Interview with Susan Silber

Reader Contribution by Paul Wood

Interview with SusanSilber

What is the vision, mission and goals for the NorCal Community Resilience Network? What have been some of your successes? Some of your learnings?

The mission of the NorCal Community Resilience Network (NorCal Network) is to activate and support community-based and ecological solutions to climate change, economic instability, and social inequities. We seek to transform our homes, neighborhoods, and communities into vibrant, regenerative, and resilient places. Our work increases capacity for grassroots projects and programs, builds solidarity across divides of race, class, sector and region, and broadens support for the Northern California community resilience movement as a whole. Some of our successes include:

+ Building solidarity within the movement by putting the spotlight on permaculture educators and solutionaries from underserved communities:

The Network played a major role in producing the 2015 and 2016 Convergences at the Solar Living Institute, notably the most diverse and largest Permaculture Convergence in the United States. The Network hosted cutting edge discussions about Indigenous Voices and permaculture, recruited notable keynote speakers, and helped to raise funds to bring nearly 75 individuals from diverse communities to the Convergence.

+ Organizing work parties that introduce hundreds of individuals and dozens of groups to the community resilience movement, all while growing food, saving water, and building community solidarity:

We have co-hosted numerous work parties in collaboration with our partners, bringing in new audiences to build both gardens and community. And for three years, we have spearheaded the East Bay’s Community Resilience Challenge, inspiring thousands of individuals, businesses and government agencies to save water, grow food, and conserve energy as they build community. We worked with close to 40 partners to co-host events and projects, ranging from garden work parties to water conservation tours.

+ We are strengthening our own organization: We are currently in the midst of a strategic planning process to grow the organization into a diverse and effective nonprofit. In March, we are launching our innovative membership model—our “Circle of Collaborators”—with an initial core of approximately 30 community-based organizations and businesses. We are also expanding our Steering Committee and Advisory Board to reflect the diversity of the communities we serve, and are actively seeking funds to make the Network more financially viable.

We are learning all the time how many amazing projects and organizations there are there! We wish we could visit them all!

I see the need to integrate permaculture, transition, spirit, nature and mythology. Do you have a similar vision in the work that you are doing with the Network?

Yes, the Network is all about integrating and weaving in various pieces of our movement. Transition was born from permaculture, and permaculture is rooted in a deep respect for nature. Likewise, it’s my belief that a deep respect for nature is spiritual; while mythology helps to capture some of the magic that is present in all this work.

What does you mean by “our movement”? What would an inclusive movement look like to you?

“Our movement” to me is regenerative culture – permaculture design, food justice, living low-carbon and simply, supporting community and collaboration and connections. It goes beyond sustainability to really look at a whole systems approach that embraces the heart, the hands and the head.

Inclusivity to me means that everyone has access to jobs, resources and whatever it will take to build resilient homes, neighborhoods and communities. And that we look at every aspect of our movement – from providing scholarships to PDC’s to making sure that events are accessible for everyone, to prioritizing working on projects in marginalized communities.

One of the Principles in the Circle of Collaborators project involves environmental justice principles. What are these specifically, and what is your vision for integrating them into the Network?

To summarize a piece from the NRDC about environmental justice: People who live in polluted areas are most often living in poverty, and most often people of color. They are most often targeted to host facilities that are polluting. That’s environmental racism! You can find the core principles here, which were adopted in 1991. They are spot-on, and our Network will be taking a close look at them to see how we can best integrate them into our programs and work with our Collaborators.

Please tell us some stories from the last international convergence.

It was pretty intense first of all, merging with the North American Convergence this year. We had close to 800 people from around the country, with some from India and other countries as well. We hosted some really cutting-edge discussions, including a memorable one about decolonizing permaculture that Susan Park led and a panel discussion with Indigenous leaders. The music was super fun too – Jasmine Fuego tore up the stage with her Pop-up Band, among many amazing acts. I also loved listening to Alfia Walking Tree and the Thrive East Bay choir.

So, it was a beautiful combination of art and discussions, and was extremely diverse besides. Of course, it was a challenge organizing the whole conference in a matter of just four or so months so we had some logistical challenges, while it was insanely hot as well. But overall I thought it was a big success. We had a great time who really worked hard to pull it off.

How do social responsibility, social justice and permaculture values intersect?

Permaculture is all about earth care, people care, fair share – so they should all be overlapping!

How might the East Bay permaculture community effectively more effectively promote your events and projects? Can you please share any personal or “unwritten” rules of participation that the 900+ members could agree on in our listserv?

I think that it would be great to limit the back and forth of conversations, and to reserve any opinions or judgments for simply directly talking to the person. And to please try to limit the listserv just to announcements, and I would say that just one posting per week is fine. It is my belief that most people simply want to hear about announcements, but I could be wrong. Maybe we could have a separate listserv for posts about politics and people’s writings, I dunno.

The Network will be starting a blog and newsletter so we could help to make these announcements. The X-Pollinator platform would be great to use for promoting events and our conversations.

Are you partnering with local corporations currently?

Not extensively. It would be great to provide corporations with opportunities to support local resiliency efforts, from volunteering at various farms around the Bay Area, to donating resources. Many corporations really encourage volunteering, so this is a huge possibility.

What is your vision for a resilient thriving world, in the year 2045?

My ultimate vision would be everyone (and I mean EVERYONE) to live in a low-carbon world, with all of our basic needs met locally, and living in community if they want to. It would be great to have bicycles dominating our roads instead of cars, urban homesteads instead of suburban tract homes, local organic farms instead of industrial agriculture. Everyone working in their Right Livelihoods. And radical women of color at the forefront of our government and decision-making.

About the Oakland Palestine Solidarity Mural

Interview by Willi Paul Studio/

Susan Silber, NorCal Steering Committee Member. Susansilber07 at Susan was introduced to community resilience after learning about the Transition Movement and co-founded the Berkeley Transition Initiative five years ago. Susan was co-producer of the Building Resilience Communities Convergence in both 2013 and 2015, and Community Resilience Challenge for two years. She also worked as an environmental educator for the past 25 years, and is proud to have introduced thousands of youth to the joys of nature, working with the Green Schools Initiative, Hostelling International, the Peace Corps and other programs.

 All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.