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.
Against all odds, Bernie Sanders still has a chance to become president. Why do i say “against all odds”? Well, it starts with the media.
Way back in December, the Sanders staff did an analysis of the mainstream media (MSM) and found that ABC’s World News Tonight had spent 81 minutes on Trump and 20 seconds on Sanders. Other MSM outlets were similarly uninterested in the popular Jewish socialist running for the country’s top office. Even the NY Times can’t bring itself to report on this anti-establishment candidate, while it rails endlessly on the establishment ills.
Conventional wisdom would claim that Trump is saying more outrageous and newsworthy things. I would be hard pressed to disagree on the outrageous part. But someone advocating for free college tuition and expansion of the ever controversial Obamacare program to cover all US Americans with free health care is saying some pretty newsworthy stuff. Despite Sanders being remarkable, the MSM is still owned and controlled by a class which finds his radical views unacceptable.
As a political candidate for president in the US you need to have exposure. What i found canvassing for Sanders in Virginia was lots of people had not heard of him. So if you can’t get the MSM to cover you, then you need to pay for ads, but these are crazy expensive. Here is where Sanders is again running against all odds.
Sanders raised $140 million from individual contributions through the end of February. Clinton raised $160 from people over the same period. But add to this $60 million in Super PAC money for Clinton and you can see how things are harder for Sanders.
Sanders does not take money from Super PACs. [For a reality check Republicans have raised almost twice as much money as Democrats and over half for the GOP money is from Super PACs, contrasted to 15% for Democrats.]
The thing about long shots is you need to know when to double down and when to walk away. I don’t generally give money to politicians. Despite voting, i am still an anarchist and find most of the personality politics repugnant. I am giving Sanders $27, which is the average amount he has received and feels like a good number to me.
The reason you double down on the right long shot is not because you are going to win, but it is to be part of the springboard of hope. Sanders has amazing momentum. Consider helping the campaign in non-monetary ways if you can, especially if you have friends in NY or California.
After the recent set of landslide victories in Washington, Hawaii and Alaska (which were largely ignored by the MSM), it is time to double down. The odds are still against us, but the odds are always going to be against us. I am sending my $27. I hope you will too.
“I would not want to be the police for this policy.” Someone wrote recently about my blog post on fun tables.
And it made me realize that I had not blogged about one of the most important aspects of community life. Which is the stratification and interrelation of our agreements and how it is that they are enforced.
At Twin Oaks we have basically three levels of agreements:
To become a member, you have to sign to ByLaws. These are the defining general agreements we make with each other. They include general text like this:
Together our aim is to perpetuate and expand a society based on cooperation, sharing, and equality:
A. Which serves as one example of a cooperative social organization, relevant to the world at large, and promotes the formation and growth of similar communities;
and much more specific text like this:
All assets not loaned or donated to the Community shall be left inactive from a management or investment point of view, except that, at the Community’s discretion it may allow a member to reinvest or manage assets, if it is to the Community’s advantage that this be done.
The bylaws are fairly short, perhaps 8 pages or so. They are the highest level of agreement the community has. As an incoming member, you are supposed to have read them and have some familiarity with them.
Twin Oaks has a lot of written policy. There are two large three ring binders full of instructions on how we have agreed to do things. There is detailed information about how we should conduct an expulsion. There is the complex zoning of our nudity policy. We carefully describe our prohibition of live television and restrictions on cell phones. There is also some slightly silly policy like the restriction of transport of nuclear waste through the community. No one is expect to read all our policies.
None-the-less written policy is important at Twin Oaks. It is a central pillar in our decision making process. And we spend a fair amount of time discussing and debating what makes good policy. With some regularity, members will say “I went back and looked at the policy and it was quite clear.” I personally think well crafted policy has been important in the success of the community, which is now heading into it’s 49th year.
But what happens if you break a policy? One of the things you will see very little of in our policy is consequences for breaking policy. Unlike laws, where the punishment for breaking them is clear, mostly it is a bit up for grabs what happens in the community when someone violates policy. If you violate the cell phone policy, someone is likely to simply tell you that they are annoyed by your behavior, perhaps remind you of the policy and then we are done (this happened to me the other night). If you violate the restriction on firearms, you might find yourself looking at expulsion.
There are no police at Twin Oaks. At least none with special powers. Any member can remind another member of an agreement we have about a behavior which might be problematic. If they don’t feel comfortable confronting the member they can go to the Process Team or the Planners (our highest executive body). It is possible nothing will happen with the complaint, we simply ignore some number of small problems. When something does happen, most of the time it is a simple reprimand and a request to stick to our agreements.
The lowest level of agreements we have are norms. We don’t write norms down. Norms are intentionally called norms rather than rules, because generally speaking there is no consequence to someone violating a norm (unlike rules, where there is generally a punishment from breaking a rule).
All of the fun table agreements I discussed in the earlier post are norms. We don’t have any written agreements about protocols for how to sit at which table and what they can talk about. As much as we like policy, even for us this would be over the top.
So what about my digital friend who wants to know about policing agreements? Why do these norms get followed if there are so little in the way of consequences for violating them?
The real answer is that we mostly gently police each other, and much of it is unspoken and self policing. We are crafting a dynamic binding social contract. When I was reminded to be discreet about my cell phone use, it was at it’s base a request from my fellow communard to not include them in my habit.
In the larger society a fair case can be made that for laws and rules to hold sway, they need to have punishment teeth to back them up. In the tiny culture of community, we can spend more time working on our agreements and less time worrying specifically about what happens when they are not followed, because our softer social controls will encourage us to abide by them without police or punishment.
Generally, I am not excited about personality politics, it rubs my anarchist roots the wrong way. But I have to confess that Bernie is different. Besides having a long history of doing the right thing, he is running on a platform that is basically about re-orienting American priorities to take care of the majority of the people in the country, and especially those who are disadvantaged.
Hillary’s platform says she will do a similar thing, as do many conventional politicians. The differences is Bernie has decades of elected experience doing and trying to do exactly this.
The thing which tilted it for me, the thing which got me out of my chair and had me spend a couple of days campaigning for Sanders leading into the Virginia primary, was his position on nuclear power. It is simply a reasonable position, cutting government subsidies for nuclear development and liability insurance.
It does not take much to satisfy me on this issue. Sadly, not a single major political candidate for president has had this position in my lifetime, not Carter, not Clinton (either one) not Obama. Certainly not any of the Republican candidates for president.
Sanders on Vermont Yankee and more nuclear issues
And it is worth pointing out that this simple, reasonable position would mean the rapid phase out of nuclear power in the US and the complete abandonment of new nuclear development. Without serious subsidy and open ended liability insurance covered by tax payers, nuclear power is economically nonviable.
So after I took some Acorners to a construction job I went to the Sanders campaign office in Charlottesville on the day before the Virginia primary. I said I was at their disposal for the rest of the day and election day. When I said I would make phone calls or go door to door, they told me the face to face personal touch was more important. When I told them I lived in Louisa County, they asked me if I could go back home, because due to some delegate math that I did not quite understand, Louisa County was more important than Charlottesville County. I happily returned to Louisa.
I was given 13 regions inside Louisa County to canvas. I was told that we were only looking to talk with people who were already leaning strongly towards Bernie. This is a real “Get out the Vote” effort (called GPTV by the folks who live this stuff.) “Don’t talk with Hillary supporters, and quickly disengage from Trump fans, despite the temptation to argue with them,” I was told by the Sanders campaign staff.
Our conversations with prospective voters were to be mostly about logistics. “What time were you planning on voting?” “Do you need a ride?” “Did you know your polling place is the Moss Nuckalos Elementary School?” “You know the polls are open until 7pm?”
I wanted to spend some time doing it myself before I went back to the communes and got other people involved. Partially this was because I wanted to know if it made sense to send teams of two people. It did.
We were not hitting every house on the block. This is the age of big data and there is all kinds of information about people out there. When I talked with the folks at the Sanders office about where the data about the houses I was visiting came from I was impressed by the answer. “We have address data on everyone who has given Sanders money, we know who is registered to vote as a democrat and most of the addresses in your packets come from modeling.” Computer models are forecasting who you will vote for. They were right a surprising fraction of the time.
Because there is distance between houses and all manner of circuitous driveways, I decided that I would try to assemble two person teams to hit each canvassing areas (which typically had 25 to 30 houses in it.) One person would drive, the other person would talk to people or leave fliers if no one was home. Both would try to navigate, which despite the well designed turfs was often the most complex part of the job.
Shal and I partnered. He was happy to drive me and preferred not to be talking to lots of strangers. And he, like a half dozen other communards, was excited at the prospect of doing something for this election. Even on just a day’s notice, mobilizing folks was surprisingly easy, and I wish I had started a week earlier.
The eight canvassers covered about half the territories we were given, which was the only effort in the county. I had some interesting and insightful conversations with people. At least one couple said they were going to the polls because of my visit. Several people were secretive about their plans for voting. The nuclear power plant technician said he was unable to vote because of the planned shut down of the reactor which would have him busy all day. I suppressed my happiness with his apathy and encouraged him to pay attention to the safety of the North Anna reactor complex.
Despite the instructions to stick with logistics conversations, some folks wanted to talk about politics. Fortunately, Sanders’ views are more populist than mine. I talked with a family of vets, where Sanders’ record is strong. I spoke with folks who were worried about jobs and minimum wage, here again Sanders’ positions are popular and his record stronger than Clinton’s.
If the Sanders campaign is going to succeed, it is going to have to learn from the Trump campaign and break through the media’s disinterest in Bernie’s radical agenda. Theoretically, this should not be hard. The Sanders campaign is full of cultural creatives who should be able to come up with the progressive equivalent of ‘Mexicans are rapists,’ ‘Let’s ban all Muslims, and ‘End birthright citizenship.’
Belladonna, who occasionally writes for this blog and equally often hacks in for some of the wilder posts, has done her part. Below is her clever video parody of Lorde’s haunting tune ‘Royals,’ slamming the former secretary of state. Please share widely.
We did not win in Virginia, not even close (though Kristen points out we did win the Yanceyville precinct, which is where we campaigned). But this game is hardly over. Almost regardless of your issue, if you are a progressive or radical, it might be two decades before you get a better presidential candidate with a better record (okay, he is off on drones and Israel) and a better chance of winning.
Once upon a time, i taught a class on revolution. It was not a history class, it was a design class. What we discovered was that you could only be a revolutionary in a field that you were passionate about, thus part of the class was about focusing on what the students cared most deeply about.
Another part of the class was about looking at power relations and disassembling them where possible, including the power relationship between teachers and students. Part of what we did to rebalance the power relationship was practice having the students in the first class yell “bullshit!” at the teachers.
This was not just a one-off cutesy exercise, it was an invitation for the entirety of the class. Whenever what the teachers were doing was boring or irrelevant to a student, we asked them to yell this at us. In response we would change the trajectory of the class. Sometimes the yelling student would take over leading the class (my favorite). Sometimes the teachers would listen to their critique, offer something different and if was acceptable we would do that instead. A few times we went out and played capture the flag in downtown Charlottesville where the class was held. A couple times we ended class early.
Perhaps every fourth or fifth class someone would yell bullshit at us. We never ignored it.
Students grow up. Ruth was one of my favorites. She was upbeat and clever despite having an impossible home situation. After she graduated she became a teacher of the class for a while.
She joined a spiritual community and found herself critical of the teachings of the spiritual leader of the group. One day during the daily teachings of the master, when the students were supposed to be quietly listening, she realized that what he was saying was nonsense. She yelled “Bullshit” at the guru and left the group.
There is no greater reward to being a teacher than feeling your “lessons” were applied.
Validation Day at Twin Oaks is a mostly internal affair. Unlike some of our larger events (like Anniversary or New Years Eve) we don’t invite that many folks from outside to this event, because we prefer to know people better for this more intimate party. I think there were fewer than half a dozen non-Oakers at this event (if you also exclude the Acorners, ex-members, and the handful of East Winders who are currently helping out at Acorn.)
The important piece of this party for me was that there was such a seamless range between kids and adults. This was helped significantly by the former member kids who joined our current group of teens and early 20s, many of whom are members. An ex-member pointed out that this was the first party she had seen where the kids really felt like it was their party too, like they were not just running through Tupelo, but were on the dance floor, with adults and other youth.
There are very few really integrated inter-generational parties. Think of the last time when 7- and 70-year olds were both on the dance floor enjoying themselves. I think many people have no experience of this. We are building the better party.
Having lots of kids at the event did not dampen the energy of the adults, though I think it does make the adults somewhat more discreet about their amorous attractions. Members got their results from the 6 creatures game and many were excited to find out their (perhaps formerly secret) attractions were shared.
Another indicator that it was a positive event for the participants was that I could not get shuttles to Acorn filled. As is my way at these events, I ran around checking in with people about when they wanted to catch a ride home to Acorn. I checked at 11 PM, no one wanted to leave, I checked at midnight, another failure. At 1 AM a small car went home but it was not even full. Finally at 3 AM I was able to fill the 15 seat passenger van.
The party was not perfect. Unusually, it was held in Tupelo, which is a very large and somewhat rambling space, and the party had several focuses, which made the dance floor seem sparse for much of the night. The kissing booth was a bit too dark and too close to the dance floor, so this funological long lever was barely used.
But even with these minor design flaws, we were clearly doing something right. Participants were praising the event the next day, many having slept in from the late night of celebration.
I am constantly on the lookout for new transparency tools. I have been ending the most recent transparency groups i facilitate with a simple popcorn of appreciations. Whoever felt moved would acknowledge someone else in the group for something they did or a way they are in the world that was appreciated. This was fine, and occasionally compelling, elegant and simple. And as a tool, it was a bit weak.
Kelly from the Point A DC group shared someone else’s appreciation tool at the recent retreat which i immediately snapped up because it is much more powerful. In go round style, people said what it was that they wanted to be appreciated for. This is a bit like a pointed “if you really knew me” where we get to learn a very specific and important thing about you: what it is that you feel under-recognized for that is none-the-less important to you.
It is a bit unclear where to go after this under-expressed appreciation is voiced. Currently, i have someone in the group who feels like they can validate this appreciation in their own words. When i said i wanted to be appreciated for my sloppy and unreliable organizing style, Hawina said “Minimal effort, maximum effect. Yeah Paxus!” and pumped her fist. It was perfect.
But the commune affords other unprompted appreciations. I do a weekly tofu trays shift. You get dressed up for this work – boots, apron, gloves with liners, ear protection, hair nets. In the winter months this is cold, wet, heavy, loud, rushed, non-stop physical work for 3 plus hours (i get that compared with many jobs in the mainstream a single 3 hour weekly shift would seem like a breeze, but we are spoiled). I do this work year round, regardless of my membership status.
I was coming into my trays shift recently and new member David was finishing up in his similar protective garb. He explained to me that the curds were wet and needed to sit longer and drain to make the proper weights. And then he started to walk away towards the clothes changing space. Then he turned around and came back and said,
“Hey, i appreciate that you do this unpleasant trays work even when you don’t live here.”
And then he put out his glove in a fist and i bumped it. I don’t think i have ever done a fist bump like that before. As in “we are all part of the same team, making it happen together.” And it really hit me.