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Keenan’s Paper on Denying a Personal Affairs Leave

The good news is that Keenan has started blogging.  If the reason that you come to this blog is that you are interested in the inside story about what is happening at Twin Oaks, then you are quite likely to be more satisfied with Keenan’s blog which is mostly about those types of issues.  If you are looking for news about nuclear power, thoughts on polyamory, Funological analysis of trasnformative festivals or grading of our events, practical critiques of contemporary anarchism or what the front line is of growing the communities movement in eastern US cities, then you probably want to keep coming back to this blog.

Keenan, Marta and i at the Flying Lounge, Twin Oaks NYE party circa 2010?

Keenan, Marta and i at the Flying Lounge, Twin Oaks NYE party circa 2011?

If you are looking for proper spelling and good grammar, well thought out and argued positions on community policy, a rational long look at what make the community tick.  Then Keenan’s blog might be a great choice for you.  And of course you don’t need to choose, you can check out or subscribe to both.

Below are the first few paragraphs of a recent post he wrote which is nominally about not granting a leave to a member who left the community under a cloud of upset.  But really what it is is an explanation of how planners make exceptions to policy (or not) and how we are not a democracy, but something more interesting and hopefully more fair.

“No, you can’t come back.”

This is a paper I drafted as a community Planner.  The decision to deny a member a year-long leave was controversial, so I had to explain it very carefully and with a great deal of thought. It should be self-explanatory.
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The Planners stand by the decision to deny Bert a Personal Affairs Leave (PAL)



Some background to this decision: Bert left Twin Oaks in October of 2007, moved all of his stuff out, bought a house, bought a car, got a job, gave up his room and stopped turning in labor sheets.
 
Before we get to the policy details of why the Planners are denying Bert’s  request, we wish to frame this issue within a larger context. One purpose of the Plannership is to serve as a backstop for Twin Oaks policies. Frequently, the Planners are asked to make an exception to some policy and we occasionally grant it because the situation before the Planners is not adequately covered by the policy. Planners don’t like making exceptions to, or overriding written policies. But sometimes policies are poorly worded, sometimes they are incomplete, sometimes they are meant to cover one extreme situation that is unlikely ever to occur again. So it is up to the Planners to bring their judgment to bear on any application of policy to insure that it is not at odds with the well-being of the community as a whole, or the well-being of any individual member.
 
Planners make sure that the application of policies passes the muster of common sense. If a policy fails to cover the situation at hand, then the Planners have more than the right, but the duty to interpret, create, and make exceptions to policy. Most often exceptions are granted in the form of being more lenient. But exceptions can also be made in making the application of policy stricter.
 
            In the case before us, Bert is asking for a PAL. Bert has been gone from Twin Oaks for six months already and his PAL request means that he could be gone from Twin Oaks for up to another year and return as a full member with no further process. This request seems inconsistent with our policies, but it also seems inconsistent with the wishes of the majority of the community.
 
But the desire of the majority will not always carry the day. Twin Oaks is not meant to be a democracy. Our culture and policies strive to provide more protection for an individual than is the case in a mere democracy. Twin Oaks is in opposition to the tyranny of the majority. As a community, we also have chosen to protect the rights of minorities—even a minority of one. The Planners must always keep in mind in making a decision how this decision will affect the life or well-being of the “losing side” the minority. Even a minority or one must be protected if the loss of rights would be significant enough.

To see the rest of this article click the link below.

“No, you can’t come back.”

 

 

 

 

Cyptrographic Cat

i like writing about the contrast between communities, because it is illustrative of the choices we make and the different cultures we craft.  It has taken me over a year to write about this particular topic, because it was a secret for most of that time.

"You don't talk about Fight Club"

“What cat?”

For a number of good reasons and some poor ones many communities place restrictions on the numbers of some types of pets which can be in residence.  Twin Oaks for example, limits the number of dogs to 4 and the number of cats to 10.  Dogs pack and thus howl at night, the number 4 was believed to be below the packing threshold (which it seems to be).  Cats have a high impact on local wildlife, birds, mice, moles etc.   In the egalitarian communities approved pets are budgeted for.   And while every pet must have a sponsor who is responsible for their welfare, the vet, food and other costs are paid for collectively.

One down side is that many people have allergies and try as we might, pets get into public spaces and make the lives of people who can’t share spaces for them difficult.  i am lucky and don’t have pet allergies, but i am highly aware of how we collectively basically discriminate against people with pet allergies in favor of the pets of some members.

One day when i was in the smoke shack at Acorn a grey cat strolled in who clearly felt like this space was theirs.  The cat was aptly named Fight Club, because it was a stray which had been adopted by some of the members and it was above the current cat limit.  So we just did not talk about it.

Fight-Club-movies-quotes-rules

The idea that a public cat could be a secret intrigued me.  i watched with interest as the Fight Club story unfolded.  The advocates for the cat were quick to grab the first cat spot which opened up for Fight Club when another cat departed when it’s owner moved on from community.  And despite the fact that the cat was then (and now) legitimate we kept the name. Good names are precious and this one had a lovely story to it as well.

Late last year, Acorn spawned Sapling.  At first it was a residence of Acorn which was not on the main campus.  But we knew it was quite likely to become it’s own community, since that is what most of the Spalingers wanted.  We agreed on a number of rules in the beginning to make it easier to sell the property in the event that the experiment did not work out.  One of these rules was “no pets”.  Sapling is now it’s own independent community (and there is a guest post in the offing describing it).  But a few months back when i came to visit Sapling a dog ran out and started barking at me.  When i asked what the dogs name was i was told simply “That is Fight Club”.

 

 

Who will build the roads?

Errico Malatesta was something of an anarchist super star, if such a thing is not self contradictory.  Toward the end of his life, he was so popular he could draw crowds in the tens of thousands to hear him speak.

His political career started early, as a boy he was arrested for writing an “insolent and threatening” letter to Italian King Victor Emmanuel II.  Many nations would look unfavorably at Malatesta, he was forced to leave Italy, he was blocked from entering Syria and Turkey, he was expelled from Switzerland.  He also opposed syndicalism because he believed it created an elite class of trades people.  He would spend ten years of his life in prison.

Malatesta was first arrested at 14

Malatesta was first arrested at 14

But it is his ideas and not his personal history which i find especially compelling.  One of the many compelling points in his short book “Anarchy” was:

Anarchy literally means “without government”. It has taken on the common secondary meaning of “disorder and confusion” only because people have been conditioned to believe that the abolition of government is impossible. In the days when people believed that the abolition of monarchy was impossible, the word “republic” carried a similar meaning to “anarchy” today.

I find it fascinating  that the people who control language choose a second meaning for the name of the style of government/self rule that they were afraid of with chaos and disorder, both for Republic a hundred years ago and for Anarchy today.

anarchy is not chaos

 

30 years ago i went to the Arcosanti community in the dessert of Arizona.  When i was younger i was fascinated by the dense building ideas of Paolo Solari who was the original designer of this extraordinary community.  When i was on the tour, someone kept explaining to our guide how this type of venture was impossible and would not work, they described all the businesses that they personally needed and how they could not see them there.  A blindness i would consider a failure of imagination.  

 

where we are going we dont need roads

 

 

Most people can not imagine work environments without bosses and hierarchy.  This failure of imagination leads them to think that these things are not possible.  And everyday i am at Acorn i am amazed, pleased and impressed by the business which we run that has no managers or bosses, dynamically determines much of the work which needs to be done and still comfortably succeeds in supporting the community.

There are dozens of answers to the question “Who will build the roads?” The fact that some people can’t visualize how this would be done, does not mean it can not be done, it often just means that people have poor imaginations or are wedded to the status quo.

 

Step outside the box

Step outside the box

 

 

Would you wear it?

i breezed into commie clothes and got a funny t-shirt which i barely read.  After walking around in it for half an hour and a couple of people saying, “are you wearing that to the wedding?” i decided i should go back to commie and upgrade my attire.  On my return trip i found a nice embroidered light weight shirt, which was praised by several people after i emerged with it on.

The next day i walked into the Acorn smoke shack and guest Johnny said, “Oh i like that shirt,” to which i replied, “Would you wear it?” to which he unhesitatingly shot back, “yes!”.  I immediately pulled the shirt over my head and handed it to him.  He stripped his shirt off before a slightly shocked new visitor and put the embroidered one right on. The total length of our exchange was less than 2 minutes.  i walked off wearing his simple green t-shirt.

Johnny and his new shirt

Johnny and his new shirt

The pitch i made to the PBS reporter who was just here is we basically have two choices: we can learn to share things, be generous and cooperate, OR we can continue to be selfish, possessive, and untrusting.  In the latter case, the world dies.  Let’s practice giving stuff away in a big way.

 

The easiest virtue

When i was in my early teens i thought (for some reason which escapes me now) that i should be more virtuous.   i did a bit of research and found a long list of virtues in some book (this is before Wikipedia would direct me here).  Having studied the list and being an efficient sort of teen (not wanting to have to work the new virtue problem too hard), i settled on patience.  My thinking was this, all you have to do is wait.

Turns out in my particular style of parenting, patience is the key to success.  Twin Oaks requires an increasing amount of work from it’s kids as they get older.  Willow needs to work a handful of hours now and it will bump up to 8 hours a week when he turns 13.  Mostly he is responsible for his homework and education.

My Tupelo Surf Helper and Mop

My Tupelo Serf Helper and Mop

For a while time i was worried that Willow would play video games and watch Star Trek and resist both school work and work around the community.  Over the last few months he has been doing more of both.  Hawina has been instrumental in helping him find work that he actually wants to do.  Like helping Sky with preparing lunch or doing a Tupelo Serf (cleaning shift) or boxing tofu or stocking his residence’s kitchen.

And good things come to those who wait.  And the big benefit to the more patient approach is that he feels he is making the choices (which he is), rather than being commanded by his parents to do something.  And some times the easiest thing to do is the right thing to do.

My favorite moment from this Tupelo Serf shift with Willow was after i asked him to help me spell something he said “i love it when adults ask me how to spell things.”

[Willow has Read and Approved the Post]

 

 

Cultural Third Rails

Éric is from Québec.  He was very excited about income sharing community as an alternative to the previous IT jobs he had had in the main stream.  Hard working, handy and politically progressive the early money was on Acorn enthusiastically accepting him as a member.  Turns out that would have been a losing bet.

Some signals don't translate well.

Some signals don’t translate well.

It started with touching.  In Montréal and other parts of Québec people put their hands lightly on other peoples shoulders when they talk to them.  Acorn is clear in our information to visitors that there is a very strong consent culture here and you can’t just touch people without asking them first, even in this seemingly simple and harmless way.  We are supposed to stress this in our introductory tour of the community as well, but it appears Éric never got this tour.

So as he did in his country, Éric held peoples shoulders when he was talking to them, until someone told him that he needed to stop this.  At first he did not understand why, this is quite different from where he comes from, and he even made a couple of mistakes after being told.  But when one member got really upset with him for this, he realized that he needed to change his behavior to match our cultural agreements.

Room privacy is sacred

Room privacy is paramount

Then there was the issue of rooms.  Éric was helping with the electrical repairs connected to the arson recovery.  We were just about to buy the final supplies to complete the electrical in Heartwood.  Éric asked if he could go into one members room and they replied “Fuliano is sleeping in there, don’t waked them up.”  He thought this meant he should avoid waking the person in the room and gather the timely information in a very quiet way.  Only to walk in on someone very surprised about his presence there.

Éric appreciates the strong culture of trust.  What he missed is that part of creating this culture here is that there is rigid cultural zoning.  You can’t go into someone’s room unless they give permission explicitly.  He thought he was being helpful.  Here again it took a couple of mistakes before he realized that this was actually quite a big deal to people here.

It is not as dense as Hong Kong, but there are similarities

It is not as dense as Hong Kong, but there are similarities

Commune life is dense.  Even in a relatively small place like Acorn (with 30 members and a dozen guests and interns) there are people in public space almost all the time.   I am oft surprised at the 5 AM rush hour which takes place in Heartwood, with some folks getting up for morning chores, others going to bed after a long night of partying and still other sleep anarchists who might be in the middle of their temporally shifted day.

One of the most frequently cited reasons for leaving community is wanting to have more privacy and more independent control of your things.  We try to accommodate these needs by having exclusive norms around people’s rooms.  Mala tells a story of playing tag with a bunch of small Twin Oaks kids.  It was quite a lively game with running around everywhere and yelling.  Mala ran into her room to escape being tagged and every kid ran and then stopped abruptly at the threshold to her room.  They each asks “Can i come in?”

Navigating the commune culture can be tricky

Navigating the commune culture can be tricky

There were other small problems with Éric which ultimately derailed his application.  Acorn uses the selection algorithm “If it is not a clear ‘yes’, then it is not a ‘yes’”.  Most people were confident that Eric would learn from these mistakes and not repeat them.  But the collection of them combined with other discomforts made him joining not a clear yes.  Some members were frustrated, because they felt like we were not clear enough.  But in the end it was Éric‘s choice to leave, he did not want anyone to feel uncomfortable about him being there.  Most people would not have seen this and pushed for what they wanted.  It is another thing i appreciate about Eric.

Acorn for it’s part is putting together a list of these cultural third rails (as in “you touch, you die’), so that others can learn from both ours and Éric‘s mistakes.

Building trust is very tricky work.  Strong agreements around receiving consent for any type of touching and clearly defined personal space are part of feeling safe in a dense place without locks.  Adding to this confusion is that we are a very physical group with people touching each other all the time and breezing into each others rooms.  What Éric (and others before him) could not see is that these behaviors had been negotiated before he arrived, they can’t be presumed.

Eric and Audrey painting Heartwood at Acorn after the fire - Circa 2013

Eric and Audrey painting Heartwood at Acorn after the fire – Circa 2013

Originally, i changed the name and country of origin in this story, but when i sent it to Éric, he said he would prefer the story be told with his name and his land (not Poland which i had selected since it has similar casual touching as a cultural norm).

Acorn Land Day Photos

Even the goats dress up for the party

Even the goats dress up for the party.

Samantha dresses up just for parties

Samantha dresses up just for parties.

We built a lovely stage

We built a lovely stage.

And build a huge fire in front of it

And built a huge fire in front of it.

Some costumes were exotic

Some costumes were exotic.

Dragon and Luna

Dragon and Luna

Grace guest fees a goat

Grace Guest feeds a goat.

 

Calf checking out party lights

Calf checking out party lights.

Ca[f spooked by lights flees

Calf spooked by lights flees.

[Edited by Judy Youngquest]

Clearness versus Feedback

I am quite sensitive about comparing Twin Oaks to Acorn.  It is perhaps like trying to compare great books.  There is so much done right, does it really make sense to focus on the downsides?  And i firmly believe that propagandists (like myself) should be vocal critics, trying to make the ideas and experiments they are advancing be better.

So it is with some trepidation that i compare the different systems my two  communities use for dealing with problems between members or between a member and the rest of the community.  In theory, both approaches look quite reasonable.

At Twin Oaks, one part of the system we use is a technique called the Feedback system.  Someone does something outside our agreements (they don’t make their labor quota for a long time,  they spend more money than the community provides – creating a debt to the community, or they have other problematic behaviors) and they get a feedback called on them.  If someone is in a conflict with another member, there are a number of things which are supposed to be done before a feedback is called, including mediated face-to-face conversations between the people who are in conflict.  If this mediation goes poorly, a member can call a feedback on another member and if 10 members agree it is appropriate (by signing the proposal to call a feedback) then the feedback is launched.  If things are really bad, the feedback can be the entry way to an expulsion process.  But this is quite rare actually, perhaps happening less than every couple of years.

Twin Oaks Feedbacks are one person speaking before the rest of the community

Twin Oaks Feedbacks are one person speaking to the rest of the community

When a feedback is called, a date for the community to meet with the individual is set.  A facilitator is selected, if the focus person wants they can also have an advocate.  The facilitator of the feedback is clear that we are trying to create a safe space for people to express their views and concerns.  Usually, there is some mix of appreciation and critique of the person who has had the feedback called on them.  Their friends and supporters will often come to make sure they know that their are positive voices in the course of the community.  Usually the conversation is dominated by different members perceptions about what the problems with the focus person are and in some cases constructive feedback on how to address them.

When we coach people on how to handle feedbacks, it is generally about how to manage their defensiveness.  When someone gives you a critical observation, almost all of us jump to what is wrong about the critique.  This is exactly the wrong way to respond at a feedback.  Instead, you start by validating the part of the expressed concern which feels genuinely true to you.  You reflect back, ideally summarizing and using different language, so that the person with concerns feels heard.  And it is important to say how you disagree (if you do) but not in a charged and defensive way.

After listening to the concerns, there is a “Next Steps” portion of the feedback, in which the community investigates if there is something which needs to happen next.  Are we done with this issue?  Do we need a behavior contract with consequences if the problematic behavior repeats?  Do we think the problem is so big that we need to start the process of expelling this person?

At first glance this seems complete reasonable, especially in a one-on-one conflict there is lots of mediated conversation before the problem comes to the entire group.  And this is another one of those cases where completely reasonable is not quite as it appears.

Alternatively,  Acorn uses our clearness process to deal with these types of problems.  One important difference is that the clearness process is not an extraordinary process, it is the same process which is used by every member at least twice every year.  The other central difference between a clearness and a feedback is that the clearness requires one on one conversations with every member of the community.   After these conversations are finished there is a group clearness, which appears at first glance would be of the same form as the Twin Oaks feedback, but it is not really.  Typically, in the Acorn approach the inner personal heavy lifting is done during these one on one conversations and the group event is summarizing the set of (generally successful) conversations so everyone can get an overview of concerns and solutions.  It is important to note that this format is much more accessible at Acorn (which has a population of 30) than at Twin Oaks with it’s 93 adult members.

clarity

This process can also be used in an emergency, as with me recently where i was inviting guests in a way that made people feel run over.  Plus i had the misfortune of co-hosting Nero who set Acorn at fire.  It was not time for me to do one of my regular clearnesses, so we put together one that was principally focused on this particular problem.  I talked with everyone and other issues came up and even before we had the group clearness at the end, i was already feeling quite good about the groups response to my mistakes and feeling like the resolutions we were coming to would work for everyone.

all this and more

all this and more

From my perspective there are three critical differences here, all of which make the Acorn system generally preferable.  The first is that these clearnesses are part of regular life and membership at Acorn.  You don’t need to be messed up to have a clearness, though if you do mess up, it is a familiar tool for helping to decode that.  The second is that everyone is involved in a one-on-one conversation before the big group meeting. These can be facilitated, work i have done and enjoyed at Acorn.  Finally, the consensus underpinning of the Acorn system means members are seeking solutions which work for everyone.

We are a hot internet meme

My story, which i completely made up, is that during the time Occupy was raging across the land, millions of protest pictures went up on line.  Including this one:

sabrina occupy

 

Now a few years later, people are going back and looking through those images and finding ones which they think are compelling and reposting them.

And while it did not garner much attention when it was first posted, when Evolvefest reposted this image on March 28th, the interwebs got pretty excited about it.  It has been shared over 8,000 times in the last 5 days.  Twin Oaks is also getting people asking to join visitor periods because of it.

Though i am nominally in the transformational festival business, i had not heard of Evolvefest.  Which is an annual event in NJ (not northern Nova Scotia as originally reported).  Their Facebook page throws up literally dozens of images every day, but it is rare for their 90K FB friends to get as excited about an image as they did about this one.

For me what is important here is that effects of the Occupy movement are still lingering, largely invisible to the mainstream media which has moved on to the next hot topic.

 

 

NYC is like Crack

“Your organizing style exhausts me,” GPaul complained, and my occasionally defensive nature did not put up a struggle.  Even for me this event felt a bit like a bridge too far.

NYC proved intoxicating with its density and rapid possibilities.  In February, we had announced a discussion of the income sharing communities in Virginia and the new Point A project.   We announced it less than a week before the event, which was on a Tuesday night, and we did not even have a venue until 3 days before the event.  Still 65 people came (Facebook predicted 60).  Some powerful alliances were made.  At first GPaul and i thought these new connections had been more fortunate for our friends at Catalyst Community and other community/ecovillage projects which had participated in the event than they had been for us.  But we were wrong.

Catalyst Community has lovely images of futuristic communities

Catalyst Community has lovely images of futuristic communities

Elena and Beatrice and Teagan and Arrow and Andrew and Jaimi from the venue we presented at, the BUZ, all were huge helps especially in networking.  And in the face of this support i convinced GPaul that we should immediately turn around and do it again in March, only bigger.

This time we would announce it two weeks in advance, we would run a Friday night program of Transparency Tools by Marta and Roberto, and then 6 hours of content midday on Saturday.  Internally, we referred to this as a “mini communities conference”.  At the time we announced we had 6 workshops and a panel discussion on the schedule. We also only had one confirmed presenter.  And since all the content was either urban or NYC specific, unlike the February event, neither GPaul nor i could facilitate the material which we had proposed.

Then NYC decided we were interesting.  Three days after we announced the event nearly 100 RSVPs plus 40 maybes on Facebook were telling us they were coming.  What if they all come?  What if more people than this come, because there is more promotion coming and it is still 10 days away?  i started seeking more content, for an event that did not have a stable group of confirmed presenters for the initial proposal.  We added a Bridges to Burners workshop and one on the Lessons from Occupy as it relates to intentional community.

occupy-wall-st-alan-test1

“Do you have a lot of money?”  started one person who i was directed to as a presenter on gentrification.  When i confessed that we did not, they told me that there was nothing which could be done on gentrification without it.  i realized that this person was failing as an activist.  When you finish your conversation with an activist you feel like there is something that you can do to make the situation better.  Dis-empowering messages are the purview of policy analysts and wonks.  At the least, activists have stuff they want to try.  Gentrification was especially vexing because i did not have any useful experience with it and we had no direct contacts to people working the issue.  I was already feeling the crash of the NYC opiate high.

Fortunately, former Twin Oaks and Acorn visitor Eman agreed to present on gentrification and multiculturalism.  She simply laughed at the notion that without money we were helpless to change things. Eman is an amazing story in herself.  A long time NYC community organizer and fundraiser, she has lost both her legs in the past year to a blood clotting disorder.  She agreed to give the “solutions half” of the popular workshop.  To get her to these workshops required me carrying her up the several flights of stairs of this non ADA compliant venue.

Let's talk about multiculturalism and stopping gentrification

Let’s talk about multiculturalism and stopping gentrification

A week before the event Facebook was saying that we had 125 participants confirmed and almost 100 maybes.  I went and did a walk through of the space and then relaxed a bit.  There were additional rooms for workshops and BUZ organizer Jaimi would give up his personal room as a child care space or spare workshop space.  Even if we had 175 people, we were going to have enough space for 5 concurrent good sized workshops.

It is easy for me to write up workshop descriptions and put them up on a website.  It is another thing to fill the 15 odd slots on for panel discussions and workshop facilitators with knowledgeable people who present reasonably well.  And then there is this little thing that i am terribly disorganized.

At the initial panel discussion, Andrew, who was working sound, asked “How many chairs and mics should we set up?” and i realized i did not know the answer to the question. One speaker had confirmed, two were maybes and several others had not responded to my inquiries.  And then some people who i invited surprised me and showed up to present.  In the end, five very different and quite engaging people presented.

The audience (and organizers) loved their stories.  These included avoiding unrelated persons occupancy restrictions by appearing to be a family.  The way the authorities determine this is if you have all your toothbrushes in the bathroom and no interior locks between bedrooms.

The CIA under Reagan brought crack and cocaine into the US

The CIA under Reagan brought crack and cocaine into the US*

I have never done crack.  Thirty years ago when i tried cocaine and it did not have much of an effect.  My girlfriend at the time posited:

You are coke are redundant.  You already have a huge ego.  You already think you are unstoppable.  You are already arrogant and pushy and in a huge rush.

This observation perhaps saved me from an expensive habit.    But the analogy with NYC lingers.  NYC comes on powerfully.  It gives you the illusion you can do anything.  It changes your internal clock and everything starts to go faster.  And then it dumps you out the other side, often not gently.

Only 80 people came to the final event (not counting the 25 who came to Transparency Tools the night before, which was the perfect size).   We lost a couple hundred dollars. But despite this attendance let down, we were all pretty satisfied with the content.  And we have new respect for this complex and occasionally deceptive city.

——-

* Wikipedia article on the Reagan Administrations confession to the CIA trafficking crack and cocaine revealed after the Iran Contra Scandal.

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