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The most ambiguous word i use

“Who is this ‘We’ you keep referring to?” One Facebook commenter wrote recently.  It is a great question actually.

In this particular case, i was referring to the intentional communities movement.  “We” are consuming dramatically fewer resources than our mainstream counter parts, because we are sharing.

who-are-we

But i also use it identify Twin Oaks and Acorn specifically, as large, established, successful, income sharing communities.

These are the toothbrushes "we" use.

These are the toothbrushes “we” use.

i regularly refer to the anti-nuclear movement as “we”.

no nukes

Sometimes “We” is the infamous Star Family

co-dads-kissing

Often i use the word “We” to denote the entire set of people who want to change the world for the better.

If we can just think more about "we" than "me"

If we can just think more about “we” than “me”

Occasionally, it is the term i use to describe polyamory activists.

polycule

But of course the most simple approach is the just do the simple translation in your head.  When i say “We”, it is always safe to compress it down to simple mean “i”

Commune as Applied University

In a recent blog post comparing the experience of life at Twin Oaks (or Acorn) with that of the mainstream i said a number of things including:

More security, less privacy.  More community, less personal access to money.  More flexibility, less resume building opportunities.

Tree responded to this by writing a comment that said:

You wrote, “less resume building opportunities.” I disagree. For all but the few members who are abandoning some high-profile career path to be there, TO has way *more* resume-building opportunities than outside. Arrive knowing nothing, manage a major program within a year. Many members use that knowledge to get or create great jobs when they leave.

And, as is almost always the case, everything Tree says is true.  It is perhaps because i once came from this high profile career path that i answered this way. career path

The FEC communities don’t require you to arrive with any particular skills or money, instead what you need is reasonable to good communication skills and a willingness to learn things and work. We will train you.  And as Tree points out, the training is vast.  You can learn how to run a business, or a dairy program, or a to program computers, or keep bees, or fix buildings, or teach kids, or how to get arrested at a protest, how to milk a cow, or run a saw mill, or a sewage treatment plant, or make cheese, or build a straw bale, or plumbing, carpentry or auto mechanics (please come and learn auto mechanics!).  And this is just the beginning of the list. A number of young members have come after college and learned many of the things which a trade school would have taught, but in a more relaxed and self paced environment.  They build elaborate tree houses, learned to cook tasty vegan food for scores of people at once, how to fish or skin a deer. work and life balance What the flexibility of community living provides in these cases opens an entire world of assisted self directed learning.  The communities have basically open “Teach” budgets in which you can get trained in anything that you are interested in and the member who trains you gets labor credits for the skills transfer (you as a student do not get labor credits, unless it is something you are learning to support one of our regularly budgeted domestic or income areas).

Nurturing a spirit of inquiry.

Nurturing a spirit of inquiry.

So Tree is right, if you are not trying to be the Chief Technology Officer at GigaCorp or the Senior VP for Operations at DowJones Inc, then a stay at the communes will not set your resume back, and could well advance it if you are motivated enough to learn inside of this myriad of possibilities.

Famous for playing video games

Willow and Jonah in Al Jazeera

Willow and Jonah in Al Jazeera

i would be lying if i said i was surprised that Al Jazeera managed to catch a picture of my son playing video games.  He plays a fair few of them.  This was part of a slide show of pictures they took recently capturing community life, which is part of a larger article they did on the community, featuring Willows other dad, Sky Blue.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, Anissa (who is part of the Star family and was part of Willow’s parenting collective at one point) is capturing a little media attention with her son, Jed about kids eating the food they grow.  And treated like the rock star she is the New Zealand Herald is tracking her get aways to the city.

anissa and jed

[This post has been approved by Anissa and Willow]

How to get me to pay attention

[Update:  Rolling Stone has issues a lame apology for it’s poor reporting.  And people seem to think this changes much – it does not.  There are lots of reasons why, and the best summary i have found so far is here.  Thanks Abigail for the link.]

i tend to miss introverts who visit the community.  And so it was with Charlotte.  Acorn had a big visitor group and i had only heard her say a few words in the first couple weeks of her visitor period.

i had noticed that she was hovering around the edge of a number of the better conversations which pop up regularly at Acorn in the kitchen, or various living rooms or the smoke shack. And while she did not say anything, it was clear that she was listening.

Charlotte

Nine of us went to the anti-rape action at UVa which resulted in 4 communards getting arrested.

The way it is supposed to happen at an arrest action is the people who are risking arrest are trained.  They do a non-violence direct action workshop in which they roll play getting arrested including how to deal with different levels of threatening and physically assertive police.  You are given a lawyers number, often written in marker on your arm.  You are insured there will be people waiting for you.  If you end up stuck in jail, your plants will get watered and someone outside will be monitoring the system to make sure you don’t get forgotten.  And the reason we do all this is so activists will be prepared for getting arrested, so they wont have to worry.

Charlotte skipped all that.  No training, no prep, no reassurances, it was not actually even supposed to be an arrest action.  Instead of these things she just showed up with the conviction that rape is wrong and injustice should not be tolerated.  She also did not want her new friends to be arrested alone.  She stepped out of her comfort zone and into the arms of the begrudging police who kept telling us the action did not matter.

Except that it did.  I’ve never been in such a small remote arrest action which got so much press.  The New York Times, the LA Times,  The Washington Post, the International Business Times, Rolling Stone Magazine, Slate, NBC, The NY Daily News, Washington DC news, and a host of other media.  And the University is feeling the pressure.  They are talking zero tolerance, which of course means nothing if the system is broken badly enough.  But if the current pressure persists, it will quite likely break the institutionalized rape culture which has flourished inside the fraternity system.  And truth told, if there is anyway this broken system is going to get better, it is by people being willing to step way out of their comfort zones to express rage about it.

People are talking and protesting about rape on campus for the same reason they are talking and protesting about cops killing unarmed black kids.  It is a huge on-going problem and the system in place was relatively comfortable ignoring it, until now.

Charlotte saw this was wrong and stepped up to do something.  Now she has my attention.

Charlotte was active before she arrived at Acorn

Charlotte was active before she arrived at Acorn

Charlotte was recently accepted as a member at Acorn.  i am happy she will be around more.

Better than average questions

I often start tours of the community with the following rant:

You have two options today.  The first is that you can get a good tour.  In this, we wander around campus for 3 hours, and i tell you entertaining and informative stories, and you walk away thinking it was probably better than a movie.  The other option is you can have a great tour.  This however takes work on your side.  You need to listen to me for a bit and then start asking yourself “Why couldn’t i live here?”  This will result in you having a bunch of questions which are not part of my standard script.  When you start interrupting my endless rambling and start asking these questions, you will get a great tour.

We get thousands of questions in the communities movement, many of them simple and demographic (how many people, average age, average stay, number of years since founding, how many kids, cows, cats, etc).  Many of these are boring, at least to us who answer them all the time.  And answers to many of these can be found on the communes FAQ page.

And every so often we get some get someone really clever who is thinking about good questions and the stock answers just don’t have it covered and so it is with a recent student inquiry from Appalachian State University who sent the following set.

1. How has living at Twin Oaks changed your life?
2. What are the benefits and/or challenges of income sharing?
3. What does egalitarianism mean to you, and do you think Twin Oaks is a role model for this?
4. What kind of sustainability practices does Twin Oaks implement/practice?
5. Why do you think Twin Oaks is one of the longest-enduring communities in the US?
6. Are the decision making processes at Twin Oaks effective and equitable?
7. Does Twin Oaks represent equal opportunity for all members?
8. How is the quality of life different at Twin Oaks (In comparison to living outside community)?
9. What are the most beneficial/negative factors of community living?
10. Feel free to comment on anything that you find note-worthy about Twin Oaks community.

I thought at first i could answer them with links back to my blog posts, but a significant number can’t be answered that way.  So here goes.

How has living at Twin Oaks changed your life?

i worry about money much less.  i hardly worry about crime at all.  i spend less time doing political organizing work.  i spend more time outdoors.  i spend less time commuting.  i spend more time lobbying or trying to influence people who i know and less time trying to influence people who i don’t know (at least face-to-face).  In terms of polyamory, i have become much more part of the Old Guard.  I am more focused on propositional politics than opposition ones.  It is much easier to deal with my choice to get arrested for political protest than when i had a straight job, and thus i do it a bit more often.

life changing event

What are the benefits and/or challenges of income sharing?

There are a bunch of benefit.  You can work less and have more.  You need not worry about being fired, or about not having your basic needs met.  And you are also modeling an ecologically friendly way to live, which if applied widely, would actually save the world.  The challenge is that it is off-the-chart-difficult for people to trust each other.  Even when it is clearly to everyone involved that they will be better off by pooling resources, people don’t want to do it and would rather work much harder so that their stuff can sit at home idle all day while they are working to pay for it.

What does egalitarianism mean to you, and do you think Twin Oaks is a role model for this?

There is quite some disagreement as to what is meant by egalitarianism.  Some people think it simply means “equal access to all collective assets (potentially modified by extraordinary need).”  Others think it means “every hour of work is equal to every other hour of work and that there is no such thing as “women’s work” or “men’s work”.  Still others think it means we are trying to create a society in which everyone is equal in as many aspects as possible, especially economically.  Regardless of which definition you use, Twin Oaks is absolutely a role model.

egalitarianism_symbol_by_black_cat_rebel-d592w6z

What kind of sustainability practices does Twin Oaks implement/practice?

So i think the two main sustainability models for Ecovillages are Dark Green or Net Zero.  Twin Oaks follows neither of these, and actually energy self-sufficiency is no where near the top of our agenda.  Despite this we have super impressive numbers for our climate damaging gases being mitigated by this high sharing lifestyle.  Central to all this progress is radical sharing.  If there is a single thing we need to export to the mainstream, it is how to avoid brittle agreements and share better.

Why do you think Twin Oaks is one of the longest-enduring communities in the US?

So, Twin Oaks is only one of the longest-enduring intentional communities if you leave out the tremendous number of Christian communities, many of which are much larger and older than we are.  There are lots of differences between us and these places, most profoundly that we have no charismatic leader.  And 47 years is nothing to sneeze at.  Part of our success was we chose a good industry to be in early on (hammocks) and reliable cooperative business partner (in our case Pier 1).  Twin Oaks has fear of change, so we are quite hesitant to change our practices, even if there are models of better ways to do things.

Timeless

Timeless

Are the decision making processes at Twin Oaks effective and equitable?

Twin Oaks uses a planner/manager system, which is a self selecting autocracy with a democratic cap.  I actually think the Twin Oaks method is a terrible decision making system (Acorn, which uses consensus, is much better of to their meetings).  This is especially problematic when we have internal overrides.

There are many directions

There are many directions

Does Twin Oaks represent equal opportunity for all members?

Not perfectly, but better than any place i have ever been or heard about.

How is the quality of life different at Twin Oaks (In comparison to living outside community)?

More security, leff privacy.  More community, less personal access to money.  More flexibility, less resume building opportunities.  More trust in your own determination of what is good for you (how often you take sick time, what time of day you should get up, do you want to be scheduled or figure it out yourself).  More values-driven people than money-driven ones.

What are the most beneficial/negative factors of community living?

For some people, the restrictions that the community places on members are quite problematic.  This blog post lists many of them. And the community is a model of how to cut your carbon footprint.  But again, this only happens  if people feel proactive about this.

Feel free to comment on anything that you find note-worthy about Twin Oaks community.

You might find this useful.  It is the re-post of an article written in for an academic press.  The article is called Island.

Thanks, but …

Over both of the last two nights Angelica and i have spent a couple of hours at Siesta Key Beach around midnight in Sarasota FL.  Sarasota is a town of 60K which my guess brushes up closer to 100K over the Thanksgiving holiday, with kids and grand kids coming to visit their less mobile older relatives.  Siesta Key is considered by many to be one of the most lovely beaches in the world, with fine white sands and good facilities.  There are literally thousands of condo and housing units within a few hundred yards of the beach for a very long stretch.  Unlike Virginia Beach, the water is warm enough to walk through it barefoot indefinitely during the night this time of year.

Both nights on the beach there was no one else there.

Siesta Key Beach

Siesta Key Beach

Sarasota does have an impressive array of shopping centers, malls and strip malls.  These are busy when ever they are open.  I find myself thankful i only visit here. At my big Thanksgiving meal today i sat across from someone who leads mountain climbing exhibitions around the world who said,

I like fracking, because it means I can take explosives through my airport security easily.

Apparently she uses explosives for avalanche control.

Apparently this is a thing, who knew.

Apparently this is a thing, who knew?

This holiday i am thankful for Ferguson.  Not the murder of Michael Brown or witness DeAndre Joshua, of course, nor the clearly contestable Grand Jury verdict.  What i am instead appreciating is  the explosion of media attention on the homicides by the police of unarmed people of color in the US.  Murder is the largest cause of death of black males between 15 and 34 at 40%.  White males of the same age range died at a 3.8% rate. And in response to the Grand Jury verdict there have been mixed race protests in at least 37 locations across the nation. ferguson-protests-map-2-638x478 And i am thankful for my inspirational allies, including Jeff Winder, who very nearly got arrested with us at the UVa anti-rape protest.  Jeff does what no one else seems to be able to do at the Wayside Center where he works, which is to do organizing both from the secular community and the spiritually based one, on the same issues.  And Wayside is able to build resistance movements with people of color and whites working together on the same issues.  I had hoped to spend my couple of hours in jail last week talking with him.  But i am confident there will be another chance to talk, likely when both of us are getting arrested at the same action or at a court hearing. Jeff’s rant below is not your classic holiday fluff.  But i appreciate the he puts it out and want to repost it.

Jeff at Work

Jeff at Work

Ruminations of a white guy drinking alone on a fucked up excuse for a holiday Happy Thanksgiv . . . no! I won’t say it. Because now that I know the truth that just sounds like “Fuck You” to indigenous people, to descendants of enslaved peoples, to people forced to immigrate across lands that are ancestrally theirs. I can’t bring myself to celebrate a holiday that encourages us to gorge ourselves on more food than we need while we celebrate a lie – a lie that makes us forget our homes, our country, our lives, our jobs, everything that we have is built on genocide and slavery.
No shade on people who gather under another name, who do what they need to do to get through another celebration of this awful, depressing, soul-sucking lie. But I can’t do it this time.
This year I can’t sit comfortably and be grateful for the loved ones in my life, because I know the presence of these loved ones in my life is an unearned privilege. I will not insult the family of Sage Smith, the family of Michael Brown, the families of all the people gunned down by cops, locked up in private prisons or immigrant detention centers ripped apart from their families when this capitalist system could make more money by doing so than by exploiting their labor here by posting a facebook status about how grateful I am for my loved ones because that would not be a revolutionary subversion of this capitalist, revisionist, violent holiday but rather a celebration that I have by unearned privilege what should be a basic right for all.
captured alive
This week I heard firsthand, up close and personal when the father of Sage Smith told a community gathered in support that the cville police department did a half-assed job on the search for his black transgender working class loved one while putting all resources and concern into the search for cis, white university students. This week I was almost arrested for shouting “burn it down” on the steps of a frat house that was exposed as the site of a pattern of gang rapes that the university covered up. Upper class “concerned” people tried to shut me down for saying it and had the gall to tell rape survivors to stuff their anger because “anger never solves anything.” This week, instead of joining trusted comrades in the streets to rage, to rise up, to stand in solidarity with people in Ferguson who have the courage to rebel when the system says it is ok for cops to gun down unarmed black men in their community . . . Instead, I stayed home and held my teenage son in my arms as he sobbed uncontrollably. . . his depression a byproduct of this fucked up culture that we are all supposed to celebrate.
So fuck thanksgiving and christmas and easter and any other holiday that is engineered to make me forget, to let it be ok just for one day . . . because we know better – deep down inside all of us do. And the things that we have to do to make ourselves believe the lies are the causes of most of the alcoholism and drug abuse and “mental illness” and domestic abuse that exists in white culture. I mean really, what kind of a fucked up person could be well-adjusted to a world like this?
honor shotting
I wonder what it was like to gather together for holidays and celebrations to mark the passing of the seasons when we actually had a culture . . .to console ourselves at the end of the warmth and the approach of winter by gathering with beloved community to share the abundance of the season we are shedding. What was it like to comfort ourselves as the days got shorter and greyer and colder by pulling close with loved ones around a fire to share warmth and music and stories that sustained us? What was it like before every holiday had been coopted, twisted, turned into an occasion to whitewash and sanitize the demented history and bloody current reality our livelihoods are built on? To make us forget, prop up the denial that we spend our precious life energy maintaining, to sugar coat the deal with the devil so that we can continue to believe that we have what we have because we worked hard and we deserve it?
When will we realize that this is no way to live? If basic compassion and human decency is not enough, when will we realize that to rise up and rebel is not an act of generosity but the only hope of survival for ourselves, too?
Jeff Winder In the post above, where I talk about not joining trusted comrades to rage in the streets in the wake I Ferguson, that wasn’t the honest way to describe that. I should have said “instead of showing up to offer support to organized efforts by people of color who took to the streets locally to rage, to rise up, to stand in solidarity with people in Ferguson.’ Because that is the truth. And since we live in a white supremacist culture, for me to not explicitly acknowledge that is to make their organizing in defense of their own community invisible. I will post this everywhere that this status was re-posted in hopes that it will be seen. Probably too little too late. Unlearning white supremacy is an ongoing process for me and I still fuck up all the time. My apologies and much respect to Operation Social Equality, the UVA Black Student Association and the Anarchist People of Color Collective, the groups who quickly organized an incredibly powerful response to the verdict.

Stopping Rape at UVa – a diversity of tactics

It was a last minute choice, but after reading the two Rolling Stones articles about rape at UVa, i knew i had to go to the protest.  Because of the hasty preparations and the large group going, i grabbed a dozen black gloves from commie clothes.

12 black gloves all different

12 black gloves all different

On the way into the protest, much of the conversation was about the choice to protest at the fraternity.  In our minivan  there seemed to be agreement that the university’s complicity in these sexual assaults was what really needed action and change.  The university’s internal policies tend to punish survivors and set free perpetrators and thus fosters ongoing sexual assault.   The first Rolling Stones article points out that 86 schools are being investigated by the Dept. of Education because they are suspected of denying students their equal right to education by inadequately handling sexual-violence complaints.  UVa is one of only 12 under the harsher “compliance review”.  Which are “… targeted efforts to go after very serious concerns,” says Office of Civil Rights assistant secretary Catherine Lhamon. “We don’t open compliance reviews unless we have something that we think merits it.”  This is likely because not a single student has been expelled for sexual assault at UVa for the last 7 years.

Graphic for Fraternity Protest

Graphic for Fraternity Protest

We arrived a bit late for the protest, and it had already broken up into discussion groups.  There was a policy group, an alumni group, a women’s group, a group discussing fraternity reform, and some others.  Some local activists looking for a more confrontational action complained that we were not going to simply talk the university or the fraternities into changing their ways.  There was also a critique of “Facebook activism” in which students thought that by hitting like and posting some protest pictures these well entrenched cultures would shift.

Breaking into discussion circles

Breaking into discussion circles at Phi Kappa Psi protest

i joined the policy discussion group for a while, but because i was late, what ever groundrules there were about who could talk and who was facilitating eluded me.  And there were lots of participants who had quite charged feelings on the topic, including a couple of UVa rape survivors who were speaking powerfully and critically about how the university failed in handling their personal cases.  It did not feel like the right place to share my ideas.

i do have lots of thoughts about policy changes the university could make to reduce sexual assault based on many conversations with Abigail who is doing this work at University of Oregon, but this will be the subject of another post.

Sunya and Bridgette X at the protest

Sunya Oaks and Bridget X at the protest

The fraternity at the center of the controversy, Phi Kappa Psi, has not had an easy time of it since the Rolling Stone article came out.  There have been several attacks on the building itself.  The members have moved out of the building to a hotel.  And the fraternity voluntarily surrendered its “Fraternal Organizing Agreement”, which means for the moment it technically does not exist.  UVa has suspended all Fraternity activities until Jan 2015, in response to the allegations.

Having brought in law enforcement to investigate the Rolling Stone gang-rape allegations (more than a year-and-a-half after the university was first made aware of them) the state fumbled its very first task.  State Attorney General Mark Herring originally announced Mark Filip would be the University’s independent counsel to address its handling of sexual violence.  Turns out Filip was a member of the fraternity at the center of the controversy.  The appointment was reversed after this embarrassing mistake was made public.

On the back porch of Phi Kappa Psi

On the back porch of Phi Kappa Psi

There have been a handful of protests at UVa over the Rolling Stone article.  A couple days before this one, more than 700 people came out to express their concern, frustration, and rage over the long history of sexual assault on campus and the university’s near total failure to reduce it.

UVa does not protest much.  It is quite a quiet campus when it comes to activism, especially around gender issues.  Rolling Stone characterized it this way:

From reading headlines today, one might think colleges have suddenly become hotbeds of protest by celebrated anti-rape activists. But like most colleges across America, genteel University of Virginia has no radical feminist culture seeking to upend the patriarchy. There are no red-tape-wearing protests like at Harvard, no “sex-positive” clubs promoting the female orgasm like at Yale, no mattress-hauling performance artists like at Columbia, and certainly no SlutWalks. UVA isn’t an edgy or progressive campus by any stretch. The pinnacle of its polite activism is its annual Take Back the Night vigil, which on this campus of 21,000 students attracts an audience of less than 500 souls. But the dearth of attention isn’t because rape doesn’t happen in Charlottesville. It’s because at UVA, rapes are kept quiet, both by students – who brush off sexual assaults as regrettable but inevitable casualties of their cherished party culture – and by an administration that critics say is less concerned with protecting students than it is with protecting its own reputation from scandal.

So i was unsurprised by some of the debate that was going on at this protest.  One of the protest organizers with a bullhorn ended the working groups session and made a short speech on what is often called “diversity of tactics“.   She said basically that many people have strong feelings about the issue of sexual assault on campus and there will be lots of different approaches to organizing based on these feelings.  Some will want to engage the university in dialog and will stage peaceful protests and avoid confrontation with the police.  Others will choose to confront the police and risk arrest.  She called on the crowd to respect the different choices that different activist make and keep the focus on the university and frats which need to change most.

2012-11-23-diversity-of-tactics

She did not talk specifically about property destruction and she certainly did not talk about violence against people [Sadly, there were lots of people in the crowd who thought property destruction was a form of violence.]  These are the places where diversity of tactics gets tricky.

During the chanting which took place at the fraternity house after the discussion groups had ended, some protesters were chanting that the building should be burnt down.  Several other protesters were quite upset with this chant and said so clearly.  It stopped quickly.

i did not plan on getting arrested

i did not plan on getting arrested

There was an especially peculiar moment as people were risking arrest in which another protester upset about the gravity towards the arrest yelled at the protesters “Hello Gandhi, Hello Martin Luther King”.  This simultaneously struck me is distressing and funny.  How exactly did this person think Gandhi and MLK succeeded?  It certainly was not by avoiding arrest (and much worse) at the hands of the authorities.

Four of us got arrested at the very end of the protest for trespassing: myself, Sapphyre, Edmund, and Caroline intern from Acorn.  Going to the protest, it had not been any of our intentions to get arrested.  And all through the protests the police and campus security had been basically invisible.

Edmund being arrested beside Sapphyre and Caroline from Acorn

Edmund being arrested beside Sapphyre and Caroline from Acorn

The overwhelming response to our arrests were positive.  It also got a surprising amount of press, including the International Business Times, US network news, a mention in the LA Times, in Washington DC, the feminist presslocal media and of course campus media.

NBC 29 film of arrests

On Dec 4th we have our trial.  Feel encouraged to come and join us at the Cville court on market street.

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