Report from Transition Heathrow’s London gathering June 2011
By Ben Brangwyn 16th June 2011
Transition and “activism’s” edge
Here’s a quick report from the London Transitioners’ gathering in the heart of Sipson where Transition Heathrow have taken up residence on c. two acres of (now) very productive land.
This post is a follow on from my earlier post on Transition and “activism”.
The crew at Transition Heathrow are a phenomenal bunch – motivated, alert, knowledgeable, compassionate – and I felt privileged to have been invited there. What they’ve achieved in just 15 months is equally impressive, and who knows what might be there in 2 years time…
About the event
- Title: “Transition Network gathering – London and Thames Valley“
- Transitioners attending: Amersham, Reading, loads from London incl Brixton and Hackney, in total about 40 people
- Paddy Reynolds (co-founder) on history of the initiative (which I found totally fascinating)
- me, some reflections and then a mapping
- World Cafe 1 and 2 (what was working well in your group, how can we be more effective, what are the central issues)
- Transition and Activism plenary
- workshops on activism and organic growing
- plenary summing up
This gathering coincided with some big discussions about “direct/confrontational action” and transition – first with Charlotte’s post, Rob’s reposte and then the dialogue between me and Peter Ruczynski from Transition Reading. The relationship between these two strands got a lot of attention at the event.
Here’s my take on some of the key conclusions:
- most people felt these two strands of activism should be kept apart while informing eachother (probably about 70-80% in agreement)
- it was recognised that in the main, one group of people are drawn towards the excitement of direct confrontational action while others are happier with the upbeat and less adrenalised world of transition. It was also recognised that often these two groups had similar hopes for the future. Consequently, it was felt that the partnering up of transitioners and confrontational direct action groups could be entirely appropriate for some specific situations.
- Transitioners partner up with eg the Rotary Club or the Local Authority for specific tasks, without merging with them. In the same way, transitioners might partner up with direct/confrontational action if they felt it necessary, again without getting joined at the hip.
Some general quotes about this from the afternoon debate at the event demonstrate the range of views (taken from Joe Ryle’s notes from the event):
- Political action needs to happen but not neccesarily as part of transition town movement
- Transition is political just not party political
- Direct action and activism can alienate people
- Direct action often argues for dismantling of capitalist system. Transition doesn’t have a position on this view
- Transition is direct action and activism. We don’t rely on governments and take matters into our own hands
- Activism is a dirty word – it needs reclaiming
- Direct action and activism can be a part of the transition town movement as long as we build up our own positive alternatives at the same time
- A merging of the two is necessary due to the cuts in public services
- It often depends on individual groups attitudes/feeling towards it
A Problem of definitions
“Action”, “Activism”, “Direct Activism” and “Confrontational Direct Activism” never got an agreed definition to enable us to really pinpoint where/when/how/whether collaboration or integration was appropriate or not. That’s not really a criticism – it’s a woolly area and different types of action seem to be blurring into eachother. One definition (from the Handbook of Direct Action handed out at one of the workshops) was “getting on with sorting something out yourself, rather than asking someone else to fix it for you”. In that sense, transition growing groups are often “direct action” by that definition.
On reflection, I’d have liked to have seen more time spent looking at different types of action so we had a common language and could have more clarity on the “partner/don’t partner, integrate/don’t integrate” discussions.
An interesting development
Transition Heathrow has three main areas of focus with their initiative: 1) growing community using the transition model; 2) creating community self-protection; 3) creating community justice. A bit more on those three:
- growing community using the transition model – yep we know that one
- self-protection – skills and capacity to make sure that the bulldozers would have a really difficult job destroying all the work that had been going on, and without being over-dramatic, destroying the homes and the community
- justice – a manifestation of labour movement politics. In this instance it was initially directed towards the workers at Heathrow who, if their workplace was decarbonised, would be out of their regular job. Since a lot of people living in Sipson depend on the airport for work, there needs to be a “workers justice” angle on rebuilding community in a low-carbon world.
The “transition justice” strand is interesting. Here are some bullets from Transition Heathrow’s Aims and Objectives (www.transitionheathrow.com/about-us/):
- To engage the wider Labour movement in the politics of peak oil and climate change and the need for grassroots, worker-based solutions.
- To engage the wider transition movement beyond sustainability into the more contentious politics of ‘transition justice’.
- To develop a replicable example of worker and community resilience which can help to bring about a just transition to a sustainable future. Such resilience should also stave off future threats to the community of all kinds, as well as the threats of climate change and peak oil.
One of the most interesting elements to this for me is that two key edges of transition – a) Heathrow + transition + labour militancy and b) Rob’s (and others) observations and vision of where it’s all going – are both heading towards a similar place. The workplace. The former are looking at the potential injustices of a poorly managed decarbonisation of the workplace, and looking to design a transition to meaningful low carbon work; the latter is looking to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship in the form of socially-engaged, ecologically-aware, justice-informed businesses.
I don’t think we’re really going to understand this friction between, and the potential energy arising from, transition and “activism/action” unless the latter term gets further granularity. Until that happens, the deliberately demonised term of “activism” will almost certainly create divisions and misunderstandings within transition groups.
“Transition justice” is a new term and probably means different things to everyone. Transition Network’s core team are all motivated by issues around social justice, and it underpins how I work on a day-to-day basis. How this gets woven explicitly into the framing of Transition is a question we’ve not answered yet. But at least we’re asking that question.
Starting at the Transition Network conference, we’ll be pulling a group together to figure out what “Transition justice” means, how it might be explained and the ramifications of introducing it explicitly into the weft of transition.
More later folks…