Like many people living in cities across the UK, I was deeply upset by the riots last week – but not entirely surprised. And like other people, the social problems I’m used to seeing within the city came one step closer to me.
What happened last week showcased two things – social breakdown and collective solidarity. I’m already involved in an existing movement, Transition, which is all about building community and solidarity on a local scale.
What I saw and heard last week offered a scary foretaste of the social upheaval predicted by numerous economists, artists and social commentators, many of them featured in films and talks utilised by people within and without the Transition and permaculture movement – Chris Martenson’s Crash Course, A Crude Awakening, Paul Gilding’s The Great Upheaval, the Dark Mountain project.
Balanced against this, I also saw last week how swiftly and beautifully the community mobilised in response – the creativity, the courage, the generosity, the dignity – through the riot clean up initiative, the websites set up to channel support and funds to individuals and businesses affected, the passionate street debate between citizens, the dignified wisdom of the bereaved father Tariq Jahan.
Social upheaval is the often unspoken context of Transition – strengthening community so we are better protected against these predicted shocks – but when my local Transition does outreach, we don’t want to focus too much on scary, doom-laden scenarios. We’ve all heard how too much fear causes paralysis and apathy, especially as we’re getting apocalypse rained down on us from all sides in the media. It’s easier to concentrate on food, on ways we can all grow it and exchange it more locally.
But last week I realised that the predicted social upheaval is already here. Where does that leave me when I talk to people in my community about Transition?
Reskilling workshops are part of the Transition model – helping equip people with the basic tools of resilience they may need in an oil-scarce world – things like making and repairing things, growing and storing your own food, creating your own energy supply. These are popular and necessary. But perhaps we need to join with others to start offering other less ‘hippy’ things likely to be useful in times of transition – things like basic healthcare, dealing with broken arms and injuries, self-defence and conflict resolution techniques? These would all have been useful last week!