Before discovering the communes I thought a lot about getting a tiny house, one of those adorable little things that you can pull on a trailer, like a modern gypsy wagon. I wanted the small environmental footprint, a way to minimize my impact. But I had all this stuff, a three bedroom house full, and I couldn’t fathom getting rid of it all. My books, 9 large bookcases full? No way. Spinning wheels and sewing machines? Bins of yarn? Historical gowns that I’ve been collecting since I was a teen? I couldn’t fathom life without these things. So I stayed in my big house.
When the idea of moving to a commune came up last summer, I knew I had to do it. It’s perfect for me in every way. The stuff problem was still there, I’m going to have to shave my life down to a single dormitory sized room – with no closets! But now it’s not optional, this has to happen, which puts a whole new perspective on the task.
I started the process about 6 months out and have approached it with repeated combings through the place. The first time was hard. Maybe I can let go of the Victorian Savonarola chair I wanted all my life and finally splurged on a few years ago. But my mother’s hand-blown Israeli wine glasses? Impossible.
But by the second pass it was easier, and the third and fourth easier still. Why do I really need those glasses? So I can take them out once a year, say ‘aww’, and put them away again? So I won’t forget my mother? I don’t need wine glasses to keep me from forgetting her. I found a lovely young woman just setting up her home to whom to give them and the pleasure I had in giving them to her was far greater than any I ever got from owning them.
And so it goes, letting go one thing after another, and with each release I feel a little lighter, a little freer. The temptation to acquire new things has vanished entirely.
Through this process I find myself wondering about the human urge to acquire and hoard. The explanations we give – I need two couches and seven bookcases and three televisions because I have guests, they remind me of grandpa, whatever – seem to be quite false, though we believe them ourselves. Somehow we feel safer surrounded by objects, as if they make us more real, give us more legitimacy in the world, perhaps help to stay the hand of the Great Separator. But in fact what they do is use up the already scant resources left on this planet, take from those who truly have need, and give us who are wealthy enough to hoard a shield from seeing those who have nothing. We cling tightly to our precious things and do not ask at what cost they are accumulated.
The more I let go, the more clearly I see these things, and see my own criminal complicity. I have a closet full of coats while passing freezing people on the streets, I heat my three bedroom house with fossil fuels, I drive my car and let its poisons fill the air. And I didn’t think there was any other way.
Finding the communes finally opened my eyes. I can live with great comfort with one room’s worth of personal possessions. And for the rest, I can share. Share cars, share a kitchen, share computers, share bicycles, almost everything. And by doing so I can live better than I do now, work less, play more, have access to more, have more community, more help, eat better, and feel far, far better about it than I do now. It’s a prospect of so much wealth that I almost feel guilty.
Emilia starts her visitor period today.
Often, i find language police annoying. Some definitions of words shift with time. The word ambivalent has drifted from its original meaning to be torn by opposing feelings about something to being indifferent. When people use the word, i listen to determine which of these meanings they are using. Mostly, i don’t tell people they are using it wrong.
Strangely, 400 years ago the word “nice” meant “silly”. So now, even though nobody uses it that way, when ever i hear the word “nice” i check to see if i think they might really mean that the thing is silly.
There is an important exception to this “no language police” self-rule. It is distinguishing between envy and jealousy. Wikipedia puts it well.
In its original meaning, jealousy is distinct from envy, though the two terms have popularly become synonymous in the English language, with jealousy now also taking on the definition originally used for envy alone.
Fortunately for our insurance rates, a disproportionate number of adult communards choose not to drive. This does put pressure on those of us who do drive, to ferry our comrades around. My dual member status allows me access to both the Acorn and Twin Oaks vehicle fleets, so i am often asked to drive, and i am generally happy to to oblige.
Sporadically, Twin Oaks throws a “No Party, Just Dance” event. Typically what this means is that the organizers don’t want to have to prepare treats or decorate the space and instead want to focus on just having a DJ who provides music and people can rock out. The other slightly curious aspect of these events is that they have very minimal internal promotion. Usually this is limited to a single card posted at the main dining hall. But this micro-promotion does not prevent these events from being well attended.
Last night i drove the shuttle for one these events. Half a dozen Acorners and LEFers (plus one dog) hopped into the minivan and we arrived moments before the party was really hoping. A couple of hours into this event i decided it was time to ask the going home question:
If there were a shuttle in 20 minute and another in an hour and 20 minutes, which one would you likely be on?
I went around to the folks who i had brought and asked them all this question. After two hours of rigorous dancing, they were all ready to go home in the early shuttle. This is exactly what the shuttle driver wants to hear. Assuming you can’t get the last shuttle cancelled, because everyone wants to stay all night, the second best way to cancel the last shuttle is to get everyone to come home on the second to last shuttle.
I got invited to speak at a conference in which i did not pay enough attention to the program. It turns out to be very new agey, and it might be too exotic/woo woo for me. I did like the intro presentations about polarities though.
During one of the speeches a presenter said, “The reason that Occupy Wall Street failed is they rejected the idea of leadership.” This struck me as wrong for two very different reasons.
The first is Occupy did not fall, it was pushed. Dozens of police raids across the US displaced occupiers from their parks. Remove the freedom to assemble and you eliminate free speech protests.
The second reason is that Occupy did not fail. Oh, it did not succeed in getting banksters thrown in jail and it did not end income inequity in the US. But it did change the conversation about these topics. In New York itself, mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio vowed to tackle the “Tale of Two Cities” income disparity issue and won, in part, on this issue. Similarly, one could argue Obama’s efforts to raise the minimum wage may well have been emboldened by this movement.
More importantly, Occupy gave birth to a whole collection of initiatives including Occupy Sandy, which outperformed both FEMA and the Red Cross after the superstorm hit the East Coast. In many cities Occupy morphed into anti-evictions groups. In Eugene, Occupy Medical still provides free medical services to populations that would otherwise have no access. And these are just initiatives i know of because i work in these cities.
You should only hope that when you are dead, you have this much going on.
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.
The march began with background information about 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.
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, i did in 2013 in Washington DC.
This type of decentralize approach is important, because it is at its 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.
The problem with this 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Brittany ran to me as i was walking through the Ash Street gardens of the Baltimore Free Farm. She was clearly excited to see me.
“I am so glad there is an old person here now!” was the first thing she said to me
I cracked up laughing. She explained that the party was full of 20 somethings and she thought my experience would be a grounding effect. Most people don’t find me grounding, but i was still totally flattered.
Many folks say they are busy, but you make time for what is important to you. I really wanted to go to StrangeFolx, the Baltimore Free Farms anniversary celebration. I wanted to go because i had missed the protests that BFF had played an amazing supportive role in. I wanted to go because i am regularly impressed with daring, tenacity and street smarts of these punks. I wanted to go, because i wanted a big, political party that someone else had organized.
On the way to the event i stopped at a roadside stand and got a flat of strawberries. I was handing them out to the perhaps 100 people who were already at this event by 1 PM. I walked by Billy who was pumping out pizzas.
As i approached the oven, there was a metal stake sticking up in the middle of the steps which dozens of people would soon be walking. “Fix that!” i barked at Billy pointing to the offending stake, in the way busy organizers sometimes dispense with pleasantries. A nearby anarchist reminded me, “You could fix it.” Billy soon put a purple cup over the stake and pronounced it fixed. Safety isn’t first with this crowd, otherwise they would not be rioting with the police.
Billy suggested that i change my thinking about pizza. Moving away from the idea that it would be a point in time in which one might have pizza, to more of a continuum or infinite span of pizza. And he made quite good on his promise to deliver unending pizza. Recently toughened up by the tremendous cooking effort done to support protesters of police violence in Baltimore, the Free Farm kids prepped for this 8 hour long anniversary party of a few hundred people. GPaul asked for a vegan pizza, and in moments it was there. The advantage of these real pizza ovens is they can cook a full pizza in just a couple of minutes.
When Billy finally took a break he greeted me warmly and gave me an illegal piece of riot swag. I was touched and i looked at him curiously. “We could not have done it without your cooks. It was amazing to have all this help and we desperately needed it.” When Baltimore exploded, Billy called me. He asked me to put out the call to Action: Baltimore needs cooks. So i blogged about it, copied it to few facebook pages and crossed my fingers. I got great reaction, with cooks responding to the blog post wanting to help. Many had minor logistical problems (like little money and no car). I cobbled together ride shares and other minor logistics, but folk were resourceful and wanted to get to Baltimore. In the end about a dozen cooks ended up volunteering at BFF. And i felt some pride around networking effectively.
But as though my ego were on some type of zen roller coaster, shortly after this i got schooled by Brittany on how unworkable my clever plans were to try to build coalitions with people of color (POC) activists. She was clear and firm in telling me that the internship scheme i was proposing would not fly culturally.
Instead Brittany and Billy agreed that the best thing for white allies to do these days is be consistent in providing the type of food services for protesters that BFF and Food Not Bombs have been providing. And be patient.