Transition Milwaukee

Rebuilding Community Resilience & Self-Reliance

History

When Transition was started by Nicole Bickham, Tom Brandstetter, Christie Mole, Jessica Cohodes, and a few others, there was more excitement than there were members.

For the first half-dozen hub meetings, between 10 and 20 people were present, and about half of the attendees for each meeting were there for the first time and never came back. That left a solid core of about 10 to 15 of us who were highly committed and volunteered to spend some time organizing the fledgling Transition Milwaukee. This group congealed into the steering committee which initially was comprised of: Nicole Bickham, Christie Mole, Jessica Cohodes, Gretchen Mead, Sarah Moore, Erik Lindberg, Sura Faraj, Rees Roberts, and Terri Kinis. When a few of the original steering committee members rotated themselves out, Dan Felix and Natalie Berland were asked to join, based on their enthusiasm, experience, and attendance at a Transition Training that was held in Delafield a year ago.

As a Steering Committee, we have learned a lot and have tried to implement our new knowledge and experience as well as possible. Our first tasks were to gain greater understanding of the Transition Movement, as well as issues of Peak Oil and economics, and provide as much enthusiasm and momentum for TM as we could. This involved tabling at multiple events, giving presentations, running hub meetings, printing and distributing literature, selling books, and so on. Our first “practical manifestation” was the Victory Garden Memorial Day Blitz, which was conceived of at a Hub Meeting and which TM co-sponsored with The Victory Garden Initiative. Power Down Week was also spun off of TM and was an event of great significance for TM, with a large upsurge in membership since then (I think we’ve doubled our size in that time).

Our work, as well as that of numerous volunteers, has sometimes been a bit frantic. We had a lot to do to get the organization to a self-sustaining size before we burned out and, at the same time, were victims of the organization’s success, with unexpected bombardments of new issues and opportunities. One of our greatest successes as an organization, however, has been subtle but of the utmost significance: the creation of a Transition Milwaukee culture, a sense, I think, of optimism, fun, and purposeful activity.

Throughout our nearly 2 years of existence, the Steering Committee has discussed the structure and mission of Transition Milwaukee continuously, though until recently we haven’t had either the opportunity nor the pressing need to get it written down and formalized. Part of the reason was that as a very small organization, everyone knew everyone and everything that was happening was discussed at the Hub Meetings. Another reason for our informality had to do with the changing nature of our vision and mission. We have had a lot of opportunity to observe what works and what doesn’t and have revised our sense of how this organization might be structured accordingly. For example, we have examined the pros and cons of becoming a non-profit corporation (and have decided for now not to be one); we have tried to determine whether we should organize around neighborhood groups or work groups (since neither had all that much activity early on, we wanted to wait to see how things grew in and of themselves). We have experimented with multiple types of Hub Meetings and have debated the role the Hub Meeting should play in TM. The development of the Reskilling Saturdays and The Nuts and Bolts Meetings have been attempts to foster other centers of activity in addition to the Hubs.

At the same time, our collective understanding of Peak Oil and a “post-carbon world” has been evolving at a dizzying speed. A key moment was Tom Brandstatter’s introduction to us of Patrick Murphy’s Plan C, which helped articulate for us the difference between traditional environmental or alternative energy groups, and the Transition Movement. Tom has been instrumental in guiding TM in its education surrounding larger issues.

It has been a wild ride and promises to be one into the future. Having celebrated the 300 member threshold, with considerably more broad-scale participation (we used to joke that the Steering Committee was, unfortunately, the do everything committee), it is becoming increasingly evident that TM needs a clearly stated Vision and Mission, as well as some “operating instructions” as we march into the future. We have grown to the point where our informal and evolving collective consciousness needs to be given some order and structure.

The Steering Committee has therefore begun, in earnest, the process of putting our 2 years worth of experience and debate into something far more structured, and have even hired an outside facilitator to help us. In a few weeks the Steering committee will present to the greater group of TM our Mission Statement with a set ratification process. We greatly look forward to hearing as much feedback and input as possible at that time.

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