I wrote yesterday about the recent Yahoo Parenting article about the community. Turns out this piece had over 3 million hits in the first 24 hours. This generated so much traffic to the Twinoaks.org website that our web host server crashed. Even my blog, which is not mentioned in the article at all, got over 1000 hits in two days.
And the media contacted us also. We got three requests from conventional news sources (including my first ever request for an exclusive) and two excited reality show producers. We have considered working with Reality TV as an income engine for new community start ups and i floated it by the Point A DC folks, who rejected it overwhelmingly. This did not stop there being animated discussion about the possibility at Acorn last night at dinner. The chances we will be able to work with reality TV are vanishingly small.
There were over 500 comments to the Yahoo article. There were quite a few positive ones, some from people who had lived in community which worked for them or they appreciated, some from folks who had visited us at some point and felt the need to dispel the false statements which were being made. But perhaps half the comments on this Yahoo article were negative or critical. They came in a few flavors:
Communism is Bad: My favorite of this ilk was “Why hasn’t someone called the National Guard to rid us of these communists?” Unlike past articles i have read, there were not any direct “Go back to Russia!” suggestions. Many came from Libertarians who feel a need to attack anything which does not look like their version of free market capitalism. There was our personal chapter of the endless Tea Party debates in which all ills are blamed on Obama and each of the two main political parties are attacked for the Democrats being Communists and the Republicans (in the long run) being anarchists. News flash folks, there are two pro-business parties in the US. Look at who funds their campaigns. There are also a whole slew of comments contenting that we 1) Don’t pay taxes. In fact we are the second largest tax payer in the county. 2) Are on Food Stamps and Welfare. In fact none of the membership uses these government assistance programs.
Polyamory is wrong: There was the expected amount of slut shaming and name calling. I should not have been surprised at the frequently expressed concern that pedophiles would have easy access to our kids, when in fact the opposite is the case. There were a refreshing number of people who felt like this was an acceptable choice, only not right for them personally. For many critics this simply feed their notion of moral decay on the commune. There was a prevalent opinion that this reflected an easy way to have lots of sex partners, when actually the form of polyamory most often practiced in the communities requires lots of discussion, negotiations and process.
This can never work: Despite the article mentioning that we had been around for nearly 50 years, there were a surprising number of comments predicting our imminent demise or our failure in the long term. I chalk this up to people not wanting the story to be true, so they lash out against it in ways that don’t make much sense. Because the article was focused on parenting and not pension, there were many comments about what happens when people reach retirement age. In fact our pension program is far more robust than the default one in the mainstream.
Applying for Pregnancy !?!?! It is true this is very odd and i totally get why this flips people out. And when you read why we do it, it will make a whole lot more sense to you. This linked article also has the bonus section that it includes the only (to my knowledge) exhaustive list of Twin Oaks prohibitions.
Eeww you have Lice!: Apparently, only the community suffers from lice. Every couple of years we have a lice outbreak. We fight some, internally, about the use of chemicals to push it back. We clean a ton of laundry, some people dramatically shave their heads to avoid having to treat or retreat. Frankly, they are more psychologically problematic than actually physically problematic, but try telling that to someone who is freaking out.
While i had a good time going thru the comments and correcting people misconceptions and laughing about the haters, i counseled everyone who was actually in the article not to read the comments. They don’t yet show the thoughtful dialog we would hope to find on the digital pages of the internet.
What the article did not mention is that:
1) Twin Oaks has had a waiting list for more than 7 years now. So if you are in a rush to find a new place, we are a poor choice.
2) It is far harder for families to become members than individuals. In the last 10 years there has only been three families accepted (and perhaps a dozen who have tried to come). The visitor period is longer, the waiting list is tougher and every member of the family must be accepted or none of them can come.
Fortunately for our insurance rates, a disproportionate number of adult communards choose not to drive. This does put pressure on those of us who do drive, to ferry our comrades around. My dual member status allows me access to both the Acorn and Twin Oaks vehicle fleets, so i am often asked to drive, and i am generally happy to to oblige.
Sporadically, Twin Oaks throws a “No Party, Just Dance” event. Typically what this means is that the organizers don’t want to have to prepare treats or decorate the space and instead want to focus on just having a DJ who provides music and people can rock out. The other slightly curious aspect of these events is that they have very minimal internal promotion. Usually this is limited to a single card posted at the main dining hall. But this micro-promotion does not prevent these events from being well attended.
Last night i drove the shuttle for one these events. Half a dozen Acorners and LEFers (plus one dog) hopped into the minivan and we arrived moments before the party was really hoping. A couple of hours into this event i decided it was time to ask the going home question:
If there were a shuttle in 20 minute and another in an hour and 20 minutes, which one would you likely be on?
I went around to the folks who i had brought and asked them all this question. After two hours of rigorous dancing, they were all ready to go home in the early shuttle. This is exactly what the shuttle driver wants to hear. Assuming you can’t get the last shuttle cancelled, because everyone wants to stay all night, the second best way to cancel the last shuttle is to get everyone to come home on the second to last shuttle.
I got invited to speak at a conference in which i did not pay enough attention to the program. It turns out to be very new agey, and it might be too exotic/woo woo for me. I did like the intro presentations about polarities though.
During one of the speeches a presenter said, “The reason that Occupy Wall Street failed is they rejected the idea of leadership.” This struck me as wrong for two very different reasons.
The first is Occupy did not fall, it was pushed. Dozens of police raids across the US displaced occupiers from their parks. Remove the freedom to assemble and you eliminate free speech protests.
The second reason is that Occupy did not fail. Oh, it did not succeed in getting banksters thrown in jail and it did not end income inequity in the US. But it did change the conversation about these topics. In New York itself, mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio vowed to tackle the “Tale of Two Cities” income disparity issue and won, in part, on this issue. Similarly, one could argue Obama’s efforts to raise the minimum wage may well have been emboldened by this movement.
More importantly, Occupy gave birth to a whole collection of initiatives including Occupy Sandy, which outperformed both FEMA and the Red Cross after the superstorm hit the East Coast. In many cities Occupy morphed into anti-evictions groups. In Eugene, Occupy Medical still provides free medical services to populations that would otherwise have no access. And these are just initiatives i know of because i work in these cities.
You should only hope that when you are dead, you have this much going on.
Brittany ran to me as i was walking through the Ash Street gardens of the Baltimore Free Farm. She was clearly excited to see me.
“I am so glad there is an old person here now!” was the first thing she said to me
I cracked up laughing. She explained that the party was full of 20 somethings and she thought my experience would be a grounding effect. Most people don’t find me grounding, but i was still totally flattered.
Many folks say they are busy, but you make time for what is important to you. I really wanted to go to StrangeFolx, the Baltimore Free Farms anniversary celebration. I wanted to go because i had missed the protests that BFF had played an amazing supportive role in. I wanted to go because i am regularly impressed with daring, tenacity and street smarts of these punks. I wanted to go, because i wanted a big, political party that someone else had organized.
On the way to the event i stopped at a roadside stand and got a flat of strawberries. I was handing them out to the perhaps 100 people who were already at this event by 1 PM. I walked by Billy who was pumping out pizzas.
As i approached the oven, there was a metal stake sticking up in the middle of the steps which dozens of people would soon be walking. “Fix that!” i barked at Billy pointing to the offending stake, in the way busy organizers sometimes dispense with pleasantries. A nearby anarchist reminded me, “You could fix it.” Billy soon put a purple cup over the stake and pronounced it fixed. Safety isn’t first with this crowd, otherwise they would not be rioting with the police.
Billy suggested that i change my thinking about pizza. Moving away from the idea that it would be a point in time in which one might have pizza, to more of a continuum or infinite span of pizza. And he made quite good on his promise to deliver unending pizza. Recently toughened up by the tremendous cooking effort done to support protesters of police violence in Baltimore, the Free Farm kids prepped for this 8 hour long anniversary party of a few hundred people. GPaul asked for a vegan pizza, and in moments it was there. The advantage of these real pizza ovens is they can cook a full pizza in just a couple of minutes.
When Billy finally took a break he greeted me warmly and gave me an illegal piece of riot swag. I was touched and i looked at him curiously. “We could not have done it without your cooks. It was amazing to have all this help and we desperately needed it.” When Baltimore exploded, Billy called me. He asked me to put out the call to Action: Baltimore needs cooks. So i blogged about it, copied it to few facebook pages and crossed my fingers. I got great reaction, with cooks responding to the blog post wanting to help. Many had minor logistical problems (like little money and no car). I cobbled together ride shares and other minor logistics, but folk were resourceful and wanted to get to Baltimore. In the end about a dozen cooks ended up volunteering at BFF. And i felt some pride around networking effectively.
But as though my ego were on some type of zen roller coaster, shortly after this i got schooled by Brittany on how unworkable my clever plans were to try to build coalitions with people of color (POC) activists. She was clear and firm in telling me that the internship scheme i was proposing would not fly culturally.
Instead Brittany and Billy agreed that the best thing for white allies to do these days is be consistent in providing the type of food services for protesters that BFF and Food Not Bombs have been providing. And be patient.
NYC has changed me.
Two years ago, if i had walked out of the Richmond train station and seen three “traveler kids”, i would have headed the other way. But having spent time doing support work for travelers in Tompkins Square Park has shifted my perception of this fringe group that i had not been connected to before.
I walked out of the train from Baltimore and saw these three, i had a bit of time to wait and decided that this could be fun. I got a cheap pizza and approached my new friends. They were welcoming. I sat with them where they had found an open wall socket to charge their phones with.
They introduced themselves to me as: Barefoot – who claimed she did not own a pair of shoes. One Eye – who had a fine line tattoo pattern on the check of side of his face where he had lost an eye to a fight or an accident. Tex – who said he was from Texas. After i had been there for half an hour and they decided that i was at least interesting and perhaps okay, Tex told me “You should call me ‘Too Dim‘. My friends call me Too Dim, not Tex.”
The conversation rambled. They offered me beer and cigarettes. They played an animated guitar and sang in a raspy voices. They were generous, friendly and welcoming. All the traveler kids i have run across have been.
They train hopped from Jacksonville FL to Washington DC and discovered what many of us had experienced there. Washington is tough for outsiders with no friends in the town. They tried to talk to people, but no one had time for them. They played guitar and sang, but no one was generous. They tried lots of different types of places and nothing improved things. So they left.
They were hoping Richmond is better. I don’t know, but something makes me think it will be.
At one point Barefoot complimented my shirt. I asked her if she would wear it. She said she certainly would, then i offered to give it to her, but she would not take it as a straight gift, she wanted to trade – which is how i got the stylish skull tank top i am donning in the picture below.
After an hour or so of hanging out, i decided i need to be moving on. They were lovely folks, dressed in tattered clothes. I am thankful my previous prejudices are subsiding and i can connect with a greater array of people.
When i left, with no request on their part, i left a few bucks behind. One Eye called out after me, “You have restored my faith in humanity”. And strangely, i felt the same way.
Hawina and i were at an engaging after dinner conversation at Ganas about what good communication culture looks like within community. There were lots of examples of different community cultures. I pitched the Acorn Clearness process, which is part of the Point A kit of tools for improving trust and transparency in your community. We talked about whether it was important to greet everyone you see each day. We discussed and disagreed on the fundamental nature of people who are in conflict and the availability of mutually agreeable bridges.
At one point a Ganasian confessed that there was confusion around what the appropriate protocol was for sitting at a table with someone who was already sitting there. Do you ask if it is okay? Do you just plop yourself down next to someone? It may seem like a tiny point, but in the occasionally hyper sensitive world of commune culture, you want to get the social cues right.
The way we have resolved this type of problem at Twin Oaks is thru zoning We use spacial and temporal zoning to help with a collection of issues: kid noise, nudity, smoking, sex noises, bike sharing, gardening and much more. In the case of who sits where at meals and what to expect in those places we have evolved three different types of tables.
Tables: Most of the tables at and around the dining hall at Twin Oaks are simply tables. If they are free you can simply sit at them. When the next person comes to the table the etiquette is to simply check in “Can i sit with you?” Or if there is already a group of people you might ask “Is this a meeting?” which you might be invited to sit in on, or it might scare you away from the social lunch you were hoping for with these people. Simple enough, no?
Fun Tables: For reasons i can imagine but don’t know for sure, the community wanted a place you could go reliably and socialize. A place where you never needed to ask if you could sit down and where you were sure there would not be a closed meeting or work discussions happening. And thus the fun table was born. The informal rules are that we will always make room for you at the fun table. And if you start talking about work at a fun table my son and others will call you out about talking about work. There are two fun tables at Twin Oaks, one inside and the other outside. They are popular and oft lively.
Super Fun Table: Turns out there was a greater need for fun tables than just these two. And it turns out that members don’t want there conversations controlled. So there is now a very long set of three picnic tables end to end which are super fun tables. You can talk about anything, you don’t need to ask to sit down and while it seats perhaps 30 people we will always make more space if it is needed.