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.
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.
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.
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.
We are constantly guessing when and what type of events we should be organizing in order to spark the new communities movement. This time we clearly guessed right.
We had about 70 people at this quickly organized event. We crowded the Keep with enthusiastic and chatty folks. Many were experienced community people but for most of the group this was relatively new stuff.
Lovely food and engaging conversation were had. After GPaul did a wild and woolly version of open space technology, we broke into working groups talking about:
- Community as an Agent for Healing
- Addressing Sexual Assault in Community
- Starting Community Businesses
- Starting EcoVillages
I was in the healing discussion group which was held in part in an empty Jacuzzi tub.
It was a lovely warm up for our content in NYC this coming weekend, the Community Matchmaking (see Facebook Invite) event. Here is the evolving program for that event, being held at the Brooklyn Free School.
All photos by Dragon
Crow screwed up. They recently acted out in a way that had made people feel uncomfortable and some even unsafe. It could have been any of a number of kinds of things: An intoxicated incident, a minor consent violation, a petty crime, even an especially poor choice of guest. The specifics don’t matter. Crow knew that they had created a problem for themselves with Acorn and they were coming to me for advice. What could they do to make things better? How could they mend their frayed relationships with other members? At Acorn this answer is easy, you do what we regularly do, you have a clearness.
And it turns out that this is a very good thing. Many communities have self care mechanisms that feel punitive. As i have written, the Feedback system at Twin Oaks very often feels punishing, even though it often need not.
But because Acorn does regular individual clearnesses, adding another one to normal rotation almost always feels accessible. The clearness format is the same as a routine clearness (meetings with each individual member, checking in about their experiences of each other, and then a group clearness which summarizes all the individual clearnesses).
The lesson is clear here. When you are designing self corrective systems within a community, you need to consider how they feel to the users. It is not enough to insure the community is taken care of, these systems need to feel non coercive to the members who are going through them. The best way to have that effect is to have a familiar and non-threatening group communication facilitating tool. I think the clearness process is one of the better ones.
A week later i talked with Crow. They had done a bunch of clearnesses and felt much better about their connection to the community. They felt better understood.
The most common complaint about community clearnesses is that they take a lot of time. “Do i really have to talk to everyone else in the community one-on-one?” Only if you want there to be cohesion in your community. Only if you want to be able to fix significant mistakes people make and successfully rebound from it. You only need to do this if you want a healthy community.
For many people this is too much work and i think this is central to why so many communities fail.
Names have power. I spent years going to a summer environmental youth festival in Europe called “Ecotopia”. Regular participants consider themselves Ecotopians. We talked about “Ecotopian Principals”. When things went well, we marveled at the “Ecotopia spirit”. It was originally the title of a book by Ernest Callenbach, who coined it in his 1975 popular classic, which was a prophetic tale of the Northwest region of the US succeeding and reversing industrial capitalism. But the name quickly went on to mean much more to many people. If we had, for example, called it Summer Green Fest, we would have identified with it less deeply and it might well have died a decade sooner. Some of the best names are ones which occur organically. I remember when we were designing an all womens anti-nuclear office in Prague which was staffed by internationals. Emily said “Why don’t we just call it the Prague International Anti-Nuclear Office?” I said “don’t you think that is a little long?” She said “We would call it PIANO for short, the acronym.” Instantly there was no other choice, we just started calling it Piano from that day on. The Point A project wrestled a bit initially with what to call ourselves, we wanted a good name. But the more we talked about it, we realized that the communities that the project created would have their own names, identities and origin stories – so a good name would be nice, and i like Point A, personally. But it is not a brilliant name. Busy people compress things. Your goodbyes are shorter, repetitive tasks get shaved by seconds where you can and multi-word names you have to type repeatedly become acronyms. Point A has a growing number of specific urban sub-projects (including currently DC, NYC, Baltimore and Richmond). So i started writing Point A – NYC and then PA – NYC and finally PANYC. omg what a great name. We are often told “don’t panic”, not just in the context of the hitchhikers guide to the galaxy, but to maintain order. From where i sit, if we follow this strategy the chances for the planet to survive are vanishingly small. The people who want us to stay calm are often the same ones who think Climate Disruption is not a thing. They think business as usual is the way to go and they most certainly think that we should respect the powers that be and the current authority structure.
I could not disagree more. We need to be panicking. We need to be doing things dramatically differently. Business as usual is suicide, convenient and lucrative for a tiny fraction of the population, certainly. But no less suicide for the planet and everyone we care about. Well see if the other folks in the project are as excited as i am by this name and the implications. But i have a spring in my step just thinking about it.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.