Transition and Diversity

How can we ensure that Transition isn’t primarily a pleasurable movement for predominantly white, educated, post-materialist, middle-class small community people?  ~ Simplicity Collective

Among the many things we discussed last night at our monthly Transition meeting, the issue of inclusiveness – racial, ethnic, socio-economic, gender — resonated with me enough to want to investigate further.  Thanks to Caroline Chen for having brought it up.   Like other attendees interested in Transition, Caroline lives in Lake Worth, which takes some pride in its ethnic diversity, including a large Guatemalan community.  How, she wondered, could we reach out to the wider community?  I think the underlying question is: how might we build a local movement that reflects the community as it really is, and educate ourselves into a community that brings out the best in us all?

In attempting to find some answers, I was glad to discover that Transition US is responding to the Simplicity Collective’s critique. This fall, the Mid-Atlantic Transition Hub will offer a webinar entitled The Maturation of a Social Movement: A Regional Response to a Critique of the Transition Movement on the Transition US website, to explore diversity, among other issues.  November 6, 2014, 2:00 pm ET, Click here to register (I just did.)  An important aside: this webinar, like the regularly scheduled Salons are all available at no cost from Transition US via the Maestro Conferencing system, one of the many benefits of belonging to a worldwide movement.  My donations (and yours) help keep this high quality education coming.

Funny, you don’t look … Mutts like me tend to be acutely conscious of the racial mix of any size group, or lack thereof.   Even in my admittedly limited experience with face-to-face climate activism, I can see why the misconception that the environment is a white person’s issue persists.  At last year’s Walk for Our Grandchildren, for example, people of color were noticeably in short supply.  And yet since Katrina, no sane person would argue that climate impacts fall equally on us all in this country, let alone on the low-lying and/or island nations most threatened by a rising sea.

Check out the blogosphere, and you’ll see a lot of opinions on this.  I’ll sum up like this:  people who are struggling to find and keep jobs that satisfy basic needs – predominantly of color, urban, and poor  — have other things to worry about beside the environment.  I’ll leave that stereotype unchallenged for now.

kids in gardenIn this recent article, (first published in Grist) Mother Jones assigns partial blame to high-profile green organizations that are falling far short in achieving equality in their hiring practices.  Weirdly enough, what has existed and been tolerated, despite mounting criticism since the 1970s, is an ‘apartheid ecology.’  Furthermore, (the article continues) civil rights activists have had cause to be suspicious of any movement that would draw energy – not to mention funding – from the on-going struggles for social justice.   That Green activism has been predominantly white and male is not a new problem, conferring on it an elite status that I believe has held it back.  This is clearly one among many issues that the shifting demographics in this country will address and possibly resolve.  As Center for Diversity and the Environment notes:  In 2043, people of color will be over 50% of the U.S. Population.  But everything we hear from climate scientists tells us we can’t wait that long to bring everyone into the fight for our very survival.  This is the unique challenge Transition US is girding itself to tackle through educational and outreach.

I’ve barely scratched the surface of this intriguing topic.  So join me in my continuing education in the weeks ahead, focusing on youth and the next generations who will literally inherit the earth (school farms, here I come!).  So far, the most interesting work in the new, more inclusive environmental activism makes a strong case for the societal and economic necessity of tackling climate change and shrinking resources (energy, water, food) now, rather than later.   In addition to CDE just cited, check out the mission statement of Van Jones’ Green for All: Building a green economy strong enough to lift people out of poverty.   Those of us seeking to build local Transition Towns could do well to borrow a page from this playbook.

More reading:

Greening Forward (young people)

NAACP Climate Justice Initiative

Center for Diversity and the Environment

The State of Diversity in Environmental Organizations

Transition Network Inclusion and Diversity

Deep Outreach

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2 responses to “Transition and Diversity

  1. Brilliant. The people stereotyped to have bigger things to think about than climate change are most at risk. We will ALL be challenged by high costs, depleted resources, access to food and water and a devastated economy. But those who have the least will be challenged the most. I wonder if those who have the least are invited into the conversation and education. Thank you.

  2. My sense of the lack of diversity happened after watching Food, inc, which depicted “food deserts”. Healthy foods, organic products, were beyond both price range and geography for far too many.

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