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Which words can we still use? Commune? Communism?

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.

Anarchist_Communist_Flag_by_TapiocaDeath

These messages, perhaps?

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.

Can we reclaim this damaged name?

Can we reclaim this damaged name?

I wrote GPaul:
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).
In his provocative way GPaul replied:

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. you say commie like it is a bad thing 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.

Commune Snapshot – Acorn edition

Yes, we have a pet cow, called Pandora

Yes, Acorn has a pet cow, called Pandora. Though she is most frequently referred to simply as “Cow.”  These friends include Dragon, Falcon, Mac and Rejoice.

This chalk board elephant is being used to develop a new language at Acorn

This chalk board elephant is being used to develop a new language at Acorn

Falcon and Irena picking orders at Southern Exposure

An alternating text and picture game we play

Exquisite Corpse: An alternating text and picture game we play

Canoe in a truck

Stephanie and Elan off to places which don’t require seat belts

Community Supported Dumpster Diving

Supermarkets are hugely problematic.  They distort purchasing behaviors, contribute to obesity, cut wages to farmers and more.  There have been several responses to this situation, including farmers markets.  The direct workaround for supermarkets is Community Support Agriculture or CSA for short.  CSAs have customers buying shares directly from farmers and typically every week they get part of the harvest in a box they go pick up.  When harvests are good, customers share in the bounty, when harvests are low customers agree not to complain, and as a result, they feel like they are in the game together with the farms.

CSAs give better prices to farmers by cutting out the powerful broker of the supermarket.  They provide money faster to farmers, earlier in the season when they often most need it.  They share the risk between farm and end consumer in a way that supermarkets have no interest in sharing.  They typically offer better profits for farmers and lower prices for end customers.

Our fine friends in Freedonia have taken this idea to the next level.  [If you don’t remember Freedonia is our pseudonym for actual urban communities which are doing clever but illegal things in undisclosed locations.]  They are starting Community Supported Dumpster Diving (CSDD) or what one communard calls Community Supported Gleaning.

Active dumpster diving collective households pull in dramatically more food from dumpsters than they themselves can use.  Other collective households agree to sort, clean, prep, store and divide the bounty as it comes in (often at absurd o’clock in the morning).  Finally a set of other collective houses come and pick up the recovered food and feed it to their people.

There are gems in those dumpsters

There are gems in those dumpsters

If you have not been dumpster diving in an urban area, you might miss the cleverness of this plan.  Normally, dumpster divers are presented with a dilemma.  There are 60 bunches of perfectly good banana’s here, but if i bring them all back 1) we will never eat them in time and most of them will rot.  2) We will spend a bunch of time cleaning and storing them and will end up losing out on other dumpster bounty.

CSDD solves this problem in several ways.  Crews get sent out knowing their own collective household need not clean and consume everything they rescue.   By having the different people doing food prep from the people who are doing the dumpster diving, you avoid asking exhausted dumpster divers at 3 AM to then spend hours cleaning and in some cases food processing all the bananas.  By spreading the dumpstered treasure over several different collective households, you share pro tips, strategies and critical information about urban dumpsters among a growing crowd of experts and don’t burn people out by having to do so much dumpstering in an given week.  By having separate crews doing cleaning and food processing, you rescue a greater fraction of the salvaged food.

Get the right gear - Cartoon Credit WikiHow

Get the right gear – Cartoon Credit WikiHow

There are complex discussions going on between Freedonia and other collective households.  Who can join the CSDD?  Is it possible to just buy shares (like in CSAs) and not do any of the work?  How do we evaluate the different types of efforts, space needs, storage costs, administrative work etc?

But the Freedonians i spoke with said the project (still in early stages) is going fabulously so far, people are not sweating the details and are upping the collective dumpster diving game dramatically – dropping food prices for people living in cooperatives, reducing the amount of wasted food in the system and providing adventurous activities for people who might otherwise simply be sleeping.

Who builds a better future?  Those who are willing to try.

Who builds a better future? Those who are willing to try.

i am excited about where this idea can go, and that it proves that by cooperating we can create a lifestyle which is both more resilient and more fair.

Presents for Propagandists

I am not into birthdays, including my own.  Turns out if i simply turn off the Facebook birthday notification of mine, I can avoid the dozens of robotic “Happy Birthday” messages which I get from otherwise creative people who like me.   I had a lovely birthday including a trip to the free STI clinic, an unrelated rushing around adventure and lovely conversations about forming new communities in Colorado.  It felt like a good day to be alive.

As an anti-materialist, I am an unusually difficult person to get presents for.  Most people don’t even try.  With the exception of my generous mother, it was almost a gift free celebration.  Lovely.

mindless_consumerism

But as the day ended, in the last look at email messages I got the most lovely present from Audrey from the far reaches of Quebec.  Audrey is one of those shooting stars we get through the communes, who enchant us endlessly but we can’t hold onto because they have other adventures that beckon them.

Audrey enchants as an Amazon Warrior in the ZK living room

Audrey enchants as an Amazon Warrior in the ZK living room

Without even knowing it was my birthday, she game me the most lovely of presents – a translation.

One of my favorite self-generated pieces of propaganda is a morsel of writing from way back called “Why I am an anarchist.”  There is a strange history to this piece, which includes that it exploded the collective that was supposed to turn a set of these essays into a book.  But that is another story.

Audrey appreciated this proclamation and mentioned when she last left Twin Oaks/Acorn that she planned on translating it.  And I did not think much of it.  People offer these kinds of things with some regularity, but translation is non-trivial work and can easily get lost behind the rest of the things you are doing.

The original unbirthday party

The original unbirthday party

I am pleasantly surprised and gratified for my multi-lingual friends who help spread these radical ideas around.  What a lovely unextraordinary day to be alive.

Whither Batman, Emerge Triple Threat Tony

She had me from “Batman”.

Triple Threat Tony has had other names, depicted above in Santa Fe

Meet Acorn’s newest intern, shown above in Santa Fe

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.

We are nto going this way

We are not going this way

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.

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She had lots of options

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.

-4

The group decided that a tie would make me more official

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.

Surveying all she can see

Surveying all she can see

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.

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The revised list

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.

Tony2

Commune Snapshots – Sam Acorn

Sam drewssed up

before the party

 

Sam dirty 2

After Arson clean up

 

Sam tennis guitar

before her big audition

 

sam harp better

with her big friend

 

sam back harp

bye

 

The Sharp Edge of the Tool

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.

But rather a key to a new way of seeing each other

But rather a key to a new way of seeing each other

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.

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We all know that a great eco village is built on the foundation of love… and spreadsheets

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.

penetrating questions designed to reveal you - not necessarily heal you

penetrating questions designed to reveal you – not necessarily heal you

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.

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Dream eco-village material

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.

Let me see inside of you

Let me see inside of you

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.


Triple Threat Tony is a small giant and regular editor of Your Passport To Complaining. She’s involved with the Point A project as an organizer/secretarial wench and hates celery almost as much as comma misuse. Trip, as she is known to her close circle of small giant friends, smells faintly of chocolate chip cookies and rocket fuel. When she isn’t dismantling the patriarchy or destroying capitalism, she pretends to be an Acorn intern.

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