Part of my job is to convince people that life on the commune is better than their life (if it really is, of course). Some days this is easy. Today was one of those days.
Rejoice and i chased down an uncooperative goat this morning, usually they can all be rounded up by a single person. Today, however, this goat was being temperamental and required special handling.
It is the busy season, and everyone knows it. There is a busy atmosphere around the place, but it is not stressed. We are getting it done, picking, packing and shipping hundreds of orders each day. Part of what has been making it work is that we have been blessed by a rain of wonderful East Winders. Thirteen of them came on this trip and they have been huge in getting all manner of things done. After the last East Wind LEX trip i think it is fair to say Acorn has a major motion picture intercommunity crush going on.
We are coming to the end of the construction at the new seed office, which we might be calling “The Ark” because it looks something like and arc (Acorn does not use regular naming party technology and thus names can be in indeterminate states). The crane has served us well and this afternoon we decided to take rides on it so we could see the surrounding area. The above short movie is Loch from East Wind riding for a bit.
For me it is wonderful to have GPaul around so regularly. Besides scheming and dreaming together – it just turns out he is incredibly handy to have around. From fixing laptop screens to getting the frozen water pump pipe operating again (both of these he did today). His sage wisdom for the day came from the experience of getting the water back on. “Don’t believe the cause of the problem when someone reports it to you, focus instead on the symptoms.” [Turns out the water was not frozen in the pipes in the building as several people had suggested, but rather a minor switch problem at the pump.]
There was not enough light in the Ark hallway to take pictures of the dance, but the good bye party is hopping. But i know when the party dies down – already some time after midnight, a bunch of inspired communards will pick the last hundred orders for the day, after almost everyone else in the county is asleep. They will do it joyfully, voluntarily, without a boss telling them what to do or tracking their hours and will feel like they are part of a right livelihood business that is helping start more resource sharing communities in the region.
What did you do today?
“The dumpsters are never empty in Freegantown, Freegantown, Freegantown.” Is the refrain from the first musical number in this epic piece of Twin Oaks Children’s theater.
This short gem was captured in a low resolution video. But you can get the witty dialog (including the pitch for more bandwidth). It should be pointed out that Rowan (Tall Guy) is playing a role inspired by me, or at least inspired by my head-achy guests (from Nero who burned part of Acorn, to Jason who drove some people a bit crazy).
As background, freegan is a dietary preference which chooses to prioritize recovered food (typically from dumpsters, but it could be other places where it has been discarded like farmers markets) over other dietary constraints. The root is from “free”, which is usual cost of dumpstered and other recovered foods. More radical freegan philosophies go well beyond free food and boycott the entire money economy.
And now for the video:
In the story i tell, at it’s inception Twin Oaks wanted a decision model which was better than simple democratic voting. The founders thought that communards could make better decisions than what came from the “50% plus one” model which dominated elections and government process. In the search for the elusive super majority, they did not want to set a threshold percentage, perhaps because they wanted something more subtle and dynamic than vote counting at the core of our process. They wanted to leave open the possibility that a small group with strongly held beliefs might be able to shift the groups outcome by carefully reasoned arguments and compelling logic.
Twin Oaks started in 1967, before the feminists had borrowed and adapted the consensus process from Quakers - creating a decision tool which could be used in a secular environment. And since simple majority rule had created so many dysfunctional system it seemed wise to try for something which was more representative, even if it was slower. Now over 45 years later we often wish we could go back to the founders and say “hey, the problem with this system is that we often can not tell when we are done. We don’t know when to run over a vocal minority in favor of the super majority. We don’t know how to interpret silence from most members on most issues. It would appear that decision making power is tilted towards those who write on the O&I board.”
Six years later, in 1973, East Wind was founded in the Ozarks. This was another income sharing community, which used the same base concept that members would each work a quota of some number of hours each week (currently 35 at East Wind and 42 at Twin Oaks) which would satisfy their obligation to the community. In exchange, the community would cover all the costs associated with their living. In many ways, East Wind was a close sister community of Twin Oaks. But most of the founders had come from Twin Oaks and they were ready for a new decision making model.
East Wind would embrace a voting model for many of its decisions. And in a significant deviation from Twin Oaks, it would elect it’s managers every year. [At Twin Oaks typically managers stay until they decide to leave the job or the community.] But the frontier culture of the Ozarks would influence the East Wind decision method and anarchism would creep in. People unfamiliar with commune decision making systems often laugh when they hear the East Wind technique characterized as anarcho-democratic, having a hard time imagining how that might work. But in what might be some libertarian’s wet dream, East Wind uses a dynamic mix of respecting (or tolerating) a high level of personal initiative (often without any formal group making decision process) with voting based group decision making.
Enter Acorn. Born a mere 21 years ago Acorn had a number of tools available to is which it’s older sisters did not have or choose to use. Specifically, it had consensus decision making. For those unfamiliar with the process here is a quick flow chart of how it works:
But you can look at it more simply. We sit around and talk, someone facilitates, but we agree to keep working the problem until everyone is okay with the solution. There are some technicalities (like blocking and standing aside) but it is a lovely elegant decision system for groups our size (about 30). Can consensus work with these larger communities (Twin Oaks is currently 93 adults, East Wind is at 73 adults – both communities are at their population capacity and have waiting lists)? The answer is certainly yes, i have worked in much larger groups that use consensus. Neither of these communities is likely to change their culture so dramatically as to embrace this newer decision system, despite there being (i believe) general belief that it produces better results.
And Acorn does not have managers. This is an interesting configuration, it works surprisingly well. The community is committed to anarchist organizing techniques. Instead of formal managers various members will in a flexible and decentralized way pay attention to certain aspects of the community. We don’t have a kitchen manager but we do have one person and sometimes more who is most involved with the kitchen and who generally takes care of the area, manages its needs, and who you should probably check in with before doing something in that area so that you don’t duplicate or frustrate other folks’ efforts. It is, we like to say, a system emphasizing personal initiative and responsibility. And without bureaucrats it’s hard to have bureaucracy. There are no forms, no legalistic process, no committees. If you want to know or do or change something you have to find the people who care and talk to them about it.
If you are in the area (Charlottesville/Central VA) and you feel like you have some sense as to what community life is like, you should come see the Sunday Jan 26th performance of Freegantown (if you have not already missed it, this is likely today for you).
Willow (who’s full name is Willow Star Falcon-Flansburgh) plays the villainous ex-communard who goes off to work for evil corporation Traitor Joes. His name is Dark Star in the play. This 30 minute performance, complete with a start up song with Evan on ukulele, is the best kid theater i have seen and some of the best theater to come out of the commune.
I won’t spoil the plot which teases all manner of commune customs and practices and includes blatant calls from the kids for more bandwidth in the community. But I will say this performance is a bit of insider ball, if you know nothing about the communes, about our pocket dramas around guests or our practices around dumpstering food, you will miss some parts of the story. None the less i would encourage you to come.
i will post more pictures (Hawina took some and Sky will tomorrow – all the Star parents are super proud this evening) and possibly get up the video of it. Aubby did and amazing job writing mostly and directing the piece. Ezra wrote and performed the musical accompaniment.
So be there ZK dining hall Sunday Jan 26th high noon – show starts on time. There is no charge for this performance, and if you wanted to leave a donation, that would be great.
Clearly i don’t have enough to do in my life (not) because i have started dabbling in online quizzes.
The first one which grabbed my attention in a weak moment was the one which asked what city you should live in? So i should have realized right away when the first question was about coffee and the second about contemporary music – where i did not know 7 of the 9 songs or even 4 of the 9 bands – that i was not likely to get great results from this survey.
There is also a section on hastags – from which you are supposed to choose one to represent you. I took #Sorry i am not sorry – which fits my anti-apology rap, but is likely a complete miss on what the right hashtag for me is (no tweaking options). But even in hashtag land i feel like i am from a different time space continuum. One of which is #YOLO (that i happen to know stands for You Only Live Once) or one other option was “#YOLO but only used ironically”. I am confident i can’t tell the difference, i am such a third rate hipster.
Under Beyonce they offer 9 different models to choose from:
- Super Bowl Beyonce
- Secret Album Beyonce
- Crazy in Love Beyonce
- Who rules the world (Girls) Beyonce
- Illuminati Beyonce
- Single Ladies Beyonce
- Destinies Child Beyonce
- 22 Days Vegan Beyonce
- Glastonbury Beyonce
So i do sort of follow Beyonce (though i missed the whole Jay Z thing). But i don’t know the difference between these different performer identities. So it is no surprise that this quiz put my real city as Paris.
I dislike Paris. It is not a friendly city and if you don’t have a patient local guide who is in it because they care about you rather than for money or something, it is quite an expensive and somewhat frustrating city (excellent Subway though). It is likely the last west European city i would actually go to.
I did better with the Star Wars quiz. Which was offering to map your identity to one of the regular heroes of Star Wars. This service is free. I got Yoda as my character, which is perhaps my aspiration.
[Edited by Judy Youngquest]
Many different things draw people to my communities: Tiny carbon footprint, holistic culture, no bosses, right livelihood, healthy lifestyle, full employment, inclusive decision making, almost no crime, strong consent culture and much more.
But when we really want to tug on someone’s heartstrings, we pull out the baby goats.
Rejoice took many of these pictures. You can read the full blog post about winter harvest and baby goats on the Acorn Blog.
[Edited by Judy Youngquest]
We have some people who are simply generous and wonderful to us. These are people who come in, solve all manner of electrical problems for us and refuse to be paid for their work, because they believe in this vision of community and want to support it, even though they don’t currently live there.
Our first wandering electrician is Milo. He is a slightly larger-than-life Scottish character, who’s exotic life has included upbringing in the African bush with natives, working the hottest jobs in the production of Scotch, a stint with the royal navy, time as a cop, subsequently several altercations with cops, running a natural food store and raising a family with the talented and amazing Susan Posey. There is more interesting, exotic and controversial stuff about Milo, but this is a family friendly blog so i will stop here with the bio.
Milo has done consulting, wiring and some design for the electrical system in the new seed office at Acorn. He rewired most of Heartwood after the fire. He has done dozens of jobs, large and small, at Twin Oaks as well, and he refuses to have us pay him. Instead we get him an occasional bottle of Scotch and we help move him around between his home in Norfolk and the central VA communes.
Our other wandering electrician is Dave. Dave is a local, who pops in to both Twin Oaks and Acorn and helps get party stuff wired, or pulls cables for new construction, or helps us figure out what size electrical systems we need. Dave is also dad for one of our newer and younger members, Frolic. And this morning i called him about the new seed packing robot at Acorn. Our folks followed the instructions and then tried to turn it on and got nothing. So i called Dave. Dave is sick and lives by himself. He will come when he is better. But in part because he also refuses to be paid by the communes, we decided we would send a small team out with chicken soup to his place in Louisa tonight to break the spell of being sick and alone for several days and have a little party at his place. When i checked to make sure he was not a vegetarian he said several times “oh you don’t have to do this.” But really he leaves us very little choice, if you are going to be this generous with us, we have to meet you at least a bit in that place ourselves.
[Edited by Judy Youngquest]
There are multiple cultural vectors which push people in community to changing their names. One of the more common ones is that we use only first names here so unless you arrive with an odd name (like Paxus or Hawina or Shal) there is some chance you may “have to” change your name to avoid being confused with someone who is already here.
And there are other forces which might be even more compelling. You never really liked the name you were given at birth. You want to take on some larger (River) or more charismatic (Cassandra) or more spiritual persona (Shakti). Or perhaps you want to try something funny (Mario Luigi Andretti) or light (Frolic).
Donna, a new member, arrived and while there was not another member named Donna living here, there was a very significant ex member named Donna who is regularly on campus these days as our general manager of the tofu hut expansion. In part to avoid confusion, but i think more as a personal challenge Donna our new member decided to change her name.
She changed it to Three. I have to say i am quite impressed. It is a strong name. She did not have a naming party, she knew what she wanted. When asked where it comes from, she sited her original soccer jersey number. She is sister number three (by some counts). Three also forms the body of her runner girl tattoo (see picture below) It is a daring name, easy to get mocked. Let’s wish her luck, and welcome her bold choice.
[Edited by Judy Youngquest]