Kingston Transition group may not be huge, but it’s useful
by Anne Pyburn Craig
It may seem strange to think of a movement as sputtering and going viral at the same time. But that is what has happened with Kingston Transition, and it’s a phenomenon that has taken place with Transition Town movements in many localities in the northeastern United States
The Transition movement originated in England in 2006, when permaculture educator Rob Hopkins sought to organize his hometown of Totnes in a proactive response to the danger of continued petroleum dependence in a time of peak oil and climate change. Hopkins’s messaging about “engaged optimism” and the need to make communities more resilient was a resonant one, spreading to the US in 2007; there are currently official Transition Hub Initiatives in 20 countries.
The movement’s growth was spurred by the global financial crisis of 2008; locally, the shared experiences of Hurricanes Irene and Sandy added even more urgency to the idea of community resilience. Transition groups were started and meetings held in local towns including Saugerties, New Paltz, Woodstock, Marbletown, Rosendale and Kingston.
Gai Galitzine, a core member of the Kingston group, says the group’s formal activities are somewhat limited these days. “Transition’s model is based on permaculture, and the essence of permaculture is diversity, so people develop their own interests,” she says. “There’s been a true organic growth; even the formal Transition movements that got started around here look very different from each other. In Woodstock, for example, everything gets written down and I think they even use Robert’s Rules of Order at meetings, while Rosendale couldn’t be more different. In Marbletown, three people who met through the Transition group started the holistic health clinic there. Saugerties is very farm-oriented, and they build tiny houses.”
The Kingston group meets once a month for breakfast, and hosts regular Repair Café events. “The idea of Repair Café, besides keeping items out of the landfill, is that when people stay and watch how an item is fixed—which they have to; you can’t just drop off a toaster and leave—they are relearning lost skills,” she says. “Someone brought in her grandmother’s 1940s-era mixer; it had been stuck for years. Volunteers took it apart and cleaned the gears. I have no doubt that if anything goes wrong again, she’ll be able to take it apart and fix it herself. That happens with a lot of skills here. People say, ‘I could never do that!’ But they can, and it’s fun. And when we give up the cheap labor and fossil fuels, that hands-on sense of competence becomes very important.”
Beyond the breakfast meetups and repair sessions, the group operates a Facebook page that provides a signal boost to a long list of organizations, events and concerns. “It’s hard to get people to add yet another meeting to their schedule when there is so much going on in Kingston,” says Galitzine. “People who might otherwise be active members are up to their elbows in other projects. So we function mainly as a clearinghouse to spread the word about a wide range of efforts; I’m not saying it wouldn’t be great to have more people turn up at meetings, but people still do. And whether they call it that or not, there are a lot of people in Kingston active in what could be called Transition-minded efforts.”
Pamela Boyce Simms, convener of the Mid-Atlantic Transition Hub, says that the Kingston experience is not atypical and fits what she knows of both the movement itself and the northeastern US experience with it.
“Gai is spot-on accurate with this,” she says. “My hub includes six states and the District of Columbia, and there are maybe five truly robust formal Transition Towns active out of hundreds that started. We think of it as a pilot light phenomenon. Gai and people like her are holding the fort; in times of crisis, people will know that that pilot light is still lit.”
Simms says the Mid-Atlantic region doesn’t lend itself easily to organizing under the Transition model, which she describes as having “very British DNA. The UK has a tradition of active clubs that last for years; kids grow up and join the club their parents and grandparents belonged to. The US, by contrast, has incredible diversity, and corporate capitalism has our society very stratified. And there’s that individualism: ‘I’m going to fly my own flag, do my own thing.’ Nowhere is all of this more true than in my region, a very dense corridor of mega-cities that are extremely diverse, consumerist, and driven by the industrial consciousness of growing the economy.”
The Transition Movement’s role, she believes, “is moving away from a strictly Transition Town model, with working groups meeting, toward messaging and storytelling: gentle, consistent storytelling that moves people toward awareness and readiness. We’re learning to work with the nature of the psyche, not freaking people out with stuff they’re not ready to hear but turning and tilling the soil. Storytelling taps into a different part of the brain.”
Transition, like Occupy, is a democratized movement; Simms is a “convener”, not a director, and she makes it clear that she doesn’t speak for other Transition organizers. That said, she believes a convergence is taking place between Transition and the Great Transition, as outlined in the work of author Lester R. Brown.
According to greattransition.org, what is needed is “a new development paradigm redirecting the global trajectory toward a socially equitable, culturally enriched, and ecologically resilient planetary civilization.” Simms says the work of local Transition groups, including Kingston, and the various splinters formed within them, nudges the planet nearer to this goal. “Everything in permaculture is living systems theory, and every living cell counts,” she observes. “As has been said from the outset, this is one big experiment, and we strive to maintain that fluidity.”
To connect with the folks at Kingston Transition, visit Kingston Transition – NY on Facebook. For more information on the national movement, visit transitionus.org.