Will the Transition movement be the Tea Party’s next target?

Tea Party activist with sign

First, it was the birth certificate. Then Obamacare. Now, the Tea Party is coming after a new "socialist" threat -- sustainable development. Photo: Fibonacci Blue via Flickr.

Could Rob Hopkins become the US right wing’s next Van Jones? Could the Post Carbon Institute become the next ACORN?

Thanks to Rob Hopkins for sending around a silly Tea Party video attacking the Transition movement. It features Rob himself along with PCI as part of a United Nations plot to “take away your land.”

On the one hand, I smiled. On the other, I cringed, because I know that the Tea Party, as silly as they can seem, do mean business.

A big joke that’s no laughing matter

Where I live in rural Virginia, the local Tea Party is very active. They’ve already held one meeting in our town on how land use planning is part of the United Nations “Agenda 21” plot to take over the USA, involving all the usual suspects: George Soros, the Trilateral Commission, maybe even the Bilderbergs.

Their video now adds a new player: the Post Carbon Institute.

Meantime, back near where I  live in neighboring Albemarle County, a more upscale and progressive place which plays home to Thomas Jefferson’s University of Virginia and has already made official commitments to cut their greenhouse pollution, Tea Party activists have even appeared before the board of supervisors demanding that they remove Albemarle County from a group with the sinister name Local Governments for Sustainability (known for some reason as ICLEI).

It’s easy to laugh at this protest or the video or when you see on TV a bunch of cranky old white people pulled from retirement homes to stand in front of the White House with signs that say “Government, Hands Off My Medicare!

A front group for big corporate polluters

But behind them is lots of money from the same big corporate polluters who fund climate science deniers and helped kill the energy and climate bill last year, as flawed as it was, just because they oppose anything to do with fighting climate change. That money would be from the Koch brothers and other big polluters. They’re the ones with the real agenda — to protect their profits in oil and coal, and climate be damned.

Much as I hope I’m wrong, I fear this could be the next big push of the American right wing. And it could get Transition into the press in a big way. We should be prepared to present ourselves accurately and clearly.

This sounds like something invented by Jon Stewart. But if true, I guess that means we’re part of the conspiracy too. So maybe we can get some money from Agenda 21 then? Mr. Soros, are you listening?

Watch the video here. It’s less than a minute and guaranteed to make you smile. And then maybe frown.

— Erik Curren

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  1. svtransitiongroup says

    I am an active member/ founder of a local transition group, and I have no problem with these Tea Bagger’s trying to target us. At least the Transition culture has a basic plan. There is the energy descent plan, growing our own local foods. We can survive and by working together can keep our community in one piece.

    The Tea Bagger’s just run around the country blaming this group or that country for all that is wrong with america. They have no plan as to how to feed our citizens, keep the lights on, or any meaningful kind of employment, or way to lower the debt. The last time in history that I heard about somebody blaming another group for all of there problems would be Adolf Hitler blaming the Jews for all of Germany’s problems…. and we all know how that turned out.

    • says

      svtransitiongroup — If Tea Partiers really cared about freedom and community, then they’d help us all write Energy Descent Plans for our towns and cities!

  2. says

    I also live in a very conservative place, a former timber-focused town where many of the local conservatives have been deluded into being strident, beyond-reason advocates for policies that benefit the plutocrat class the locals will never be a part of. One thing I like about the transition concept is its potential to cut across political divides — ranchers, for instance, who tend to be conservative, can understand resource depletion better than most. But that said, I am not one to reach out to Tea Party people. With very few exceptions, they are ignorant, unreasonable, unjustifiably self-righteous people who see citizenship as involving an attack on those with less power that they have. I think the Transition movement should be focused on setting up a powered-down, localized infrastructure for those with the foresight to get on board, but avoid invoking government mandates as a way to make it happen more broadly. It should be for those of us who want it and not be imposed on anyone else. I just don’t have any desire to be part of a community with people who think Sarah Palin is a worthy “leader.”

    • says

      Art — I couldn’t have said it better myself. There are thoughtful conservatives, but I find that they’re NOT in the Tea Party, which just seems to be kind of a shouting club for angry lower middle class white people to speak against their own interests.

  3. says

    Damn! He figured it out! Our entire premise of trying to rebuild community resilience and powering down in a sustainable manner was all a front for taking land away from people! What will our nefarious plans have to be disguised as now?

  4. Radoje says

    So let’s get this straight.
    Tea Party thinks Transition is a left-wing boogy-man (BAD)
    Transition thinks Tea Party is right wing boogy-man (GOOD)
    Transition will fail so long as it remains a self-congratulatory enclave for left-leaning eco-hipsters. This is the main reason I’ve been hesitant to get involved in Transition. The movement claims to want to cut across political lines, and allow people to “tell their story”, but in practice it seems that anyone who doesn’t toe the correct ideological line is not really welcome.
    Transition should be an easy sell to the Tea Party set (or at least a challange to whether they are willing to walk the talk) Energy independence, localization, and community are things that I think many in the Tea Party could appreciate. There is an old saying that “iron sharpens iron”, and engaging movements like the Tea Party would probably be a healthy thing for both groups. Dismissing those that do not agree with you because they are “ignorant, unreasonable, unjustifiably self-righteous people” is an easy way out.
    Are you winning the ideological battle more important than making Transition successful and inclusive?

    • says

      I’m not sure you did “get it straight.”

      I’d agree that DIY, traditional and local things have crossover political appeal. But many in the Tea Party movement are actively saying that sustainability is a bad thing. If they are starting the conversation on that basis, who exactly is it that is failing to build the proper bridges?

      In fact arguing that sustainability is bad is tantamount to arguing that only excessive and wasteful consumption is good, which is, admittedly, a strange stance for anyone “conservative” to take. And yet there it is.

      • Radoje says

        Well if the Tea Party folks (and just to set the record straight, I have nothing at all to do with them, not my… cup of tea) are saying sustainability is a bad thing then would it not be in everyone’s best interest for the Tranisition Movement to disabuse them of this erroneous view of sustainability that they have (and I’ll be the first to admit that people in the Tea Party probably do have a very warped view of what sustainability means!)? Picture a chasm separating the two sides, with neither side willing to start building a bridge until the other side does. It is also worth considering the matter in the light of self assessment, after all it was once said “my enemies are my best friends, for they help me see my faults much more clearly than I ever could”. In other words, how much of the vision of how Transition should be done, in general terms, is simply to support my political bias? An honest Transition movement should contain element that are difficult for both people on the Left and Right to adjust to, in other words, we may have to both stop driving SUVs AND start carrying handguns, or something like that. Any movement that completely validates your personal lifestyle and political choices, while expect the “others” to make all the big changes, should be held up to relentless examination. This is not to discount the many , and sometimes extreme, changes people in the Transition movement have made to reorder their lives, but in the end, the SUV driver, who eats every day at McD’s, and thinks $2.00 a gallon gas is a God-given right, is probably going to have a much harder road to travel to get to the same place. So I suppose if nothing else, an appeal to compassion would be in order. Everyone you meet is broken, living in a broken world. How can we rebuild communities if we don’t start down the long and difficult road of learning to live with those we disagree with, and how to find common ground with them. This is a real problem with the mobility of modern society, we can easily surround ourselves, whether in person or online, with people who think and act just like us. Part of energy descent and localization is going to have to be how to learn to live together with people that we might never see eye-to-eye with.

    • says


      The Tea Party did the video and accused Transition of being part of a United Nations plot against American land owners. So I think people who care about Transition have a responsibility to defend themselves. If you don’t stand up for yourself, who will?

      As to working with the Tea Party, I don’t find it likely or promising. They seem to be mostly complainers good at throwing slogans around about “socialism” but offering no positive program. Any interest they profess in community seems hollow and unconvincing based on the public policies they consistently attack. Overall, they seem little more than a front group, funded by big corporations, for the interests of the most greedy and shortsighted of America’s wealthy: to steal from the poor and give to the rich, America’s future be damned.

      And the Tea Party’s stand on the environment, fossil fuels and clean energy? Please. How can a group that denies climate science (Tea Party) ever have any productive discussion with a group founded largely on community solutions to climate change (Transition)?

      As to crossing ideological boundaries, I’m all for it, as long as folks are trustworthy. And let’s not confuse a bogus corporate front group like the Tea Party with all American conservatives, many of whom are intelligent people of good conscience. Many show a genuine interest in DIY, simple living, back to the land, etc, often from a faith perspective (“creation care”). I love Rod Dreher’s book “Crunchy Cons” and recommend it to any Transitioner.

      I do agree that honest, self-motivated conservatives are natural allies of Transition and that we should break out of the lefty mold and reach out to them.

      • Radoje says

        Don’t get me wrong, of course the Transition movement would need to stand up to a hit piece directed at it. But if that is as far as it goes, then I feel it only serves to reinforce an “us vs. them” mentality. I don’t doubt that there is probably little hope in Transition having much luck communicating with the Tea Party (especially considering how inchoate it is to begin with), but that certainly doesn’t stop the Transition Movement from looking at the Tea Party platform and trying to communicate the ideal of Transition in a way that a Tea Party member could understand, because they obviously aren’t going to get it from FOX news! And in hallmark Transition fashion, it certainly doesn’t stop the Transition Movement from listening to the stories of people who support the Tea Party and trying to communicate the ideal of Transition on a personal level After all the Tea Party is made of people, despite the big money interests pulling the strings.
        Again in the spirit of (I hope) constructive criticism, I think it would be instructive to take the fact that the Tea Party is made up for the most part of climate-change deniers and unpack it a bit. Science in this day and age has become politicized (and it was probably always thus), and while that may have no bearing on the raw data, it does cause problems with who to believe, after all the oil companies and nuclear energy companies have their scientists too. It has been commented by greater voices than mine, that one of the real failings of the environmental movement has been to rely to heavily upon the battle of the scientific studies and the PR surrounding them. You then fall into a trap of utilitarianism, where we must “take action X because the climate is doing Y”, instead of focusing on an ethical or even metaphysical reason for why action X is right. Would the suburban consumerist lifestyle be ethically and moral defensible if by some miracle of technology trillions of more barrels of oil were discovered and big V8 engines could produce no CO2? I certainly don’t pretend to have the answers to the questions, but I think they are questions worth asking.
        Like I said i don’t really have a dog in this fight (politically I consider myself a Tolkienite Anarcho-monarchist…), but I would at least like the Transition Movement to take a look at the right and try to see something other than enemies. As Solzhenitsyn famously said, “the dividing line between good and evil runs through every human heart.”

        • says

          I think that while it’s important to be open and inclusive, there are certain people who just aren’t going to get onboard. It’s a fact of life, you can’t please everyone. I don’t think the Tea Party is ever going to accept Transition because it goes against a lot of their values.

          As for your discussion on the philosophical, we also have different interpretations than those in the Tea Party. For example, they would see our consumerist lifestyle as progress because of the economic growth it allowed us to achieve. Those in Transition would argue that consumerism came at the price of a lot of social costs.

          That said, I am not interested in making demons of the Tea Party. I guess the best idea is just to ignore them.

  5. Auntiegrav says

    Some interesting discussion. When it comes to the Tea Party, we have to consider that it is like arguing against religion. Freedom from government costs is a belief system, not rational thought in any civilized sense. What comes to mind is the old saying, “Never try to teach a pig to sing, it wastes your time and annoys the pig.”
    Trying to teach Sarah Palin fans to be sustainable when they only think in terms of jobs and money and consumption is irrational. Their idea of “eco-friendly” is a bait pile in the backyard. In a world where decisions are based on monetary idealism, rather than physical reality, the only real solution is to get prepared for a big failure of that system. As people become more needful and less comfortable, they will first look to old belief systems (capitalism is the belief in capital), and when those systems fail, they will be forced to learn about real cause and effect. Sometimes it sticks for a while, but usually, a mob/majority is formed that jumps on the bandwagon playing “You didn’t believe HARD enough.”, and after everything crashes around them, they blame the crash on uncontrollable or random idiosyncrasies of life (whiskey drinking, homosexuals, darkskinned people) and proceed to violently rebuild their righteous icons of faith again.
    The transition movements will sooner or later have to decide if they are going to hunker down or prepare for a stand-up fight in public. Unfortunately, the intelligentsia which created this wonderful movement is not going to be inclined toward preparing for the inevitable violence of human nature, anymore than the people who have actually done the research on climate change are ready to tell the whole truth. The whole truth is more frightening than the “alarmists” even imagine because even the alarmists just want to make noise within certain boundaries. Nature’s tipping points couldn’t care less about our propriety and politics and whether or not the “public” can handle the truth.
    The “public” is the face of consumerism; the Tea Party if you will. Whether they are ignorant savages or brilliant revolutionaries doesn’t matter if we’re not grounded in the realities of nature’s resources. Most of the political discussion takes place inside an imaginary model that puts humans and their wants in the forefront, rather than in a place of dependency. As the Japanese pointed out before Perry’s fleet arrived, “This evil belief of Christianity is always used to force others into unfair trade systems.” White Anglo-Saxon conquest and supremacy is alive and well in the form of “American Interests”, just as it was 120 years ago. The Tea Party is about “Manliness” and American exceptionalism as the One True God of the planet. As with other Imperial ideas, it is usually only defeated after it burns itself out. In the meantime, keep your powder dry and your potatoes in the ground until you need to eat them.

    • says

      There is a huge history of scapegoating when things go wrong in a society. Transition can try to keep its head down, but I doubt we’ll be able to stay under the radar much longer. So we should prepare now to defend ourselves against people who are angry and just want to take it out on someone who seems weird to them.

  6. longnow says

    As homo sapiens begins to feel the squeeze of the bottleneck, and socio-economic, ethnic, and ideological groups feel increasing competetive pressure over the shrinking pie of resources, scapegoating, persecution, and eventually “cleansing” will become more and more common-place. The myriad of revolutions and civil wars that are going to play out across the globe, including the ODEC nations, not to mention national wars, as population groups seek to put food in their babies’ mouths will further facilitate this. As one of the initiating members of my town’s transition group, I have often suggested in meetings the idea of just getting the pragmatic work and the pragmatic changes done without needing to label it by the “transition” name, or bathe it in eco-hipster left wing nut greenwashing. Humans are emotional, not rational, creatures. And for the most part, uneducated and unaware of systems theory or natural resource limits to economic growth, let alone overshoot. Left wingers and academics are a minority in rural america. And poorly understood, often despised, and thought of as “prissy” by the bud light crowd. It is important to be conscious of what happened in germany, cambodia, rawanda, etc. It is part of what humans are. It is also worrisome, and sad, that most liberals, with good hearts, the good people, don’t know the difference between a .45 and a .30-06, or which end of a shotgun the stuff comes out of.

    • says

      longnow, We have a .12 gauge over-under in the closet. We like to shoot clay pigeons with it. I hope we’ll never fire on anything else. But resilience is supposed to include household prep, right? More seriously though, Transition does come out of lefty permaculture and environmentalism. But I hope we can truly reach beyond our roots and build bridges to conservatives of good will as well.

  7. says

    I’m pleased that good friend of Transition Voice, Michael C. Ruppert, has given his own comments on this article at his site, CollapseNet. As he says, “As collapse continues its aggressive pace it has always been inevitable that our movement would eventually become a target, especially as it has grown to attract large numbers of people.” Read his provocative thoughts here:


  8. Bloomer says

    The right will marginalize, demonize, ridicule, insult and distort any views that doesn’t echo their own. We live in the world of spin. It is so difficult finding the truth. I enjoy sites like this one because I can read articles from people who views are not totally motivated by the lust of money. Mainstream media looks at the world through an economic lens. We live on a planet where everything is a commodity. The tea baggers are symptomatic of a very sick society.

  9. Patricia Benson says

    Dr. Naomi Oreskes wrote the book “Merchants of Doubt”. She explores the thinking behind the climate change/peak oil naysayers and how it evolves into a plot for ‘stealing your land’. I attended a workshop of hers at Will Steger’s Summer Institute in 2010, and she developes the argument that ties the work of climate protection advocates to communist-type control through government intervention. She does not support their conclusion, mind you, but seeks to understand how they think. It is a good read and has helped me think about how I’m framing messages. Transition seeks to address fears, and in the US it seems we jump into tangible projects much easier than the heart & soul component of the movement.

    I’m actually surprised they picked on Transition. If anyone addresses climate change issues without emphasizing a government policy control approach, I think Transition does. This feature of the movement is precisely why I started promoting Transition in rural Minnesota. FOlks here care for the land, for the environment, but resist being told how to care for it by some government beaurocrat who has no personal experience with or connection to the place they are creating policy to control. Transition provides a coordinated means of expressing their concern in tangible actions. I’ve not been particularly impressed with big government efficiency myself, and think the closer to home we have authority to address the environmental challenges at home, the more likely it is that we’ll succeed. Think globally, act locally?

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