Social justice and the Transition movement

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Inclusivity and social justice was a principle identified early in the development of the Transition movement, rooted in a recognition that the most disadvantaged people in our societies are likely to be worst affected by rising fuel and food prices, resource shortages and extreme weather events. Some Transition groups make this principle central to their work, for example a number of groups have allied with refugee-led or refugee-focused organisations and/or have created food, gardening or transport projects which prioritise those in economic need. There have been numerous experiments with pay as you choose or wealth exchange processes which enable participants to pool resources and ensure that access to a particular training course, event or service is available to all.

While the picture is complex and nuanced internationally, the criticism remains that Transition is still, in many parts of the world, a largely white and middle class movement. Many pieces of feedback from existing sources indicate this is an area of importance and relevance for the Transition movement to continue focusing on.

Addressing injustice

There are many examples of how Transition groups and hubs are addressing injustice across the movement. These include practical mutual aid and solidarity, alongside anti-racism awareness raising and incorporating anti-racism practices into groups that enable participants to engage and talk about the subjects, rather than avoid them. From the Transition 2020 survey, 25% of respondents indicated that they had some or meaningful/significant impacts in the area of 'Addressing social injustice', and 14% respondents indicated that they had some or meaningful/significant impacts in 'Developing anti-racism strategies and practices'. However, at least 70% of respondents reported that both addressing social injustice and developing anti-racism strategies were not areas that they had focused on, or areas that were weak and needed developing. The survey and the discussion groups revealed a desire to address these areas. Transition US has funded six local Transition projects through our Community Resilience Stimulus Fund, facilitated two online trainings (Regenerative Leadership and Social Justice) Transition US Hub.

Some initiatives have integrated ecological and social justice, for example Transition Town Tooting[1] in London has “drawn in a mix of people in what is a wonderfully diverse and dynamic part of London.  It's opened up space for people who want to get involved, in a creative and positive way.” Cooperation Humboldt[2] has incorporated practices and teach-ins to unlearn white supremacy, working with community health and people in recovery and on disaster response.

Some Transition 2020 survey respondents called for the Transition movement to take a clearer stance on social justice and equity, highlighting the relationships between transition and food justice, migration, social welfare, and social inclusion. Other respondents questioned the inclusion of social justice, alongside broader concerns about whether a dilution of focus could weaken the movement.

Impacts of the Transition movement on social justice

Examples of impacts of the Transition movement on social justice included being involved in supporting refugees. For example:

 “There's a spirit of proactivity (the idea that "if the government doesn't do this, we'll do it ourselves") that's been spreading in Belgium. The best example of it is the citizen-led Platform for Supporting Refugees[3] In the absence of a government response to refugee inflows, citizens have organised autonomously, in a non-hierarchical structure, and have been providing essential, life-saving services to migrants in Belgium” (BXL en Transition).

members of our group are active members of Flintshire City of Sanctuary and we have recently introduced 3 Syrian families to our community garden, and one has started working with us. He is a chef so we're trying to arrange work for him locally once he has his food hygiene certificate" (Transition Holywell & District, UK)

 “involvement of schools, community groups and broad range of Tooting's faith groups, also refugee support groups and working in partnership with Tooting many many brilliant community organisations and groups”. (Transition Town Tooting[4])

Working with low income communities

Some Transition groups work with low income communities, such as:

Here we developed the beginning of a transition project in a very low income community, and subnormal settlements (favela) that continue to this day. they developed an awareness that brings them together in groups to create medium and long-term projects. This has been going on for 10 years and the meetings and projects continue to take place.” (Transition Vila Mariana, Brazil)

"The Edible Garden" at a local primary school has been particularly successful and has introduced the concept and joy of growing and eating fresh veg to one of the most deprived areas of the town.  It has encouraged ownership of allotments, and provided a little employment (funds raised by TTB) to keep it going.  The veg from the school garden is cooked for school lunches and during summer holidays was taken to a local food bank". (Transition Bridport, England)

In light of food scarcity issues, the Extra Row concept helps get food out there to people who need it.  Also connects the community (volunteers) to the local farmers"[5] (Transition town Jericho, USA)

Cooperation Humboldt’s (USA) food projects included Mini Gardens (small food gardens for low income residents), and Little Free Pantries (neighborhood hubs for resource sharing)

These are examples of projects where Transition groups work with communities of deprivation where the relationship is more with beneficiaries of rather than participants in Transition. This dynamic was raised as a question that would benefit from further reflection.

Developing anti-racism strategies and practices

Groups also gave examples of developing anti-racism strategies and practices.

14% of respondents to the Transition 202 survey indicated that they had had some, or meaningful/ significant impact in this area, for example Cooperation Humboldt (USA) offered “Somatic Practices (body-centered seminar to unlearn white supremacy)” .

32% of survey respondents recognised that the area needs developing. For example: “we have a largely white, middle aged, middle class membership/volunteer base. We know we need to work harder in 2021 to involve and represent a more diverse span of local residents” (London, England).


Themes of social justice, equity and diversity emerged throughout the Transition 2020 survey and in the discussion groups. Some survey respondents and discussion group participants expressed frustration that social justice and diversity was not a big issue within Transition. Many respondents highlighted the need for greater diversity and equality within the existing movement; and the need to broaden and diversify engagement.

The opportunities and potential for Transition to address social justice, and how the Transition movement relates to and works with social justice and systemic oppressions were clustered into three main themes, which are summarised below.

1. Having a more diverse Transition movement, attention to power and privilege

There was a strong message in the Training for Transition report[6] for Transition to directly address issues of inequality, including racism: "Self education work needs to be done by White facilitators/trainers to address unconscious bias, to directly address racism and understand the racialized experience of diverse communities, for example in the USA.”

Chilean trainers interviewed in the Training report spoke of the importance for Transitioners in the global North to understand and respond to the need for decolonisation in our movement: "In my view, the transition in Europe or North America must be accompanied by a reciprocity with the underdeveloped world. What I have to say is that their development is thanks to the underdevelopment of Latin America and Africa. Part of their transition has to include the return of resources and capital and energy to the places they have plundered for so many centuries. And without that, their transition is no longer a true transition."

“The perspective from which we spoke was that the transition movement is emerging from the Western worldview, which has contributed most to the crisis..."

The work of addressing injustice and decolonising approaches has begun in parts of the Transition movement, for example through the Transition U.S. Social Justice Community of Practice, and new work starting in the Transition training circle to design parameters for more flexible, locally relevant and inclusive training and learning opportunities.

Some respondents highlighted how the collaborative culture of the groups could be used, e.g. “One of the priorities could be nurturing collaborative culture that is non-bureaucratic and agile, while developing capacity to integrate minority and diversity (including decolonialization).” (Croatia). Respondents also raised the importance of recognising “allies in different territories” and encouraging the diversity, potential and local identities in the activities and needs of Transition groups across the globe, particularly the groups in the global South, for example: "Recognize the diversity of visions and paths to advance resilience and regeneration. Understand that the concentration of population and opportunities in urban areas is a challenge to be faced. Recognize the potentials in the global south and other regions outside the epicenter of the transition." Attention to narrative was also highlighted, with the opportunity to “Embrace the new awareness of climate change, biodiversity loss and social inequality by showing practical pathways for people to take action

2. Working with aligned organisations and movements

The survey and discussion groups explored questions about how Transition relates to social justice and decolonisation, and what the role of Transition is. This presents an opportunity for learning from within and beyond the Transition movement, alongside organisations who are working with these issues. It could involve acknowledging and signposting to organisations working on campaigns / aligned movements.

Some survey respondents suggested that the Transition movement needs to engage with “people from a broader range of backgrounds and start to integrate efforts with social justice movements”, thus building relationships and alliances with such movements. Other respondents suggested that support should be provided “to any initiative that works to reduce social inequality”.

3. Goals and impacts

Many respondents aligned carbon reduction and action to address the climate and ecological emergency with social justice issues, so they can be tackled together. For example: “ equitable net zero” and “change the tracks for systemic change on all fronts of social and ecological injustice, leaving no one behind”.