Tim Stevenson of Athens, founder of Post Oil Solutions, was among the 400,000 marchers who flooded the streets of New York City in 2014 to call attention to the urgency of climate change. Stevenson is the author of a new book, <i>Transformative Activism: A Values Revolution in Everyday Life in a Time of Societal Collapse</i>.
Olga Peters/Commons file photo
Tim Stevenson of Athens, founder of Post Oil Solutions, was among the 400,000 marchers who flooded the streets of New York City in 2014 to call attention to the urgency of climate change. Stevenson is the author of a new book, <i>Transformative Activism: A Values Revolution in Everyday Life in a Time of Societal Collapse</i>.

‘The valuing of life itself’

Author and organizer Tim Stevenson of Athens prepares to launch a new book, ‘Transformative Activism,’ on the spiritual maturity required to change today’s world

ATHENS — Tim Stevenson, a potent, intelligent voice on climate change and cofounder/director of Post-Oil Solutions (postoilsolutions.org), has published his second book, which launches this month.

Transformative Activism: A Values Revolution in Everyday Life in a Time of Societal Collapse (Apocryphile Press) is, according to a publisher's release, “an effective guide to growing into the spiritual maturity we need to be agents of transformative change in a collapsing world.”

The book “invites us into spiritual practices that foster the human liberation we seek,” the publisher says. “Rejecting the notion that political solutions are the answer to political problems, Stevenson looks to our inherent goodness and capacity for love.”

Stevenson, author of Resilience and Resistance: Building Sustainable Communities for a Post Oil Age (Green Writers Press, 2015), has published an impressive body of essays and articles in Vermont publications including the Brattleboro Reformer, The Commons, and VtDigger.

A lifelong activist and community organizer for peace, draft resistance, welfare rights, social justice, and feminism - and speaking out against nuclear power and, most ardently in recent years, the climate crisis - since he moved to the area in 1978.

By that point, he'd “burned out” on activism that had been driving him since the mid-1960s.

“In those days,” Stevenson recalls, “I discovered that the conventional activist model of confrontation and adversarial behavior was wearying.”

“There's something wrong here,” he'd thought: “activism doesn't have to be like this.”

Having been introduced to Buddhism 40 years ago, the basic tenets and values of that practice soon “became the centerpiece of my activism. Rather than trying to control and exert “power over,” Stevenson moved on to “accept life as it is and work with that toward liberation,” he says.

“I don't consider myself a Buddhist,” he's quick to add. “I'm not part of any system or institution; I'm a spiritual activist.”

* * *

Stevenson's call for “transformative action,” basic to Buddhist belief, centers on the essential value of being present - here and now. Since he's probably more passionate about climate change than anyone I know, I asked him how being present could boost climate change amelioration.

“We can't necessarily look for a solution,” he responds.

“What matters is acting within the moment, doing the best you can, being the best person you can - and that's enough. Do all you can as a climate activist in how you live day to day, moment to moment, in relationships, in encounters,” Stevenson continues.

“What it means for me is what I feel activism is about: the valuing of life itself - human or non-human,” he says. “That's all I can do; it's all any of us can do.”

Stevenson, a father and grandfather, recalls: “I saw a ladybug floundering in water the other day. I took a spoon and let it out. It's an instance of life, a spark of life. I need to try to value life everywhere - as much with those whom I don't like as with those I do.”

Embracing one's foe changes the paradigm, Stevenson asserts. That non-violent behavior is demonstrably different: “We're calling upon heartfelt goodness in all of us,” he says. That's a different approach to activism and to trying to affect change.”

“We should show we value the Earth and life, not through rhetoric, but in how we act,” Stevenson suggests. In the introduction to Transformative Action, he writes: “Through everyday acts of kindness and compassion, acceptance and forgiveness, generosity and altruism, selflessness and gratitude, modesty and humility, moral courage and personal integrity, we exhibit the necessary interpersonal infrastructure that allows for a moment of human liberation. These interactions with others - partner and family, friend and enemy, neighbor and stranger alike - are cumulatively central to realizing transformative possibilities.”

Transformative Action is, as is much of what Stevenson writes, addressed to activists - “but I can consider all of us activists,” he clarifies, “not just those out on the street.”

Activism, he believes, “can be within a family where people treat each other [well] - that's an activist, even if in a limited arena,” because, Stevenson says, “our social reality is forged in our everyday relationships and so, by skillfully practicing our innate values, we can prefigure the liberated world we seek.

“In this way, the behavior of activists is the revolution within the revolution, allowing for transformation not just in theory but in deed. It is precisely through this kind of practice that the foundation for human freedom can be created.”

* * *

The grassroots organization Post Oil Solutions - spearheaded by Stevenson and his wife, Sherry Maher - took form in 2005 from a group of citizens who were eyeing the ramifications of what will happen to the world, our economies, and our communities, so dependent on oil for fuel, transportation, and manufacturing, when petroleum supplies dwindle.

“We joined together to take our first, modest steps toward creating more cooperative, self-sufficient communities,” the organization says on its website. “Our goal is to learn about and develop sustainable practices in our homes, neighborhoods, and larger communities, so as to begin creating the infrastructure in our region necessary for a post oil society.”

Most recently, Stevenson facilitated the Iraq Committee of the Brattleboro Peace and Justice group, and co-founded BrattPower, an organization dedicated to promoting local businesses and opposing “big box” store growth in Brattleboro.

“You're someone who walks the walk,” I said to Stevenson when we met.

He quickly corrected me.

“I try to walk the walk; I stumble, make wrong turns, say the wrong thing,” he said. But in the end, with humility and compassion, he is a catalyst for change.

Transformative Action closes with hope and “the good news [...] that people have demonstrated a tendency to exhibit this exemplary behavior at catastrophic times when our lives were on the line.”

At this point, “spontaneously, instinctively, transformative moments emerge [...] and while it has been these everyday unacted-upon moments that have created the world we live in today, it is precisely these same everyday moments that, right now, provide us with the opportunity to respond to our present unprecedented crises with the moral excellence they require.”

There is, he writes, “a growing movement of citizens who get it. Who are working for the decent world that most of us want. [...] Every moment of life counts.”

* * *

A free book launch and reading takes place at Brooks Memorial Library in Brattleboro on Wednesday, April 26, from 7 to 8 p.m.

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