As you probably know by now, Transition Vashon originally formed to help our community to adapt to the changes we can expect due to climate change, resource depletion, and the accompanying economic and political instability. Over the last few years, I’ve touched a number of times on the subject of community and its importance in maintaining Vashon’s resilience in the face of these changes. I have to confess that understanding and applying the concept of community to Vashon has been a real challenge for us, and I want to share some of the insights that I’ve gained.
The Transition Network originated in Great Britain in a small rural town. The community dynamics in that and similar towns prescribed a procedure for organizing for transition. Early on, we realized that the standard format did not fit Vashon. We did not have a local government to act as a focus. We already had a goodly number of groups working on sustainability issues. We do not have, as I understand now, a community in the classic sense of these English towns.
In order to understand the concept of community better, and to work to improve the way ours worked, I immersed myself in a few ongoing community building projects here. I attended and followed Welcome Vashon events. This group was started by veteran professional community workers, Dan Kaufman, Bruce Anderson, and Jim Diers. Their idea was to empower individuals to organize and implement projects that they were passionate about. The result has been a remarkable proliferation of ongoing, successful programs such as Community Cinema, Shape Up Vashon, Community dinners, the Timebank, and a host of others. The other organization I joined with was All Island Forum, which formed in response to the implosion of the Community Council a few years ago. They are more concerned with the nuts and bolts of building community, i.e., forming a common vision, learning how to navigate conflict, and coming to consensus.
These are important parts of building a Transition Initiative and they are being carried forward by people that are far more skilled than we are. Certainly, there is no need to duplicate those efforts. What they don’t provide, from our viewpoint, is an orientation to a future that is likely to be markedly different from the present. If we see the likelihood of having to use 80% less energy, mostly renewable, within ten years, we will need a plan, and we will need to start implementing it as soon as possible. We will need to harness the organizing and promotional skills of Welcome Vashon and the deliberative skills of All Island Forum to bring our community together to create the vision and the plan and to build the processes for implementing it. We will need the skills and knowledge of groups like Wisenergy, VIGA, and Greentech to work out the logistics. I would love to see the new Community Council become a focal point for all this activity.
Another element that makes Vashon a special challenge as a Transition Initiative is its unique geo-social character. As an island, we are considered a single community. A similar population on the mainland spread out over a similar land base with no unifying local government probably would not be considered a single community. In addition, our commuter driven economy limits our sense of identity and interdependence. Here, you can have a small town experience, but usually after everybody has driven 5 or 10 miles. The Car is an integral part of the social glue on Vashon. How would we function without it? The ready alternative is to live in safe seclusion, as many of us do.
I think that is why we think of Vashon as being an ideal "community." We have minimal obligations to participate in the community or to conform to some standard while being part of a fairly homogeneous group that calls themselves "Islanders." Ironically, it is just those characteristics that make it difficult for us to motivate people to plan for a time when we will really have to depend on each other. I have no doubt that people will step up when times are tough, but it would be so much better if we could plan ahead. As long as we are getting the goods and services we need, it is hard for any of us to imagine anything else. And so we don’t put such a high priority on imagining a different future.
People have weathered other crises in the past and came out the other end, so how is this different? In some ways it isn’t, although, with the passage of time, we tend to forget that those crises often were followed by a hundred years or more of painful recovery, such as the Dark Ages or after the Bubonic Plague. Our current situation does differ in that it is global in scale. Take your own inventory of global problems we’re facing and take a hard look at the governing bodies we have to deal with them. We can turn a crisis into an opportunity if we plan.