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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.






Compersia lands on the Atlantic

A collection of intrepid adventurers have launched the newest income sharing commune in Washington DC and it is called Compersia. After failing twice to name this new community using naming parties, they discovered that one of the limitations of naming parties is that they are good at coming up with funny or lighthearted names. But when you are naming your home you might want something a bit more serious.


Compersia retreat January 2016

Compersia is derived from Compersion, which is roughly defined as the opposite of jealousy.  More precisely compersion is when you feel good about your intimate experiencing intimacy with another person.    Part of the reason why compersion is only roughly defined as the opposite of jealousy is that you can feel both compersion and jealousy at the same time.

The name is barely a month old and the major liberal magazine, the Atlantic, has completed a 6 minute video on them.  Here is the link to the Compersians discussing their community.  The reportage is all in the words of the members and thus it is a pretty upbeat piece of coverage.  Compersia is looking for new members and this might well help.

Curiously, just the day before the Atlantic posting, ran an article called “With Housing Costs Sky-High, the Commune Makes a Comeback” Which quotes a number of our friends at Ganas and Twin Oaks.


A collection of Old Twin Oaks photos use by

Nice to be seen a bit by the more mainstream press.


Better Labor Day Plans

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.

bridge eyes cropped

Ads can make you crazy

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.

open space rules.jpg

Open Space’s slightly tautological rules

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.

meet the communities table.jpg

A bunch of tables like this talking about different communities during “meet the communities”

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.

comm conf table

The scheduled workshop program is as follows:

Saturday: 1:30 – 3:15 PM

Panel discussion with the Federation of Egalitarian Communities
Consensus 201: Different levels of agreement for a consensus proposal
Organizing Community? Remember PC2
The Community Land Trust: Networking Wealth

Saturday: 3:45 – 5:30 PM

The Parable of the Sower Intentional Community
Culture Hacking 101: How to Create a Participatory, Intentional Culture For Your Community
Legal Clinic
Mutual Credit and Sociocracy

Sunday: 9:00 – 10:45 AM

Creating Fertile Ground for Community
Boundaries: Speaking Truth, Meeting Needs, and Releasing Attachments
The Role of ICs in Manifesting a New Paradigm/Next System
Overview of the new Urban Kibbutz Movement

I get arrested for a living

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.

i-95 blockade action

Traffic was blocked for an hour

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.

black lives matter meme

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 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 […]

via How being a communard takes the risk out of risking arrest — commune life

Evolving Transparency

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.

Transparency fade

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.

locked mind

There have been two general confidentiality agreements that TT groups have been using.

  1. Strict Confidentiality: People in the group don’t talk about the other members’ disclosures outside of the Transparency Tools group.
  2. 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.

question marks hanging

Remind me, what can I say to whom?

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.

emotion geometry

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 Clintoand 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.

sanders landslides

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.



Norms versus Rules

“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:

  1. Bylaws
  2. Policy
  3. Norms

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.

wavy roads

Sometimes the path is not direct

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.

brains floating

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).

path to living well

What is the path to living well together?

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.