The following is a guest blog from our friend Morgan Fitzgibbons, a fellow proponent of local climate solutions here in California's Bay Area. He's one of the founding members of the Wigg Party, a community organization dedicated to transforming a San Francisco neighborhood from "business as usual" into a model for sustainability and resilience. Through his work with the Wigg Party, Morgan is working to develop a set of guidelines for transition that could be applied to any neighborhood, and he wanted to share his insights on how to organize a neighborhood with the 350 network:sites/all/files/bg_afterparty_0.png

In late 2009, a few friends and I got together and decided we needed to do something. Each of us were well aware of the various planetary crises – the onset of the sixth mass extinction, dwindling access to fresh water, incredibly unsustainable industrial agriculture practices, and, yes, the mounting dangers of global climate change, to name just a few. Each of us felt these global challenges demanded not only our awareness but some sort of action that could help win the possibility of a decent quality of life for future generations of humans. There was just one problem: these challenges were global in nature, and we were just a few friends sitting in a living room in San Francisco. How could we reasonably expect to make a dent in these planetary issues?

We knew we were up to the task of one very important and worthy mission – we set out to make our neighborhood more sustainable and resilient. Over a year later, we’ve crafted out of that original intention an influential organization called the Wigg Party. We’ve produced a number of successful initiatives and events, made a few mistakes, and have come to one very important conclusion: the future of our society depends on you doing the exact same thing in your community. We offer our story so that it may inspire you, help you figure out how to get started, and, most importantly, show you how great life can be when you stop asking others to change the course we’re on and get started on all the things you have the power to change today. Only when we have all begun to instigate transformation in our local communities will the “powers-that-be” make the important policy decisions required to avoid the pending cataclysm.
Over the past year, the Wigg Party has developed various programs aimed at making the community surrounding the San Francisco bicycle route the Wiggle a leader in the transformation to sustainability and resilience. While we produce various organization-wide events, most notably our monthly meeting/social event dubbed the Wigg Party Party, most of the work we do takes place in distinct working groups, each aimed at developing a specific aspect of a resilient community. These working groups are:

Sustainable Business – This group works to improve the business practices of the local merchants. Our main tactic in this endeavor is to produce events called Carrotmobs. We “mob” businesses from time to time because they are committing a percentage of their profits from the time we are there to reinvest in their business to make it more sustainable, whether that’s energy efficiency or buying more local food. We’re also developing a local currency. The key here is to use the potential purchasing power of a group to sway businesses.

Local Food – We like to call this the lynch-pin issue. You gotta eat, usually three times a day. If we can get people to choose to eat locally every time, then we’ve gone a long way to stopping the unconscionable destruction that is industrial agriculture. We partner with local urban permaculture farm Hayes Valley Farm to help teach people how to grow their own food, and we’ve developed a series of locally-sourced progressive dinners called the Urban Eating League to get people together once a month to eat locally, meet new people, and compete for some fun prizes. Changing our dietary habits is one of the hardest things to do, but it’s a whole lot easier and more fun when you’ve got other people doing it with you.

Re-Skilling – One of the biggest reasons we’re all living like there’s five Earths available to support our lifestyles is because nobody ever taught us anything different! If we’re going to ask people to stop buying a new wardrobe every season, then we better teach them how to mend the one they already have. Growing food, fixing bikes, pickling, canning, foraging – these are all things our grandparents knew how to do. If we want to stay clothed and fed post peak-oil, we better learn how to do them too. We host skill-share parties of our own, and we’re currently figuring out how to make all the free and cheap classes already happening all over San Francisco better promoted and attended.

Wiggle Transformers – This group is focused on sensible transit and creating public space. It’s about transforming the urban grid, originally designed for economic efficiency and the personal automobile, into something that works for a populace that will rely on public transit, bicycling, and good old-fashioned walking to get around. Our working group is focused on the Wiggle, both the primary bicycle route through our community (owing to its relatively flat terrain meandering through our hilly topography) and our organization’s namesake. From the beginning, we’ve been tireless in our advocacy for this critical segment of the city’s bicycle infrastructure, whether in the form of weekly protests at a particularly dangerous section (danger which happened to be exacerbated by a BP-owned gas station) or through building a broad-based coalition poised to make the Wiggle San Francisco’s newest landmark over the next half-decade. Breaking the monotony of the urban grid is essential to breaking the status quo.

If we can build on our early success and truly make some headway in these outlined initiatives, we’ll be much closer to living in a community that can continue to exist as the oceans rise, the planet heats, the biosphere collapses, and the global food system grinds to a halt. Obviously we’re not there yet, but we feel we’ve learned a few key lessons that will be essential as we continue to grow and meet new challenges.  Let these stand as axioms guiding you as begin your work organizing in your own community:

“If it’s not fun it’s not sustainable” – We cannot overemphasize this point. We don’t owe our budding success to any ingenious initiatives; we’re a thriving organization because every time someone comes to a Wigg Party event they meet a group of fun, exciting people and have a great time! The biggest challenge we face is getting people to take off their blinders – most people today are so busy in their day-to-day, they don’t have enough time to maintain social relationships, let alone solve the world’s ills. Part of your job is convincing people the cause is worth their time; the rest of your job is getting them to realize how exhilarating it is to be a part of a revolutionary movement.

“Connect with everybody” – Know this: there are many many people in your own community sitting around wondering what they can do to change the course of history just like you. Maybe they are your friends, your family, your neighbors or someone you had a chance encounter with on the street. Find them and invite them to get started. Find all the other organizations already working on this in your community. There are at least a few, I’m sure. Work with the people who don’t even care about the planetary crises, but whose interest is mutually beneficial to yours. Engage your local government officials – they want to solve the mounting challenges facing your community too. You do not need to, nor can you, do this alone. Your journey starts when you figure out how to align your effort with others’.

“Resilience is an attitude” – This work is exciting. It is often very fun. And it is always rewarding. But that does not mean it will be easy. You will have days when you truly glimpse the mountain you are trying to climb. If you are realistic about the challenge, you will even have days when you go to bed feeling like a complete failure. Know that these days get fewer and fewer as you get better at what you do. Know that this work requires of you an incredible will. Above all, keep in your heart the knowledge that what you do today will echo through history, and that every step you take along the way is part of a sacred unfolding.

“Have faith” – We live in a time of great uncertainty. At this moment, there is a genuine question whether the great human experiment, forged over 13.7 billion years of cosmic evolution, will come to an end before the end of the century. It seems to me we are faced with a choice: sit around and watch as the last tree gets cut down, or get out into our communities today to start the long journey towards creating resilient communities and a sustainable culture. Even given tireless effort and brilliant strategy, we can not know whether we will be successful. You must give up any desire to know the outcome or to be assured of success. In its place, you must cultivate a deep faith that this does not end with you, a faith in the world. This is the new covenant. It will serve you well.

The time for asking others to right the wrongs of the world is over. No great transformation has ever played out on a national or international level that wasn’t first preceded by a coalition of powerful grassroots organizations. You do not need to ask anyone’s permission to change your local community today. Start by getting a handful of your friends together, read up on some other organizations that have already had success, and, most importantly, learn by doing. Time is not on our side. We cannot know whether this movement will unfold quickly enough to mitigate true disaster. In the meantime, I’ll be working to make my neighborhood more prepared for crisis, more resilient, and a better community. What’s stopping you from doing the same?

The Wigg Party helped organize the Work Party at Hayes Valley Farm on 10/10/10, one of the most innovative community gardens that we've seen. To see the beautiful stop-motion video from the Hayes Valley Farm Work Party on 10/10/10, click here. For additional information about the Wigg Party and their neighborhood resilience model, write to [email protected].