There are a number of minor parts of the reporting that are wrong. They mess up the sequence of the visitor period and acceptance process. They also said we had a waiting list, which as of recently, is not actually true.
But overall, it portrays the community accurately and is mostly upbeat.
Whenever the mainstream media comes, it attempts to exotify us. The reporter said basically, “You can live in this comfortable paradise, but you have to give up most of your material possessions.” What is true is that you can bring whatever fits in your room and a bike. You can bring larger furniture items if you are willing to lend them to the community (you can take them when you go if you want) for use in the common spaces.
For many people, this represents a significant scaling down of what they have. No one says, “You have to give them up.” It is not a mandate from the community. If you move to a smaller place, you shed things.
The video makes a point of mentioning that Scott, who is running the saw mill, used to be a computer programmer. It implies that he gave up programming to do this lower paying work. However, Scott does not think about it this way.
Perhaps in an effort to make home viewers comfortable, the news people talk about how this would not work for them or how they can’t imagine seeing their colleagues at a place like Twin Oaks. The terms “hippies” and “communists” are thrown at us and quickly batted away. You can try to see it as stereotypical or comically diminished, but really what is happening here is more complex and i would argue more important.
I personally name many months of the year. Sometimes this is prophetic, when i think i can guess the future. More often it is simply a memorable event, like the birth of a friends child or the collapse of a foul dictator.
This month after much discussion and a fair amount of throwing stuff into a rented dumpster we knocked down the building we called “The Falling Down Shed” See the above video for the dramatic moments with Mike on the tractor.
Now the curious thing is that this month naming tradition did not start with me, it is actually a Slavic tradition, where they named the months after things which are actually happening in the physical world at that time, rather than unimportant gods. So for example August is Harvest and March is Pregnant Animals
Curiously in the warmer Slavic countries (like the Croatia) it is the month of October which is called “Falling Leaves” or Listopad. .In the cooler Czech Republic and the Ukraine, this is the month name for November. Because we knocked down the “Falling Down Shed” in November, i am calling this month “Fallen Down Shed”. It served us well.
You can use Funological grading scales on serious events. You could argue that a current issue conference cannot get a B grade, unless it does something novel. You could propose that a protest not get a letter A grade, unless it (hopefully positively) changed one or more of the participants lives.
- Success as a networking event
- Intergenerationally integrated
- Cross Cultural Connections
- Significant Skill Shares
- Novel presentation formats
- Acid Test questions responses
Success as a networking event At the heart of it, communities conferences are supposed to connect people interested in community with collective places they might live and also help communities find new blood, especially founding or floundering communities. In this, WCCC was reasonably successful. Both seekers found established communities and a forming community found a new key additional person. These additions will certainly increase their chances of survival and success. The event supported the movement directly thru recruiting and secondarily by introducing people to the depth and range of the movement.
Intergenerationally integrated One of the things i take pride in at Twin Oaks is our success in mixing generations in work and play. No one thinks twice about there being different generations represented for example in a community band. “We need a drummer. We don’t care how old or young they are.” The Radical Faeries who run Groundswell Institute decided early on that the best way into introduce kids into this typically adult world was to be honest and give nearly full access to it. So the kids made a bee-line for the drag closet and there were precious photo moments of kid princesses and mature queens. We also had twenty and thirty somethings mixing with seniors and everything in between. Age did not matter too much; young people facilitated, old people learned new things. The event had a healthy, inquisitive, open feeling to it.
Cross Cultural Connections: I have a story that the Faeries have things to teach the communards about being bold and asking for what you want. I think the Faeries are a gateway to luxurious flamboyance and how to party big. I think the communards have things to offer the Faeries around finding group mind and clean process. I think the communards know how to share well and have effective tools and agreements for others less experienced with cooperative living. The dance party at the fire pit was a high spirited, colorful mix of our cultures in celebration. I think the communards and the Radical Faeries have similar agendas around tolerance, celebration of diversity, openness to new things, sustainability, self created culture and art and making the world a better place to live in. We are obvious allies.
I saw these two groups dance well together and it made me hopeful for more events of both playful and serious content.
Significant Skill Shares: Significant Skill Shares: My lover Tree came down from Eugene and facilitated a compelling workshop on Appreciative Inquiry. It was a huge hit. It changed Brittany and Billy Vulture‘s lives. Somewhat new to giving workshops, these two had especially struggled with the guilt and hopelessness so many White Privilege workshops engender. By using Appreciative Inquire instead of conventional “problem solving” techniques, they found that he walked out of the WCCC White Privilege Open Space session feeling really good about the group, about the communication, about people hearing this fundamentally uncomfortable message and not running from it but actually addressing it. Tree was thrilled that her workshop was immediately applicable. Me, too.
Novel presentation formats: We did the Communities in Crisis interactive theater workshop at the WCCC. The idea was you throw non-communards into the deep end of community process. They would try to facilitate actor-communards who were in the midst of trying to untangle a vexing and controversial community problem. It was a great idea, but it worked out nothing like this.
For starters, of the 20 plus people interested in this workshop, no one did not already identify as living in community (apparently sitting in tricky community meetings is only attractive to people who think community is worth it to join already). But more importantly, these types of theater things don’t resolve and, were it not for Tree in the workshop to rein me in, i would have spent way too much time in the fun acting part and not enough on the harvesting of what we learned.
But people enjoyed it and said they learned things. It is a strong enough and engaging enough format to try doing it again.
Acid Test question responses: I am the type of Funologist who believes in exit interviews. I ask people if they enjoyed the event and learned things (they basically always say yes, since it is polite to do so) and then i ask if they would come back in a year and this often gives insight into their experience. If you had a transformative experience – you fell in love, you found your tribe, you learned a new tool that will significantly aid you – then your reply is always “yes”, even if the chances of repeating exactly this type of positive change are very small. If you just had a good time, you can be “one and done”. When i asked people about coming back, almost everyone said yes.
By all these different metrics, the WCCC succeeded pretty famously. But i must confess i am predisposed to falling in love with this beautiful Northern California place and this particular event because i got to work with amazing organizers on it and take credit for making it happen, when really i did quite little to manifest it. I also got to organize with my talented co-dad, Sky, which always makes these types of things go better.
Other communities, including Lost Valley outside Eugene, expressed interested in hosting the 2016 West Coast Communities Conference. So perhaps, unlike the east coast event which stays at Twin Oaks for ever, we have created something which will move around to different host communities. Which would be cool also.
But it is not too early to mark your calendar for Indigenous Peoples weekend 2016. If history repeats itself, it might just be the best conference ever.
CNN did a curious piece partially about Twin Oaks recently. It was odd because it did a fairly good job of representing the commune in the text portion of the story, much better than ABC Nightline did, but it mixed in a video about the San Francisco Co-Living movement.
The article is called: Utopia: It’s Complicated – Inside Vintage and New Age Communities. We are clearly the vintage part.
Taking this apart a bit, let’s consider the clever title. Utopia is a slightly charged and especially foolish word to use when describing a real life living situation. We are not perfect, nor appropriate for everyone. We never claim to be, though academics and the media love to throw that label on us. What we do claim is that our living situation is far better than most and some (including myself) claim that on a good day, we can see utopia from here.
But this is a detail, really. What is more peculiar is lumping contemporary “co-living” spaces with income sharing communities like Twin Oaks. It is something like grouping tug boats with hover crafts.
In both circumstances there are people living together and sharing things and selecting each other (this is my definition for intentional community.) But if the affluent residents of co-living circumstances are disagreeing about maid service, it is about how often it is necessary. Maid service is inconceivable to most income sharing communes, not just because we don’t think we can afford it, but because we feel responsible for cleaning up our own messes.
As GPaul points out in “We are not selling a product,” the differences only start here. Co-living replicates the landlord/tenant dynamic, FEC communities largely own their own properties which are land trusts. Think corporate hover craft and co-op tug boat. Sharing income means you need to listen to those you live with about what their needs are and the survival of the community depends on trust building. Sharing an expensive group house means you stay until you have a serious fight with someone living there, are bored, or find a better offer and you are constantly on the look out for that offer.
None of the co-living situations I have seen or read about have children. Mostly what we see is twenty-somethings appearing to live the good life. Nothing wrong with that, but for me the good life is multi-generational.
So there is no utopia. And the differences between different approaches to the better life are significant. I am glad CNN got so much right about us. I am sad that they decided our neighbors in building a better world were mostly affluent people who are likely making gentrification worse.
For more than 30 years Twin Oaks has been organizing a communities conference, which this year is over the Labor Day weekend. We have a great organizing team, there is an excellent program, great workshops, and the whole thing is reasonably priced. But the reason to go this year is the opportunities.
By my count there are over half a dozen communities coming to this year’s event which are seriously looking for new members. No long waiting lists, new possibilities right now. You could come to this year’s event and have your life changed forever to a future in community.
Quercus is Latin for Oak (following the theme of Twin Oaks => Acorn => Sapling.) It is also the name of a newly forming (move in October 1st) permaculture-based urban homestead near the center of Richmond, VA. Quercus is a community based in social justice activism and ecological conservation. It is also income sharing and aspires to be a full member of the Federation of Egalitarian Communities. This house is designed to be a radical space for public presentations, workshops, and performances. Four fantastic folks are already together and they are looking for a few more pioneers.
Karass is small community and bed & breakfast in Chester, Vermont (1 1/4 hours north of Northampton MA) and is currently searching for 3(ish) pioneering members. It is a sprawling 10 bedroom, 9 bathroom house with 6 guest rooms (the inn) and 4 member rooms (the community), with an additional 3 large common areas and other interesting spaces both inside and out. They believe in hospitality, community, sustainability, resource sharing, and egalitarianism. Their membership application gives insight into their values and expectations. Karass is running volunteer work weeks in late September, culminating in a party on September 26 to celebrate the progress they’ve made so far. A number of Oakers and Acorners are going up to help out with the final renovations of this new project. If you are interested contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Angie (one of the pioneering members) at AngieTupelo@gmail.com.
The Fae: Founded by members of Acorn community, The Fae is a collective house on Staten Island in NYC with big aspirations, including developing plant based soil and environmental remediation techniques. As reported, “Roommate wanted: Must love activism, balloon art, and cats.” The Fae hopes to become an FEC community where communards from other places can stay and get involved and do art internships.
Groundswell Institute is a new community two hours north of San Francisco and founded by radical queer friends of ours, some of whom are ex-Oakers. Groundswell is interested in growing to about 15 people in the next year from the handful they have now. When I asked what type of people they were searching for, there was a short but comprehensive consultation amongst the members present. “Non-heteronormative” was the response.
The physical plant of Groundswell is impressive. It is an ecovillage on over 180 acres of land (with all human activity concentrated on 40 acres.) It is a former campsite which can sleep 80 people indoors in cabins. It has a full sized institutional kitchen, pond, amphitheater, dance hall, and some amazing trees.
I don’t actually know why they are an Institute and I am not 100% sure a representative will be at the Comm Conf to present them, but they are new and growing and important and a number of people at the conference have visited there and can talk about them.
Cambia Community is a new family-friendly, egalitarian community in Louisa County with a focus on permaculture and home school education. They have purchased 15 mostly wooded acres and a small house in rural Louisa, VA and are seeking to create a community of 10-30 people with a high level of sharing and connection. They’re looking for people with prior community experience and skills in farming and gardening in this climate and business planning, people who value and uphold some mindfulness practices, no drug or alcohol abuse or overuse, and possibly families. Unusually insightful into the culture of this forming community is the section on their blog which talks about what they are not.
Point A Washington DC has an income sharing group, space scouts who are looking intensely for suitable living locations (and clearly have big imaginations because they have found some amazing possibilities), and a growing cohesive culture. If you are looking for income sharing communes inside the big city, this might just be your best bet. This project is daring, ambitious and engaged – not for the faint of heart.
The Baltimore Free Farm is one of the most ambitious projects I have ever seen. It does food recovery in conjunction with Food Not Bombs and their own dumpster diving efforts. BFF also runs amazing events and concerts in their warehouse space.
Living Energy Farm is a dark green ecovillage also in Louisa county and they are looking for members. Living Energy Farm is another ambitious and challenging project, of a different sort. Essentially their aim is to prepare for a post-petroleum world while it can still be done relatively comfortably. However they are using a prefigurative approach in which they model the practices which will be used in the resource-scarce future. This means lots of things by hands, living closer to the seasons and nightfall, and thinking about how to reduce one’s impact seriously.
So if you are looking for community, these are just the opportunities that i am aware of that are coming. If you know more, please feel encouraged to add them in the comment section here.
[Proofread by Gryphon]
It all started with Yahoo Parenting. A reporter came out with a photographer and talked with a handful of Twin Oaks parents.
Then ABC Nightline called up and asked if they could come and film. ABC and Yahoo News have a partnership agreement. Perhaps we should have said “no.”
There were a number of problems with the final ABC piece, including mistakes which started from the second word of the article. “Inside Off-the-Grid Virginia Commune Where Everything From Housing to Child Care Is Shared.” In fact, we are not off the grid. We have some solar panels, and we are getting some more, but we have a long way to go before we are off the grid.
The video which I reported on earlier depicted us as negligent for letting kids wander around the property unescorted and not doing background checks on members offering child care. There are lots of reasonable things to criticize the communes about, but there are not on the list. Background checks don’t actually catch much AND we live with these people for three weeks and interview them for hours. Much more rigorous than anyone hiring a babysitter from Craigslist. They bungled the description of our complex pension system (saying adults over 50 drop to a single hour of work per year.)
A number of members were angry at me for not restricting the motion of the press more and not being more sensitive to people the media should stay away from.
But then a funny thing happened on the way to internet. Lots of other media entities mimicked the story in some ways. Specifically:
- CNN did photo montage of Aaron Cohen’s pictures on Aug 17
- The UK Daily Mail blew up over the permission to have a baby on Aug 22
- The Inquisitor rebrands us as ‘Commune In Virginia Blends Off Grid Harmony And Business Savvy’ on Aug 21st
- Right wing blog NewsBusters slammed Nightline’s coverage and the socialist commune while offering a full transcript of the broadcast.
So what we see is news driven by trends. If a topic appears to be trending, one cheap way your news entity can get a piece of the action is by finding a hot story, searching the internet for other free content on the topic, piece them together with a thin narrative and bang! you have intern-generated popular “news” stories.
Now we have had a handful of additional offers from news entities who want to come film. For a while, i think we will say no.
For more insightful and important analysis of the community, please read:
- How Sustainable is Twin Oaks
- I live on a peculiar Island (academic review)
- The Most Controversial Approval: Pregnancy
[Proofread by Gryphon]