There are all manner of messages which we want to get out to the world and recently myself and my comrades working on the Point A project have been thinking about what messages people are ready for.
On our most recent NYC trip we realized that we were making it sound harder than it really is to become income sharing. “They don’t need to have a cottage industry.” GPaul said, “They don’t even need to live together.”
Indeed, the only thing which stops people from becoming income sharing is a lack of trust. If you trust each other, you can change your agreements and begin taking care of more needs cooperatively almost immediately.
We started thinking about a workshop that would explain this. But what do we label the workshop?
I wanted to call the workshop “You can become income sharing now!” But GPaul and others thought it was not compelling enough or it was too abstract. GPaul even questioned whether people would know what income sharing is. GPaul’s rework was “Communism Now! Why wait for the revolution?” Alarm bells went off in my brain.
Communism is dead. Sorry, it is a political non-starter, worse than anarchism actually (tho not as bad as Stalinism and Fascism). Many progressives and almost all liberals do not associate it with a quasi-utopian desirable state.Nothing jumps to mind to salvage the title, since I get your meaning and there is not an obvious substitute (Utopia Now!, Equality Now! Community Now! all don’t work).
I both agree and disagree: Communism is dead to some people, perhaps even most people, but communism is not dead. The question here is “who is our audience?”. We have many possible audiences. One audience could be radical leftists. When giving tours and explaining the communes to folks I’ve been leading with “anarchism” and “communism” for years and getting surprisingly little shock or pushback. Radical leftists are one demographic that is more likely than others to be interested in what we are offering. We can aim a workshop at them. They will respond differently to the word “communism” than other people. For other people we might have to rebrand this workshop. For other people this might not even be an appropriate workshop (we might have to begin with “why should you want to share income?” in any of its various permutations).
I remain skeptical, but I am curious what my readers think. Some readers will be glad to hear that this blog is finally getting reorganized. Specifically, the portion of the blog which is about community life (including the Point A work, the Virginia egalitarian communities, Freedonia and other underground efforts, Commune Snapshots [images with few words], the Communities Conference and advances in sharing techniques) may be spun off and turned into its own blog with its own domain name.
I was thinking of the name CommuneLife.org – but other experienced communards thought the name “commune” was too dated, too distant and too misunderstood and untrusted. When we talked to twenty somethings, they had no baggage around the word commune and thought it might be cool. The Fellowship of Intentional Communities actually uses the word commune as a name for income sharing communities and lists 166 of them under this category.
Again, feel encouraged to weigh in and discuss your thoughts about this.
Crow screwed up. They recently acted out in a way that had made people feel uncomfortable and some even unsafe. It could have been any of a number of kinds of things: An intoxicated incident, a minor consent violation, a petty crime, even an especially poor choice of guest. The specifics don’t matter. Crow knew that they had created a problem for themselves with Acorn and they were coming to me for advice. What could they do to make things better? How could they mend their frayed relationships with other members? At Acorn this answer is easy, you do what we regularly do, you have a clearness.
And it turns out that this is a very good thing. Many communities have self care mechanisms that feel punitive. As i have written, the Feedback system at Twin Oaks very often feels punishing, even though it often need not.
But because Acorn does regular individual clearnesses, adding another one to normal rotation almost always feels accessible. The clearness format is the same as a routine clearness (meetings with each individual member, checking in about their experiences of each other, and then a group clearness which summarizes all the individual clearnesses).
The lesson is clear here. When you are designing self corrective systems within a community, you need to consider how they feel to the users. It is not enough to insure the community is taken care of, these systems need to feel non coercive to the members who are going through them. The best way to have that effect is to have a familiar and non-threatening group communication facilitating tool. I think the clearness process is one of the better ones.
A week later i talked with Crow. They had done a bunch of clearnesses and felt much better about their connection to the community. They felt better understood.
The most common complaint about community clearnesses is that they take a lot of time. “Do i really have to talk to everyone else in the community one-on-one?” Only if you want there to be cohesion in your community. Only if you want to be able to fix significant mistakes people make and successfully rebound from it. You only need to do this if you want a healthy community.
For many people this is too much work and i think this is central to why so many communities fail.
Names have power. I spent years going to a summer environmental youth festival in Europe called “Ecotopia”. Regular participants consider themselves Ecotopians. We talked about “Ecotopian Principals”. When things went well, we marveled at the “Ecotopia spirit”. It was originally the title of a book by Ernest Callenbach, who coined it in his 1975 popular classic, which was a prophetic tale of the Northwest region of the US succeeding and reversing industrial capitalism. But the name quickly went on to mean much more to many people. If we had, for example, called it Summer Green Fest, we would have identified with it less deeply and it might well have died a decade sooner. Some of the best names are ones which occur organically. I remember when we were designing an all womens anti-nuclear office in Prague which was staffed by internationals. Emily said “Why don’t we just call it the Prague International Anti-Nuclear Office?” I said “don’t you think that is a little long?” She said “We would call it PIANO for short, the acronym.” Instantly there was no other choice, we just started calling it Piano from that day on. The Point A project wrestled a bit initially with what to call ourselves, we wanted a good name. But the more we talked about it, we realized that the communities that the project created would have their own names, identities and origin stories – so a good name would be nice, and i like Point A, personally. But it is not a brilliant name. Busy people compress things. Your goodbyes are shorter, repetitive tasks get shaved by seconds where you can and multi-word names you have to type repeatedly become acronyms. Point A has a growing number of specific urban sub-projects (including currently DC, NYC, Baltimore and Richmond). So i started writing Point A – NYC and then PA – NYC and finally PANYC. omg what a great name. We are often told “don’t panic”, not just in the context of the hitchhikers guide to the galaxy, but to maintain order. From where i sit, if we follow this strategy the chances for the planet to survive are vanishingly small. The people who want us to stay calm are often the same ones who think Climate Disruption is not a thing. They think business as usual is the way to go and they most certainly think that we should respect the powers that be and the current authority structure.
I could not disagree more. We need to be panicking. We need to be doing things dramatically differently. Business as usual is suicide, convenient and lucrative for a tiny fraction of the population, certainly. But no less suicide for the planet and everyone we care about. Well see if the other folks in the project are as excited as i am by this name and the implications. But i have a spring in my step just thinking about it.
Supermarkets are hugely problematic. They distort purchasing behaviors, contribute to obesity, cut wages to farmers and more. There have been several responses to this situation, including farmers markets. The direct workaround for supermarkets is Community Support Agriculture or CSA for short. CSAs have customers buying shares directly from farmers and typically every week they get part of the harvest in a box they go pick up. When harvests are good, customers share in the bounty, when harvests are low customers agree not to complain, and as a result, they feel like they are in the game together with the farms.
CSAs give better prices to farmers by cutting out the powerful broker of the supermarket. They provide money faster to farmers, earlier in the season when they often most need it. They share the risk between farm and end consumer in a way that supermarkets have no interest in sharing. They typically offer better profits for farmers and lower prices for end customers.
Our fine friends in Freedonia have taken this idea to the next level. [If you don’t remember Freedonia is our pseudonym for actual urban communities which are doing clever but illegal things in undisclosed locations.] They are starting Community Supported Dumpster Diving (CSDD) or what one communard calls Community Supported Gleaning.
Active dumpster diving collective households pull in dramatically more food from dumpsters than they themselves can use. Other collective households agree to sort, clean, prep, store and divide the bounty as it comes in (often at absurd o’clock in the morning). Finally a set of other collective houses come and pick up the recovered food and feed it to their people.
If you have not been dumpster diving in an urban area, you might miss the cleverness of this plan. Normally, dumpster divers are presented with a dilemma. There are 60 bunches of perfectly good banana’s here, but if i bring them all back 1) we will never eat them in time and most of them will rot. 2) We will spend a bunch of time cleaning and storing them and will end up losing out on other dumpster bounty.
CSDD solves this problem in several ways. Crews get sent out knowing their own collective household need not clean and consume everything they rescue. By having the different people doing food prep from the people who are doing the dumpster diving, you avoid asking exhausted dumpster divers at 3 AM to then spend hours cleaning and in some cases food processing all the bananas. By spreading the dumpstered treasure over several different collective households, you share pro tips, strategies and critical information about urban dumpsters among a growing crowd of experts and don’t burn people out by having to do so much dumpstering in an given week. By having separate crews doing cleaning and food processing, you rescue a greater fraction of the salvaged food.
There are complex discussions going on between Freedonia and other collective households. Who can join the CSDD? Is it possible to just buy shares (like in CSAs) and not do any of the work? How do we evaluate the different types of efforts, space needs, storage costs, administrative work etc?
But the Freedonians i spoke with said the project (still in early stages) is going fabulously so far, people are not sweating the details and are upping the collective dumpster diving game dramatically – dropping food prices for people living in cooperatives, reducing the amount of wasted food in the system and providing adventurous activities for people who might otherwise simply be sleeping.
i am excited about where this idea can go, and that it proves that by cooperating we can create a lifestyle which is both more resilient and more fair.
I am not into birthdays, including my own. Turns out if i simply turn off the Facebook birthday notification of mine, I can avoid the dozens of robotic “Happy Birthday” messages which I get from otherwise creative people who like me. I had a lovely birthday including a trip to the free STI clinic, an unrelated rushing around adventure and lovely conversations about forming new communities in Colorado. It felt like a good day to be alive.
As an anti-materialist, I am an unusually difficult person to get presents for. Most people don’t even try. With the exception of my generous mother, it was almost a gift free celebration. Lovely.
But as the day ended, in the last look at email messages I got the most lovely present from Audrey from the far reaches of Quebec. Audrey is one of those shooting stars we get through the communes, who enchant us endlessly but we can’t hold onto because they have other adventures that beckon them.
Without even knowing it was my birthday, she game me the most lovely of presents – a translation.
One of my favorite self-generated pieces of propaganda is a morsel of writing from way back called “Why I am an anarchist.” There is a strange history to this piece, which includes that it exploded the collective that was supposed to turn a set of these essays into a book. But that is another story.
Audrey appreciated this proclamation and mentioned when she last left Twin Oaks/Acorn that she planned on translating it. And I did not think much of it. People offer these kinds of things with some regularity, but translation is non-trivial work and can easily get lost behind the rest of the things you are doing.
I am pleasantly surprised and gratified for my multi-lingual friends who help spread these radical ideas around. What a lovely unextraordinary day to be alive.
While on the recent Point A trip, a hybrid group of Catalonyians and Acorn-affiliates met in the cozy basement room of a bodywork studio in Brooklyn. Paxus introduced this group of charismatic New Yorkers and communards to the transparency tools.
The Catalysts are an incredibly clever bunch. These folks know that if they do a good job crafting their agreements and cultural fabric, they can create an amazing eco-village. And while they are a fundamentally fun loving and playful crowd, community building is difficult work and they have been hard at it. Especially drafting written agreements- for everything. For land ownership, for the membership process, for the types of cottage industries that might happen, the mission statement- the tasks go on and on. Important, complex and often slogging work.
This is not actually what this group of people wants to be doing. What they want to be doing is falling in love. This is where the transparency tools come in.
I have experience with some of the transparency tools used, as I used to be part of a meditation community in DC in which we met 2x a month to have a sit followed by a discussion.
Often in this format and during retreats (which happen twice a year) we used the “If you really knew me…” and Hot Seat tools. I’ve already witnessed how effective they can be in bringing a group together, and it was no different with the Catalysts.
Frequently when starting, it takes a round or two of “If you really knew me” statements for everyone to start to open up. What was so beautiful about this night in particular was each person became transparent almost immediately. People were sharing their stories with each other so willingly and with so much faith that the group wanted to hear them.
We transitioned from “If you really knew me” statements to Hot Seats, the Catalysts asking questions and Paxus explaining the benefits of the many tools.
Due to the wacky Point A trip agenda and time constraints, we were only able to fit in three 5-minute Hot Seats. The group did an excellent job being clear with their questions and answers, and everyone involved continued to be engaged.
To wrap up the evening, Paxus began to explain the tools that go beyond being personally transparent and begin to create transparency in relationships. Specifically, these tools are Unsaids and Withholds. These tools can create space for resolution of conflict as well as giving members an opportunity to appreciate one another. They are also notoriously tricky.
This point in the evening is when things really got interesting. Despite Pax expecting to solely explain Unsaids/Withholds and not try to do any that evening, members of the group began to use the tools without any hesitation. Several conflicts were put on the path to resolution within ten minutes, with the tools used practically flawlessly.
What then evolved seemingly naturally- after what could be seen as complaining or criticism of the Withholds- was the graceful move into appreciations, which were equally rich and revealing. As we left it was clear the group wanted more. The Point A crowd- which are in some sense carpetbaggers from Virginia trying to build community in NYC- felt like we had really done our job.
Triple Threat Tony is a small giant and regular editor of Your Passport To Complaining. She’s involved with the Point A project as an organizer/secretarial wench and hates celery almost as much as comma misuse. Trip, as she is known to her close circle of small giant friends, smells faintly of chocolate chip cookies and rocket fuel. When she isn’t dismantling the patriarchy or destroying capitalism, she pretends to be an Acorn intern.