This is number 2 in the randomly occurring series which extends the answer provided in the Twin Oaks website FAQ section. The first was on personal possessions. And this post appends to the answer given about our membership process. That answer is:
Basically, in order to become a member, a person needs to be willing to abide by the agreements of the community (e.g. no personal cars, our income-sharing agreements, and lots more). They also need to be able to fit into our social norms which, because we live so closely together, are quite particular (e.g. being sensitive to people’s “personal space”, being able to pick up social cues, being able to be cooperative and share control, etc).
The process for membership involves an interview with the Membership Team during a Three-Week Visitor Period. The interview consists of telling one’s life story, and answering questions about how one deals with various aspects of community living like conflict, anger, people with different values, etc. Then there is an input period during which all visitors leave Twin Oaks for some time, and have the opportunity to reflect on their experiences and decide if they really do think they want to live here. During this time, each member of the community has an opportunity to give input on the visitor (Accept, Visit Again, or Reject for membership). If there are outstanding health (including mental health) issues those will also be taken into consideration. The Membership Team makes the final decision about a visitor becoming a member.
While generally a fine answer, there are all kinds of things missing here. The first is the complexity of Twin Oak’s own visitor and membership process. We have no less than three separate teams inside the community to deal with this process.
Another thing missing from this answer is that pretty consistently for the last 4 years the community has had a waiting list. This means if you are in a big hurry to live in community (a state i would recommend no one be in) then Twin Oaks might well be a poor choice of places to come. Some communities permit accepted visitors to stay indefinitely after their visitor period waiting for a space to open up. Twin Oaks is not like this. If accepted, expect to wait 3 months to a year.
One of our stronger rules is that after your visitor period (if you are applying for membership) you need to leave the community. Usually, this is for at least one month. This is part of our “anti-cult” orientation. We want you after your visitor period to return to your family and friends. If they can’t convince you that the idea of joining a commune is a little bit nuts, they you can come.
And while it is true 95% of the time that that membership team makes the final decision on accepting, rejecting or visiting again a prospective new member, the remaining 5% of the time is interesting to consider. While i complain about the internal decision making process in the commune, there are numerous well designed components of it. How do we deal with splits within the community around membership? A minority of the membership can reject a visitor or provisional member trying to become a full member, but this minority can be overridden by the majority. One of the clever aspects of this policy is that the larger the minority rejecting someone, the larger the super majority must be to override them. At something like 27% rejecting a person, it becomes impossible for the majority to override the minorities decision.
One of the community agreements not explicitly mentioned in the above FAQ is working quota. During your visitor period you will get assigned a bunch of labor, including an incredible number of orientations. Including these, you need to work your 42 hours of quota a week. There are all manner of areas you can work in as a visitor. Reliably the kitchen has cooking or dish washing cleaning help to offer. We used to train people in hammocks, because they could always fill up their quota in this area. Though this is less true these days and some visitor groups don;t even learn how to make hammocks these days. And we are a bit unforgiving in this. You stay with us three weeks, if you are interested in membership, you better work 42 hours each week – or have some compelling excuse for not working (remember being sick is labor creditable – to a point). Visitors not making quota consistently lose their ability to apply for membership on that visit.
Another thing to be aware of is the commune has a second process step for people who are interested in membership who are 55 or older. One of the policies i most dislike is out Age Cap policy. It comes from an understandable place, when the average age of the community exceeds 43 years of age, we slow our acceptance of older members to not pre-maturely age the community. And the reason this is relevant is that Twin Oaks has a very clever pension system, which slowly decreases the quota of members over age 49 by one hour per year.
The other membership cap is around gender. While i think the community is increasingly well educated in the fluidity of gender (strong gender binaries are so twentieth century) we still maintain an existentialist policy when it comes to capping lopsided gender balances. Specifically, if we end up with more than 60% male, we cap our admissions of men until we become more balanced. It would be true for females as well, but this is not really our problem or any of the other FEC communities. For slightly inexplicable reasons, many fewer women apply for membership at Twin Oaks and of those who do apply, a significantly smaller fraction of those we accept decide to come. On the positive side of this imbalance (again for inexplicable reasons) women tend to have longer memberships on average then men.
Fortunately, in the 16 years i have been hanging around Twin Oaks, we have never hit this 60%/40% ratio, so unlike the age cap we have not implemented a gender cap to membershiping visitors. Unfortunately, East Wind has not been so lucky and has had well over 60% male membership for a long time, which gets in the way of the problem correcting itself.
For a look at some of the other restrictions Twin Oaks puts on it’s member, take a look at this post on our most controversial approval.
The game of Dominion is fairly popular at the commune. It is a dynamic card game, and a sister of Magic in that you build decks and the rules are changing all the time. These kinds of game are pretty complex and they are part of our informal home schooling curriculum. The fact that our kids want to play, because our adults are playing and because if they play well they can be peers to the adults, are big pluses.
When i first started playing Dominion with Sami he was not yet 5. Despite being involved in his home school efforts, i dont keep track of where kids are in the educational process by what age they are at. It is just not something i think about.
One evening Sami and some older kids wanted to play Dominion. We each choose some of the perhaps 200 different card types we have in the various expansions so we could create a game. Sami choose a couple of card types he liked as did everyone else. There was a bit of negotiating to get some better game dynamics on the board. All friendly negotiations.
Sami played well, i barely beat him and i was the overall winner. He got more points than several other kids and adults.
I was talking with Ezra, Sami’s dad, the following day (who Sami had recently beaten) and complimenting his clever kid. “Yeah, it is pretty impressive.” Confessed Ez. “Given that he can’t read the cards.”
“What?” i said
“He can’t read yet. But he really wanted to play. So he memorized all the cards so he could play.” Ez explained.
“But there are like 200 different cards, and some are crazy complicated.” i was amazed.
“Like i said, he really wanted to play.”
Over the years, they’ve been hired by a long list of impressive and, for an anarchist collective, unlikely seeming clients. Then, in 2006, they were approached by one the biggest banks in Latin America and Spain. It was suffering from organizational malaise and wanted help for fueling innovation in its ranks. Las Indias took the job and, after analyzing the situation, decided, like the good transnational anarchists that they are, that the bank was suffering from two major ills: they had too much hierarchy and they were too divided nationally. The prescription was simple and radical. They insisted that the bank stuff -more than 120,000 workers- should learn to talk and work out of the hierarchy with a focus in internal open conversations rather than communication segregated by nation or department.
As part of this wave of rediscovery, with workers rediscovering their own environment and the future living inside and around it, the bank financed the first book series of collected of essays by living authors released under Public Domain in Europe. The books, on such at-the-time arcane subjects as P2P systems, the sharing economy, and workers’ transnational cooperativism, were both free for download as ebooks and as a paper edition. The commercial success of the print version was a rare and surprising success in the Spanish editorial scene: even though everybody had the option to have them for free as e-books, thousands of copies of every single title were sold in traditional bookshops.
However, anarchist transnationalist organization was a bit too much for the bank in the long run. The “Innovation Department” who contracted las Indias closed (their members were all promoted) and the bank turned progressively towards a flashier policy of buying dotcom businesses and trying to integrate them into the existing organization. Emphasis on internal conversation was decreased and emphasis on promoting external blogs and marketing was increased. In 2010, after a few years as a successful but then orphaned experiment, they closed the internal blogosphere, the first massive conversational space in a big worldwide organization.
The bank weathered Spain’s financial crisis in 2008 relatively unscathed. Las Indias suspects that the reflection and innovations fueled by the open conversations had outside of the structure of the hierarchy helped them to avoid dangerous policies then common in other banks. Las Indias walked away from the project, but with a recognized and salable experience that later opened doors for them to more big institutions and businesses of the European Union and Latin America.
We are returning for another Point A trip to NYC. We in this case is Belladonna Took, Aster, Gpaul, Angelica and myself, all from Acorn or Twin Oaks. On the way up i am reminded of our recent trip and the tales tangled with it.
One of my favorite stories is the Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. It has a contemporary Alice through the Looking Glass feel to it where figures of speech become characters in the story and a fair morality is woven among amusing chapter long vignettes. If you have a kid you read to and you have not read this story to them, you should share this together. Central to the story is the idea that main characters have a secret which they are not telling Milo, the hero of the story, and they will only tell him when he returns from his quest.
When Milo returns from his harrowing quest they reveal the secret about his mission which is “It was impossible”. But he could not be told this at the beginning of his quest for it would discourage him. Our experience of NYC is sort of the other way around. When we explain the Point A project to people some excitedly tell us “That is fantastic, you really should do it. And it is completely impossible.”
i am only beginning to understand this mentality. It comes in part from long term urban activists seeing all the wonderful institutions they love vanish with time. At the front line of chronicling the demise of the city is Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York. This blog‘s subtitle is The book of Lamentations: A bitterly nostalgic look at a city in the process of going extinct. This blog is also one of the best sites i have found describing gentrification (which is actually dead) and hyper-gentrification (which is the current genetically modified version of the problem).
When i asked one of our NYC allies what this meant, they briskly proposed this translation. “It means they are not going to help you.” Further elaborating they said “They don’t want to be discouraging you, but they are presumably busy with ideas which might work, so they won’t be wasting time on your plan, which won’t.”
We are definitely outside agitators. i find myself taking a crash course in New Yorkers. They often show up late, they have crazy busy lives (i have heard people – including myself – saying they were “double booked”, it was not til i spent time in NYC that i heard someone say they were quadruple booked), they have complicated housing situations. Many identify as artists and a surprising number express interest in having more community in their life.
Any insights into this crash course in urban culture i find myself now taking are appreciated. The best place to talk about them is this excitingly unfolding Community Matchmaker event in Brooklyn on Oct 18th.