Please join us next weekend — Friday evening, November 1st, and all day Saturday, November 2nd — for an event I’m very excited about. Co-organized by Good Work Institute, Radio Kingston, Rise Up Kingston, O-Positive, Kingston Transition, and the Novo Foundation, along with Commonwealth Hudson Valley, Surviving the Future: Connection and Community in Unstable Times will be a community conversation about where we are and where we’re going as a community in Kingston.

When we came together to create this event, it was with a shared sense that now is a very special time in Kingston. I, for one, have never lived anyplace where so many people were involved in so many creative, intelligent, and heartfelt efforts for the community, and where community projects receive such strong outpourings of support. When we talk about justice, sustainability, and transformation here, it feels almost possible. The threats we face are very real — and many of them the product of forces much larger than ourselves — but the opportunities feel very real, too.

And so we thought the time might be ripe to talk about the big picture. Our intuition is that everyone who is engaged in any issue or effort within the community — whether it’s affordable housing, climate change, racial justice, food access, health care — holds some sort of vision of a movement towards a more just, equitable, and ecologically sound community. Our pieces of work fit together into some kind of whole whose shape we can only partially see. Our hope is that it will be valuable, maybe even super-charging, to start talking explicitly about where we’re heading, and to have some kind of common framework for visualizing and discussing how the pieces fit together.

The language we’ve chosen to talk about these issues and possibilities is the Just Transition framework. As the Climate Justice Alliance (CJA) describes it, “Just Transition is a vision-led, unifying, and place-based set of principles, processes and practices that build economic and political power to shift from an extractive economy to a regenerative economy.”

The idea of a Just Transition originally comes out of the labor and environmental justice movements. It began as a new conversation within communities that were host to toxic industrial plants about moving beyond being dependent on jobs in facilities that were simultaneously poisoning the community. Over time this vision expanded to become the basis for the climate justice movement. All our communities need a massive transition in our energy, transportation, housing, and food systems in order to stabilize the climate.

The Just Transition commitment is that these changes must be led by, and support the needs of, those communities and workers that have been most impacted by the extractive practices that created the climate crisis. Extractive here goes beyond just resource extraction, like the coal, oil, and gas industries that have poisoned so many communities. It entails the entire system that makes communities dependent on a single employer, that makes families dependent on piecing together several precarious low wage jobs, and that keeps us all so dependent on a system we know is fundamentally unjust and unsustainable. As I argued last summer, in unpacking the breadth of the federal Green New Deal resolution, a transition this broad means fundamental changes in how we own, govern, and make choices about our economy.

“Transition is inevitable. Justice is not.”

Building justice into the process of change from the bottom up has to be conscious and deliberate. For, as Movement Generation puts it, “After centuries of global plunder, the planet will no longer sustain the industrial economy without massive ecological — and economic — disruption. Transition is inevitable. Justice is not.”

Crucially, the Just Transition is a strategy for transformation at the community level. Each community must establish its own vision and create its own practices, cultures, and priorities. That’s the conversation — already underway in pockets all over our community — that we hope to advance next weekend. Our event’s title, Surviving the Future, references a key work that helped inspire and inform the Transition movement — originally a British movement, now worldwide, including here in Kingston — which similarly envisions local communities as the nexus for a transition to a more just and sustainable society.

In their own ongoing transition as an organization, the Good Work Institute embraced the Just Transition framework as the guiding principles for their own work. (Read their description of their process here.) In doing so, they distilled five values from the work Movement Generation has done to define the Just Transition. They are:

  • Democratizing communities, wealth and the workplace
  • Advancing ecological restoration
  • Driving racial justice and social equity
  • Relocalizing most production and consumption
  • Retaining and restoring cultures and traditions

We’ve selected these five values as the starting point for our conversation next weekend.

Of these, of course, democratizing communities, wealth and the workplace is closest to the core of the vision Commonwealth Hudson Valley has been advancing. Our focus on cooperatives, community capital, and other ways of managing wealth, investment, ownership, and economic decision-making in collaborative ways is at the heart of our work. But all four of these values are crucial to creating a local economy and community that are just, sustainable, and resilient to the challenges ahead. And I believe that clarity about values is the most solid foundation for any collaborative effort, so I’m eager to begin the conversation there.

The plan for the weekend is inspiration and information followed by conversation and creation. Friday night, we’ll have three guest speakers in to tell us about how other communities are working towards their own just transitions. I’m especially excited to hear Kali Akuno, of Cooperation Jackson, whose work to build a solidarity economy in Jackson, Mississippi has inspired folks in the cooperative movement all over the country. Akuno is a dynamic, powerful speaker, and I’ve wanted to bring him to Kingston since I first heard him speak.

Also joining us will be Ariel Brooks from the Center for Economic Democracy, which supports cooperative ownership, community investment, and other solidarity economy strategies in Boston and beyond, and David Bollier, one of this country’s foremost writers and thinkers on the commons. I spoke with Bollier on Commonwealth Kingston Radio this Thursday about the centrality of local relationships in building the next economy, and about how it might be better to think of commoning as a verb — something we do together — rather than commons as a resource we manage.

On Saturday, we’ll shift the focus to Kingston and spend the day talking with each other about what we’re doing, how we do it, and where we’re aiming to go together. We’ll use a very lightly structured “Unconference” framework to support emergent conversations, upwelling creativity, and deepening relationships.

Facilitator and activist Adrienne Maree Brown has spoken eloquently of the power and potential of emergent processes within community as a response to the many crises we face. In her Emergent Strategy, she quotes Nick Obolensky: “Emergence is the way complex systems and patterns arise out of a multiplicity of relatively simple interactions.” Emergence is the collective intelligence of a flock of birds in migration, of a forest floor rich in decay and regeneration, of any natural system in the midst of change.

“Emergence is beyond what the sum of its parts could even imagine.”

“Many of us have been socialized to understand that constant growth, violent competition, and critical mass are the ways to create change,” Brown says. “But emergence shows us that adaptation and evolution depend on more critical, deep, and authentic connections, a thread that can be tugged for support and resilience, the quality of connection between the nodes in the patterns.”

“Emergence is beyond what the sum of its parts could even imagine,” she says. That’s what we’ll be courting in our conversations next weekend.

In the morning, our invitation will be to look at this idea of a Just Transition and see what resonance it has for our community. How are we already working towards transitions to a better system? How do those five Just Transition values show up in our work? Are some very present, and others less so? Are there other important values that we work towards? And how can we work together to center that transition more solidly in our work?

In the afternoon, we’ll invite further sessions to emerge from the morning ones. People might choose to talk about one or more of the Just Transition values in depth — perhaps one that they feel we’d benefit from embracing more deeply. Or they might invite others to explore an idea that arose in a morning session about a new project, a new insight, or just something they want to talk more about.

We’ll conclude the day coming back together for a harvesting of learnings and reflections, and then in the evening we have the great pleasure of hosting Bread and Puppet Theater performing their show Diagonal Life: Theory and Praxis. We’ll also be joined throughout the weekend by artist Will Lytle of Thorneater Comics, who will be reflecting our conversations in art.

Commonwealth Hudson Valley was started with a conviction that together we could begin creating the economy of the future. Next weekend we’ll have a chance to get together as a community to talk about how we can do that. I hope you’ll join us!