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Unity in the Communities Movement

This post is one in a series on workshops being offered at this years Twin Oaks Communities Conference. Nicole Bienfang of The Transition will be presenting a workshop entitled Where’s the UNITY in the Communities Movement?

Nicole head shot

Nicole Bienfang – Presenter

When you look at the writings of many founders who started ICs their intentions were to create a concept that grew to global proportions, but how does that happen when there is no unity of vision on how to grow the communities movement? How can we build a global system that supports our growth on a grassroots and global level when each IC acts as an isolated silo? Nicole’s workshop intends to dig deep into these questions and many more like them. Through group participation attendees will find out what other participants are currently struggling with, what is working for them, how neighboring communities can better support each other, and what overlapping issues resonate with everyone  present.

Through the workshop you will find practical advice and resources with opportunities for self-reflection using group participation to illustrate workable examples and determine the focus the workshop takes.

Things that will be covered:

  • How each individual can contribute to the global growth of the IC movement
  • How to prevent founder burnout
  • How to create partnerships between individuals and ICs that are mutually beneficial
  • How to tap into an IC mutual aid network for tangible items and skills

Nicole’s  workshop is right for you if you are:

  • Struggling finding IC members that meet your ICs needs or criteria
  • Need resources or funding to get your IC off the ground
  • Would like to reduce your stress in founding your IC
  • Could use some sage wisdom from people who have “been there done that”.

Are you yearning for community?   The Transition serves social change makers (including ones wanting to form intentional communities) and provides them with support, space, and resources they need to succeed in the work they do, through an Action Plan, personal development, training and and most importantly an online and offline mutual aid network. Through their research The Transition knows when you can connect and share assets, people and ideas, everything changes for the better. You can help them create the world’s largest database of assets and resources, owned and cultivated by social change makers from all over the world, by registering on their website www.thetransition.org. When you join The Transition and become active and engaged with their online and offline community many resources are made available to you as well, by taking part in their global family. The more registered users that are enroll on the site the more assets and resources become communally available to all who are part of their mutual aid network. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • Food
  • Shelter
  • Land
  • Free WiFi
  • Spaces to assemble
  • Work space for projects
  • Household goods
  • Tools
  • Training
  • Education
  • Volunteers
  • “Blueprints” and Case Studies (crafted from input from individuals who learned the hard way and  what not to do)
  • Funding to support projects or get new ones off the ground

Map with registered The Transition website users spanning multiple countries.

members worldwide map

Living in Community?

The Transition website is useful to people in many different situations-those who live communally, those trying to create social change groups, alternative living situations or those already involved in growing networks of activists.The Transition can help your community by:

  • Matchmaking (matching communities with specific needs, with prospective communards, interns, or volunteers who have those skillsets)
  • Screening prospective community members to make sure they are qualified leads with aligned values
  • Training (Non-Violent Communication, Conflict Resolution, Meeting Facilitation, Community Governance etc)
  • Cross-Promotion, PR, Outreach  for your community and your community’s cottage industries
  • Syndication for blogs, podcasts, video, music created by your community and individual communards
  • Providing access to mutual aid (tangibles,skill-sets, travel accommodation)
  • Updating our “Community Brain” with the newest and latest information to benefit your community’s longevity
  • Promoting your events (Open Houses, Work Parties, Parties, Speaking Engagements, Conferences etc.)

A page from their member’s skills searchable inventory which includes expertise rank, and expandable details for more specifics

member skills

Objects page on The Transition website showcasing objects available to website users.

member list

Some things they have in the pipeline in various stages of development are:

  • A radio show that can help elevate and create a positive image for the IC movement in Babylon.
  • A benefits program (life Insurance, legal counsel, exclusive discounts and sign-up incentives for everyday and monthly expenditures online and in local communities etc)
  • A “People’s Bailout Program” to help get individuals out of financial debt (so they can invest in creating communities and positive social change projects)
  • A crowd-funding platform called The Cooking Pot built within their website, that will offer a match contribution for all funds raised
  • Alternative Spring Break programs for Teens & College Students
  • Alternative Scouts program for youth
  • Emergency/Relief Fund

Their organization and website is co-created and 100% volunteer run meaning that every registered user is part of the transitional process from our current zeitgeist to the a more idealized version of what we want the future to be. By relaying their newly acquired resources and findings from their social change work made “in the trenches” every individual using the site is strengthened and can eliminate pitfalls other activists and organizers made before the dawn of the internet.

You can listen to a podcast overview about the organization @ https://tinyurl.com/yc3h7pj4

If you are interested in volunteering or getting involved in any capacity start Your Action Plan.

transition logo
Nicole Bienfang: As a co-founder of The Transition, she has dedicated her life to increasing the positive impact social change makers have on society. She is a research driven, lifelong learner, who uses that knowledge to build stronger relationships among communities with individuals from around the world.

Nomadic Communitarians

I have written here about Shooting Stars, members of community who come through for a while on their way to other adventures.  The trick with shooting stars, is that you need to appreciate them when you have them close, and let them go gracefully, because you never really could hold them anywhere.

It was just this last winter that Thumbs joined Cambia and updated our notions of astrophysics.  Thumbs is a peripatetic communard.  A person with a mission (in his case the promotion and construction of yurts) who travels from place to place educating and demonstrating.  When i told him he was a shooting star, he corrected me and said he was more like a comet, swinging back to the places he loves.

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Thumbs is a person you can stand on

And he is coming back.  To do two workshops for the Twin Oaks Communities Conference and the Cambia Labor Day workshops.  At the Twin Oaks event, he is presenting on being a traveling communard and the sacred economics of it.  Here is a description of that workshop:

I live a vibrant life of travel, adventure, and spend copious amounts of time working on my invigorating passions, yet I make almost no money and am figuring ways to move money out of my bank account. I would like to host a workshop educating others on how to use the unorthodox wealth of communities to liberate themselves from the drain of personal expenses and dedicate more of their time to their passion projects. Communities are a unique place to explore gift economics, MOU’s that don’t entail USD exchange, and alternate currencies.  In doing this people will not only benefit themselves but may serve the communities movement by connecting communities and finding out in what ways each of them are abundantly wealthy and how they are in need. Movement Games, heart shares, and intellectual discussion will be involved. 

At Cambia on Labor Day he will be doing his yurt thing, which is describe as such:

Forget everything you know about conventional western architecture, and prepare to learn the genius of ancient nomadic design.  The lifestyle of traditional peripatetic cultures demanded the invention of structures that could endure the harshest climates in the world, both barren deserts and -40 degree winters, yet still be packed up on livestock and transported thousands of miles!  The Mongol Empire, the world’s most prolific nomad culture once spanning the largest land empire in the world, designed the ingenious collapsible home known in the west as a Yurt.

This workshop is a comprehensive and experiential study of yurt building that you will walk away from with the skills needed to build beautiful yurts for any climate and out of any materials you have access to.  The skills you’ll be learning to build these artistic structures like wood bending, mortise and tenon, dynamic knotwork, and textile pattern design will also unlock new creative potential in your other building projects.  We will also be talking about how these structures are part of modern culture, from the current state of nomadic Mongolians, to how you can avoid building codes with small, collapsible yurts.

For many people in the West, who value sedentary homes that sit in place for hundreds of years and private ownership of small plots of land, the lifestyle and architecture of nomadic people is an invigorating new perspective on what it means to call a place “home”.  

There is still time to register for both of these events.  We may have lost some shooting stars, but this comet is coming back and shining bright.

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Yurt Construction in Process

 

 

Love Letters to Strangers

One of the most pressing questions facing event organizers these days is “How important is Facebook in bringing people to events?”

social media is changing everything

But how and how much?

I asked an experienced promoter “If you have 100 people saying they are ‘interested’ in my event (as opposed to ‘going’) how many can I expect will actually come?” They replied “Zero”.  Which begs the question “Why bother working with Facebook at all?”

The answer for the team working on the Twin Oaks Communities Conference is that we can reach out to people who say they are considering the event and encourage them to come.  Or in other words, we are writing a bunch of encouraging letters to strangers.

love letters bundle

For this event which is happening over the Labor Day weekend, it is still possible for many people to make plans to attend.   Rather than crossing our fingers and hoping those who are interested might come, we are using all the information which we have from Facebook to try to engage and encourage unsure possible attendees to come.

Even if we are not friends, the public information about you on your Facebook profile will help me assure you that this might be a good event for you to attend.  If there is a picture of you with your children on your wall, we can point out we have a great childcare program at this years event

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Child Care at the Communities Conference

If your Facebook timeline shows you are interested in inclusion and racial justice, then we can alert you to the thread (sequential related workshops) on this topic, including the workshop by returning presenter Crystal Farmer

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Crystal explores implicit bias & how to build diverse communities

If it is clear you are interested in renewable energy or electricity independence, then we are happy to announce that Alexis Ziegler of Living Energy Farm is presenting on “How to make your community 100% energy self sufficient

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Rainbows over Living Energy Farm

Turns out even strangers like love letters.  People are writing back. We are coordinating transportation for organic farmers with families in Michigan.  Racial Justice activists from Baltimore are asking us questions about work exchange to make it be possible to attend.  Folks from various egalitarian communities are saying they are interested in our panel discussion on the advantages of income sharing and the Federation.

What about you?  Is your community looking for new members?  Are you looking to change your life and join an intentional community? If so, then this might be the right event for you to be at over the labor day weekend.

If so come visit www.communitiesconference.org or show up at our Facebook event.

Communities building Co-ops

I want you to come to this years Twin Oaks Communities Conference.  Not just because I am one of the organizers and we would love for attendance to be high, but because there is some excellent content at this years event and I would love more people to get exposure to it.

One of the threads I am most excited about is communities creating worker co-ops.  The nature of community changes dramatically when you have your own income engines.  You become more flexible.  When members of your community have to work outside jobs they are pulled away from community life everyday, their work issues are separated from the collective life.  When you build a collective business, you are working with the people you live with, your bonds deepen, your flexibility increases, your motivation for work improves.

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But starting businesses are fraught with mishaps and hazards, which is why we have brought in experts to help guide those who wish to attempt this noble quest and increase your chances of success.  Below is the description of one piece of this thread.

Communities building Cooperatives – C2C

3 interlocking workshops for the Twin Oaks Communities Conference

And the Cambia Labor Day program

 

Intentional Communities and Worker Owned Cooperatives are sister initiatives, which can certainly cooperate more.  The 2018 Twin Oaks Communities Conference (Aug 31 thru Sept 2) will have a theme of how intentional communities can initiate and expand worker coops and how collectively controlled businesses can spark and support residential communities.  The Cambia Labor Day program (Sept 3) will focus on reviewing co-op business plans with an eye towards revising or polishing them.

These different collective ventures both require building trust between members and effective group decision making and visioning.  Intentional Communities which embrace starting cooperative work environments strengthen their financial foundation and expand the options for their members.

solidarity
This three day program will develop new ideas into proposals and then format them as draft business plans.  Some of the different workshops in this theme are described below:

Sept 1:  Visioning a co-op inside your community.  You already live together, what would it take to work together?  Is it possible for your collective to agree on a shared income generating venture and what are the deal makers and breakers for your members?  What type of time frame makes sense for this venture? Who are the in house champions that are going to prioritize this venture, including shepherding it thru community process and hopefully consensus.

Sept 2: Drafting a Business Plan.  Worker co-ops are businesses.  For them to succeed they need to be economically viable and serving a real need.  Real startups require business plans and new co-ops have some special extra considerations when crafting their business plans.  This workshop uses the Business Model Canvas technique to represent the key elements in developing a new venture and directing further research.  It will also use PEST Analysis: Political, Economic, Socio/cultural and Technological  considerations in refining the draft business plan.

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Coffee will be provided, pie charts will not

Sept 3 (Cambia Labor Day program) Worker Co-op Business Plan Review & Clinic.

Business plans will either be submitted in advance or developed over the previous two days at the Twin Oaks event.  This workshop will review briefly each of the business plans which are being worked on both by the facilitator/experts leading the workshop and by the other start up designers.  Based on this input a collection of recommendations will be made for how to improve the business plan, what kinds of support possibilities (financial and technical) exist and how to connect with them and what the best next steps might be.

 

Don’t Buy Land First

I am one of the moderators on an interesting Facebook group called the “Intentional Community Discussion Group“.  A very typical posting is “I just bought X beautiful acres, and I want to start an intentional community.  What should I do next?”

My answer is “Find a time machine and unbuy the land.”

Time-Machine

Generic Time Machine – Available on EBay

This feels deeply counter intuitive to many.  If you want to start a community and you have the capacity to buy land for your potential group, won’t it help the process along if you start by acquiring the land and then offer it to the group?

Sometimes it does, mostly it does not.    The deal with starting a community, lots of people think they want to do it, but they don’t have all the friends and allies they want to do it with, so the accessible starting place looks like buying land.  But as soon as you buy the land it stops being “We are starting community” and it becomes for everyone else “Should we join this existing project?”

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Starting community is a fragile time.  Some huge fraction (perhaps over 90%) of new communities fail.  Most forming communities never get passed the “We are talking about it” stage.  People want different things from community.  And many people have huge hopes that community will solve a myriad of problems for them.  “I will find my tribe.”  “I won’t have to cook every meal myself.” “I will be able to live off the grid.”  “I’ll have less stress.” “I’ll live with people who care for me.” “I will reduce my carbon footprint.”  And dozens more.  Starting community is an anti-gravity project.

The process of harmonizing the different needs and desires of prospective communards is the most important conversation you will have in your forming community.  If one of the desires of a member you love is ” I want to reduce my time commuting”, then you have almost certainly chosen the wrong place if you have already purchased land.  If their need/desire is “I want swim everyday” then your lack of stream or pond in your land purchase might be a deal breaker.  If someone needs for their cat to roam free outside and you have chosen a beautiful piece of land near a coyote refuge, then you have already scuttled their participation.

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beware the deal breakers

The key point here is when you are starting up a community the most important thing is to build the group.  And one of the most important decision for the group is which piece of land/buildings should you start with.  If you make this decision for the group, the forming community loses one of it’s most important identity forming choices.

 

An Empire of Vacant Lots

“All the trash comes here” Wolvie replied when i asked why they wanted to be in New Orleans. As a scavenger and builder from free materials, this is the carpenters equivalent of having a free lumber yard. But they went on to explain the much richer and complex relationship between the punks of this town and material wealth. It caught my ear because it centered around sharing.

wet chairs

Wet chairs in a stylish vacant lot

The informal collection of people living in conventional housing and shacks and vehicles functions in many ways like the intentional communities i am more used to. Cars are lent for long periods, instead of buying or renting tools a distributed informal library provides for these needs, and friends are invited to move in. Wolvie comments that it provides access to the culture and services of intentional community, but they can still retreat to their own private space at the end of the day.

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The art and propaganda above Ruby’s desk

I visit a collection of punk homesteads where different “rent” models comfortably co-exist. Some folks are squatting, others renting, some residents are paying back taxes on abandoned properties in hopes of securing ownership of them eventually, still others have succeeded in owning places. The people i am introduced to flow between these housing options as luck, circumstance and employment permit. Work seems often to be gig based, to fit in with peoples needs for traveling or activism.

The names of collective properties make me smile: Kitty Meow Town, Liability Park and Squatopotomus. This flat rainy city is ideal for bikes and i have several offers for bikes to borrow in my first couple of hours in town.

alter

Over a decade after hurricane Katrina, the effects of the disaster are often visible. “We have moved from shock capitalism to disaster tourism” Catrina tells me, referring to Naomi Klein’s brilliant book Shock Doctrine. Construction is everywhere.
“I am becoming a boat punk.” Wolvie confesses. And within an hour of this confession we are off rescuing abandoned barges of the St John’s bayou.  Credit goes to Ruby for convincing the nay-saying boys that we could get these barges out of the water and loaded onto the truck.

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Ruby surveys our success.

With the help of a passing runner we landed this barge which had been built for a recent raft race and left behind. We are particularly excited by the US american flag paint job and make shift paddles.

Wolvie and Ruby on barge

“It is battery powered” jokes Wolvie.

NOLA is a party town. We stop at a Melba’s a laundromat/restaurant/bar which serves inexpensive frozen daiquiris and i find myself slightly smashed in the late afternoon. Mardi Gras is not just for tourists, the whole city celebrates for weeks with parades and musical performances and pub crawls. The colorful fabric of this place is woven by mixing diverse cultures and taking it to the streets.

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The piano has been drinking, and it is on fire.

All this begs the question, “Can we mimic the benefits of intentional residential community in scattered punk microvillages?” The New Orleans punk scene with its generous material cooperation, low cost and no cost housing, binding festivals and cultural events, and inexpensive social lubricants makes a compelling case.

why i am an anarchist

anarchism is the ultimate intellectual and ethical high wire act without a net.  it starts with rejecting the principle extant political institutions and dominant paradigms – but to get very far you need to build something. you need not build based on great thinkers of the past (tho some are available).  you can go where you find your passion and create something based on what you experience as true.  it is a broad anti-orthodoxy and thus everyone has their own slightly different personal flavor.  this is mine, i hope you like it.

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i share.  perhaps the greatest challenge to the dominant political models is the idea that you do not have to possess things exclusively. widespread change in only this cultural value could result in a far more economically just world, using the same or fewer resources. i own little myself and live in places where material things are held in common.

anarchism deals with more than just the physical. feminism is about sharing power. it is training people to listen, helping the quiet find voice, flattening hierarchy and finding consensus – this is the beginning of building justice.  i like the adage that anarchism is the philosophy and feminism is the practice.

polyamory is sharing lovers – i do not claim sole rights to my intimates, and they as well have other lovers. i find it a great poison that intimacy should be locked up and made exclusive. it is the commodification of love. some of the hardest work of my life has been moving thru jealousy,  balancing time and establishing clear communication.

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radical spirituality is about sharing the planet with all of its life forms and respecting their rights.  as pagans we seek to build relevant rituals. we explore how to move symbols and create meaning.  this is the reclaiming of magic from the scientists and spirituality from the church. it also dovetails with environmental politics and the development of the connection to things greater than the self. these are the critical extensions of our language and culture we need to evolve.

i am a communard – i choose to live in an intentional community, where we work and live together, sharing income and resources, we build our own buildings, grow much of our own food organically, we don’t use money internally. there are basically no locks, no tv and virtually no crime. it is far from utopia – we have little shared vision, for example – but it is working model of what can be.

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anarchism is embracing flexible strategies in face of structural dilemmas. a central example is the prefigurative politics versus the “length of the fuse” debate.  it is intellectually attractive to say “we will limit the tools we use now for the social change to the ones we want to still have in our new society.” violence and property destruction are the tactics most often excluded by this reasoning.  the length of the fuse argument is “if you are running out of time to change things you need to use fast tools”. sadly, prefigurative approaches are generally slow.  the resolution is that there is no fixed strategy – the workers (or activists) decide, the people who are on the scene at the relevant time make the choices. it was a pacifist who convinced me that violence played a central role in ending nuclear construction in Germany. when you are looking at preventing thousands of years of uncontrollable toxins, can you risk failure because you could not reach consensus on strategy?

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i smuggle – borders are perhaps the most offensive static structure of the state.  i had the good fortune to help smuggle 3 Tibetan monks across a thousand miles of the Himalayas and into Nepal to see the Dalai Lama. i have carried banned documents and other contraband.  i’ve gotten caught a few times, but i’ve been lucky and made it thru basically unscratched.

i am a lobbyist – i have run thru the halls of parliament and congress trying to get elected officials to behave as i thought they should.  i am not especially good at it, but i have been the best available. simply because we can see that a governmental system is corrupt does not justify failing to engage with it. we have more tools than protest.

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i am a propagandist – i don’t believe i or we have any monopoly on the truth – i have debated ideologues and i know they are sure they are right as i think i am in my most arrogant moments.  we have an obligation to put out our beliefs brilliantly and we need to remember that we are trying to sway people to think like us, not because we know we have a better way, but because we believe we do.

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i’m an outlaw – i shoplift, counterfeit, trespass, destroy property, break and enter, hop trains, panhandle, violate curfews, copyrights and security clearances, trade on the black markets, tax resist, enter and exit countries illegally, black ride (ride without a ticket), lie to the police, default on credit cards (for $50K), forge signatures, falsify visa’s, hitchhike, cut handcuffs, leak state secrets and don’t wear seat belts (for somewhat crazy reasons). i wish i could say all of this has been done for the greater good and to advance the revolution – in fact, some was self-serving and some just frivolous. But i certainly don’t start from the place of assuming laws are right – this is the anarchist prerogative.

i am a life style terrorist. someone who asks uncomfortable questions to people who are comfortable, about what they really need and what they can contribute.  of course, this is only credible from a place of doing it yourself and is best served in a humorous and non-dogmatic way. when visiting people we don’t really know my Dutch lover Hawina and i try to be “ambassadors from where we want to come from”. this is about pushing the positive aspects of our lifestyle choices, hoping to inspire folks to try to do more progressive political work.  This can be as small as recycling and using mass transit to as large as quitting your corporate job and running campaigns or moving to a commune.

vote nobody

i am a clownmy favorite fairy tale ends with the line “don’t take yourself too seriously”.  i make a point to remember jokes and riddles and try to make people laugh.  i don’t believe things are so bad we can’t make it without humor. similarly, one of the things i like the most about my community is that we strive to be a great audience – anyone willing to get up and perform is highly appreciated. i have watched it change the self-confidence of our kids and improve the overall quality of our cultural life.

 

kid laptop skyline

he will need a bigger bag

 

i travel. i have hitchhiked on sail boats from Mexico to Australia, trained across Europe and Asia, crossed the Atlantic twice on polish tramp ships, worked briefly on the north slope of Alaska and the bottom of the ocean near Hawaii. years ago i quit flying, for energy and environmental reasons, but i continued to travel more than most people i know – i am writing this on the train across the US. i have had to change my perception about the importance of the time spent traveling – correspondingly, i make fewer but longer trips.  but i have basically stopped going to places where i don’t know anyone – this is the difference between tourism and traveling. i strive to discover the culture thru the eyes of people who live there, rather than a guide book.

i raise funds – money is an oft necessary great evil. i learned how to make it come towards projects and campaigns which were important.  i never escaped the feeling that there was something wrong with this solution, and my ego did unhealthy flops around successfully finding money.  when i was doing this a great deal, it felt best to be homeless, without salary and living very cheaply.

 

we can do it

Know who “we” is

 

anarchists seem to be either of the individualistic/loner type or cooperators looking for allies.  i am always looking for allies. the success of the recent World Bank and WTO protests has been the ability of divergent groups to put aside their differences long enuf to come together to make an effective mass protest.  globalization and these oft media-invisible institutions which drive it are now the subjects of popular debate and they can not continue unchanged. we are a long way from closing them, but debt cancellation is gaining momentum and the WTO fast track seems derailed – both good things.  anarchists were central in organizing these actions.

anarchism deals with more than just the physical. feminism is about sharing power. it is training people to listen, helping the quiet fine voice, flattening hierarchy and finding consensus – this is the beginning of building justice.  i like the adage that anarchism is the philosophy and feminism is the practice.

proudhon property is theft

building these broad coalitions. and there are lots of other types of alliances – my wordsmith lover jazz edited this piece … almost every project of significant scale is a collaborative effort, and many which fail simply did not gather the right allies.

i am an organizer.  there are several key differences between an organizer and a leader.  the first is that no job is too low for an organizer. they are self-aware enough to know what they can teach and humble enuf to know there is still lots to learn.  always pressed for time, good organizers don’t get stuck and don’t overwork problems. they replace themselves before they leave work undone (something i have often failed in) and they are most generally invisible to the eye of fame.

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in a tiny train station in Czechoslovakia, i helped a man buy an international ticket and we got to talking.  he told me he had the best job in the world, traveling from place to place telling stories.  After listening to one of his stories and thinking about this for a while, i decided that it was a wonderful and important job and have been working on my storytelling ever since.

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i am an optimist – if the anarchist principle is that “you can do what ever you want, but you must take responsibility for it” and you believe the new age principle of “we create our own reality”, then we have an obligation to be optimistic – or else we are creating the wrong reality.  For seven years i lived in eastern Europe working with small anti-nuclear groups against the most powerful corporations and the state.  i was constantly reminding them that it was groups exactly like theirs which had stopped reactors around the world.  it is as papa Chomsky so well put it:

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i am in the hope business. and that is why i am an anarchist.

 

Call For Presenters: Twin Oaks Communities Conference

May is the month when the organizers for the Twin Oaks Communities Conference ask people to think about Labor Day weekend.  Specifically, we ask people what types of workshops they might be interested in offering at the Twin Oaks Communities Conference (TOCC).  These come in two broad types.

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Fixed Time Workshops:  This is the collection of 16 (or sometimes 20) workshops which are selected in advance and are all relating to intentional communities.  We are exploring different themes and it is likely we will choose a couple of them.  If you are interested in presenting on an intentional community related topic we would encourage you to submit this workshop proposal form.  The deadline for proposals is May 31st.  These workshops happen Saturday, Sept 1st and Sunday morning. Workshop presenters who are selected for these fixed time slots will get their registration fee waived.  And if you are coming from NYC metro area (or south of there) you might be able to come on our totally groovy bus.

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Wolf’s Magic Bus is coming to TOCC

Open Space Technology Workshop:  There are way too many clever and interesting people at the TOCC to not provide a forum for them to demonstrate or propose their own workshop even if it has little or nothing to do with community.  The problem (from an organizers perspective) is which ones do you choose?  Fortunately, this problem has been well worked by others and there is a democratic, self selecting mechanism called Open Space Technology.  These workshops are giving Sunday (Sept 2) midday into the afternoon and typically we do between 10 and 20 workshops ranging in size from 25 participants (like at a urban squatting or polyamory workshop) to just a couple of excited participants (bird watching or Python blockchain programming).

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Jenny from Compersia will facilitate scheduling this years Open Space Workshops

Even if you don’t want to offer any workshop there are three types of people who might want to come to this annual event, which often has over 150 participants and 40 plus communities represented:

  1. You want to find an intentional community to move into
  2. You are starting a community with friends
  3. You live in a community and are looking for new members

If any of these three things is true for you, then you can register for this event here.  If you want to see who is already coming and who is interested go to the Facebook event (35 attending and 215 interested so far (May 1), and we have just started our outreach).

 

Gossip is the Fabric of Community

I co-moderate a large diverse facebook group on intentional communities.  Recently someone posted:

Gossip gets embellished as it travels. Things heard second hand should be verified with the speaker. Beware words taken out of context, even if the context is the room next door. Good communities practice all that.

While this is true as far as it goes, it misses the tremendous complexity around the issue of gossip and how important it is to both the culture and success of a community venture.

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What is gossip?  It is certainly more than an opinion expressed about someone who is not in the room.  “Trump is a misogynist racist,” isn’t gossip, unless you are close to him.  It is just an opinion.  “Cindy is gifted at fixing cars,” almost certainly does not qualify either, as most people think gossip is a negative opinion.

“Paxus is a poor driver.” What if this is something I have said myself and you are simply repeating it?  Is it gossip if the target is the source?

 

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They did what?

Let me propose a harsher definition: Gossip is a critical judgment shared about a person or group, often in conspiratorial or secretive tones, while not directly communicating with the subject of the gossip.

Using this definition one might reasonably be concerned that gossip would have an acidic effect on the fabric of the community.  One of the common anti-gossip norms that exist in the communes is if you hear something critical about someone you could ask, “Have you told this to them?”  This is the antidote to gossip; being transparent with the subject of the rumor.

 

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Back in the 80s, as I was just becoming aware of community living, when I was making a critical comment about gossip, my dear friend and mentor Crystal replied “Gossip is the fabric of the community,” and it took me a couple of decades to understand what he was talking about.

Even when using the negative it turns out gossip is important for a community to be healthy.  Members need to confide in confidants about their frustration with others in the community.  Ideally, this is less about spreading rumors and more about seeking advice.  “How do I deal with this headachy circumstance?”  or “Do you understand their motivations for this strange behavior?” or “I was so upset and they were clueless, what is really happening here?”

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In the best light, gossip is the flow of self-critical and self-correcting messages which members share in the lead up to actually addressing the problems.  [Where the “self” here is the larger collective one, rather than the individual personal one.]  You talk about things which are on your mind with the people who you live with and they help you reflect back on what you should do about it.  Recognizing that if you are being critical of another member of your community, you are obligated to get back to them with your concern.

In this way, gossip within a community is different from what happens in the mainstream.  If I am being critical or concerned about another member, I have a larger obligation to do something about it than I do if it is a co-worker or random stranger.  If you have a substance abuse problem and we live collectively, not only can it blow back on me in a problematic way, but I have made some level of commitment to take care of you.  If we are part of the same intentional community and I am worried about your mental health, I can’t casually gripe about it to another member, we have to be considering what our course of action is regarding this problem.  Even less dramatic problems other members are experiencing like a poor choice of romantic partners or headache with a boss are much more shared in a community setting than when living independently.  Gossip in community has more obligation to it.

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It is worth pointing out that Twin Oaks does not embrace this culture.  In my large commune, if you don’t want to deal with someone you can completely shut down communication with them.  This is terrible for clearing gossip but might make it possible for some people who really do not see eye to eye to be able to live together.  And because the community is so large these estranged members (including me) just try to avoid each other.

It is worth pointing out that when ex-Oakers founded Acorn with financial assistance from Twin Oaks, this was one of the most important things they wanted to do differently.  Acorn (and many other communes) have a communication covenant which makes it the community’s business when members are failing to communicate.  When you are designing communities one of the thorniest issues is when do you give power to the collective over the individual members.  And gossip is one of the few places you should seriously consider it.

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Secret for a Day

The morning after the super bowl more than half of Twin Oaks woke up without knowing who won the big game.  You might correctly assume that since these people live in this egalitarian, rural, income sharing ecovillage commune they might not prioritize this national event.  But this is not the whole story.  Quite a number of these members who don’t know the result are actually very excited about the game and are looking forward to watching it.  Let me explain further.

Twin Oaks has a long-standing “no live television” norm.  There is no place in the community that you can just flick a switch and suddenly view broadcast television (or even live cable television).  There is, however, a whole subculture of television and cable watching members, who draw from our huge archive instead of watching things live.

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Apparently, it was here

But sports are somehow different.  People mostly want to watch sporting events as they are actually happening.  I’ve never completely understood this. I will leave it to some sports enthusiast to enlighten me as to why this is important.  And Oakers want to watch the Super Bowl; they want to watch it in their home, they want to watch it with a bunch of other Oakers.  So to get all of these things a few years back we stumbled onto a solution.  Watch the Super Bowl a day later.

 

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Tell no one

 

This clever fix has its own problems and at the top of the list is that there are a couple of dozen Oakers who do not want to wait. They visit outside friends or nearby communes which don’t have such restrictive norms around the television.  And basically, the whole rest of the community agrees that they have to keep the game a secret for one day and especially not say who wins.

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Is TV a social toxin?

 

Back in 2004, we were less into sports.  I remember walking into the Morningstar kitchen and asking the dozen assembled people “If I were to say ‘Janet Jackson’s left breast‘ how many of you would know what I was talking about?”  No one did.  Perhaps I got lucky that morning, perhaps the commune has become more accepting of major sports events.