Point A: Becoming a Circus

Apparently, I was the last activist in the US to hear about how great the Honk Festival was.  As I was enthusiastically explaining the event to other people I kept hearing “Oh, I was on the Honk organizing team 10 years ago,” or “We helped start Honk in New York,” and equivalent recognition.   But despite coming late to the party, it was still a transformative event for me, and the projects which surround me.

It started back in February when our Point A traveling heroes hit Boston.  Maximus said, “We should come back for Honk” and like a fool, I asked, “What is Honk?”  Fortunately, Maximus is patient with me.

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Like many things, Honk grew out of a collection of activists trying something new.  A collection of marching bands took over the streets of Somerville and started performing.  They had fun, they made an impressive amount of joyful noise and they had multiple political messages.  And they agreed to come back next year.  This scruffy initial incarnation has become a treasured institution which brings protest marching bands from around the world.

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I have to confess I had not thought much about marching bands as a protest tool.  Maximus has thought about this a bunch.  He pointed out the power of having noisy attractive mobile groups which do not require amplification.  He waxed eloquently about what it means to take performers off the stage, put them in the street at the same level as the audience and the implicit invitation for people to join in, marching, dancing or banging on anything which one might find handy.

But this was all much later, once we were well into the Honk experience.  It started, as many good things start, with dumpster diving.  Maximus and Rachel had cooked a dumpster dinner for the 400 Honk musicians in 2016.  His invitation to the Point A crew to come up and participate in Honk hoped to replicate their past success.  Fortunately, this plays directly to some of our strengths.

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Steve doing house repairs.

Steve is a man of many talents.  He was an obvious draft pick for this trip in that he can look at a full dumpster and see if there is anything good at the bottom and he can cook for huge quantities of people.  Steve was just one of the ringers we brought on this trip.  We had significant local talent was on hand as well.  We had 4 teams which went out at midnight.  Three of them were car based and one consisted of members of the local radical bicycle gang.  The ten of us started at midnight.

 

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By 3 AM this is what we had hauled in

 

But three hours of diving was followed by a couple of hours of cleaning and sorting and even some time spent arranging to get the above photo.  We had originally scheduled two evenings to gather food, but we did so well the first night, that we canceled the second dive.  We even had to re-dumpster some of our catch, because we exhausted the refrigeration space we had available to us.

Soon all this food would be cooked and prepped into a lovely dinner for 400 musicians.   The other two dinners were catered, but several folks said ours was the best.

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Honk has grown significantly from its early days.  The city of Somerville has embraced this event, local businesses help sponsor it.  But the costs are significant.  They help subsidize the travel of bands from across the country and even other countries.  There were many meals for the performers, most of which were much more expensive to produce than ours.

While our dumpster diving crew was dominated by out of town Point A activists, there was also important representation by locals who came from various places.  Sophia used to live at Craft House, where some of us were staying, in Tracy Chapman’s old closet, which is where we met her.  There are desirable attributes you hope for in a fellow dumpster diver: willingness to get dirty, good sense of humor, willingness to take chances, nimble and stealthy movement, healthy disrespect for the law, willingness to work crazy late without compensation, discernment about which food to rescue and ability to cook are some of them.  Sophia had all this and more.  And at almost 5 AM she climbed the labyrinth fire escape to the residence I was staying in to break me into my locked housing.

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Sophia in the final Honk Parade

Acquiring the huge haul of food is just the first step in feeding the Honk musicians.  We still had to cook it.  Most of our original dumpster divers plus a handful of new locals came out for this formidable task.  My terrible cooking skills are the source of legend and while others toiled in the First Church’s kitchen, I called wholesale hammocks customers. My old college partner Amanda came to help with the cooking, she had fond memories of being on the Honk organizing team years ago and was happy to return to support the effort.

 

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Telos in the final Honk parade

 

Mysteriously, the grill which had been unlocked outside the church for months was moved ten feet towards the curb to aid in loading it into a vehicle to move to the VFW outpost where the meal was being served.  But before we could pick it up, it vanished.  Taken likely by someone who thought it was being left on the curb to be discarded.  This cost us both a grill and preparation time.  I drove one of the Skul radical bicycle gang who had helped with the dumpster dive back to their home to pick up a replacement grill and delivered it to Steve Compersia at the VFW where he started cooking like a fiend.  The grill was not especially well designed and soon Steve was working without the propane on in a blaze of fire.  This attracted the police who decided they were going to shut our meal preparation down.  Fortunately, by the time we were caught, Steve had completed most of the cooking.

 

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Daniel and Z holding Lady Liberty’s head in the Free Palestine float

 

Part of the Point A mandate is to do skill shares when we come to town.  We often do Transparency Tools workshops for the various living collective we visit and this time we did one at Craft House on the Tufts campus [Is this true?].  Before Honk, Courtney from Compersia had worked with Telos on a workshop on how to be an Ally.  And when Courtney agreed to come up to Boston, this workshop became a multi skit performance.

Being an ally is hard.  Many attempting to support oppressed people would get failing grades from the those they think they are helping.  The metaphor which was used as a chorus in our performance was that privilege is like wearing heavy boots in a world full of people wearing sandals.  You must keep being aware of when you are stepping on other people’s toes.  Telos played the failed ally in a series of 20-second micro skits with Courtney using such lines as:

“You should not have put your feet there”

“I don’t see toes”

“Are you calling me a toe stepper?”

And my personal favorite line

“All toes matter”

The final toe stepping micro skit gave curious prospective allies insight into what they might do to get it right, a simple apology and a promise to pay more attention in the future.

 

We had communicated with the Honk organizers about our desire to do our performance and they had offered us the Elm St “stage” at 8 PM on Saturday after the last marching band.  Sadly, the police were not given a schedule that had our performance on it and we were stopped again by Somerville’s finest just as we were trying to draw our crowd.  Instead, we did a dress rehearsal in the Davis Square metro station to a slightly baffled collection of commuters.  Maximus caught it on video.

Honk was an inspiring experience.  At the last dinner, we had together it was obvious we all wanted to come back next year.  As is part of the Point A culture we did a post mortem of our take away of what we learned.  We listed a number of suggestions to improve our efforts.  Get a dedicated food processing crew, distinct from dumpster divers to handle the haul after we retrieved it and not force divers to stay up most of the night.  Bring more people.  Practice our skits longer in advance.  Work more closely with the event organizers to get on the official schedule, to avoid hassles with the police.  Work in advance with more locals like the fine folks from Craft House at Tufts.

 

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Exotic water carrying bike device from final Honk parade

 

The most important transformative aspect of Honk was that we realized we wanted to become a circus.  The Point A trips have often been referred to as a circus, in part because of the joyful chaos they deliver.  But this was something bigger, the idea that we should step out of our comfort zone of giving presentations and workshops into something more theatrical, more like the famous Bread and Puppet troop (which was one of the Honk marching bands).  To get out of the classroom and more into the street.

 

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Infamous Bread and Puppet Theater Troop

 

The excited conversation about our new incarnation explored the idea of circuses as part of transformative festivals.  One thing which makes these kinds of events powerful is that they have the capacity to induce quinks.  [Quinks are the opposite of trauma. Where some specific acute event leaves a lasting positive effect on your life.]  When we reflected on the purpose of the Point A circus what we came up with was that we would try to induce quinks in both the participants and audience.

There’s much that could be said about building community. But what motivates people towards it isn’t usually what people say, but rather the way community makes them feel. People don’t decide to radically rethink the way they are living because someone told them they could, they do it because some powerful event in the lives made them believe it was possible. This is quink, and HONK is uniquely good at producing it. All the sound and color and joyful noise conveys an experience that words never could.

Our mission as Point A is to spread community into the urban areas that need them most. There are many ways to do this, and the most effective involve quinks. It seems like a parading circus is in our future…

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Helis and Maia – Estonian Hitchhikers

After the final parade on Sunday, Daniel and Raven and I hopped in the car with two Estonian hitchhikers we had picked up through Craig’s list.  Maia and Helis’s housing in NYC had fallen apart before our ride, so I spent most of the drive from Boston to NYC reaching out to various Point A allies who might host them.  We ultimately succeeded and deposited them with willing hosts.  Then Daniel and I drove across several states and arrived back at Twin Oaks at 3:30 AM, just in time to do a late night tofu shift.  This revolution does not stop.

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After the all-night drive, Daniel starts tofu at 3:30 AM

This post first appeared on CommuneLife blog.

Is Paul Manafort my John Dean?

At first glance, I am not much like my father.  He was a professional man, dedicated to building his architectural firm, reliable, respectful, a liberal Democrat, faithful to his wife, a military officer and a patriot.  He believed the system would deliver justice and fairness if we voted for the right political candidates.  My father was concerned with appearance, dressed conscientiously and carefully.  He would not go out on a business lunch with his secretary unescorted, not because he was worried something untoward might happen, but because others might think something was happening.  [I, in contrast, started a romance with my father secretary and stole her away to the commune.]

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Rockstar brother, my dad, myself and Jaz (who moved to the commune)

But current events are turning me more into him that I might normally admit.  I remember in the summer of 1973 my parents and brother went to Mexico on vacation.  It was the height of the Watergate investigation and my father was riveted to the coverage.  I remember he bought a radio so while the rest of us were running around on the beach he could listen intently to the scratchy radio station broadcasting the Senate hearings.  He was especially excited about John Dean who betrayed the president and catalyzed his ultimate resignation.  My father disliked Nixon with a rare passion.

Watergate poster

It is a different time, but I find myself mimicking my old man.  Willow, Hawina and I are currently in Cuba.  But back in the US, the Trump/Russia scandal is unraveling and every evening I am huddling around the internet listening to various new broadcasts drinking in every new nefarious detail.  And perhaps my John Dean is Paul Manafort.

If you have not been following the Russia scandal closely you can be forgiven for not knowing exactly who Paul Manafort is.  He was the Trump Campaign manager from March of 2016 until he was fired as his deep connections to the Russians were revealed, in Aug 2016.  Manafort has a long colorful history of helping increasingly dangerous politicians.  Two years after law school he worked on the “re-election” campaign for unelected US president Gerald Ford.  Manafort received about $1 million for lobbying for Congo’s kleptocrat and brutal dictator Mobutu.  He got another cool million image crafting for Ferdinand Marcos, the brutal dictator of the Philipines.  The secret ledger recovered after the overthrow of the treasonous Ukrainian president, Yanukovych show Manafort was paid $12.7 million for his work helping elect the pro-Russia president.  Hacked text messages between Manaforts adult daughters discussing their father include gems like:

  • “Don’t fool yourself, that money we have is blood money.”
  • “You know he has killed people in Ukraine? Knowingly,”
  • “He is a sick fucking tyrant, and we keep showing up and dancing for him and eating the lobster. Nothing changes.”

Manafort, who is young looking 68, came out of retirement to work for Trump. He “had no relationship with Trump” before the election.  In his 5 page application to Trump, he played down his brilliant work with autocrats and instead hyped three things which apparently won job or him:

  • He was willing to work for free
  • He lives in Trump Tower in NYC
  • He was a Washington outsider and an enemy of Karl Rove
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump gives a thumbs up as his campaign manager Paul Manafort and daughter Ivanka look on during Trump's walk through at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland

President Dumpster Fire, Manafort and Ivanka.  Ivanka delivered Manaforts ob application.

But was he really working for free?  Between 2006 and at least 2009, Manafort was paid secretly $10 million each year by Ukrainian aluminum magnate on a plan to “greatly benefit the Putin Government”.  Manafort took cryptic notes during the infamous July 9th meeting with Donald Trump Jr and Jared Kushner and several Russians offering damaging intel on Hillary Clinton.  These notes referred to the RNC and political contributions from the Russians.  If this turns out to have happened, it is treason.

Less exciting than treason is tax fraud.  Manafort is reported to have received $60 million in loans, through shady banks in Cyprus and sketchy domestic connections.  Manafort has been told he will be indicted.  Mueller has brought in the special IRS Criminal Investigation Unit (IRS-CI), which seems to mean he has evidence of at least tax fraud, likely of Manafort, possibly Trump himself.

The question still stands, will Mueller to get Manafort to sing?  Meaning will he testify against the president in exchange for Mueller getting the testimony he needs to indite Trump.  If Manafort is willing to betray Trump to save himself, it may well mean he, like John Dean before him, brings down the president.

From Havana with Love

 

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The taxi is older than me

 

 

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local super heroine

 

 

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Essence micro museum

 

 

 

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Hawina, statue, and kitten

 

 

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Saxophone Statue 

 

 

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Essence Shop/Micro museum

 

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Cuba shares the US’s dark history of racism

 

 

 

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No wonder you can never get it untangled

 

 

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Too hot to handle

 

 

 

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Camera Obscura (inside)

 

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Camera Obscura (outside) – Da Vinci lives

 

Havana Impressions

When you go through customs at the Havana airport, you see this digital screen of an analog clock.

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To be convincing, the sweep second-hand jerks a bit every time it moves.  And thus you are introduced to the temporal paradox which is Cuba’s capital.

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The vast majority of cars on the streets of Havana are from two eras, the last decade and the period immediately before the revolution and US embargo, around 1959.

The time machine affect has numerous positive aspects.  The old city streets often have wide parks running through the middle.  A crippled economy means there is little traffic.  High gasoline costs mean that vehicles rarely have just one person in them.  Huge trees line the streets.

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Hawina with one of the many huge trees.

There are some innovations which other places would do well to mimic.  Stop lights on major intersections count down the number of seconds before they turn either red or green, to better inform drivers.

 

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The city streets in Havana are named in a novel and clever way.  The main dividing street is Avenido Paseo.  To the west the streets are increasing in even numbers.  To the east the streets are lettered.  Perpendicular to these, running parallel to the coast the streets are odd numbered.  Thus you can tell uniquely where you are by just knowing 10th and 11th or C and 9th.  No confusing East and West like DC or Streets and Avenues like NYC.

Eye motif in Havana

The architecture favors balconies, flat roofs and porches and the social structures take advantage of these.  Many doors down the street are left open with people inside and outside often visible.  Most buildings were built before there was air conditioning and the architecture encourages placing people in breezes.

Twin Oaks on the BBC 4

Andy Warhol is said to have quipped, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.”  I might have just had my moment, but it was something less than 10 minutes long.

The BBC came to film part of their series “Utopia – In Search of the Dream” at Twin Oaks a few months back.  I got to tour their charming reporter, Richard Clay, around. Below is the small section of that hour-long piece which is just on Twin Oaks.

Apparently sharing clothes is so novel that they turned this part of the interview into one of the advertisements for the show.

Sadly, because of copyright issues, you can not view the full video outside of the UK.  But Maximus of Cambia was kind enough to clip the piece about Twin Oaks for the above YouTube video. The full hour-long Utopia program is pretty compelling and touched on Hitler, Bucky Fuller, the UK Garden Cities, and the Shakers movement.

Separately, I am also happy to have been asked to be part of the first FIC video on recruiting.

 

 

 

Midnight Dump Run

When you create community, part of what you do is create language.  Here at Twin Oaks, we have a tremendous collection of acronyms for places and things: OTF, CMT, TCLR, TOAST, OTRA, MHT, CPs, Hx, CVP, and there are much more.

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Acronym Soup

Part of the reason we need to abbreviate and contract is that we need to write down these things for other people to understand thousands of times a week, literally.  One of the people who have to do this the most is the labor assigner.

Twin Oaks has an amazing labor-scheduling system.   A single person, with the help of every other member, assigns the labor the community does for the coming week.  This job takes about 20 to 25 hours each week.  It starts on Monday; people turn in their labor sheets and the tofu assigner (which is a different person) gets the first crack filling the 88 shifts which make up a full tofu production week.  Some members have regular shifts: Saturday – start up Kettle at 5 AM or Tuesday – late-night tofu pack at 9 PM, for example.  Most members, however, instruct the tofu assigner as to how many shifts they are willing to do this week.  Most of us, including me, take only one shift.

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Assign Tofu First

After tofu is complete, the regular assigning begins. Two large notebooks; 91 labor sheets for members, guests, and visitors; dozen-plus masters and 40 or so requests for labor drive this process. When it is done, 49 dish-cleaning shifts, bread-making and cow-milking shifts for every day, dozens of childcare shifts, hundreds of visitor-labor and orientation requests will have been assigned—thousands of assignments in total. The labor assigners will make the first pass and then, at dinner on Wednesday, return the sheets to members for “revisions.” Members can then revise the schedule the assigner has created, asking to be taken off of things or resequencing labor to make things flow better (Please don’t give me a garden shift and a tofu shift and a dish-washing shift all in the same day, it is too much physical labor).

On Thursday afternoon, the labor assigner gets a few hours to rebuild the careful schedule they built and the members just demolished, filling all the holes and making sure everything gets covered.  I love this job. It is crazy headachy and I have made lots of mistakes at it (especially on Shal‘s sheet).

There is an inside joke which comes from when I used to labor assign more often. My friend Coyote was on our labor system at the time, and when I was assigning I would put on his labor sheet that he had a dump run at midnight with someone whom he could not stand.  Dump run is one of the many jobs we do here that are assigned. The first time I did it, Coyote got agitated, not wanting to work with this member. Then he realized, for a number of reasons (not the least of which is that the dump is never open at midnight), that it was a joke.  But the term lived on, and “Midnight Dump Run” became the name both for labor assigners’ mistakes and for the unusual power this position has in the community.

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My recent labor-assigning effort was rescued by Dev, who caught a bunch of mistakes I would have made, though perhaps not enough to permit me to keep the job.  I put “Midnight Dump Run” on about 30 people’s sheets and this time it was code for a party happening at our dining hall, ZK.  It was a perfect, small event, with Acorn participating in just the right way.

Update: I got fired.

 

6 Months to build the DACA underground railroad

In the cascading chaos which is the Trump administration, political organizers need to watch for their opportunities.  I think the president’s callous repeal of DACA is a brilliant opportunity.   DACA’s unraveling will lead to 800,000 young people facing deportation and in many cases, to countries they have never lived in.  To avoid the likely nightmarish political fall out, Trump has given Congress 6 months to find a legislative fix, but immigration legislation is notoriously tricky for Congress.  Next spring will be a highly visible time for discussions on immigration for House Republicans facing primaries and re-election bids come November.  It is unlikely a sharply divided Congress can find a solution.  In the US in 2017, immigration might be even harder than health care to get legislation through the Senate.

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It is time to build a new underground railway for these dreamers.  One part of this could be a social network site, similar to a dating site, where DACA immigrants could find hosts who were willing to house them in new locations.  It would need stronger encryption and security than a conventional social network because the government would be trying to hack it.    And it should be augmented by volunteers who are looking at enhancing host offers.  For example, you might have a room for a Dreamer in your house, but you might not know how to help the Dreamer in your town.  Another volunteer would scope out your town seeing if the transplanted DACA person could find work, social, and educational opportunities in your town and link them up to these resources.

anatomy of a social network

It is a big deal for a DACA person to leave their home and go underground.  But it is even a bigger deal to be deported to a country where you likely have no ties.  Obama made a promise to the Dreamers.  “If you step out of the shadows and into the system (register, pay social security, maintain a spotless criminal record, pay an annual fee of $500) then you can stay without fear of deportation.”  Trump has broken that promise.    Congress is unlikely to fix this.  So it falls on us.  And for some Dreamers, it means returning to the shadows.

Building a social network to help immigrants finds hosts and staffing volunteers to help them land safely and comfortably is the humane and fair thing to do.  It is also criminal.   When outlaws are in control of the country, to make things right, you might just have to become an outlaw too.

daca works poster


 

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