She had me from “Batman”.
It is intriguing to observe the cultural differences between the communes and New York City. On the last Point A trip, Acorn’s newest intern (who back then was called Batman) introduced herself a few dozen times over the trip. No one blinked.
It was as though they had had dozens of people call themselves Batman before. Knowing there must be some revealing or at least interesting story, none of them thought it would be appropriate to ask for it. While on the communes, this introduction reliably drives the next part of the conversation.
But the origin of Batman was problematic, it hailed from a romantic partner who was no longer in the picture. So I suggested a naming party, and she embraced the possibility. She wanted a dual purpose new name. One which could embrace the exotic strangeness and quirky freedom which the communes could offer, while also having a more mundane nickname version which she could answer the business phones with. Nickelodeon could become Nick, for example. Prof Pocket could become Po. She, having a traditionally feminine given name, also wanted something which sounded masculine.
But Batman was a cool name and some communards were reluctant to give it up. Strandbeest in particular wanted to contribute by keeping the old name with a new origin story. When Batman challenged “What will I say when people ask about my name?” Strandbeest (who is now called Jayne – along with a half dozen other things – after the Firefly character, who is apparently both stupid and mean) countered “Because I am the hero Gotham deserves”. Which in the early moments of last night’s naming party was pretty compelling and almost derailed the entire event.
There were a few other attempts at new origin stories to rescue the old cool name from the ash bin of history, but it was not to be. Our vivacious new intern had fully embraced the idea that a new name was an opportunity and was compelled by the daring prospect of having a group of friends rename her from the very long list of possibilities.
She did of course whittle down this list. She was not going to be called Styrofoam, or Lasersnake or Ronald Raygun. Though to her credit she was willing to consider Styrofoam if there was a clever Babylon acceptable nickname which was spawned. But despite our best efforts none was revealed.
Acorn does not do naming parties like Twin Oaks does. We don’t name our cars or our buildings generally. Names appear comically or organically or mysteriously without explanation. The event was well attended, perhaps because of it’s novelty but more likely because she is an unusually well-liked new addition to our colorful hyper-family.
Besides the attempted new origin story, we also tried some new things at the naming party. It is not uncommon for us to reduce the list of names thru a number of binding polls. The first is usually that you have 5 up votes and 3 down votes. As an experiment after we had done a couple of elimination rounds, we did a non-binding round with three negative votes and single positive one – just to see what people were grumpy about. The least favorites were the more bland options, such as Dylan and Neil.
In the end, we choose “Triple Threat Tony”, in part because this was a name that she herself quite liked. It satisfied the male identification aspect with Tony. It has the option of endless entertaining sub-names (I am calling her Triple Threat, others have compressed to just “Trip” or “Tone”). She will still answer to Batman, which some Acorners are unwilling to part with (perhaps this will lead to her name drifting into free fall).
And despite the name change, for me she will always be hero that Gotham needs.
While on the recent Point A trip, a hybrid group of Catalonyians and Acorn-affiliates met in the cozy basement room of a bodywork studio in Brooklyn. Paxus introduced this group of charismatic New Yorkers and communards to the transparency tools.
The Catalysts are an incredibly clever bunch. These folks know that if they do a good job crafting their agreements and cultural fabric, they can create an amazing eco-village. And while they are a fundamentally fun loving and playful crowd, community building is difficult work and they have been hard at it. Especially drafting written agreements- for everything. For land ownership, for the membership process, for the types of cottage industries that might happen, the mission statement- the tasks go on and on. Important, complex and often slogging work.
This is not actually what this group of people wants to be doing. What they want to be doing is falling in love. This is where the transparency tools come in.
I have experience with some of the transparency tools used, as I used to be part of a meditation community in DC in which we met 2x a month to have a sit followed by a discussion.
Often in this format and during retreats (which happen twice a year) we used the “If you really knew me…” and Hot Seat tools. I’ve already witnessed how effective they can be in bringing a group together, and it was no different with the Catalysts.
Frequently when starting, it takes a round or two of “If you really knew me” statements for everyone to start to open up. What was so beautiful about this night in particular was each person became transparent almost immediately. People were sharing their stories with each other so willingly and with so much faith that the group wanted to hear them.
We transitioned from “If you really knew me” statements to Hot Seats, the Catalysts asking questions and Paxus explaining the benefits of the many tools.
Due to the wacky Point A trip agenda and time constraints, we were only able to fit in three 5-minute Hot Seats. The group did an excellent job being clear with their questions and answers, and everyone involved continued to be engaged.
To wrap up the evening, Paxus began to explain the tools that go beyond being personally transparent and begin to create transparency in relationships. Specifically, these tools are Unsaids and Withholds. These tools can create space for resolution of conflict as well as giving members an opportunity to appreciate one another. They are also notoriously tricky.
This point in the evening is when things really got interesting. Despite Pax expecting to solely explain Unsaids/Withholds and not try to do any that evening, members of the group began to use the tools without any hesitation. Several conflicts were put on the path to resolution within ten minutes, with the tools used practically flawlessly.
What then evolved seemingly naturally- after what could be seen as complaining or criticism of the Withholds- was the graceful move into appreciations, which were equally rich and revealing. As we left it was clear the group wanted more. The Point A crowd- which are in some sense carpetbaggers from Virginia trying to build community in NYC- felt like we had really done our job.
It was about midnight at the fabulous Validation Day party. Willow and the gaggle of friends who had come up for his 13th birthday were no doubt safe killing zombies or the digital equilvalent somewhere on our 450 acre campus. Sky and i caught each other between songs on the dance floor.
“Do you have Willow tonight?” i asked
“He does not need us, he is a teenager now.” Sky quipped
And while it was mostly a joke, there was some recgnition that even in the insular world of the income sharing intentional community, our son was becoming more independent, more self reliant and less in need of direct supervision or support from his flock of parents.
Sadly, we retreated from the lovely complex rules of Capture the Flag 2.0. It was deemed too hard to teach and we were in a hurry to get out into the cold and get playing.
Willow’s team won twice before the cold overwhelmed the group. [Pro tip – attrition. Wait for the other team to have too many members in jail and then overwhelm their strained defenses.] This game had lots of running through the woods which makes it easy to wipe out and out maneuver your pursuer. The kids seemless intergrated in the small handful of Acorners i brought over for the fun.
Willows friends almost all either live in the commune now or did at one point. One of his best friends is Adrian, who left the commune when Willow was 2. Adrian is now 17 (Willow is 13 if that was not clear). But like many kids who grow up at the commune, there is some special home like aspect that brings them back to visit and maintain friendships. A dozen years ago Adrian did child care for Willow. Now they team up to take on zombies or their digital equivalents via online chat.
The parents will stick around for a bit longer, in case he needs us for something.
Check out these pictures of the back to the land movement in the late 1960s.
The new kids on the block are actually the old kids from the block, they are just back with a very politically potent offer which will hopefully be a new direction for the squatting movement – but i am getting ahead of myself, let’s begin at the beginning.
Freedonia is awesome. They have pioneered a new approach to squatting which makes it more resilient. They have tricked the police into giving them abandoned buildings. They host clever workshops, feed local and poor people for free and throw bad ass parties. All in an undisclosed location, in the shadow of serious urban decay, somewhere on the east coast of the US, far from anywhere Dick Cheney would think of hanging out.
An adventurous group of Freedonians (which is quite redundant phrase actually) set off on a bike tour to New Orleans. They called themselves the Vultures. There were puppet shows, there were narrow escapes from the police, there were complex polyamorous topographies – all the good things you would expect from our intrepid travelers. And there were lots of talks around open fires about how to step things up back in Freedonia.
Normal people would have looked at the impressive accomplishments of this full featured set of squats and said “well, we have done quite enough and we are already impressive and sustainable just the way we are”. But the Vultures would not know normal if it came at them with a knife (i’d bet on the Vultures in this fight though, normal don’t got a chance).
They decided they would kick it up a level and start income sharing. They returned from their bike tour, promptly broke into a house not far from their original places (which they had let others move into while they were on the bike tour and they did not want them to leave when they returned) and squatted it. And thus Vulture House was born.
They then offered to all of the other Freedonians to join them in this income sharing adventure. Readers of this blog will not be surprised that i think sharing and especially income sharing are instrumental in saving the world. We don’t know how many other local squatters will bite, but the Vultures are pretty compelling.
Stay tuned for more tales of intrepid revolutionaries from undisclosed locations.
The activists who fought this reactor did an amazing job, ultimately forcing the state of Vermont to vote against it’s continued operations and the Governor to demand it be closed. An act which had no direct effect, because the utility which owned Vermont Yankee hid behind the pro-industry Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which granted the plant a licence extension. But the political waters for the continued operation of this lie and error plagued reactor had been set. And ultimately the will of the people prevailed over the power of the nuclear establishment.
Vermont governor, Peter Shumlin, said: “Today, thanks to investments in renewable energy such as solar, Vermont’s energy future is on a different, more sustainable path that is creating jobs, reducing energy costs for Vermonters and slowing climate change.” Shumlin was a strong advocate for the closure of the reactor once its license expired.
The New Orleans based Entergy Corportation bought this reactor in 2002, hoping this trouble plagued reactor would turn out to be a cash cow. They admit they were wrong. “This has been a bad investment for us,” said Barrett Green, an Entergy finance executive who recommended both that Entergy buy the plant and later that it be closed. But bad economics are not enough to close reactors any more. Were it not for the political organizers in Vermont, Entergy would be seeking the same kind of non-market solutions which Exelon is looking for in Illinois.
Literally thousands of activists and hundreds of thousands of people across the small state of Vermont are responsible for this win. But i feel like i need to name some names.
Deb Katz herded the cats that is the Citizen Action Network and ran some of the most fun action camps i have ever been to, and i have been to a lot of action camps.
Jim Riccio kept Greenpeace honest (a very tricky task) and focused on the one we could win.
The whole lovely staff at Beyond Nuclear wrote reports, educated the press, supported activists and helped in innumerable other ways to shut this plant down.
And a special thanks to the guy who got me up to Vermont Yankee in the first place, who was behind the scenes and occasionally quite out in front. My friend and mentor Michael Marriote from NIRS.