One of the most important capacities of intentional communities is changing culture. This can be changing how people dress, how we report relationships at work, how we teach our children or how we observe holidays.
Valentines Day has always struck me as a broken holiday. It celebrates just one style of relationship, sets people up for too big or too small gifts of their caring, and creates many people who feel left out. Before I lived in community, even when I had a single romantic partner, I never liked this holiday much.
Many years ago, in response, our sister community East Wind developed Validation Day as an alternative. Every member is celebrated in the form of affirmations, no romantic partner required. Part of the celebration is the creation of cards. There is a great dance, often a kissing booth and the 6 creatures game.
The 6 creatures game is designed to take the rejection out of asking someone to hang out or even to make out. The idea is that leading up to the party (which happens around February 14th, famous worldwide for being my son Willow‘s birthday), people who want to play are given a ballot with the names of the others who want to play. There are options (represented by different creatures) for a work date, a play date, a cuddle date, to kiss at the party, hot sex and/or a relationship.
For anyone who is playing, you select what you may want to do with them. I might just want to kiss someone at the party. If they selected only a work date and a play date for me, we would miss each other completely, getting no matches with each other when the games were returned. But if I had selected a play date and kissing at the party, then we would match on the play date and both be informed of that only.
Regular readers will not be surprised to discover I play this game somewhat recklessly. I was willing to have at least a work date or play date with perhaps 80% of the people on this years 6 creatures game ballot. And in my experience, many of the created matches don’t actually get acted on and every year there are some surprises. Yet some of the matches turn out to be important, even life changing.
About 40 people decided to play the 6 creatures game this year, spanning four different communities in the area: Twin Oaks, Acorn, Sapling and Cambia. This is new; until recently only Twin Oaks members played. But as the movement expands locally, more communards want to play this long lever game.
Validation Day is a more internal holiday. Some events, like New Years Eve and Anniversary are big holidays where we invite lots of people to come. Validation Day is still a larger event, but it is more intimate people who know us better. You certainly should not come by without being invited.
I am spending the current Snowpocolypse in a place called Swan Point. It is a lovely Point A DC retreat which is hoping to do a bunch of things, including start the income sharing group in Washington. I am pleased to be hanging with such a clever, talented and motivated group. If anyone can pull off this perhaps impossible task, it is the likes of these folks.
And names are important and we don’t yet have one for the DC Point A community. Below is the list of names which have been suggested so far. You can put in your votes (6 yes votes and 3 no votes) for the names you like and those you can’t stand. You can reply either on Facebook (where this is posted on 1) my personal page, 2) The FEC Facebook page or the Point A Facebook page) or if you are not on FB at all, or dont want them to know what you think, you can leave a comment on this blog. You are also welcome to make suggestions for new names for the commune. The names currently on the list are:
Asylum for Idiots (What the first promising Point A DC site was originally called)
Georgia Flats (we are most likely to be near Georgia Avenue)
Salt Flats (we are likely on Morton St)
The Tower of Power
Anarres (the anarchist moon from the classic Sci-fi novel The Dispossessed)
Kat’s Cradle (for Kat Kinkade, founder to TO, Acorn and East Wind)
The Hanging Gardens of Morton St
The House of Common
Orbital Lifeboat Factory
K Street Extension
All You Can Eat Shrimp Just $4.99 (was almost sort of Batman‘s new name)
Morton Street Kommune
The Fortune Cookie Factory
The Anarchist Frathouse
Charismatic Wolf Leaders
Microcosm (making members Microcosmonauts)
Castle in the Sky
The Hanging Gardens
The A Ward
The Ward (we would be Wardens)
The Twin Towers
The House of Unicorns
The Communist Castle
500 Grumpy Anarchists
ACDC (an acronym for A Commune in DC)
Some of these names are crazy unlikely. Even tho i have an old lover named Styrofoam, the Point A folks are unlikely to choose this clever name. Nor (thankfully) does Communist Castle have much of a chance.
Help us Choose, by commenting on this blog or write on the Facebook Pages this article is posted on. Feel free to add your own names, we will likely choose quite soon though, so hurry.
Recently I found myself at a cuddle party. A consent cuddle party. One of those delicious events where “Consent is Sexy” Signs are plastered all over the wall. I found myself amused, yet unfazed by the display in front of me. A woman getting the same words on the signs “Consent is Sexy” (in Comic Sans) stick-a-po tattooed to her left butt cheek.
She looked giggled and we locked eyes. Now I was fascinated. She had the most fantastic eyes I had ever seen.
“What is your name?” I asked this beautiful angel of consent culture.
“Styrofoam” she replied.
I invited her to cuddle with me in the corner. She finished getting her buttocks tatted and joined me in the corner. One we were settled I proceeded to tell her my life story.. all the amazing travels I had, My alternative lifestyle, my numerous community projects and even repeated stories over and over.. because thats definitely not something that I do. This woman was opening up a whole new side of me..
She said.. “Hey didn’t we date like 5 years ago?”
I raked my mind for memories of ever dating someone named Styrofoam.. I could not remember that ever happening. I informed her of this.
She told me that her old name was Matriarchy and a rush of memories from organizing a community that ended up turning into a different project all together came to the fore front of my mind.
We decided to try a new relationship. This time where she had a new name and new hair and a new very sexy tattoo.
I love Styrofoam.
It is my personal desire to tangle work and play so completely that the things which I do for fun or inspiration are the things which are my vocation. So when my lover Abigail came to visit before New Years, I asked her if she was willing to do a workshop on Bystander Intervention at Twin Oaks and at the newly formed income sharing community in Richmond, Quercus. Abigail agreed to the workshops, not knowing what she was getting herself into.
Abigail does interactive theater. This means, among other things, that she creates workshops with role plays of problematic scenarios where participants are given the opportunity to practice intervening in the scenes and experience how they work. By practicing interventions, and receiving real time feedback about what works and what doesn’t, participants get the lived experience of stepping in as a bystander, and are more likely to actually intervene the next time they are faced with a situation where someone is potentially being harmed.
Bystander intervention is the idea that it is not enough to chat about how to create healthy and safe culture. When you see someone oppressing or threatening someone else, you have to do something about it.
The problem is, unlike physics or history classes, bystander intervention almost never has one right answer. Those willing to stand up to bad behavior have to evaluate the losses and gains associated with various strategies. It is never all gains.
I learned the three general strategies for addressing situations where a bystander should intervene. These are called the “3 Ds” and were originally outlined by Dorothy Edwards, Executive Director of Green Dot:
- Direct Intervention
Direct Intervention is where you take on the oppression straight on. There are lots of different ways to do this. In one role play, a guy at a party was trying to have sex with a gal who was intoxicated. He knew she did not like him sober, but was hoping “she would be frisky when she was drunk.” Ash from Quercus intervened by asking him if it would not be better for him to look for someone who really wanted to have sex with him. A question so obvious it was completely disarming.
Some of the most powerful interventions of the workshops were shocking. In a role play where people were betting on the gender of a new barista, Jillian intervened by asking the perpetrator, “Do you have a penis in those pants? You want to show us?” The shocked perp wanted to know why she was asking. She calmly replied, “You were so interested in what was happening in the barista’s pants, that I was curious about yours.”
Hawina, in the workshop done at Twin Oaks, did the slut shamers one better. After they had spoken briefly about how terrible one woman was who had been involved in multiple romantic interactions, Hawina stepped into the role play and said, “Yeah, well, it says in the Bible that whores should be stoned to death!” When the shocked slut shamers said this might go too far, Hawina replied that they seemed to be completely on board with the belief that women who were ‘too sexual’ ought to be shamed and punished. It was another brilliant and disarming example of a comment that made the perpetrators re-evaluate their own behavior.
Perhaps appropriately, during the workshop in Richmond, I actually had to do an intervention. There was a transient person who was hanging out at Quercus who was extremely drunk. His name was Glib. It was clear from even before the workshop that Glib was in no state to be a workshop participant and would be interrupting the event if we did not discuss his involvement. He was quiet for the first few moments of the workshop and then started his non-stop talking. I asked him to step outside with me and chat. It was not an easy conversation. He was occasionally defensive, he resented being singled out and being talked to. At moments our talk got heated, but we did agree in the end that if he could respect that people were there to attend the workshop and not listen to him, then he could participate. Mostly he stayed out of the event, but for the last 20 minutes or so, he attended and was respectful of what was happening.
Distraction has many forms. Often it is fast and simple. The intoxicated gal who the creepy guy was trying to seduce was rescued by one bystander who came in and said “It is time to go,” grabbed her hand and pulled her away. This is classic distraction. The perp is left without the person they are coming on to. It interrupts the problematic behavior, but not by directly confronting it.
The advantage of this format often is that there is fairly little risk, unless the target of the abuse does not cooperate (or desire the intervention). The intervener said that she has done this before with people she does not know. The danger here is if there is some interest on the part of the target in the perpetrator, you can end up in a tug of war with the perp.
Unlike direct intervention, distraction often leaves the perp without any strong message that their behavior was problematic. There is no “educational moment.”. And here the trade off can be, “Do I get my friend out of this jam?” versus “Do I try to take care of my community which has this problematic person in it currently?” Again, there are more trade offs. Getting your friend away may be all you feel like you have energy for. If you are in a bar or other public setting, it can be quite difficult to confront the perp in any meaningful way that takes care of others. And the risk of direct confrontation goes way up when you are sticking around to discuss or negotiate with the prospective assailant.
Delegation is the final tool and perhaps the hardest one to use in these anarchist identified communities.
During the role play of the drunk person at a party, someone jumped into the action and said, “I am her brother” (referring to the intoxicated woman). This was a lie, but it still might be an effective technique. Other possible persons for delegation are hosts of the party, or friends of the guest who is a possible threat. Just because you could confront someone, does not mean you should, and there are often more effective people to confront them.
One problem with delegation is that it disempowers the prospective victim. In the role play, when this technique was used, the target person did not feel comfortable having to depend on some external man to take care of her. Contacting the police may raise similar issues. Many communities are reluctant to call the police on their own membership, especially for minor violations. (That said, none of the communities I work with take the rights of survivors away, so the survivors can always choose to bring in law enforcement if they think this is best.) Adding to the complications of this work, you may not easily find a solution which works for all parties.
Both workshops went well, despite one needing an intervention. The role plays were entertaining, informative and got at key issues both times they were offered. What we found over the 90 minutes of discussion and theater was that people got more animated and daring as the problems became more deeply examined. And daring is definitely what is needed.
Well designed protests can be very simple. Rose Hamid is a Muslim American who recently attended a Trump rally in Rock Hill, South Carolina and dressed in simple Muslim head dress and with a T-shirt which said “Salam I come in peace.” The crowd turned ugly and she was shouted at until the police came and escorted her out.
There is a telling moment in her CNN interview when the interviewer said
CNN: Why would you even put yourself in that position, Rose, why would you want to be with those people?
Rose: Because I don’t want to think of them as “those people.”
So the first thing to point out is that CNN is actively participating in the division of the country here. It may seem subtle, a genuinely curious question asked by an empathetic reporter, but it is not. It normalizes the us vs. them mentality: there are good people (like you, Rose) and there are bad people (those at the Trump rally.)
Rose spent much of her time talking about what the real problem is, which is crowd effect. She spoke about the people around her who were “very nice” and supportive of her, but when the mood of the crowd turned, people (including those around her) started to get more ugly. Rose represents the best of America, a genuine desire to embrace differences and live together in tolerance.
This is rich intellectually. Her donning of a yellow badge similar to the Star of David with “Muslim” written across it reminds us that if we follow the Cruz or Trump plans for national registration of Muslims and banning their immigration, we will be mimicking the early stages of the Nazi treatment of homosexuals, jews and gypsies.
But there is something else going on here which is even more important. Like many, I have watched in disgust and amazement as Trump has gained further popularity with his incendiary rhetoric and embarrassing policy proposals. But there is a weakness in this campaign strategy that Rose has pointed out to us.
While there are many in the minority Republican party who support these racist and sexist proposals, this view does not reflect the view of the majority of the electorate. What this means is that this type of protest is potentially incredibly powerful. If the average voter keeps hearing about people being thrown out of rallies because they present as Muslim, this will be a racist turn off.
Anyone can walk into a Trump rally looking a lot like Rose. Only women would be able to wear the Hajib, but anyone could wear a yellow star and a printed T-Shirt. Either Trump has to allow the crowd to throw them all out (alienating moderate voters) or he has to tell his supporters to permit these people, undercutting his strong base of racists. The worst for Trump would be a supporter throwing a punch. And this is completely possible, crowd effects are very powerful.
I am often cynical about US Americans and the governments we choose. And while I am impressed with Trump’s ability to control media for free, I think the message won’t work after he wins the nomination (if the Republican establishment cannot wrestle it from him). And these simple powerful protests might just be one of the exit ramp from this toxic candidacy.