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.
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 downside 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 with 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.
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 its 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 its 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 its 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 dog’s name was i was told simply “That is Fight Club”.
[Edited by Judy Youngquest]
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 lightweight 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.
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.
[Edited by Judy Youngquest]
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.
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]
“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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.