One of the most surprising evolutionary tales for me was the one of dolphins. Our best story tellers claim that cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) evolved from the seas into land mammals and then evolved back to aquatic based life. This is either a tremendous re-adaptation to the changing climate of the seas or a fantastic U turn in habitat of preference.
Back in August we hung out with traveler kids in Tompkins Square Park in Manhattan. Point A folks helped a risk reduction outreach volunteer give out clean needles, anti-overdose medicine naloxone and clean socks. And we heard stories.
The most striking stories were of this dolphin effect, how these kids (which is used as a diminutive, rather than some indication of age) came to their traveler lifestyle. Usually some catastrophic event threw them into poverty, homelessness and addiction (typically alcohol, heroin or both). After a while, pressure from outside friends, family and often they themselves got them to “clean up”. They quit substance use and returned to a more conventional life style. Working a straight job (some even doing outreach work with traveler kids) and living in a house or an apartment.
Then something funny happened. They decided that they were happier as travels and living on little to nothing, but being with their friends and animals. Now from a place of choice, rather than catastrophe they returned to this life style.
i have plans and fantasies about the traveling kids. One of the interesting consciousnesses about this community (and it is deeply a community, where they share most of what they have with each other) is that housing is a burden. If you have a house or flat you have to pay for it, and this generally requires a job. So for most of the year the traveler kids are content to sleep outside, in parks when they can. Under scaffolding when it is raining. But in the winter, they continue the noble tradition of squatting.
My hope is we can continue working with them, introduce transparency tools to strengthen connections and hopefully learn about contemporary squatting from them.
The kid of comments i am uninterested in for this post is all the risks and warnings folks have about traveler kids. i’ve heard them, thanks anyway.
A British racing green jaguar convertible sports car pulled up next to me as I was hitching outside Boston. I am surprised to see the door of the expensive vehicle pop open and the driver wave me over.
“Come on get it!”
“Thanks I needed a ride from here” I hop into the leather bucket seat.
“Where do you want to go? My wife says I am too drunk to be home”
Some years later I was driving in Los Angeles and picked up one of the quite rare hitchhikers inside the city limits.
“Thank you so much, I have been waiting there all day and I just got out of jail.”
In case you are unfamiliar with prison culture it is considered poor form to ask an excon what they were in the slammer for. If they want you to know, they will tell you. So assuming you are familiar with the culture, this statement (and the following lack of clarification) is basically saying, “i need you to trust me right now, and I am not giving you much info on why you should.”
With some regularity a young activist will come to me and ask
“What issue should i work on? There are so many important ones to choose from.”
Indeed there are. And some years back i would have found this question quite vexing. Clearly one should do some kind of analysis. Looking at the current state of political affairs, weighing all different possible effects of the various campaigning efforts, examining where the opportunities were, comparing your own skill set to what the various movements need.
Now i think differently. “Ignore the issues, look for the people who inspire you. Look for the group you want to be with and do what they do.” Issues matter, but it turns out that what inspires prospective activists matters more.
In a few hours we will start the communities conference. There has been tremendous work at the site, expanding and improving the kitchen facilities, fixing bridges, putting up domes all over the place. The place really looks great.
But it is not because of the physical plant upgrade, or even the killer program for this event that you should change your weekend plans. It’s because of the people coming. The colorful gang from the Baltimore Free Farm will be attending. Representatives from Ganas and Catalyst Communities in NYC will be here. Most of the income sharing egalitarian communities are sending ambassadors (East Wind, The Midden, Living Energy Farm, Sandhill Farm, Acorn and Sapling). Workshops will be done by folks from Red Earth Farms and Heathcote and The Farm and Dancing Rabbit.
Beyond existing communities there are compelling presenters coming from all manner of groups including Network for a New Culture, Hack RVA (the Richmond Maker Space), Charlottesville Time Bank, Health Care for All and Grassroots Economic Organizing (GEO).
If you need to be inspired, this group will do it. If you are trying to start a community, useful answers found here. If your idea is going to change the world, you should be presenting at the Open Space on Sunday.
Post Script: The Communities Conference Dance on Saturday night is reliably one of the best dances at Twin Oaks over the course of the year.
GPaul has just returned from his summer adventure in Europe visiting urban income sharing communities. He just gave a wonderful report contrasting the US communes with their European counterparts. Here are some of the highlights from his talk:
* There are perhaps 40 or 50 secular income sharing communities in Europe and national and language boundaries largely keep them from networking together or even knowing about each other
* These communities of size 60 to 80 members (and of course much smaller) use consensus decision making without any problem. [Many small US communities, including Acorn, worry that they can not grow without consensus failing them, and almost all of them are far smaller than this].
* One of the maxims suggested was “The commune is rich, the communards are poor” The objective is great shared wealth, not increased personal/private wealth.
* None of the 6 income sharing communities visited had a labor quota (though one had a non-specific requirement for members to work full time). Most FEC communities have labor obligations and several have quota – though in Acorns case it is a “soft” and untracked quota.
* European urban income sharing communities are also both asset and debt sharing (unlike their US counterparts). The US based income sharing communities (most of them in the FEC network) were culturally founded during the rise of cults. Thus part of the desire to not be asset sharing at that time was to distinguish income sharing communities from cults (which took members assets).
* Very few people move to communes in there 20s (unlike in the US where this is our biggest demographic) instead they move in during their 30s when they want to settle down and have kids.
* Minimum stays at European communes tend to be much longer (on the order of 5 years) in sharp contrast to US communities where it is often just 12 or 18 months.
This is sort of a poor representation of some of the key ideas of GPaul’s presentation, but there is more i will elaborate on in future blog posts. Especially the transnational nomadic anarchist cyberpunks.
It is just a couple of weeks before the communities conference and we are putting the finishing touches on it. I believe this will be the best Communities Conference of the 10 I have helped organize. Some amazing presenters, many interesting participants and robust and relevant content. We have a number of options for the Monday program with is Communities Clinic. If you are planning on attending the Monday program on Sept 1st, we are hoping you’ll write us and give us an idea of what kind of issues your group is dealing with and what kind of help you’re looking for. There are 10 common topics described below with various questions to help you think about what might be useful to you.
Financing and development: Almost every community needs money. How can you secure funding for improving your community? What type of fundraising options have worked for other communities and are they exportable to you? Under what conditions can you borrow money from banks or run a successful crowd funding campaign?
Ownernship and legal structures: Well before you move in, you will need to figure out what type of community you are in a legal sense. Is it a land trust, a residential worker coop, a 501D community, LLC or other structure. Come discuss what these all mean and which models would work best for you and your forming group.
Recruiting and outreach: If you have the right members, you can do almost anything. But how do you find these people (if they are not already working with you)? Many communities reach other through FIC websites and publications, others write articles in periodicals which appeal to their value sets, some buy advertisements, others speak at colleges or festivals, still others blog or recruit thru social media. What is the right mix for the people you are trying to find? What is cost effective or no cost? What places should you avoid?
Relationships and conflict resolution (problematic people and expulsion): Many European communities have no expulsion process, almost all US ones do. How do you maintain personal and emotional relationships with your membership? What do you do when relationships inside the community sour to the point where it might be necessary for the group to split or someone to leave? What have long lived communities done to successfully deal with problematic or high negative impact members?
Decision-making: The US cohousing movement has widely adopted consensus (including sociocracy models) as the way they make decisions. Some communities use voting models including super majority models. Do you have what it takes to be a charismatic leader for your community (hint this includes tremendous patience and a willingness to listen)? Does your decision model change as your group gets larger? If you can’t agree to change something are you always stuck with the status quo? These and other questions will be addressed in this participant driven workshop.
Local relations/involvement: Does it matter if you shop in the town closest to your community? Does it make sense to invite the neighbors over for tea or will it just leave them more scared than they already are? What about political protest in your own town – will this distance you from your neighbors or bring you closer? Should members doing controversial things try to avoid the community being affiliated with their work to maintain local harmony? Is it considered community work to be part of the local volunteer fire department or volunteering to teach kids to read?
Cottage industries/Cooperative business: We have started calling them “income engines”. Choosing the right business is one of the most important decisions a community can make. If you rely too much on the skills of a minority of the membership (for example web development) the community economy can collapse if these people move on. Should you be looking for something that any new member can be trained in? Is the cottage industry open to all prospective members? Can the community hire people who are not members?
The range of membership statuses: Full member, provisional member, associate member, child member, intern, guest, ward of the state, lover of member – there are many different ways someone can be at a community for a while. Especially egalitarian communities try to limit the number of membership types to try to preserve fairness. Other communities have more flexible membership policies to try to be more inclusive or more versatile for members. In this workshop we’ll discuss how all these status’ have been used and which ones might be right for your community.
Different levels of sharing: Many student coops share a few meals a week, a clothes washer, and not much else. Their academic, economic and social experiences are largely independent. Some communities try to share everything from bank accounts to businesses to boyfriends. The more you share the more benefits you’ll see but the stronger your systems and communication needs to be. This workshop will look at some of these systems and how they combat internal hording and envy. It will also help forming communities decide what they want to share – are cars too big? are clothes to personal? Can we swing a public computer? Do we want to buy box seats for the games?
Culture Creation: Communities can create their own holidays and rituals. Often these cultural aspects are the most bonding aspect of the community members life. Should we buy instruments to help catalyze a more musical community? Should our parties be mostly us and our close friends or should we invite a wider audience? How does the community value and promote artistic expression? Do we strive for transparency in our feelings or privacy? There are dozens of aspects of cultural creation that communities can consider and often influence. What you choose to focus on will determine how most people perceive you and in many cases whether you will grow and thrive.