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March Against Monsanto 2015 – Richmond

Some media reports have forecasted hundreds of thousands will March against Monsanto corporation on May 23rd in over 400 cities around the world.  We went into Richmond to join the fun.

While this is a charming picture of a poster, it also has Oakers Sabrina, Sunya and Edmund int he background as well as Aster Acorn

A charming picture of a poster, it also has Oakers Sabrina, Sunya & Edmund in the background as well as Aster Acorn

The march started with the background information as to how it got started 3 years ago. The inspiration was the US congress passing the despicable  Monsanto Protection Act, which was basically written by Monsanto to make things better for them.

The most horrific parts of the 2013 Monsanto Protection Act are that even if it is found that GMOs have adverse health effects on consumers, companies using them 1) can not be sued, 2) can not be stopped from harvesting them and 3) cannot be blocked from planting more and selling more of them.

Little could be more revealing of how sold out our elected leaders are.

MAM marchers in Richmond today

MAM marchers in Richmond today

The perhaps 100 marchers went through the fashionable Carytown portion of Richmond with a substantial police escort.  The response from the many people who saw us was pretty warm, especially the staff at the many restaurants on that trendy street.

As for the tactics of the MAM i have strong split feelings (the technically correct definition of ambivalent).  I love the decentralized approach to the organization of these events.  People come, bring signs, and a megaphone.  There is a fairly informal rotation of speakers at most of these, anyone who is inspired can grab a megaphone and address the crowd.  While I did not speak this year, but i did in 2013 in Washington DC

Marchers with signs just before we head out (i am on the far right of this photo).

Marchers with signs just before we head out (i am on the far right of this photo).

This type of decentralize approach is important, because it is at its very base populist.  Also it proves that the internet can be a highly effective organizing tool (not requiring strong (read authoritarian) leaders) with global reach and the capacity to facilitate multi-city/multi-country mass actions.

MAM 2015 official poster

March Wide propaganda image – this is one of the benefits of being in the franchise.

The problem with the lovely grass rootsie approach is that these decentralized groups do a third rate job with media.  There was some media at the Richmond event, and there might even be a bit of press coverage.  But overall, this movement is pretending that it is possible reach millions without a media budget, without media handlers and without carefully crafted messages sending.

While i appreciated the considerable decentralized effort, i remember working with the experienced media folks at Rainforest Action Network (RAN) and Greenpeace US.  They speak at a high level about when a story has to be out by, what images make sense to broadcast, what are the talking points, what is the group demanding.

With hundreds of protests around the world, there are but dozens of articles up (mostly in small papers or on local tv stations).  I can’t help but think if one of the better big green groups were to take on this cause, we would have much larger media echo.

Let's get right to that

Let’s get right to that

Rerouting Mind and Nimble Emotions

I spend more time driving these days than i would like to.  While one of the major advantages of living in income sharing communities like Twin Oaks and Acorn is that you need not drive to work  or to where you reside, i appear to have designed my life to miss out on this benefit.

No one is to blame for this other than me.  I love to travel. I often take on tasks that are at great distances away and i am interested in projects which are not happening in central Virginia, where i nominally live.  While i would certainly prefer to travel in the high functioning rail systems like Germany or the Netherlands have, in absence of these i am not willing to give up my mobility to be orthodox.

Some of the worlds better trains, in one of the best served countries in the world, Germany

Some of the worlds better trains, in one of the best served countries, Germany

Because i am driving more, i observe the behavior of GPS systems more, especially when i make mistakes.  When i miss a turn, the GPS starts rerouting the trip, and while it is figuring this out it leaves the old estimated time of arrival up until it has a new one.  i watch to see how much time i have lost because i missed my turn and surprisingly often it is just a couple of minutes different in arrival time estimates.  It turns out quite often mistakes are cheap.

reroute

So i am attempting to train my brain to do what the GPS does, and effortlessly forgive the mistake, figure out the new path and not stress over it. Instead just pay attention to the new directions and you will get there at basically the original time.

gps_hazards

The less error friendly version

Imagine a world where we have learned this type of emotionally nimble behavior which is effortlessly displayed by the GPS.  What if we let go of this (often optional) guilt and shame?  What if (after having learned what might be useful from our mistakes) we moved on without harping on errors or beating ourselves up wishing we had done something different?

I am guessing all kinds of good would come from it.

Barefoot, One Eye and Too Dim

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.

Too Dim, Barefoot, and One Eye - or folks who could be them

Too Dim, Barefoot, and One Eye – or folks who could be them

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.

The part about

The part about “angry” is a myth, in my experiences.

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.

traveler and train

Move swiftly between trains before they leave to avoid the yard security. A good train hopper can sense  when a car will start moving, and how long before they have to jump.

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.

it is a bit tight

It is a bit tight.

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.

Drone Graffiti

i hate drones.

Part of the reason is that they erode constitutional protections – everything from killing US citizens, to unreasonable searches, to declarations of war without congressional authority.  Part of the reason is they represent a horrifying new lethal technology which can be deployed without the risk of loss of life on the part of the aggressor, thus encouraging their use in all manner of situations, often where no lethal force was needed.  Part of the reason is that progressive or just reasonable political forces in the US have been unable to stop almost any aspect of their use by the government and military, including armed drones being deployed in the US to kill citizens.

clumsy first generation drones with spray cans

clumsy first generation drones with spray cans

There is a new wrinkle in the expanding, but largely ignored drone discussion: drone graffiti.  Wired Magazine reports with some glee the dawn of the age of drone vandalism.  [Why “glee” you ask?  Perhaps because the article title refers to this first know drone tag as “epic”].

Perhaps now that corporation as suffering something will be done to stop drones?

Perhaps now that corporations are suffering something will be done to limit drones?

It was completely forecastable that this would happen, but no one happened to.  On one level this might be because it makes absolutely no real difference in the world, despite Wired’s hype.  There was graffiti before, it does not matter much how it gets there.

Extended FAQs – Twin Oaks Decision Making

This is the second in a series of extensions to the FAQs found on the TwinOaks.Org website.  Members, ex-members and other informed folks are encouraged to send corrections or alternative interpretations of my extensions as well as of the official FAQs themselves.

Here is what the website says about our decision making system:

Our decision-making model is based on the Walden Two Planner-Manager system combined with our egalitarian values. Managers are responsible for the day-to-day decisions for their area. For community-wide decisions and larger issues, the Planners (3 rotating members) make decisions by looking at our bylaws and policies, and by soliciting community input by posting papers for comment, holding community meetings, putting out surveys, talking with members (especially members that are closely involved in the issue or have strong feelings), etc. They don’t make decisions based on their personal preference, but rather by gathering information and determining the larger will of the community on a given issue. Any member can appeal a Planner decision they feel is unfair, although this rarely happens as Planners generally do a pretty good job at considering all the aspects of a given issue.

The community as a whole does not use consensus for making decisions, but some decision-making bodies within the community use consensus to make their decisions (e.g. the Membership Team). In keeping with our egalitarian values, we all have a voice in making the decisions about how to spend our collective money and labor during each year’s economic planning. The Managers and Planners put out their proposed economic plan, and each member can alter the plan according to their values and preferences (e.g. I can cut the office budget, and shift that money/labor to the garden budget instead, if I want). Once every member who wants to has done this, the Planners synthesize everyone’s changes to create the final budget.

decision-making-processes sign post Decision making at Twin Oaks is complex and the origin of this complexity (in my opinion) is the noble notion that we can do better than have a simple majority win.

The founders of the community thought they could improve on voting.  They wanted a system which revised proposals, even if they would win a simple vote, so that they could take care of minority voices in the community.  But because there were not (in 1967) good secular models of consensus process, they decided to roll their own and create a whole new group decision making structure. Key to this structure is our own unusual internal communication system.

Every community has an internal communication system, and almost all of them are verbal.  The group gets together some number of times each week and discusses what needs to happen and who is going to do it.

Twin Oaks was founded by writers.  We have a written communication culture. I don’t know of any other community that does it this way.  It has several advantages and some disadvantages as well.

The principal advantage is we avoid the “sloppy majority effect”.  If you are making a proposal and you have general support for it, but there are people with concerns about it, you cannot just force it through as a simple vote would.  If there are reasonable ways you can take care of the minority by modifying your proposal, the expectation is you will try to find these and amend your proposal.

This is why the O&I board is more powerful than a meeting format for proposal reworking. The O&I board is a collection of 24 clipboards on which people post proposals for changes in our policy and decisions.  These clipboards are stocked with extra blank paper at the ends so that there is room for people to add their thoughts (and so they feel like the authors of the proposal are inviting them to do so).  Ideally, critics voice their concerns, make constructive suggestions, and these amendments get reviewed and integrated in part or in totality to the new version of the proposal. The problem comes when the comments are not constructive or not easily folded into the existing proposal.  This is especially problematic when a vocal minority wants the proposal not to go forward at all or has a significantly different alternative they would like to advance.

How are we getting there?

How are we getting there?

These contentious proposals test our decision making system and demonstrate both its flexibility and its hazards.  The person who posts the proposal has several different options when they get complex or contradictory feedback on what they have submitted.  The first and easiest option is they can simply drop the idea.  This happens with some regularity.  Many folks proposing things, however, have a vested interest in the improvements they have suggested, so they will typically go one of several routes:

  • re-write the proposal to include new suggestions
  • call a community meeting to discuss the proposal (this is rare)
  • do a survey of member’s attitudes on this topic (also rare)
  • consult with other area managers or the planners

It’s a complex process and can proceed at a glacial pace, but some proposals do pass and it works well enough at Twin Oaks.

[ edited by MoonRaven ]

Your grandchildren will hate you

Eugene is pleasant in the spring.  Flat enough to be excellent to bike almost everywhere, with little car traffic which is mostly well behaved.  The university brings new faces every year and clever talk. There is an impressive array of restaurants and natural food stores to serve locals and visitors alike.  Well maintained parks and nature preserves surround Eugene, with accessible hiking and biking.

bike trail eugene

The politics of the town are mostly liberal to progressive with some colorful radicals thrown in for spice.  It is also where some of my favorite people in the world live, including Tree and Abigail.  Abigail invited me to present at her work with SWAT (Sexual Wellness and Advocacy Team).  She wanted to do group trust building, so i did an introduction to transparency tools which was quite well received.

When i got there, some students expressed interest in the communes so i did a rapid introduction of them.  Which ended with the lines:

We keep track of our energy and materials use within the income sharing communities and what we find is that our per person carbon footprint is about 20% of that of our mainstream US counterparts.   This 80% reduction in carbon emissions corresponds with where the UN’s IPCC thinks all industrial countries should be by 2050.  The problem is that almost no one else knows how to get here.

The communes are not brilliant in our use of renewables.  Nor do we carefully conserve every kilowatt hour of electricity.  The thing we are really good at is sharing resources.  In my view, this is the only way to save the world while maintaining a lifestyle which is vaguely similar to what people in rich countries are already experiencing.  If your grandchildren don’t hate you, it will be because as a nation we figured out how to share resources well.

Switching to Renewables is just not enough

Switching to Renewables is just not enough

Frankly, i think i went over the head of some of these otherwise clever students.  It is not a message one hears very often and people are generally dismissive about the significance of sharing.  And for me there is no escaping the importance of it.  It is at the center of the Point A project and much of the outreach work we do.

If Willow has kids, i want them to like me.

commune kids

Willow and the commune kids – circa 2015

New Propaganda Tools – The Point A Foldie

Before there were zines, there were fingerbooks. An 8.5” by 11” sheet of paper cut in half and then folded into half small booklets, with high graphic content and relatively few words. I made a lot of these on different topics while I was working in Europe.   There was one on consensus, one on reactors and the most popular one on open relationships which got translated into several languages.

point-a-foldy-front-854x1024

I’ve sat at a whole bunch of tables in my day handing out propaganda. I watch people and what they reach for and pick up. From a collection of full size flat pieces of paper, a tri-fold and a fingerbook, a surprising fraction of the time, a typical curious passer by will pick up the fingerbook first. Often people will only take one thing and if you are in the propaganda business, you want to be first.

point-a-foldy-inside-1024x884

There was a Point A pamphlet, I did not have much to do with it, I really did not like it. The font was tiny, there were hardly any graphics, it was folded into an 1/8th of a page with some strange cut pattern which was confusing. As someone who had made a lot of fairly popular fingerbooks, it offended my sensibilities.

point-a-foldy-spread-1024x782

Recklessly, Trip left her email open. I fired off message to GPaul pretending to be her, complaining about the Point A pamphlet and asking if he and Lily would fix it. Not noticing that I had spelled incompetently wrong (a dead give away since Trip would never do such a thing), GPaul was both fooled and took the request seriously. A beautiful thing resulted from this spoof.

In the type of last minute scramble indicative of so many things in the Point A project, Drew [link blog], GPaul [link something] and Lily [link MatchMaker bio] pulled together a Point A “foldie” which is a kissing cousin of a fingerbook (no cutting thank you) in time for the DC Point A introductory event. Which was conveniently a few days before the PANYC Community MatchMaking event this weekend.

The world is a better place.

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