Monday 24 September 2012

things fall apart the centre cannot hold - communications and resilience at #tnconf2012

Last night I got an email from the Arctic. It was from our fellow social reporter, Sara Ayech, who is on the Greenpeace vessel Arctic Sunrise, as it cuts through swathes of melting sea ice and where Shell are planning to drill for oil this month. This is the story that encapsulates all the drivers of Transition -  peak oil, climate change, economic retraction. It's the story that should be rocking the world, but isn't.

We reached the ice a couple of days ago and it's incredible, although in a far worse state than the scientists thought it would be, or satellite pictures show. Yesterday we were at 83 degrees North (420 miles from the North Pole) and we didn't see any large ice floes, everything was a lot smaller and thinner than we expected.
This morning, a bit further west, it was mostly slush in the water - we're seeing more now but it feels like it's melting before our eyes.Right now it's the lowest sea ice surface extent ever recorded - just below 3.5 million sq. km. Trying not to be depressed though - it's still amazing and beautiful. We have seen some polar bears though - yesterday a mother and her cub were pretty close to the ship, jumping between ice floes - wonderful! 
"Comms" in Transition is often understood as a persuasion tool: we have marketing and "communication skills" so we make people join our initiative, downshift, wake up to the effects of melting ice on our small lives. But editorial is not in the persuasion business, it is in the reality business. As the corporate media distracts everyone with parliamentary debates, game shows and celebrity parades, it is our work as communicators to report what we see happening all around us, to frame our community moves within the bigger picture. We are in search of a narrative, as individuals, as Transitioners, as planetary beings at this moment in time. What we value is a media that reflects what is going on from the ground -the gritty, the beautiful, the profound and intelligent. But most of all, the true.
Building resilience in extraordinary times is a buzzy headline, but what does it mean as far as our communications at this conference are concerned? The principle definition of resilience is the ability of eco-systems to hold together when the whole is challenged. Our challenge as Transitioners is to hold the core within ourselves and our communities, and not to fragment. Eco-systems do this by being connected, by a web of communication exchange and feedback. When threatened what matters most is that the fire of a body, what keeps it alive, is preserved, in the same way the bees in a colony cluster around the queen to keep her warm as winter sets in.

What keeps people together is the spirit of the enterprise, its heart. That's something we share together, what we hold in common. Look at it as a story we tell each other around a fire. What is the narrative we are creating? What really matters when the chips are down, and the world is falling apart, and it feels as though everyone around us is sleepwalking? In extraordinary times, when the wild fires are raging and harvests are failing, can we tell another story that wll feel like the warmth of a fire? And who among us is going to tell it?

crew one: social reporters at large
It has been my great joy to have been a co-founder of two national comm -unication projects in Transition, which I feel are a fundamental part of our collective resilience, keeping us intact and integral in tough times. The first is this blog (celebrating its first birthday next week) and the second is the newspaper, Transition Free Press, both based on small local initiatives: Transition Norwich's This Low Carbon Life blog and Sustainable Bungay's quarterly newsletter. As we plough through those dark waters, with the menace of corporate media at our tail, we are secure insofar as we have ace crews on board. None of us are expecting an easy ride. And all of us are keen to the beauty and fellow feeling that appears even in times of difficulty and loss.

For this weekend's conference six of our reporters (that's Ann, Caroline, Charlotte, Jay, Kerry and Mark) will be setting sail within the crowd, with our ears alert and our eyes sharp, our pencils at the ready. If you find us do tell us your story and let us know any feedback or suggestions about the blog. In the next two days we'll be writing short reports from the different events and workshops, and the following week we will be reflecting on our experiences at both the main conference and all of the four sister strands (including International Hubs on Monday). You are welcome to contribute guest blogs at the media hub (we'll have two computers there at the ready).

Oh, and we'll be communicating and networking like mad. For me, the best part of the conference is meeting and speaking with everyone in real time and space. That starts with the reporters themselves, who normally only communicate via computer or telephone. And we're all very happy to welcome back our producer, Ed Mitchell, who is returning to Transition comms from his year's voyage out. Come and find us.
launch of the transition free press
Tonight we'll also be launching our new national paper the Transition Free Press. We published our preview edition in June and since then have been distributing our 2000 print run in different regions of the UK and at summer gatherings from Permaculture convergences to Sunrise and Uncivilisation festivals. There will be a copy for everyone at the Conference, so if you haven't already seen a copy do take one home. It is our intention to publish four editions through 2013, beginning this winter, and in order to fund this venture, including printing, payment for editors and contributors - we need your help and contributions, and most of all your loyal readership.

Becoming the Media is one of the principal tools in the Connecting chapter in The Transition Companion. This includes YouTubes, social media, blogs and Twitter feeds. But nothing has impact like the printed page. Newspapers publish many stories on line but only certain ones make it into the paper "proper". Physical print, like everything else built in material form, has a strength and a baraka like nothing else. We are aware as communicators that the print holds knowledge and goes places that computers can never go - no matter how swanky the tech.

Moreover the discipline of writing news stories requires a totally different attention than writing blogs or emails. It demands far more work and time and dedication. It requires skilled designers and editors. For us, the paper is a bridge that crosses boundaries, it connects all the different strands that make up an alternative vision for the planet from anti-fracking campaigns to land rights movements to food co-ops, it connects initiatives around the country and around the world, and communicates and celebrates what we do. It is a tool that is integral to the core we are holding, and lets people who might never have heard about Transition know that it is not all business-as-usual out there.

At the conference we are looking for 35 initiatives to sign up as distributors for our paper - that's all of us in the room and in Transition. Having dedicated people around the country is what will make this enterprise possible. We will have a map of Britain up behind our stall in the Octagonal Hall and distrbution forms, so do come up and talk with us and ask questions about what this might entail. We will also have a flat plan for future issues and we're looking for contributors and any stories or ideas you might have for the different sections fo the paper. On Saturday we will be running an open editorial meeting during the Open Space session (4.15-6pm). All are welcome.

The TFP crew will all be at the launch party: that's me (ed), Alexis Rowell (news ed), Mike Grenville (production and distribution), Tamzin Pinkerton (food); Mark Watson (subeditor); Trucie Mitchell and Mihnea Damian (designers), as well as many of our wonderful contributors. We're really looking forward to meeting you and declaring this paper an "official" voice of Transition. We're starting at 7pm for 7.15 and will be toasting and launching our vessel at 7.30pm in the Main Hall. See you there!

Images: Sara Ayech and the Arctic Sunrise on the Arctic sea ice (look out for Sara's story next week!); Charlotte from interview with Rob Hopkins, Transition Culture; map of Britain we hope to cover with map pins indicating distribution points for the Transition Free Press.

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