Interview with Transition North Brooklyn (TNBK) Organizer Charlotte E Binns by Willi Paul, willipaul.com
“I came to Transition because, as an agnostic without a church, I have craved community with purpose my whole life. I believe the Transition movement, with its unique community-focused model, has the potential to meet that need.
I want to start with the caveat that our group has had a total of 3 exploratory meetings. Most communities have many more than that before they start to really embark on any plans. We have not had a chance to do much yet but start to figure out what we might want to be, and who is even at the table. But we have had some very good conversations, so I have an idea of where we are heading. “
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Please enjoy the following interview with Charlotte by Willi -
Please define prosperity and resilience?
To me, people have achieved prosperity when their basic needs are met such that they can have a healthy work-life balance. I get my nourishment from good work as well as community relationships.
I consider resilience a lack of dependence. There are degrees of this of course. On the one hand, one does not want to be resilient in isolation like the Doomsday Preppers. Not only is that lonely, but it is significantly more difficult. On the other hand, our current reality makes us utterly dependent on so many complex external systems that can be devastated by foreign powers and corrupt bankers. A course correction towards a middle path would encourage more local economies and discourage unnecessary and excessive environmental destruction in the forms of resource depletion and shipping to name a few. Then we are thinking in terms of not only local resilience, but planetary resilience.
Is sharing and re-using resources part of the TNBK action plan?
Our action plan is still being formed, but this is certainly in line with the ethos. Our latest conversations have been about how we do not want to repeat the work that other organizations are already doing - how much overlap there already is and how preferable it would be to try and create bridges and collaborations. Our group happens to be made up of a lot of marketers, so our thought is to offer value by aggregating, editing and marketing all things sustainable in the neighborhood - businesses, talks, events, opportunities to volunteer etc. We want to create a hub for existing resources. I suppose you could call that re-using resources.
You write: “Transition is an entirely volunteer-run grassroots movement to form resilient communities in the face of climate change and economic instability. “ Would you consider a corporate sponsor like Coke or Nike?
I would be surprised if Transition groups ever have direct relationships with big corporations. Something like this might come to pass, however, by way of collaborations with other organizations and events.
What kind of disasters are you working to support? Does this not require multi-governmental resources and planning? What resources do you need to have in place?
We are not a government body. We are a grassroots movement, not unlike Occupy. Our main method for preparing for a crisis is in building community connections. Through my Green Block Party initiative, I have already met dozens of neighbors that I never knew before. It is through knowing our immediate communities that we will know, in the time of a disaster, where the doctors are, who has the generator and who needs help getting down the stairs.
And I would like to think we would emulate or team up with Occupy after the next disaster. After Sandy, it was Occupy who quickly organized and brought food and supplies to the people and projects in need. While government bodies and big nonprofits were chasing their bureaucratic tails, Occupy was nimbly delivering results.
What is included in your Neighborhood Resilience Map & Plan?
We are just beginning to work on it, but we want to start by recognizing the good work being done by nonprofits in the area. We want to map and list businesses and restaurants with sustainable practices. We want to aggregate event listings for all things sustainable so that we can begin to focus attention and dollars on the local endeavors that foster resilience.
Thanks to our many industrial warehouses, we happen to have an extraordinary amount of rooftop gardens in Williamsburg and Greenpoint, so we punch way above our weight for an urban area where food-growth is concerned. And the local hipster culture seeks less commercial and more “authentic" products like second hand cloths and locally sourced and minimally-processed foods. So there is already a lot of movement away from the highly dependent, disposable, mass consumerist culture, and so lots of resources to add to our map.
What forces if any are working against TNBK?
New Yorkers are largely over-worked all day and then spoiled for choice of potential activities at night. It is very challenging to get attention and commitments. But we are developing a plan of engagement, including a speaker-series and social documentary screenings. We have teamed up with a local community organization Town Square Inc. to help put on the Go Green Greenpoint festival, an annual centerpiece of all things sustainable in North Brooklyn.
Have the Green Block Parties proved successful?
We have not had one yet, but I have reached out to everyone on my block to organize the first one this summer and that has already been a joyous experience. My son now has a new friend for playdates that does not even require him to cross a street! And I found support for my local PB efforts.
How will Participatory Budgeting (PB) Work for TNBK?
I took up volunteering for PB because I think it is a tremendous exercise in democracy - allowing the local community to decide on how to spend $1M of their own tax dollars. It should be said that the Transition movement prefers to stay away from government and the TNBK group at large did not get involved in PB. Rather, I built the website for TNBK and added project pages where I posted my PB proposals. I did this because PB is a brilliant way to build local community. Many PB groups will organize around shared environmental concerns, so that is a natural place to get the word out about Transition.
Indeed, by creating proposals for the ballot and then working to get out the vote, I connected with hundreds of people on the streets of my neighborhood who expressed great appreciation for the work. In short, you are offering people city funds for their local senior centers, parks, roads and schools and all of they have to do is vote. I met and talked to so many people that I would never have otherwise. People who looked scary or wary when I approached them but were soon warm and fuzzy. I tell you, it was a love fest.
Are there incubators in NYC for social service groups, like the ones in the profit sector?
Very good question. Can anyone tell me? That would be wonderful.
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Charlotte’s Bio –
Charlotte E Binns is a social entrepreneur with a passion for community-building.
She has been featured in numerous publications including the Huffington Post for a spotlight on Benefit Corporations. AdAge described her company, Call2Action, as a top woman-owned tech start-up, and Fast Company's Allyson Kapin named it one of the "25 Women-Run Startups to Watch." Charlotte has spoken on numerous panels including at Columbia University, Techweek, the European CSR Awards and the Social Venture Network on topics ranging from Leading Trends in Digital Philanthropy to Innovative Online Marketing for Socially Responsible Businesses.
Most recently, Charlotte was the founder and CEO of Call2Action, a SaaS platform that offered advocacy and marketing tools for social issue campaigns. Clients included the APSCA, Participant Media, March of Dimes, Susan G Komen for the Cure, VWF, CARE, Oceana, The Humane Society, Feeding America, Chrysler, National Down Syndrome Society, Columbia University, VFW, GLSEN and others. In May of 2014, Charlotte sold Call2Action. Call2Action was one of 13 pioneering companies to become a Benefit Corporation in the State of New York. Prior to Call2Action, Charlotte worked in advertising and documentary for 7 years and wrote, directed and edited several award-winning shorts. She also worked in new media building innovative, educational websites for Columbia University, her alma mater, where she graduated magna cum laude.
Charlottebinns at gmail.com
willipaul1 at gmail.com