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European Income Sharing Communities Contrasted with US ones

GPaul has just returned from his summer adventure in Europe visiting urban income sharing communities. He just gave a wonderful report contrasting the US communes with their European counterparts. Here are some of the highlights from his talk:

GPaul about to take off

GPaul about to take off

* There are perhaps 40 or 50 secular income sharing communities in Europe and national and language boundaries largely keep them from networking together or even knowing about each other

* These communities of size 60 to 80 members (and of course much smaller) use consensus decision making without any problem. [Many small US communities, including Acorn, worry that they can not grow without consensus failing them, and almost all of them are far smaller than this].

consensus group line drawing

* One of the maxims suggested was “The commune is rich, the communards are poor” The objective is great shared wealth, not increased personal/private wealth.

* None of the 6 income sharing communities visited had a labor quota (though one had a non-specific requirement for members to work full time). Most FEC communities have labor obligations and several have quota – though in Acorns case it is a “soft” and untracked quota.

group in rings photo

* European urban income sharing communities are also both asset and debt sharing (unlike their US counterparts). The US based income sharing communities (most of them in the FEC network) were culturally founded during the rise of cults. Thus part of the desire to not be asset sharing at that time was to distinguish income sharing communities from cults (which took members assets).

* Very few people move to communes in there 20s (unlike in the US where this is our biggest demographic) instead they move in during their 30s when they want to settle down and have kids.

* Minimum stays at European communes tend to be much longer (on the order of 5 years) in sharp contrast to US communities where it is often just 12 or 18 months.

This is sort of a poor representation of some of the key ideas of GPaul’s presentation, but there is more i will elaborate on in future blog posts.  Especially the transnational nomadic anarchist cyberpunks.

no i dont know why there is a label marked "snowy"

no i dont know why there is a label marked “snowy”

 

What do you want out of the Monday Communities Conference Clinic?

It is just a couple of weeks before the communities conference and we are putting the finishing touches on it.  I believe this will be the best Communities Conference of the 10 I have helped organize.  Some amazing presenters, many interesting participants and robust and relevant content.  We have a number of options for the Monday program with is Communities Clinic.  If you are planning on attending the Monday program on Sept 1st, we are hoping you’ll write us and give us an idea of what kind of issues your group is dealing with and what kind of help you’re looking for. There are 10 common topics described below with various questions to help you think about what might be useful to you.

zylaphone surreal

Financing and development: Almost every community needs money. How can you secure funding for improving your community?  What type of fundraising options have worked for other communities and are they exportable to you?  Under what conditions can you borrow money from banks or run a successful crowd funding campaign?

Ownernship and legal structures:  Well before you move in, you will need to figure out what type of community you are in a legal sense.  Is it a land trust, a residential worker coop, a 501D community, LLC or other structure.  Come discuss what these all mean and which models would work best for you and your forming group.

i want you uncle sam

Recruiting and outreach:  If you have the right members, you can do almost anything.  But how do you find these people (if they are not already working with you)?  Many communities reach other through FIC websites and publications, others write articles in periodicals which appeal to their value sets, some buy advertisements, others speak at colleges or festivals, still others blog or recruit thru social media.  What is the right mix for the people you are trying to find?  What is cost effective or no cost?  What places should you avoid?

i would agree with you

Relationships and conflict resolution (problematic people and expulsion):  Many European communities have no expulsion process, almost all US ones do.  How do you maintain personal and emotional relationships with your membership?  What do you do when relationships inside the community sour to the point where it might be necessary for the group to split or someone to leave?  What have long lived communities done to successfully deal with problematic or high negative impact members?

Decision-making:  The US cohousing movement has widely adopted consensus (including sociocracy models) as the way they make decisions.  Some communities use voting models including super majority models.  Do you have what it takes to be a charismatic leader for your community (hint this includes tremendous patience and a willingness to listen)?  Does your decision model change as your group gets larger?  If you can’t agree to change something are you always stuck with the status quo?  These and other questions will be addressed in this participant driven workshop.

dominos decision makingLocal relations/involvement:  Does it matter if you shop in the town closest to your community?  Does it make sense to invite the neighbors over for tea or will it just leave them more scared than they already are? What about political protest in your own town – will this distance you from your neighbors or bring you closer?  Should members doing controversial things try to avoid the community being affiliated with their work to maintain local harmony?  Is it considered community work to be part of the local volunteer fire department or volunteering to teach kids to read?

Cottage industries/Cooperative business: We have started calling them “income engines”Choosing the right business is one of the most important decisions a community can make.  If you rely too much on the skills of a minority of the membership (for example web development) the community economy can collapse if these people move on.  Should you be looking for something that any new member can be trained in?  Is the cottage industry open to all prospective members?  Can the community hire people who are not members?

The range of membership statuses:  Full member, provisional member, associate member, child member, intern, guest, ward of the state, lover of member – there are many different ways someone can be at a community for a while.  Especially egalitarian communities try to limit the number of membership types to try to preserve fairness.  Other communities have more flexible membership policies to try to be more inclusive or more versatile for members.  In this workshop we’ll discuss how all these status’ have been used and which ones might be right for your community.share apple

Different levels of  sharing:  Many student coops share a few meals a week, a clothes washer, and not much else.  Their academic, economic and social experiences are largely independent.  Some communities try to share everything from bank accounts to businesses to boyfriends.  The more you share the more benefits you’ll see but the stronger your systems and communication needs to be.  This workshop will look at some of these systems and how they combat internal hording and envy.  It will also help forming communities decide what they want to share – are cars too big? are clothes to personal?  Can we swing a public computer?  Do we want to buy box seats for the games?

culture creationCulture Creation:  Communities can create their own holidays and rituals.  Often these cultural aspects are the most bonding aspect of the community members life.    Should we buy instruments to help catalyze a more musical community?  Should our parties be mostly us and our close friends or should we invite a wider audience?  How does the community value and promote artistic expression?  Do we strive for transparency in our feelings or privacy?  There are dozens of aspects of cultural creation that communities can consider and often influence.  What you choose to focus on will determine how most people perceive you and in many cases whether you will grow and thrive.

 

Are there still squats in NYC?

I feel a bit like a country mouse taking the crash course in gentrification from our city mouse cousins.  So we can start with the Wikipedia and Google definition:

Gentrification is a shift in an urban community toward wealthier residents and/or businesses and increasing property values.

That seems simple enough.  And maybe not even bad.  Crime rates go down, services increase.  We want things to get better in the city, don’t we?

Film maker and NYC activist Spike Lee calls part of this problem the “motherfucking Christopher Columbus syndrome” In a recent talk at Pratt, Lee said “You can’t discover this! We been here.”  He told a story of how new residents had called the police on long time residents – including Lee’s father – who were playing drums, as they had been for 50 years.  The police sided with the new affluent residents and stopped the music.

But gentrification is far more than street jams getting shut down.  In NYC it is the pointy edge of industrial capitalism.  Real estate values in the city are so high that the economic incentives for landlords to harass, threaten and mistreat residents are hard to imagine.  Especially residents who have rent controlled housing.  Gentrification pits rich against poor and the poor almost always lose and get displaced.

New York City has changed a lot from the economic crisis it faced in the early 1970’s.  At that time property owners unable to find tenants for their buildings and with taxes which were far outstripping rents simply walked away from buildings, especially in the lower east side of Manhattan.  Abandoned urban buildings lead to squats.

better to squat poster

Squatters came in an fixed up these buildings and made them livable.  They pushed back the police at first and often after they had improved the buildings the original landlord wanted them back.  Some squatters were able to hold onto their work and ultimately gain control of these buildings.

But the 1970s are long gone and real estate speculation in NYC is a very high stakes game now.  Because of their potential value, owners now pay taxes on their unused and boarded up buildings.  And the police and private security (aka thugs) are used to control these unused spaces and protect them from squatters.

This lead a number of people to tell us that squatting was dead in NYC.

Turns out it is not so.  Traveler kids are still squatting in NYC.  They are much more discreet about it than earlier generations of squatters who might  graffiti the outside of buildings they control.  One sign of this is that they are regularly getting busted by the police.  Squatting is a high risk life style.

Our inability to see them does not mean they are not there

Our inability to see them does not mean they are not there

One friend who does risk reduction work amongst traveler kids said she would introduce me to some of these folks on our next visit.  Stay tuned.

 

Small Gems – The Big Ta Chai Video

There are some tremendous pop culture holes in my life experience.  Turns out the 10 years i was out of the US living in eastern Europe were the 10 years that the wildly popular TV show Seinfeld were airing.  Socially critical pieces of cultural information – like who is the soup Nazi – are lost on me.  I did not see Fight Club for many years.   And it was not until the Twin Oaks parody of The Big Lewbowski trailer came out, did i actually see the real thing..

This video was being shown off last night at a small party at the far edge of Bed Stuy last night and i realized it is just too good to leave it unpromoted.  There are lots of in-jokes for the commune, but if you have some experience with us, you might laugh as hard as i did.

 

Ambitious Parties and Missing Last Shuttles

One of my favorite aspects of life in the commune is that we are constantly trying new things.  This is especially true in the arena of party design.  Ali threw a new DJs party last night.  We have a cache of regular DJs who know what we like, can get an empty dance floor hopping with the right sequence of songs and serve us well.  With no disrespect for this collective resource, Ali wanted to explore some of our less conventional and newer music selection talent.  She did it at the warehouse.

not our warehouse, but there are similarities

not our warehouse, but there are similarities

When designing parties, one has to make a bunch of decisions which affect the event.  One of the critical ones is how much space do you create for the participants.  Too little and people will leave because it is too crowded. If you create too much, the party will feel under attended and people may drift off or cluster in some smaller area.

The warehouse is huge, the night was rainy, there were three nice spaces created – the dance floor, the hangout room and the smokers lounge outside.  All of the spaces had some folks, but the party would have been well served by another twenty people. Technical difficulties prevented us from hearing a few of the 30-minute sets that our alt-DJs had prepared; time to head to Acorn.

After all the sets that worked, the Acorners left en mass and we scooped up a few Oakers who were interested in continuing the evening.  We considered a couple of places at Acorn to play and ultimately decided on the Rec Collective – short for Recreation Collective – a lovely single-room straw bale building which currently has no residents.

Considerably smaller, only 6 or 7 people could dance at the same time here. One person felt comfortable enough that they were able to for the first time to dance topless, earning the party at least a B grade if not an A.   But the right combination of music and people who did not want to go to sleep made for an event which did not end til 4 AM when I drove home the last shuttle.

When I examine it thru a funological lens and ask “What made this after-party so charming?”  Of course, part of it was the choice of music and the people interested in dancing.  But as I look deeper, some of it was also that the participants all knew each other well enough to trust each other, but many had lots to learn and share with the other participants in the conversations which went on amongst the people who were not dancing.

For myself at least, there was a feeling of having taken a chance and gotten lucky.  Sometimes the after-party does not really work out.  Especially if they are in a different location that the original, the new site needs to be prepped, technical difficulties can derail the effort, the group needs to hold together while things are being set up and not drift off to bed or to the arms of some romantic interest they have been chatting with.

Skip the sleep, organize during the day

Skip the sleep, organize during the day

Ali is capturing funological principles & adages:

“What is the best way to run the last shuttle from the party?”

“To not do it because no one wants to go home.”

And while some people ultimately did go home at absurd o’clock, this after-party definitely had a dreamlike quality to it.

Consensus’s big brother: Sociocracy

It has always struck me a odd that the decision making system most often employed by radicals and revolutionaries (in my experience) is a conservative one.  While group culture can certainly effect it, consensus tends to gravitate towards the status quo, especially for complex or tricky decisions.  Unable to convince everyone to try something different, the group will often keep doing what it has been doing.

 

conservative revolutionaries

 

I was talking to Tree on the phone about this phenomenon and she mentioned that one of the things she discovered in her research on Sociocracy was the opposite tendency.  Most people who examine this Dutch developed decision technique walk away feeling like it is a more ornate and slightly different flavor of consensus.  But I think Tree has identified the critical cultural difference.

Like consensus, Sociocracy uses a collection of decision making tools to help it guide the group towards resolution.  There is however only a small amount of overlap between these tool sets.  Sociocratic elections ask “who is best to do this job?” first, rather than “who is willing to do this job?” which often results in different people being selected than other selection methods.  In my experience when the Twin Oaks visitor team was using Sociocracy, when we did it right, we could dramatically reduce the amount of time we spent talking about topics, especially by using the quick reaction round technique.  This was where everyone in the group gave just a single sentence response to the proposal.

 

Sociocracy as the next evolutionary step in decision making systems

Sociocracy as the next evolutionary step in decision making systems

[The above graphic distinguishes Sociocracy from consensus in a way many, including Tree, find problematic - see her  comment.  On the question of whether Sociocracy is importantly different from consensus, we might disagree.  Tree feels it is well inside the large consensus family.  I think the different aspects make it at least a different dialect, and possibly even it's own language.]

 

The full set of Sociocratic tools and structures dwarfs formal consensus in size.  There is far more overhead in learning Sociocracy.  And central to the difference in these two cultures is how blocks are different.  In both anyone can block.  In (what I think are the better forms of) consensus decoding the blocks is the groups responsibility.  Even though it often comes from a single person, the collective needs to elaborate it and then see if the proposal can be modified to address the blocking concerns.

In Sociocracy, the pressure is flipped.  Your block needs to be “reasoned and paramount” if you can not convince the group it has these attributes the block does not stand.  This is one of the ways sociocracy is progressive, rather than conservative.

 

This would not satisfy the Sociocrats

This would not satisfy the Sociocrats

 

The other, which Tree pointed out in our chat, is that Sociocracy has numerous built in tools for designing temporary solutions which will be tried out and then evaluated.  Sunset clauses are regularly used in consensus, but in Sociocracy, everything is up for periodic evaluation, with an eye towards correction and refinement.

The cultural assumption of Sociocracy is “Let’s try something new, and make sure we have safeguards in place to protect us if something does not work.”  While consensus more often says “if we can’t get the whole group to agree on changing, then we are better off staying where we are.”

But culture is mushy.  I’ve been in consensus based activist groups which did our process on the way to the action – we started with the assumption that we had to constantly be doing things. Our critique was that  the status quo around us was not working and our job was to be change agents.  The culture of that affinity group was constantly advancing new things and trying novel techniques.

Just as easily you could get a persuasive intellectual in a Sociocratic setting who was always framing their objections in reasoned and paramount ways.  And it would turn the organization into a discussion group.

noexcuses

[On a personal note: I have been remiss posting on this blog recently.  It has long been my personal adage that "Excuses are like cotton candy.  They have a sickeningly sweet taste but there is not much there, really." But in case you are curious, it is influenced in by extended family visits from Willows half brother Fabian from the Netherlands and his half sister Rachel from Death City visiting Twin Oaks. These lovely encounters have thrown further out of whack my engaged (not busy) schedule.  Thus resulting in fewer blog posts.] 

 

 

 

Two Powerful Long Political Commercials

This is a lovely piece of corporate sponsored good citizenship modeling.

It is somewhat culturally inappropriate for the US in a number of ways.  You don’t poke a woman you don’t know on the bus (though you could offer your seat if you felt moved).  It is a guy always giving to somehow disempowered women.

And if we can see past these problems and get to the deeper message: generosity – particularly regular small generosity, is a highly desirable cultural attribute.

Curiously with almost 5 million Youtube views of this video, it points to a Thai language dominated and apparently uninteresting website.

On the most disturbing side there is this piece from Syria.

This Save the Children fundraiser has already exceeded it’s $100K goal.

What are the implications of this improving philanthropic art video form?  Are our hearts going to more regularly be tugged at or stomped on?

And it begs the question, with the accessible media of video, what are the viral short films we should be making to draw folks our way?

[Edited by Judy Youngquest]

 

 

 

No bosses, No sunroofs

Outside of Eugene, Oregon and the intentional communities movement, pretty much everyone has a boss.  There are some acceptable bosses, but overwhelmingly people are, i observe, dissatisfied with their bosses.  The miracle of the income sharing communities, is that we are largely able to run our cottage industries without the oppressive or disagreeable part of the boss role.  At Twin Oaks we have managers, who have labor and money budgeting responsibilities, but they very rarely tell someone that they need to do something.  They often request people do things, but this is not what bosses do, they tell people.  At Acorn we have even ditched the title of manager all together, and things run just fine thank you.

bosses be like

When Occupy sparked, there was much conversation at Twin Oaks as to what Occupy Twin Oaks would look like.  What would be our demand for a more fair and just society in the already fairly idyllic world of the commune?  As we got further into this investigation, we realized again who wonderfully fortunate we were.  “Seconds at 6:15″ was one rallying cry that dinner seconds should be available earlier rather than the current 6:30 PM time.   If this is what we are demanding, then things must be pretty peachie.

There are of course trade offs.  To not have crime, we have to give up living in the city,   To share cars together we have to give up access to the sunroofs in our cars.

sunroof

Don’t even think about it

This might sound odd at first, or perhaps even unfair.  But when we get a new vehicle which has a sunroof in it, one of the first things we do is disable the sunroof.  We do this because if we don’t some member will leave the sunroof open and the interior of the vehicle will get soaked.  So the least responsible of us dictate the self protective behaviors we embrace that strip us of personal freedoms.

This irks me until i remember that i am one of the people most likely to leave a sunroof open.

 

 

 

 

Becoming a Digital Nomad

When i was growing up, one of the most transformative adventures one could take was walking off the land you knew with a small bag and a daring attitude and sticking out you thumb and hitchhiking away.  This is still true, except the clever traveler will add to their small bag an internet connected device.

There is a growing knowledge base of digital nomads and the first and perhaps most important piece is hitchwiki.org.  If you have ever hitched much you know there are places that are hard to get through, good spots where drivers are likely to pick you up and routes to avoid.  The problem is that regular maps and guidebook almost never tell you where these places are.

Did you know there are dramatically different laws on hitching, state by state - source hitchwiki

Did you know there are dramatically different laws on hitching, state by state – source hitchwiki

Hitchwiki tells you not only what the laws are in different regions but also what the local customs are and how to best catch a ride.  It also has user edited maps of the roadway system, including stories and advice for how to have a successful journey.  Knowing the hitching culture and hot spots dramatically increases your chances of getting where you are going.

But what if you don’t know where you are going?  What if your adventure is not highly scripted and you are looking for like minded people who might put you up, without asking you for money?  Many people have heard about couchsurfing, but there is a better radical hospitality system called BeWelcome.org.  It is better because the people who are involved in it are more interested in connecting with travelers in a meaningful way and less about being party tourists.  While BeWelcome is far sparser than couchsurfing, it is designed to accommodate hitchhikers and it makes sense to populate this democratic and transparent site with new people, rather than continue with the for profit beast.

bewelcome-rev-bw03

It is also worth pointing out that the software developers who created BeWelcome built much of the Couchsurfing site, before leaving the WalMart of peer to peer hospitality for ideological reasons.

But lets say you have no money and want to eat.  Enter TrashWiki.  Another site which has content contributed by many users, it is dedicated to finding food and other valuable things which have been thrown out.  In some cases this is where the good dumpster are.  In other cases it is where pre-dumpster things can be found or where you can find dumpster diving partners.  Better than OK Cupid if you this is your area of interest and you are looking for a match.

Digital nomadism is about using the power of the internet to take a step away from conventional lifestyles and instead trust strangers, rescue waste and see new parts of the world.

 

 

 

The Best Present for a Kid

If you have a Dutch parent, you qualify for the rights of a Dutch citizen.  Every 5 years Willow and Hawina and i go to the Dutch Embassy in Death City and get Willow’s passport renewed.  Willow is a US citizen, with a US passport, but the Dutch are completely happy to issue an EU one, if the parents apply.  This is a no brainer.

The Dutch passport is actually a Schengen Treaty enabled EU passport.  You can travel between all the blue areas on the map below by just flashing an EU passport.

The largest federation in the world

The largest national federation in the world

There are multiple reasons for having a couple of passports, beyond the above listed convenience. The one most people are familiar with is traveling between hostile or warring countries.  Donning a Cuba passport stamp in a US passport can result in a visit from the FBI.  Should you wish to travel regularly between the Arab world and Israel, a second passport (even from the same country, which you can get by claiming you lost one) is advised.

Who says where you can go?

Who says where you can go?

But the real reason i want Willow to have a second passport is that if his life is at all like mine, there will be a moment when it is extremely useful.  This moment will be when he is traveling and some agent of the state thinks that they control him, because they have taken his passport.  Annoyingly confidently they will be leading him off to some undesired destination.  Having a second passport gives you the chance to look for an opportunity to depart from the foreign state agent and make a break for it.

Part of our home schooling is learning for when you can successfully make a break for it.

[Edited by Judy Youngquest]

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