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.
It was great to see Drew on my recent trip to the West Coast. He is a networker who is excited about the Point A project and has mad skills. He also has stories.
One of his stories that i was excited about was his experience of playing Frisbee at Acorn. An ultimate game he claimed was the best he had ever played. Not because we are especially good players, tho we can field a respectable team. It was the way we play. In his blog he writes:
We didn’t keep score, something I hardly noticed at the time. It wasn’t necessary to keep score because we were all infinite players playing a series of finite games.
It was at the moment of the opening disc thrown that the finite game started. We played for the point at hand. Not for the accumulation of points. Once that point was scored the finite game ended, the winning team got the title of team to most recently score a point then we started play on the next finite game.
We played to keep the game going. If one team kept winning and the other team was getting frustrated we would trade players to even out the skill levels. We would adjust the rules, boundaries on or off, people rotating out, etc. to ensure that the game continued (until sun down, of course).
Each finite game was played to it’s fullest. We played with great seriousness. Even more serious than professionals I would guess. Because no point was worth any more/less than another. We were never so far behind in points that scoring couldn’t keep us from losing or so far ahead that we could go easy on our opponent. We were never playing warm up or pre-season games that “didn’t matter”. We were playing for the point, the only point—at that moment in time—that mattered.
I had not thought of this analysis before, but i found it compelling. While not universal, anarchist score keeping (aka not keeping score) is common in the communes. Quite some Volleyball games start and end with scores of 7 to 7. They are no less fun that ones i played with highly competitive rules and cultures.
We climb trees. We often muse as to the number of other people in the county or state who are also climbing trees when we are (typically midnight under a full moon). There is a new place to climb to at Twin Oaks. Shal and Christian built it.
This is not an easy climb (though Shal already has plans for how to make it much easier). The tree has no branches for perhaps the first dozen feet which is plenty discouraging to most people. Shal is not most people. Launching climbing ropes into higher branches he set up the tree so for folks with the right equipment it is possible to climb. You need climbing rope and harnesses and two types of ascenders, and quite some level of conviction
We arriving in the fading light, the tree is prepped, with a climbing rope up it, but not in a way which would be at all inviting to a random passerby. Shal helps me into the harness and sets up ropes and ascenders and bags. We will likely be the only tree climbers this evening to bring a powerful portable sound system. We like to listen to Tangerine Dream space music while we watch the moon rise and talk about our lives and plans.
Shal reminds me of the slightly counter intuitive spider climbing technique. You alternate between ascenders, standing in a loop connected to one, then sitting back being supported by the other which is attached to your climbing harness. We have done this before, but he needs to teach me again, for it feels strangely backwards. I ascend the first dozen feet, climbing ropes vaguely like a spider. At the first real branch I leave the foot loop behind and start climbing like the monkey i am more closely related to. The lower ascender remains attached to my harness and the rope, so if i made a mistake the ascender would stop me in a couple of feet.
Even as the light fades the view from the platform is amazing, we can see far across most of the Twin Oaks land and soon appreciate the additional light from the moon rise. We celebrate the new areal place to reside on our monthly full moon outings, and we plan trips to the West Coast Communities Conference at Groundswell Community, and other adventures out west.
Seeing the moon-lit world from high in a tree while listening to spacey music and planing new adventures might not be what anyone else was doing last night, and it might just be that everyone else got it wrong.
There are all manner of messages which we want to get out to the world and recently myself and my comrades working on the Point A project have been thinking about what messages people are ready for.
On our most recent NYC trip we realized that we were making it sound harder than it really is to become income sharing. “They don’t need to have a cottage industry.” GPaul said, “They don’t even need to live together.”
Indeed, the only thing which stops people from becoming income sharing is a lack of trust. If you trust each other, you can change your agreements and begin taking care of more needs cooperatively almost immediately.
We started thinking about a workshop that would explain this. But what do we label the workshop?
I wanted to call the workshop “You can become income sharing now!” But GPaul and others thought it was not compelling enough or it was too abstract. GPaul even questioned whether people would know what income sharing is. GPaul’s rework was “Communism Now! Why wait for the revolution?” Alarm bells went off in my brain.
Communism is dead. Sorry, it is a political non-starter, worse than anarchism actually (tho not as bad as Stalinism and Fascism). Many progressives and almost all liberals do not associate it with a quasi-utopian desirable state.Nothing jumps to mind to salvage the title, since I get your meaning and there is not an obvious substitute (Utopia Now!, Equality Now! Community Now! all don’t work).
I both agree and disagree: Communism is dead to some people, perhaps even most people, but communism is not dead. The question here is “who is our audience?”. We have many possible audiences. One audience could be radical leftists. When giving tours and explaining the communes to folks I’ve been leading with “anarchism” and “communism” for years and getting surprisingly little shock or pushback. Radical leftists are one demographic that is more likely than others to be interested in what we are offering. We can aim a workshop at them. They will respond differently to the word “communism” than other people. For other people we might have to rebrand this workshop. For other people this might not even be an appropriate workshop (we might have to begin with “why should you want to share income?” in any of its various permutations).
I remain skeptical, but I am curious what my readers think. Some readers will be glad to hear that this blog is finally getting reorganized. Specifically, the portion of the blog which is about community life (including the Point A work, the Virginia egalitarian communities, Freedonia and other underground efforts, Commune Snapshots [images with few words], the Communities Conference and advances in sharing techniques) may be spun off and turned into its own blog with its own domain name.
I was thinking of the name CommuneLife.org – but other experienced communards thought the name “commune” was too dated, too distant and too misunderstood and untrusted. When we talked to twenty somethings, they had no baggage around the word commune and thought it might be cool. The Fellowship of Intentional Communities actually uses the word commune as a name for income sharing communities and lists 166 of them under this category.
Again, feel encouraged to weigh in and discuss your thoughts about this.