This week on The Response podcast, we’re bringing you a round table discussion with Lydia Violet Harutoonian from the Music As Medicine Project, Don Hall from Transition US, and Ryan Rising from Permaculture Action Network. While the conversation covers a lot of ground, we focus on some of the core components of thriving resilient communities, the solidarity economy, and several pathways to move through the multiple crises we’re facing as a global community.
This episode was produced in partnership with Thriving Resilient Communities Collaboratory (TRCC). TRCC is a US-based network of regional and national leaders who use systemic and collaborative approaches to help communities thrive and become more resilient.
You can learn more about TRCC, all of the organizations involved in the program, and make a tax deductible donation to support the entire cohort by visiting: thrivingresilience.org/get-involved
“Transitioning to thriving resilient communities” episode credits:
- Host and executive producer: Tom Llewellyn
- Series Producer: Robert Raymond
- The Sketchnote was created by Elizabeth Niarhos @lizar_tristry
- Thank you to this week’s guests and Thriving Resilient Communities Collaboratory
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For the full list of episodes, a free PDF of “The Response: Building Collective Resilience in the Wake of Disasters“ (ebook), or to sign up to host a virtual screening on “The Response” film, visit: www.shareable.net/the-response.
Below is a transcript of “The Response: Transitioning to Thriving Resilient Communities”:
Lydia Violet Harutoonian:
I live in Berkeley, California. I’ve been here in the Bay Area for about 12 years. Music As Medicine Project is the organization that I founded and I run, and it’s inspired by both my own, for the last decade, I’ve studied with Joanna Macy, who I’m sure a lot of listeners know and if folks don’t know, she’s an incredible 91 year old elder, who was deep in the deep ecology movement, Buddhist scholar.
But really, what I was captivated by and many folks are is she created this body of work, that’s a group of teachings and meditations and group work exercises called The Work That Reconnects. And that seems to be quite good at helping people with metabolizing our overwhelm, climate anxiety, empathic overwhelm, when there’s a lot of community trauma going on.
So the organization, we offer a lot of Joanna Macy’s work, and then I’ve been a musician my whole life, and had my own kind of awakenings around the medicinal power of music and folk traditions and group singing and storytelling through song. And so we also facilitate cultural events and music education and really cool programs that are kind of hybrids of music and culture and cosmology, and talking about what’s happening in the world right now.
Thanks, Lydia. Ryan?
Hey, everyone listening to the podcast. My name is Ryan Rising. I live in Oakland, California and I organize with the Permaculture Action Network. And we are a collective that mobilizes people directly from concerts, festivals and cultural events to days of direct action building regenerative community spaces across the country.
So this can be spaces like urban farms and community gardens, places where folks are restoring their relationship to the local ecosystem, while producing the material things that communities need to live and to live well. Food, water, shelter, things like this. And we do this in such a way where we focus on people that are solving their own relationship to the multiple crises that we face, from their own place of agency.
So we try to focus on working with frontline communities and communities that are taking the initiative themselves, to take access to space and create a new way of relating with the land and with each other. And we also do educational events, courses, workshop hubs and things like this. But primarily, what we do is we partner with performing artists and musicians and large cultural events to mobilize hundreds of people to work on hands-on projects and physically build out the kind of world that we want to move into.
Lydia Violet Harutoonian:
I just want to cheer you. Yes.
Yeah. Hi, everybody. My name is Don Hall. I’ve been working in the Transition Towns Movement since 2008. Started off working with an organization called Transition Colorado, that was a statewide hub. Moved back to my hometown of Sarasota, Florida, to start a local initiative here. Did that for about six and a half years and became co-director of Transition US in 2017.
Transition is greatly inspired by the work of Joanna Macy, The Work That Reconnects, by the permaculture movement, and really seeks to build resilient communities everywhere. Looking at the head, the heart and the hands of these communities in a very holistic way, and empowering grassroots leaders to step forth and re-imagine and rebuild their communities, looking towards a brighter future.
So very happy to be part of this conversation. Also a musician, though not as accomplished as Lydia or as involved as Ryan.
And Don, I’m just going to stay with you. I’m wondering if you can talk a little bit about how your work with Transition US and just the network in general has been impacted by the pandemic.
Yeah, so it has and it hasn’t. We’re a national hub for the transition towns movement, supporting 170 local initiatives throughout the country, as well as regional hubs and national working groups. So we were already working remotely, working online to a large extent. So in that respect, we were very fortunate and we were able to pivot very quickly when we started seeing the pandemic unfold.
But we have taken some actions specifically in response to the pandemic, including creating a community resilience stimulus fund to provide seed grants to grassroots leaders, piloting our Ready Together neighborhood emergency preparedness handbook. Online, offering more online events through our national working groups, such as our politics and policy working group or Inner Resilience Network.
And starting to develop a program called From What Is To What If, collecting positive visions and stories of successful, replicable models of community resilience happening all over the country.
I’m wondering if you can just talk a little bit about, are there other things that you’re doing as an organization? Or was there aspects of your programmatic work that have really risen to the surface during this moment? I know that for the last couple of years, you’ve been working on the Ready Together program. I wonder if you can just talk about that a little bit and how that plays into this current moment.
Yeah, so we’re always doing a number of different things, and Ready Together was set to be piloted this spring anyway. But we thought that we would be piloting with small groups and neighborhoods all around the country. Now, it’s all happening via Zoom.
But the danger of not necessarily a pandemic, but increasing impacts from global warming, greater economic inequality and instability in our economic and financial systems, increased natural disasters from climate change, these all inspired us to put together Ready Together and make it available as quickly as we could. There are a lot of existing resources out there about emergency preparedness, but few that bring people together to prepare. And so that’s a big part of what we’re doing with the Ready Together project.
Thanks, Don. And Lydia, I’m wondering if you can talk a little bit about how your work has been impacted, especially since so much of your work is based on touring, or takes place while you’re touring. And so as a musician, and also as an organizer, if you can just talk about the impact of the pandemic and how you’ve pivoted at this point.
Lydia Violet Harutoonian:
Yeah, I think it’s interesting as an event producer, as someone who puts on a lot of shows and cultural events and workshops, I almost feel like I had a little window into what was about to happen a couple days before. I think a lot of my musician cohort of friends saw what was going on. And that’s because I had to decide whether or not to cancel everything.
And obviously I did, but part of what I think the moment called for was adapt… I’ve been calling a lot of what we try and the spaces we try and facilitate right now, these spaces of clumsy grace. Because here we are, in this completely different situation, reaching for each other across Zoom when we can’t be together.
And that, yes, Joanna Macy’s work is predominantly in-person work, but we shifted a lot of it online as soon as this started. I already had some online programming, but obviously, anything that we have offered program wise right now has been shifted online. And so really what happened was more than ever, I think we need to acknowledge that our internal worlds, that our relational landscapes need resourcing and nourishment right now. Because it’s so easy to go into overwhelm, despair, depression, anxiety, fear about what’s going to happen.
And we can also see the way that really, any large social tragedy or environmental tragedy does this and the same with the pandemic. It has really just made even clear the disparities and who bears the brunt of the trauma and the loss. And how much emotional resourcing we could use to be able to stay with our hands in a community building and repair process.
So that’s what I focused on initially, when it was clear that there was something big that was happening in the world. And so we have our active hope support group, which I just opened up and anybody who needed and we started meeting every week could come, and I would offer Joanna Macy’s work online, these group work exercises. I would adapt them and the teachings, and just to help give people moments of relief and sanctuary and hopefully something they could come away with that would help them feel just a little bit more psychologically oriented or nourished in relationship to crises and healing. What do we do and how do we care when it’s so overwhelming to care?
And then I’m really down with emergent strategy, Adrienne Maree Brown’s emergent strategy and just going, okay, well, what’s happening today? And how do I adapt what I have to give or what we have to give or who we have to collaborate with to meet the moment? So I also run a work that reconnects facilitator development group.
I went to that group and said, all right, y’all, time is now. Who has not facilitated yet and what do you need to be able to offer what you’re trying to offer to your community, so people are more psychologically resourced? So there was a quickening that happened, because I think we could feel more acutely than ever, the need for tools like that.
So there was the pivot to mostly online programming. And then I think as an event producer, because I could see how much income was about to be lost, just personally, I started emergency fund, where I was fundraising, to be able to give emergency money to artists and folks in tech, in stage tech, in the Bay Area. And that still is an issue, as events are going to be one of the last things that come back online, as we try and focus on what’s happening.
But there’s just every week going, all right, what’s happening now? Where are the needs that I have resources for today? Who wants to collaborate and what can we create together within these conditions, to offer something to the communities in contact with us and that we’re in contact with? So it’s both preset, but it’s also, it’s adapting, seems to be the name of the game as well.
Thanks, Lydia. Just moving on to Ryan. Also, you’re doing a lot of play space, in person-actions as you mentioned, working with large events, mobilizing the people that are attending these cultural events, to then take action within the communities where they live. Can you talk a little bit about how that’s gone and where you’re at now as an organization?
Yeah, of course, our work is absolutely upended by the current shelter in place and social distancing measures and all of this, of course. What we primarily do is work with artists and cultural events and go to these events and do lots of outreach and outreach online and work with artists to make announcements from stage. And basically build a cultural narrative in these spaces of performing arts, and then use that cultural narrative to direct people out to community events where they’re taking action together.
And we’ve had a great history of being able to do this. We’ve mobilized about 15,500 people to date over the last five years. We’ve done more than 100 of these permaculture action days across the country, working with over 100 different grassroots organizations and local place based projects. And now of course, we’re in a time where all of that is not able to happen right now.
But what’s very interesting about that is it’s the places that we’re usually mobilizing people to, that are still operating. Those are now being seen as the essential services, the essential places. And it’s the areas where we’re usually working with, to leverage the kind of attention and magnetism that those spaces get, that aren’t able to operate right now.
So whereas we can’t work with concerts or performing artists or festivals or cultural events, what we can do is stay in relationship with those spaces that we’re usually mobilizing people to. And so it’s the urban farms and it’s the community gardens and it’s the community centers that are growing and distributing food and medicine and all of this, that are being lifted up right now and really seen for the importance that they’re always providing.
I think it’s also a moment for folks to shift over to seeing that we do need to create these viable alternatives. We do need to foster and steward these kinds of spaces that can provide an alternative to the extractive economy, an alternative to business as usual. And it’s very interesting right now to see how many people are starting to rely on those kind of networks, rather than relying on usual supply chains and things like this.
So that’s what we’re doing in the current moment is we’re building and maintaining relationships with those project spaces at sites across this landmass, and seeing how we can both support them in the present. But also how we can prepare to come back out of this in a way where hopefully we’ll see a cultural moment, where concerts and cultural events and these kinds of things start to be intrinsically linked with folks directly mobilizing to create the kind of world that we want to live in.
And it’s hard as organizers who are aware of the multiple crises that we’re always facing, to see this as something completely different than usual. Of course, we are aware that this is an unprecedented moment. But we also see the multiple crises that are always being faced even before COVID-19 started.
And so a lot of our kind of cultural narrative work and outreach work is based on trying to use this as a moment to communicate with people and wake people to the multiple crises that our communities are always facing. And bring into conversation what we’re going to do to transition out of this way of being with one another, and with the Earth and to a way that’s regenerative and just. And so that’s primarily what we’re focused on.
Right now, what we’re doing is working on the Just Transition mapping project, which is a project to map about all of these play space projects across the country that are creating this kind of regenerative and mutually beneficial relationship that we want to see with the ecosystems we live within, and with the communities that were a part of.
Lydia Violet Harutoonian:
Ryan, that’s so incredible. And Don, I’m sure that this is also true within transition sites, that the sites that you’ve been feeding and working on and helping to empower and create, are also the sites that become major leverage points of resource within the community, when something like this pandemic hits. I just put those two things together from hearing your story and that’s incredible.
Absolutely. Yeah, I think we’ve all seen crises like this coming for a while, and we’ve experienced a number of them over the last couple decades and there’s surely more to come from climate change. But I think what’s changed here in this pandemic moment is that, one, we’re seeing the benefits of our preparation and two, more and more people are waking up to the need for building local community resilience, for building our own personal resilience and the resilience of our systems that we depend upon.
So there’s a major surge in interest that’s happening right now. I think local groups all over the country are realizing this as a call to scale up their activities. So we definitely see local organizations that are helping people start their own gardens, create new community gardens, new farms. We see mutual aid networks springing up all over the country. We see a focus more on a new economy, creating worker owned cooperatives, an economy that can be resilient through difficult times.
So, this is a very challenging time and knowing people that have been sick in the hospital with COVID, knowing people who have been out of work, not receiving any government assistance, but also an opportunity for us to communicate the message that we need to be building this resilience now, to see us through other difficult times that are sure to come in the future.
Thanks, Don and Lydia for jumping in as well. And that’s an interesting transition, because you’re talking about the laying of the groundwork. And just thinking about even that term groundwork, makes me think of land and place, being grounded in a community of some sort.
And so just going back to you, Ryan, for a moment, I’m wondering if you can talk a little bit about, if you’ve noticed, has there been a greater interest in permaculture, in land based work from laypeople that haven’t been participating before? And then on top of that, have those that have already been involved in this work for a while, been existing permaculture practitioners changed their focus at all or deepened their work or shifted like you were saying, the work that you’re now doing? Shifting to the mapping and really identifying some of these core assets that are out there. Any shifts that you’re seeing?
Yeah, there’s definitely a greater interest happening that I think is most visible online. Unfortunately, because of the moment that we’re in, that’s where we see a lot of what other people are thinking about or discussing or starting to get active around. For some of us that are more directly in touch with local urban farms and land based projects and food distribution networks and things like that it’s also visible on the ground and in our communities.
There’s definitely a resurgence of folks becoming directly interested in that. I think it’s a lot… It’s very obvious when you look at how many online workshops and conversations and skill shares are being offered right now around things like food growing, soil building, ecosystem restoration, and how to start new projects.
And this is what our work has always been really about is not directing people towards the work that Permaculture Action Network is doing and having people wait for the next moment that we put out a call to action. But our work is really based within trying to direct people to the myriad of organizations and projects that are already active in their communities, or to show people these place based projects and organizations that they can replicate and learn from, to start their own projects, to start their own collaborative groups, to organize actions with their friends or affinities.
So that’s what we’ve always focused mostly on. We try to catalyze movement building by giving people a really easy inroad, to seeing how these kinds of autonomous projects and organizations work. And showing people strategically and tactically how they can go about starting their own, or getting involved in ones that are already existing.
I hope to see a much greater number of folks getting directly involved in those kind of projects when people feel they can start interacting in public space and in physical space more. But we’re definitely already seeing it. A lot of people who have lost work are turning to getting directly involved in mutual aid based projects or in food distribution projects or in urban farms and community gardens and spaces that are growing and crafting food and medicine and distributing that in their communities.
So this is definitely the best thing I think that can come out of this is to supplant the dominant economy. That’s been a problem long before the crisis with a solidarity economy and a new way of doing things. I think that’s a big challenge for a lot of us right now is, how do we both take care of one another and make sure that people’s basic needs are getting met and that we’re not leaving anyone behind?
But also, how do we not just reaffirm the economic system and stabilize it? Which is I think what a lot of the folks in power are directing us towards, with the various stimulus programs and bailout programs and things like this. And even with some of the kinds of mutual aid work that’s happening, that’s actually more charity based than it is actually mutual aid based. There’s this push to stabilize the economy and get us back to where we were at.
I would even go as far as to say that that’s the same kind of cultural bent that we’re seeing with this big push for electing Joe Biden instead of electing Donald Trump for a second term. We’re seeing these kind of cultural waves directing us to bring things back to the way it was, to stabilize the economy to the way it was before COVID-19. Or, to bring us back to the good old Obama years.
I think a lot of us are saying that we don’t want to bring things back. We want to create a new way of being. We want to create place based communities, regenerative ways of relating with our ecosystems, mutual aid networks, where we’re not dependent on charity or generosity from the wealthy. But where we’re redirecting wealth to networks of directly taking care of each other materially and voluntarily. And we’re trying to create a new way of being in relationship with one another and a new form of economic relationships.
I think that’s the best thing that we can have come out of this moment. And there’s thousands and thousands, if not millions of people actively working on that just transition around the country right now, and who are really using this moment to catalyze massive participation in those kinds of efforts.
And you just mentioned at the very end there, thinking about the just transition, and for listeners that are interested in going a little bit deeper into that concept, I encourage you to check out the first episode of this latest season of The Response, the interview we did with Michelle Mascarenhas-Swan, who was the founding co-chair of the Climate Justice Alliance, and we go into a lot of depth about what a just transition really looks like.
And Ryan, to your point about this desire to try to get back to how things were, one of the things that I feel is really being left out of those narratives, as we’re focusing on the economics of the whole thing is the collective trauma that we are facing as a society, as a humanity, basically, globally. And so Lydia, I’m wondering if you can just speak a little bit about what you see the role of music and other art forms in playing to support the processing of this collective trauma.
Lydia Violet Harutoonian:
That, right there, that question is probably what I spend most of my attentive energy trying to understand. I think from my own personal vantage point, that’s all I can speak from, I try not to speak in too many generalizations, because I know that knowledge is an ecosystem as are opinions.
But from where I sit, there has been collective trauma that we have been enacting on each other for the last bit of time as a species. I think one of the mistakes the environmental movement can make is talking about only recent environmental developments as the primary collective trauma we’re going through. When I think we can look at history and see community traumas that communities have been going through and through oppression, have been brought through for a long time.
And that it’s also true that we have never lived in a time on the planet with this much convergence of crises. That seems to be the moment that we’re in right now, where there’s a convergence of sociopolitical, of environmental, of economic crises.
And so as far as how music helps us to metabolize community trauma, I think you can just look at the music that has been born from times of community suffering, where communities could have just given up. And rather than that, the legacies that we have are entire traditions of music, that are born from a commitment to keep living. And oftentimes, when those stories are shared and those songs are shared, within five minutes, we can sing those songs and feel a similar spirit.
I think acknowledging that that is real is step one. And remembering that it is all of our birth rites to be able to engage in some kind of creative, contemplative community act that resources our spirits and helps us heal. I’m a musician and I’m also an educator and a facilitator. So these are the modalities that I feel comfortable facilitating in a room full of people. So it’s what I have gone to and what I decide to share.
But we know that there’s many, whether it’s getting your hands in the soil and creating medicinal herb gardens or art or dance. But there does seem to be a way that if we can take suffering, attend to it, learn from it and find a way to transform it into lasting resilience, beauty, learning, that that kind of honesty is accepted into our bones and our nervous systems in a way that is very refreshing for the soul, is very refreshing for our bodies.
I think everyone, even if we can’t put words to it, can think of a time when that happened. Whether it was in a classroom whether or it was at a concert or it was having a cup of tea with someone who was saying things that you felt like were taking a difficulty that you had been through, and uplifting it in some way, where it was now, it was being held by something or in some way, where you could then hold it easier. And something could transform within you.
I think that seems to be the power that transformative art or presence or study has for us as human species. We appreciate that. We feel more psychologically oriented when we have that. But part of that is listening to each other and believing each other about what we or our communities have been through.
And in order for me to be able to do that, I have to be able to hold my own empathic pain, so I can stay in the room and learn how to be with it. How to process it, how to move it in some way, so that I can stay in the room. And that’s what I think is one of the most powerful things Joanna Macy’s work has to offer, that is why I keep at it. That is why I keep doing it.
Beautiful. I just wanted to add to that and kind of bring up a little bit of the cultural dimension. I remember listening to Joanna say that the reason that she does this work is so that when times get tough, people don’t turn on each other, but instead turn towards each other. And that’s always been really inspiring to me.
I think we see some of that division in our world today. It gets a lot of media attention. But I think the unity and coming together of communities and neighbors is much more widespread, and the more that we can do the personal, interpersonal healing work, as well as showing a different possible vision for the future. And actually starting to build that future now, so people can see that it works, that it creates livelihoods, that it actually improves our quality of life, is very important preparation for the years and decades ahead.
So that we can practice now, working together and communicating with each other, and undertaking large and inspiring projects together. So that when we really need them, and I would say that we probably really needed them already for a long time, that we’ll be able to do this work together and create a better society.
Don, just staying on that thread, when we think about most acute disasters, a fire or a flood or an earthquake, we see across the board, there is a rise in altruism, of people stepping up to support their neighbors, take care of people that they never met before. Really, these disasters tend to bring the best out of society in these moments.
And one of the things that we’re facing now is this is one of the first times that we’ve ever had a disaster happen on a global scale, or at least that we’ve recognized it as being that with the pandemic, where everybody’s facing the same thing. The argument could be made that we are already facing the climate crisis, all at the same time, or that many of our societies are facing the crisis of capitalism, and how that’s leading to systemic inequality and how that’s negatively impacting society.
But right now, there’s something that’s very tangible and communities are all facing the same thing, at the same time. And it’s an ongoing crisis, which we’re not used to dealing. I’ve been incredibly heartened by how consistent people have been supporting their neighbors and how ingrained these mutual aid networks, which have popped up all over the world have become within their communities.
And so to your point before about how we already needed this in our communities, we were already facing these multiple, different social crises that were underlying. So then the question really, on my mind is, how do we sustain this? How do we maintain actions of mutual aid and community resilience, moving forward?
That’s a great question. I’m not sure I have the entire answer to that. But I think a lot of it has to do with building community structures. Whether that’s a voluntary group, working on local food issues, whether that’s a neighborhood that is supporting each other. Some way for people to continue to stay in touch after this pandemic has led us behind and keep moving forward with this work.
I’m seeing it in my own neighborhood here in Florida, where we’re trading vegetable starts for worms, for worm composting. Where our neighbor sets up a socially distanced open mic night in her driveway. Where people are using the Nextdoor platform to arrange needs with people who are volunteering to help meet those needs.
I think it’s very important, like Ryan said, like we’re all saying, that we don’t just go back to normal. That this new sense that we may have of our own vulnerability as a society and our interconnectedness is very important for us to keep in mind, moving forward.
Yeah, it might make sense, I know it’s probably been defined before on this podcast, but to just define for a moment what we mean by the solidarity economy. We use this term solidarity economy to express this directionality and this desire to build an economy and a culture that goes beyond capitalism in the present. It’s about transitioning to a different form of economics that are based on mutual aid and reciprocity. And not based in concentration and extraction and profit motive and this kind of thing.
However, it notices that we need to embrace monetary transactions in the present, while expressing practical solidarity with disadvantaged groups of people. So it’s not to say, okay, we can transition from where we are now to some kind of gift economy or voluntary economy of relationships and direct reciprocity automatically. It recognizes that there’s a pathway to getting there.
And we recognize that a part of that pathway to getting there is needing to financially support these kind of projects, to financially support these kind of mutual aid distribution networks and place based projects that are directly growing and creating things like food and medicine and building materials, so that we can move to a better way of being in relationship with the Earth. And this brings me to the conversation about what connects the three of our organizations, amongst other things, which is this thriving resilient communities, collaboratory that we’re a part of.
And what actually made me think of this, interestingly enough, was Lydia, you were talking a moment ago about these traditions of music and artists who are really recognized for expressing a deep sense of resilience and pain through oppression and repression. There’s something that comes from being put into those places of experiencing what it’s like to be part of communities that are taken away from having agency, taken away from having access, that are exploited and extracted from. There’s this great sense of power and resilience that gets expressed in music.
And we see in the music industry, throughout history, a lot of these kinds of folks being forced to either go in the direction of staying independent and not being financially supported, or having to become part of a music industry that often wants to push and change the values and expression and directionality of that kind of music. And I think we see something very synonymous to this in the world of collectives and nonprofits and groups that are trying to do work, like Shareable, like Transition US, like Music As Medicine, like Permaculture Action Network is doing.
You see these really raw and organic organizations and groups come up to try to create a different way of doing things, to try to steward this transition. And then we find ourselves needing to be financially supported in this moment, so that we can do this work. And then we get faced with having to compete for grants or to try to change what we’re doing or code switch the way that we talk about things, in order to be appealing to foundations and to folks that have access to wealth.
I think this is where the TRCC, the Thriving Resilient Communities Collaboratory is really creating a solution and an alternative to that kind of a framework. Where this is a group of both representatives from grassroots organizations and projects, as well as funders and folks that have wealth to allocate towards a collaborative grant-making process that are coming together in circle and using a democratic and a horizontal decision-making format, in order to allocate a total pool of grant money.
And so the majority of people that are sitting on that consensus circle are representatives from organizations and projects that are doing this kind of movement work on the ground directly. So this is a very different kind of way of allocating wealth, where we’re seeing people that are voluntarily putting their wealth into a pool, that they know is going to be distributed based on the direct decision-making of the organizations on the ground.
And so this is like a really vital way that we need to start shifting. We need to shift towards, obviously, this voluntary redistribution of wealth and voluntary redistribution of resources. And if we can bring horizontalism and consensus decision-making and directly democratic and participatory forms of how we go about allocating that wealth, we’re going to see a very different outcome. We’re going to see an outcome that’s really based on the needs of people on the ground and the needs of the people that are closest in relationship to the people on the ground.
And that’s where this whole wave of alternative ways of structuring nonprofits and alternative ways of structuring grassroots is coming from. We see it in worker self-directed nonprofits, and we see it in the kinds of organizations that are involved in the nonprofit democracy network. But basically organizations that are saying we need to flip this triangle where the board of directors and the folks that are in charge of these kind of organizations are closest in proximity to funders and to foundations and to folks who have wealth.
And so often the work ends up being skewed in a way, where it’s responding to the interests and the values of those with the most wealth. Whereas it’s the people on the ground doing the work, that have the closest relationship with the people and communities that these grassroots projects and nonprofits are trying to support or trying to empower. Or, are made up of those people themselves, who are empowering themselves to create their own solutions to these crises.
And so this marks a big shift, I think, in the kind of philanthropic world and world of charity, is switching to this framework of solidarity, of mutual aid and of voluntarily redistributing wealth and resources towards things like the TRCC and other democratic and collaborative grant-making processes. Where we’re putting power into the hands of the people on the ground that are doing the work, to collectively figure out how to distribute resources amongst themselves, so that they can support one another in building a movement together.
I think that brings up, one, the need to stay true to our own organizational missions, but also the realization that we don’t always have to shift to do something new to chase the money. Oftentimes, there are other organizations that we should be working with in this moment, who are better positioned for a specific funding source.
We already see that finances are getting tight. We’re in the middle of a huge wave of unemployment across the United States and globally, corporate layoffs and small business closures are causing millions of people every week to become unemployed. And grassroots organizations that have been working on a lot of these systemic issues are being impacted as well.
So that’s where we have to really look at these opportunities for partnership and for mutual support. I feel like a key question we should be asking is, how do we take the actions around mutual aid that are happening between neighbors and translate that to our organizations? That’s something else that I feel like we’ve all benefited from as part of going through the process of TRCC. There’s definitely a realization that that’s necessary.
Don, I’m wondering if we can bring you in here. Are there any examples of how Transition US has been able to develop a new project or partnership within this container that we have in the Thriving Resilient Communities Collaboratory?
Yeah, I think way too many to describe here. But I’ll mention the one that was alluded to earlier, which a grant for the TRCC that Transition US collaborated on with Shareable, with the Post Carbon Institute and with New Stories that helped to launch The Response podcast, that also helped to launch a program that Transition US did with New Stories called Stories to Action, helping grassroots leaders develop programs for emergency preparedness and community resilience in their localities.
That really got us into working on emergency preparedness and disaster collectivism. We had been hearing a lot from the grassroots of our movement that this was something that was important and was desired. But it was, in part, this collaboration with Shareable, Post Carbon and New Stories that led us to create Ready Together.
And I just want to say that following on some of the things that Lydia and Ryan said, conventional funders tend to look for single issue campaigns, things that are very cleanly bounded projects that produce objective outcomes. And Transition US is really trying to understand and respond to the complex, converging crises of our time, in a very holistic way. And sometimes those outcomes aren’t objective, but are subjective.
I think that’s true of all of our work. That it can be measured in lives changed and communities transformed. But those are hard things to put in a grant report. So I just feel a tremendous amount of gratitude for the very forward thinking funders that are part of the Thriving Resilient Communities Collaboratory, that are supporting these initiatives that might have a harder time getting funding from conventional foundations and large donors.
Lydia Violet Harutoonian:
I think that reminds me of one of the other things that was refreshing about gathering with TRCC folks was, for me, being someone that comes out of studying some deep ecology and systems theory, you can’t help but see the world in terms of ecosystems and in terms of systems. And you know that if you only magnify one element in the system, the system goes on runaway, it’s not sustainable.
I love sitting in the room with TRCC folks and being like, oh, that person’s got that part of the system. That person’s got that part of the system. And really being able to see, yeah, just the different solution points that different member organizations pour their energy into, to give life to in the world. It is a really beautiful thing, just even somatically to be in the room with. It’s refreshing.
So we’re getting close to the end of this conversation. And we started by focusing on the pandemic, because that’s where we’re in right now. And this season of The Response is, the theme for it is really, we’re looking at, we’re calling the people’s COVID-19 response. And highlighting all of these actions that people are taking around the planet right now, the sharing and the mutual aid. And we talked a little bit about what we think it’s going to take to sustain this type of activity and how do we make these localized actions systemic?
And I’m wondering if any of you just have any final thoughts on what the opportunity is at this point in time, and how might we really live into that opportunity to our fullest extent?
I can start off. I’m interested to hear what Lydia and Ryan have to say as well. I will just reiterate that I think one of the most important things that we can do right now is to provide people with credible help. I think when people look on the news and they see the antics of the Trump administration and death toll from COVID-19 rising and climate change increasing, people can feel kind of hopeless and start to sink into apathy and despair.
I think we need to demonstrate that another way is not only possible, but it’s already happening. I think finding ways to create what the Transition movement founder Rob Hopkins called tiny microcosms of hope, and to share those out with people. So they can see that there is some alternative to the modern, global, capitalist industrial society that is currently running itself off a cliff.
My invitation to people is to really see what are the different ways that you can refuse to return to business as usual, for those who are getting a break from that for a moment. And what are the ways that you can start to put your energy and your time and your labor into creating the kinds of systems that we want to be a part of, moving forward?
And for those who haven’t gotten a break from business as usual, to see how you can take agency in your own struggles to get what you really need in this transition. We’re seeing a massive amount of workers that are starting to go on strike and demand the actual care that they need. I think we need to see more of that.
And we need to also see the people that are usually having to figure out how to make themselves profitable within the economy as it stands, how to make themselves employable. I would really invite people to see how far we can push this to removing our time and our energy and our labor from systems of extraction and systems of profit making, and really invest our time and our labor and our energy into place based regenerative projects, into mutual aid, projects into the solidarity economy, into just taking care of and getting to know the people in our communities directly around us.
I think that’s really the moment that we have in front of us right now. And that’s an invitation that I think we need to support each other in figuring out. Because as we’re left alone to figure out how we’re going to pay the rent when we have no income coming in, how we’re going to keep up with utility bills, how we’re going to keep food on the table, of course, the obvious answer that a lot of us jump to is to want to reopen the economy and get business as usual going again, so we can figure out how to survive within this mess.
I think the more that we can empower each other and stand with each other in refusing that, and instead saying, actually, there’s a different way of doing things that we need to transition to. And we need to refuse to go back to being part of this extractive economy that drawls on until we finally hit the wall of biosphere collapse brought on by climate change and all of this. And say, no, actually, we’re going to create a new way of doing things and we’re going to refuse to participate in those systems.
Lydia Violet Harutoonian:
I think that what Don and Ryan have shared about moving forward is part of the vision for us to carry. I think if there’s anything that I want to contribute to that vision, it’s that to remember to make visible the millions of people that are alive in the world right now and working towards building something healthy on the planet. To make sure that we are not invisibilizing their work, as we paint the picture for ourselves of what is happening on the planet right now.
And that there is a depth of crisis that is absolutely happening. And that almost every solution that anyone could have a passion to pledge themselves to, already has people working towards it, even these super, super niche things. And that any single person just needs to focus on bearing their own torch, not solving all of the problems. To come out of a sense of isolation, and be part of an ecosystem response, where you can both pledge your energy and rest when you need to, and engage in the gift of being alive at all.
And also really work to understand the kind of solidarity that is being asked for right now, where your own passion lies, where your particular gifts lie in the ecosystem of healing that you could be a part of. What’s your particular knack that you have, that you could find a crew of people that you could enjoy working with, to join up with? Or, maybe if it’s even just a piece of land that you really enjoy working with, that you want to collaborate with.
But I think it’s helpful envisioning to absolutely be able to acknowledge the crisis and absolutely make visible to ourselves in our most private moments, the pulsing energies and practices and pledges and enactment of empowerment and healing and regenerative, sustainable solutions that is very much alive on the planet right now. That is the reason why it’s not curtains yet.
If I was the last person who cared, who was alive on Earth, then I think I’d be a lot more worried than I am today. Am I worried? Yeah, I’m concerned. I know we might not make it out. But I also know that we might. And if we do, it’s because of all of these actions that I’m trying to just join in with, in the river of what’s happening.
So all we have to do is find our place. We don’t have to solve everything that we sense. That is already being tended to. Many, many people are responding right now to many points of suffering in the system. And we just want to keep empowering that as much as we can while we’re here, I think. And I like making music on the way.
Thanks, Lydia, and thank you, Don and Ryan as well. Really appreciate you joining us for this conversation today.