Perhaps you are thinking about what you should be doing over labor day weekend. You have decided it is too expensive and too much hassle to go to Burning Man. You could visit your relatives, but Thanksgiving is looming and that is really a much better holiday for that activity. You could stay home and watch some sporting spectacular on TV, with teams you don’t especially care about with perhaps too many advertisements between plays.
Or you could come to the Twin Oaks Communities Conference. It is reasonably priced, it has no commercials, you won’t get fine dust in everything you own, and unless they are pretty cool already you probably won’t see any of your relatives.
But rather than talk about what won’t be there, let’s explore some of what will be happening at this year’s conference.
The event is a mix of different types of content and social/cultural aspects. The content comes in three big forms.
There are scheduled workshops, the schedule for which is at the bottom of this post and the detailed descriptions can be read here. [You need to click the arrow by the workshop titles to open up the full descriptions.]
There is Open Space, which allows the participants to design their own workshops and present them. While the scheduled workshops are all on themes directly related to communities, the open space portion of the event can be on any topic about which participants are excited. In the past this has included permaculture, polyamory, anti-oppression work, a critique of Occupy, and how to dumpster dive.
The other formal piece of content the conference provides is the “meet the communities” gathering Saturday morning. Everyone who is in a community (including ones which are just forming) gets 60 seconds to introduce what they are doing. Then all the representatives distribute themselves in the main gathering area and put up little signs or other information on their place and answer questions presented by milling participants. There might be 30 or 40 communities represented. And you might just find the one which is a great choice for you.
There is lots of informal content. Experts and adventurers at meals talking about their experiences. Late night chats around the fire, about how happy we will be not to hear so much about Trump and concerns about Hillary. There will be new friends and romances. Smokers will chat comically or conspiratorially in their little area. New allies will bond over coffee and early morning rituals.
While the information provided would be sufficient reason to come to this event, it is the culture, fun, and personal connections which seal the deal. For many people the conference is about brushing up against the very different way of living at an income sharing, secular community which has deep sharing agreements. The communities conference dance on Saturday night is one of the best dances Twin Oaks has all year. The mud pit and the river beckon. The FIC auction is entertaining and often a bargain hunter’s dream.
The scheduled workshop program is as follows:
Saturday: 1:30 – 3:15 PM
Saturday: 3:45 – 5:30 PM
Sunday: 9:00 – 10:45 AM
I did support work for a recent arrest action in which folks from the communes (and other activists) blocked traffic on an Interstate highway to bring attention to police violence in the US towards people of color. The action was organized by Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURG) which organizes principally white allies doing civil disobedience in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
When one communard was being processed an angry cop accused them of being paid to protest. “How much are they giving you to get arrested?” the police officer angrily demanded. “You don’t care about this issue, you are just in it for the money.” the cop went on.
You need to know that these arrests happened just the day after 3 police officers were killed in Baton Rouge and just over a week after a dozen police were shot in Dallas. To this cop in Richmond, it could easily have appeared we were in the beginning of a full fledged race war in which white police were uncharacteristically targets. I can understand his fear and anger.
None of the communards got money for going to this protest. And while crowd funding will likely cover fines and bail and the National Lawyers Guild is providing free legal counsel, everyone of these commune based protesters will end up having to pay financially for this choice to get arrested and none of them has very much money. They will also likely end up doing community service in lieu of jail time, which will cost them again. And the cop was dead wrong about the protesters not caring about the issue. I know everyone of them, they are all true believes. Many were choosing to get arrests for the first time in their lives, and highway blockade actions are especially scary. This choice took guts, they are heroes all.
But in a way, the officer was right. In a way that they would not understand unless they were willing to listen to a long description of how these communes work. These protesters did get labor credits from other members of their communities to do this “work”. In that sense they were “paid”.
The title of this post is intentionally misleading. No one who lives at any of the FEC communities can be a full time activist. No one exclusively makes their living get arrested. Before i lived at Twin Oaks I did full time anti-nuclear organizing, i was arrested far more frequently. But the title of this post is still in essence true. PART of what these activists do is get arrested for a living. It is part of their work.
I am proud of these mostly white protesters who got arrested because the other avenues for change have been exhausted. With an unarmed person of color getting gunned down by the police in the US regularly, we can’t just write upset letters to our congress creatures or the local paper. It is worth noting that no other democracy in the world has even 1/10 this rate of police homicides. Our system is broken and these actions bring attention which just might fix it.
The rest of this post is a repost of an article by one of the arrested communards which recently appear in the CommuneLife.org blog.
By (redacted) Something very interesting happened the other day: Several of us got arrested, and it was very, very okay. The short version of this story is that several Twin Oakers decided to participate in a protest, which ended in arrest. When we refused to leave the scene, a number of us and some non-oaker comrades […]
The second best thing for an organizer is when someone takes an idea you think is important and replicates it. So I was more than thrilled when I learned that there was a regular Transparency Tools (TT) group happening Wednesday nights at Acorn that I was not organizing.
The best thing for an organizer is when someone takes an idea you think is important and evolves and enhances it. And so it was with the Acorn Transparency Tools group which I attended for the first time the other day after some weeks of being on the road.
Confidentiality is key to making transparency work. You are asking the people in the group to take a risk. You are asking them to describe some of the most important thoughts and feelings which are going on inside of them. We ask people share with us their most intimate details. You can’t do this unless you feel like the group can maintain your confidences.
There have been two general confidentiality agreements that TT groups have been using.
- Strict Confidentiality: People in the group don’t talk about the other members’ disclosures outside of the Transparency Tools group.
- Identity Confidentiality: You can talk about things which came up in your TT group, but you must do it in a way that hides the identity of the person who said the thing, even to someone who is listening who has great knowledge of the group.
I personally prefer identity confidentiality. I want the people in these TT groups to be talking about their experiences, which are often powerful and sometimes transformative, and the strict confidentiality agreement often limits this.
The Acorn TT group developed a new type of confidentiality which might be called Group Confidentiality. The group agrees to strict confidentiality, but invites members of the TT group to talk about things people brought up, but only amongst those who were present. While I don’t like this as much as identity confidentiality, I do see several advantages to it.
With identity confidentiality there is always the chance that you might inadvertently break your agreement, because your listener might have a bunch of information about people in your group that you don’t know. So they might be able to figure out the identity of the person you are talking about. Because of this, people inside the group might be reluctant to share important information about themselves for fear it might leak out.
With group confidentiality, there is yet another incentive to be inside the group. You are given a special permission to continue to work on these interesting issues – but exclusively with people who are in the group. This further encourages people who think they might want to come. It can create post-meeting group identity and lead participants seek out members of the group to continue their own work on things which come up.
The other exercise which got modified in the Acorn TT group was the Flow of Feelings tool. This tool invites the users to talk about their different emotional states without worrying about the logical accuracy of their statements. You might say, “I am sad because I have no friends.” Your friend in the group might well object, “You have a bunch of friends, including me!” This is not helpful. If you are feeling sad, we want to invite you to explore why, not get into an argument over the ‘truth’ of your feelings.
Flow of Feelings invites the participants to check in with the group around 8 different types of feelings:
I feel angry that … I feel grateful that…
I feel sad that…. I feel happy that…
I feel afraid that … I feel secure that…
I feel guilty that… I feel proud that …
In the original flow of feelings format, one participant would cycle through these feelings, usually giving at least one statement of each. In the new format developed by the Acorn TT group, a single feeling is selected and everyone in the group throws in a response to it. The difference is significant. Even though the root causes are often quite different, being with others in the group at your moment of sadness or of pride reconnects you to them, and builds bonds and tribe.
I am very excited about these developments. Big thanks to Brude and Batco for their work on this.
For almost all of the last 7 years there has been a waiting list at Twin Oaks. It is now gone.
People seek explanations for why we dropped down into the low 80s of adults, when we had been at our population cap of 92 for so long. There is no single reason.
But because there are now spaces available to people who come to do the visitor period, it is worth reviewing why it might be a good time to ditch your mainstream life and consider living in a full service commune.
No Bosses: Our managers are nothing like your manager. They don’t generally fire people, they don’t determine raises or promotions. Instead they organize trainings and make sure the needed materials are available and the machines are functioning properly. Every one of our ‘managers’ also works on the production line. Because all jobs are volunteer, managers who exploit their co-workers find themselves lonely. This drives the MBAs a bit crazy.
No Money: Can you imagine going through your day and not touching cash or credit cards? The commune strives to and largely succeeds in providing all the things people need outside the conventional money system. Food, housing, clothing, medical services, education, and entertainment are distributed freely and fairly. You work your quota (currently 42 hours a week) and all your needs are met.
No advertising: Transformative festivals like Burning Man make a big deal out of being non-commercial and largely advertisement free. For many attendees the break from the constant onslaught of commercial images and invitations to buy things, most of which you don’t want, is a big relief. But you can’t live at these festivals. You can live at Twin Oaks, where if you stay off the internet and don’t read one of the many magazines we collectively subscribe to, you can avoid advertisements indefinitely.
No punch clocks: One of the other things the boss you don’t have is not doing is keeping track of your hours. In this trust-based system you record the different work you do. Our flexible work system means you can always find work in the hammock shop or in the kitchen and if you want to be scheduled you can be, but if you prefer to figure it out yourself each day, that is available also.
No fear: What do you feel if you hear someone behind you in the dark whom you don’t know? While it is not true to say we completely escape all crime, we avoid so much of it that some visitors realize the difference between where I live and where they live is that there has been a constant mostly low level threat for most of their waking hours, which vanishes in this prosaic collective rural living.
It is not just what we don’t have that defines us, the things we do choose and possess are crucial.
We strive to be self-sufficient: We build our own buildings, organically grow most of our own food, run our own businesses, teach our kids, and create our own holidays and culture. The community has spawned and nurtured painters and poets, quilters and woodcarvers. We’ve had folk singers, rock bands, chanters and primal screamers. You can find someone to teach you how to juggle, or program a computer, or deliver a newborn calf. We stage our own theater productions and provide an unusually appreciative audience for visiting performers. We have our own coffeehouses, writing groups, and social clubs.
Economic self-sufficiency means we have seven businesses:
- We make about 8,000 hammocks a year and sell them online and in stores and at the craft fairs we attend.
- We make 400,000 lbs of tofu. We are just starting a new line which will enable us to double production.
- We indexed 60 books last year, mostly with academic presses.
- We have a contract services business which does demolition, elder care, house cleaning and removes the basketball floor at midnight on Thanksgiving at UVa John Paul Jones Arena.
- We do seed growing and wholesale distribution of Acorn’s Southern Exposure organic and heritage seed business.
- We run conferences and gatherings, like the upcoming Womens Gathering (Aug 19 thru 21) and Communities Conference over labor day (Sept 2 thru 5) as well as the Herb Workshop.
- We sell beautiful organic ornamental flowers.
We live lightly on the land: We heat our buildings with sustainably harvested wood from our land. Most buildings have a solar hot water preheating system and half of the newest residential building is off the grid completely, using only electricity provided by the sun, with residents agreeing to keep consumption low and use efficient appliances. We sort our waste into over a dozen different categories and reuse and recycle fiercely. The food we don’t grow we buy in bulk, which cuts down on packaging. We have our own sewage treatment plant, which runs at well-above state required standards and are planning a constructed wetlands. We have 20% the carbon foot print of our mainstream counterparts, mostly because we share things so robustly: clothes and cars and buildings and bicycles and musical instruments.
We are self-selecting: You cannot simply move to Twin Oaks tomorrow, and strangers who just drop in are politely asked to leave. You need to write us first and link up with one of the regularly scheduled three-week visits, or just take our Saturday tour. During the three-week visit, we orient you to our culture and more importantly, it gives both you and us a chance to live and work together. Then we ask visitors to go away for a month and think about whether they really want to live in our slightly odd and extraordinary village.
[This is the big asterisk part] *But it is not paradise: There are all kind of good reasons why people leave my commune (or never come in the first place.) Some people want more independence, they don’t want to have to ask the health team for some expensive exotic medical procedure. Some people want more of their own space than their own room. Some members leave because they don’t find the romantic partner they want, or the one they had ended the relationship and it is too hard to see their former partner every day. It is hard to make enough money to take long trips or far away vacations (our members get a tiny allowance of $100 a month.)
And then there is this resume problem. If you want to be a millionaire or CEO, you should probably skip the commune step. This is not to say that some members have not used the community as an applied university. And we have had many general managers of million dollar businesses who were in their early twenties. But when they ask you how much you were paid at your last job, your next employer is likely to be unimpressed by in-kind wages.
The real question to ponder is, “Are you ready for a radical departure from what you are used to?” Community could be the answer. And now that there is not a waiting list at Twin Oaks, perhaps this is the right one for you.
If you are interested in applying for membership click here.
The post originally appeared in the CommuneLife blog.
In hours, the UK will hold a binding national referendum on leaving the European Union. At this writing, the polls are too close to call.
If you listen to the mainstream media the voices are nearly united in favor of leaving the EU intact. You will hear endless commentary on how leaving the EU will be bad for the UK’s economy. You will hear that the move represents xenophobia at its worst, how far right sentiments are driving the referendum’s popularity, and how UK ex-pats will suffer. Even the progressive and thoughtful UK newspaper the Guardian says the UK cannot take on issues like Globalization and Climate Disruption from outside the EU.
I want the UK to leave.
Many of the arguments for remaining in the Union that are being advanced are likely valid. Economically, Brexit will induce uncertainty and both currencies and markets will drop. A separate UK will likely do less for immigrants than it would inside the Union. Ex-patriots may have a tougher time and cross-border traffic will be harder.
But even though the tendencies of the European Union are towards tolerance and inclusion, what the big government has really done at the European level is made the continent safe for multinational corporations to do their most foul work.
The EU “provides the most hospitable ecosystem in the developed world for rentier monopoly corporations, tax-dodging elites and organized crime,” writes British journalist Paul Mason.
What I really want is for a host of these independence-seeking regions to break free from their larger political entities. Alaska and Texas out of the US. Quebec from Canada. Basques from Spain. Tibet from China. Palestine from Israel. Kurdistan from Iraq. Oh and Northern Ireland from the UK.
I spent a summer some years back fighting reactors in Slovenia, a tiny country that is part of former Yugoslavia. We saw the president mowing his own lawn. We saw a high standard of living and low crime. The national population is 2 million and functioned fine without a standing army. Not every region will find the advantages Slovenia was able to capture when it broke from Yugoslavia. But the worst offenses of the current times are at the hands of the giant players who love big government, big business, big institutions. These corporations and politicians love it because typically it gives them more power, often with less oversight.
We have tried big, it did not work so well. Perhaps Brexit will lead us to more small.
When visiting Abigail we often do workshops together. This time we ambitiously tried to do Honest Seduction, Clever Compersion and Brilliant Breakups all in one evening. Part of the reason this was ambitious was we had never done a breakup workshop before. Thus we spent a fair piece of the day before developing material for it.
One of the pieces i liked was the idea of doing an exit interview. At the point you have established you are going to unravel your romantic relationship you should get together in a non-confrontational format and discuss:
- Things that you appreciate
- Hopes for the future relationship
- What I wish I had done better
- How to take care of each other
- Cooling down time – how long, how distant
- Logistics of untangling finances and possessions
We encouraged people to start with what they thought their ex-partner might want to hear that they could honestly offer. One of the participants rightly pointed out that this was a very logical approach to a usually highly emotional circumstance. Which set me off into thinking about communications covenants and how relationships might do well to adopt some communities strategies around these things.
After this we got into some edgier tips about how to get over your past romantic encounter. These included:
- Simply letting time pass – with patience
- Be fully emotionally expressed
- Drugs and Alcohol
- Move to another country
- Self forgiveness
- Demonizing your ex-lover
We are not recommending all of these strategies, we just wanted to identify them. There can be quite some negative side effects of selecting some of these techniques (drugs and alcohol for example).
We also spoke briefly about the advantages and downsides of demonizing your past partner. Specifically:
- Channels anger
- Removes elevated illusions of your ex
- Can be funny
- Often an effective distancing technique
- It’s mean – it can make you feel bad about yourself
- May burn bridges back to friendship
- May give the past relationship undesired power or attention
This letter to the editor was not printed by the Richmond Times Dispatch
Sadly, I will not be able to attend this year’s shareholders meeting for Dominion Resources on May 11th in Columbia SC. Were I there, I would be asking out-going CEO Tom Farrell some difficult questions about the proposed North Anna 3 reactor.
“The estimated cost of building the new reactor at North Anna is $19 billion. Dominion paid $192 million for the Kewaunee reactor in Wisconsin. You ran this reactor for 5 years and were not able to make it be profitable. Dominion closed Kewaunee in 2013. How can Dominion expect to run the North Anna plant profitably, if it is 100 times more expensive than one it has already closed for economic reasons?”
“Dominion has already put over $1 billion into the rate base for this project it claims to have not yet decided on, making this one of the most expensive non-decisions in history. Now Dominion wants to spend in 2016 over half a billion dollars (the cost of a very large solar array) to wait another year to decide on North Anna, while the clean energy regulations are being litigated. Why not invest this money is solar PV which could be generating cheaper electricity, without toxic radwaste, at a lower price, even factoring in the cost of batteries?”
The global investment for renewables new capacity exceeded investment in fossil fuels (including fracking) and nuclear combined in 2015. Is Dominion just unable to find capable people to tap into this clear emerging market? Dominion has a fairly small fraction of its capacity in high profile renewables.
Dominion is fundamentally failing to become a forward thinking utility and instead depends on its comfortable relationship with the state government to push off the costs of its mistakes (like North Anna 3) onto ratepayers and taxpayers. Wise investors would recognize that this is not a sustainable investment strategy.