hit as hard with unemployment, mass hunger, etc. Are people ready for a brave new economy? Awareness that all of us at the meeting were at least 50 years old made one thing clear- we need more young people like Margit to take the lead in promoting an economy that works for all!
For more info on steady state economics, check out betternotbiggervt.org
Our first remote TTJ meeting took place on April 13 as Michael Schaal, MSW, guided a discussion of how to manage grief as part of a transition process.
In this important conversation, participants were able to share experiences and express concerns about our current times and how we might transition to a new way of being.
Michael opened with a brief commentary on grief itself, which is often a lonely process. What COVID-19 has brought our world is a collective grieving experience. Members of the group took turns sharing feelings and observations that evening. Here is a sampling:
Feeling frustration, anger that an old, dear friend has tested positive. Feeling helpless.
All situations are compounded by the inability to get close to one another; normally we’d offer a hug to someone who’s hurting. The virus prevents such physically contact.
We are disappointed, even angry, to see that inequality has been a factor in this pandemic, as with everything else. Different infection rates, variable care, depending on one’s race and socio-economic status.
Some folks can’t work. Others must work under dangerous conditions. Pay for many “essential” workers is low. Above all, many of us witness incompetent leadership, which exacerbates the problems COVID-19 has caused.
Fear and sadness. Anticipating that our culture won’t learn the lessons this crisis has to teach us, which we might, if we’d leverage this moment and make lasting changes.
What behavior do we model for children, who have less perspective / fewer expectations?
Amidst the sorrow, how to create expectations that are positive for youth’s sake?
Environmental injustice has led to social injustice. We might respond by carving out a lifestyle that honors nature, ignoring what the mainstream makes of this. “If I do not tell a new story, I cannot truly live.”
Treat every moment as sacred.
We grieve at how we may have contributed to bringing about this plague. How do we decide what to save of our old ways and what to leave behind?
How can we contribute to the well-being of others and renew our own hope?
We want to help those in dire situations but don’t know how.
To stay sane, we must ration news consumption.
We have lost our old routines. We are seeing changes in family relations.
How to create a future we feel good about, after witnessing such widespread helplessness?
What will we say in the future about the pandemic?
Are we too hopeful or in denial as we look toward the future after a vaccine?
Will we go back to sleep, being manipulated by media?
In future years let us be sure to remember and discuss, for example, how we could see the mountains without all the smog. Can we be more aware of how our economy relies on low-wage earners to do the tasks the rest of us won’t? Can we work to address the pollution and inequality we see now once this pandemic is over?
How to bring intention to the way we live, now and then?
The gift of this pandemic is people talking to neighbors for the first time after decades. Cooking at home. Eating better. Exercising more. Shopping locally. Strengthening our local community.
The stillness reminded one participant of her own personal meditations. Society has slowed down and become more introspective, perhaps more healthy, aware, and whole.
What if we could be open to a “hospice” view of life: preserving dignity?
Let’s take this unique time to re-connect with ourselves, our partners and families, nature, humanity. And work to carry those connections forward.
Was great to be at yesterday’s town meeting at Mount Mansfield Union High school. I was there with fellow transitioner Dave Clift to table for Transition Town Jericho, to see friends and neighbors and catch bits and pieces of the meeting around the corner in the auditorium.
Tabling at the yearly meeting isn’t as newsworthy as the actual town meeting, yet is energizing for many of us, as it garners conversation around the numerous things happening in Jericho. Town committees like Planning and Conservation are represented there, as well as grassroots groups promoting everything from transition towns to native plants to youth empowerment.
I personally love town meeting as the one day all year you get to see everyone you know in town. Or shall I say, everyone you know in town seems to show up. I talked at length with a young activist from the Montreal area who was there with a group of Canadians. They were observing Vermont’s town meeting as a model for their own communities.
At one point, I poked my head into the meeting in time to join the yays for one of this year’s big items, creating a Conservation Reserve Fund (helping preserve more open space in Jericho). Even though this item seemed to have a lot of support, there was still the discussion, debate (and quibbling!) that seems a necessary part of the process.
At some point people were abuzz over the fact that a New York Times reporter had shown up at the meeting. Later in the day, someone sent me the article:
Gratifying to celebrate our beloved town of Jericho with each other, and the great beyond!