Anarchy at Twin Oaks
Chaos has engulfed the commune! Well, not quite, but perhaps technically so. The by-laws and policy of Twin Oaks are tremendously elaborate. Over the near half century of history of the commune we have designed contingencies for many unexpected circumstances. What do we do if someone disappears? What do we do if someone wins the lottery? What if 24 members accept a visitor and 6 reject them? What do you do if you are topless in the garden and the UPS person shows up? What do we do if there is only one planner?
It is the last of these examples that delivered us to the current non-crisis. Twin Oaks government was inspired by the book Walden 2, a behaviorist fiction story. Described in Walden 2 book is the planner manager system of governance we use. Managers control area budgets (both labor and money) and planners operate across multiple areas or full community wide as executives.
I have long joked that the Twin Oaks plannership is a self perpetuating autocracy with a democratic cap. At any time there are supposed to be at least three planners (up to five if there are stand in planners, who are in training). When their is a vacancy the planners look at a membership list and seek out a member who they would like to work with. They approach this member and ask them if they want the job and if they do, then the community is consulted. The planners have an interview with anyone who is interested. A veto box is put up, and a minority of the membership (20%) can block a planner, but this is pretty rare. [Note: this is actually a streamlined description of the process which is actually more complex.]
The plannership is a crazy difficult job. My personal estimate is about half of the planners drop out early. There is a rule that you can not run for two consecutive planner terms, but no one has wanted to in the nearly 20 years i have been here. So what happens if there is only one planner? If there are no acceptable candidates to join or no one is willing to?
We have elections. This surprises people who know the community well. We don’t have elections for individual for any position really, it is not part of our culture. Managers serve until they tire of a position, they are mostly replaced by people who they train to replace them. Sometimes a council will choose between a couple of candidates, but this is rarely by voting, instead typically it is done in a meeting.
On October 1st of this year we had no planners. One term ended and the other resigned. If there are no planners or just one, then we go to elections. This has only happened one other time in the last 19 years.
What has the effect been on the community? Almost nothing. A decision about a feedback is pending the new planners. Some managers probably did some things without consulting the planners, but they might have done them anyway. The internals of the community are both resilient and decentralized. We don’t need an executive for much of what we do.
And tomorrow the election results will come out. And i am running. There are 8 candidates. Some of the candidates are unexcited about the job, but are open to doing it. Others, like myself, are excited about the position (which i have done twice before) but are at least somewhat controversial. Still others are well liked and respected and at least one of those will certainly get the job.
Anarchy was fun while it lasted.