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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 CommuneLife.org blog.

By (redacted) Something very interesting happened the other day: Several of us got arrested, and it was very, very okay. The short version of this story is that several Twin Oakers decided to participate in a protest, which ended in arrest. When we refused to leave the scene, a number of us and some non-oaker comrades […]

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.

empath-Flow-Your-Feelings

I am very excited about these developments. Big thanks to Brude and Batco for their work on this.

 

Vacancies in Paradise (big asterisk)

without-money1

For almost all of the last 7 years there has been a waiting list at Twin Oaks. It is now gone.

raspberrys-offered.jpg

Welcome, have some of these!

People seek explanations for why we dropped down into the low 80s of adults, when we had been at our population cap of 92 for so long. There is no single reason.

But because there are now spaces available to people who come to do the visitor period, it is worth reviewing why it might be a good time to ditch your mainstream life and consider living in a full service commune.

No Bosses: Our managers are nothing like your manager. They don’t generally fire people, they don’t determine raises or promotions. Instead they organize trainings and make sure the needed materials are available and the machines are functioning properly. Every one of our ‘managers’ also works on the production line. Because all jobs are volunteer, managers who exploit their co-workers find themselves lonely. This drives the MBAs a bit crazy.

collectivism worth fighting for

No Money: Can you imagine going through your day and not touching cash or credit cards? The commune strives to and largely succeeds in providing all the things people need outside the conventional money system. Food, housing, clothing, medical services, education, and entertainment are distributed freely and fairly. You work your quota (currently 42 hours a week) and all your needs are met.

without-money1

No advertising: Transformative festivals like Burning Man make a big deal out of being non-commercial and largely advertisement free. For many attendees the break from the constant onslaught of commercial images and invitations to buy things, most of which you don’t want, is a big relief. But you can’t live at these festivals. You can live at Twin Oaks, where if you stay off the internet and don’t read one of the many magazines we collectively subscribe to, you can avoid advertisements indefinitely.

BM costumes

Commie Clothes is less colorful, but more practical

No punch clocks: One of the other things the boss you don’t have is not doing is keeping track of your hours. In this trust-based system you record the different work you do. Our flexible work system means you can always find work in the hammock shop or in the kitchen and if you want to be scheduled you can be, but if you prefer to figure it out yourself each day, that is available also.

clocks surreal

Are you a slave to clocks?

No fear: What do you feel if you hear someone behind you in the dark whom you don’t know? While it is not true to say we completely escape all crime, we avoid so much of it that some visitors realize the difference between where I live and where they live is that there has been a constant mostly low level threat for most of their waking hours, which vanishes in this prosaic collective rural living.

no_fear_walk on the railing

It is not just what we don’t have that defines us, the things we do choose and possess are crucial.

We strive to be self-sufficient: We build our own buildings, organically grow most of our own food, run our own businesses, teach our kids,  and create our own holidays and culture. The community has spawned and nurtured painters and poets, quilters and woodcarvers. We’ve had folk singers, rock bands, chanters and primal screamers. You can find someone to teach you how to juggle, or program a computer, or deliver a newborn calf. We stage our own theater productions and provide an unusually appreciative audience for visiting performers. We have our own coffeehouses, writing groups, and social clubs.

Twinoaks aerial view

Aerial view of a small part of Twin Oaks

 

Economic self-sufficiency means we have seven businesses:

  • We make about 8,000 hammocks a year and sell them online and in stores and at the craft fairs we attend.
  • We make 400,000 lbs of tofu.  We are just starting a new line which will enable us to double production.
  • We indexed 60 books last year, mostly with academic presses.
  • We have a contract services business which does demolition, elder care, house cleaning and removes the basketball floor at midnight on Thanksgiving at UVa John Paul Jones Arena.
  • We do seed growing and wholesale distribution of Acorn’s Southern Exposure organic and heritage seed business.
  • We run conferences and gatherings, like the upcoming Womens Gathering (Aug 19 thru 21) and Communities Conference over labor day (Sept 2 thru 5) as well as the Herb Workshop.
  • We sell beautiful organic ornamental flowers.

 

IMG_4122 (1)

Acorn’s seeds become flowers – photo credit Gryphon

We live lightly on the land: We heat our buildings with sustainably harvested wood from our land. Most buildings have a solar hot water preheating system and half of the newest residential building is off the grid completely, using only electricity provided by the sun, with residents agreeing to keep consumption low and use efficient appliances. We sort our waste into over a dozen different categories and reuse and recycle fiercely. The food we don’t grow we buy in bulk, which cuts down on packaging. We have our own sewage treatment plant, which runs at well-above state required standards and are planning a constructed wetlands. We have 20% the carbon foot print of our mainstream counterparts, mostly because we share things so robustly: clothes and cars and buildings and bicycles and musical instruments.

solar-panels

Installing solar panels at Twin Oaks

We are self-selecting: You cannot simply move to Twin Oaks tomorrow, and strangers who just drop in are politely asked to leave. You need to write us first and link up with one of the regularly scheduled three-week visits, or just take our Saturday tour. During the three-week visit, we orient you to our culture and more importantly, it gives both you and us a chance to live and work together. Then we ask visitors to go away for a month and think about whether they really want to live in our slightly odd and extraordinary village.

honeymoon-surreal

Are you really one of us?

[This is the big asterisk part] *But it is not paradise: There are all kind of good reasons why people leave my commune (or never come in the first place.) Some people want more independence, they don’t want to have to ask the health team for some expensive exotic medical procedure. Some people want more of their own space than their own room. Some members leave because they don’t find the romantic partner they want, or the one they had ended the relationship and it is too hard to see their former partner every day.  It is hard to make enough money to take long trips or far away vacations (our members get a tiny allowance of $100 a month.)

And then there is this resume problem. If you want to be a millionaire or CEO, you should probably skip the commune step. This is not to say that some members have not used the community as an applied university. And we have had many general managers of million dollar businesses who were in their early twenties. But when they ask you how much you were paid at your last job, your next employer is likely to be unimpressed by in-kind wages.

career-path

The real question to ponder is, “Are you ready for a radical departure from what you are used to?” Community could be the answer. And now that there is not a waiting list at Twin Oaks, perhaps this is the right one for you.

If you are interested in applying for membership click here.

The post originally appeared in the CommuneLife blog.

 

 

CommuneLife Blog – Contributors wanted

On the first of May of this year, we will be launching the CommuneLife.org blog.  We are putting together a collection of articles and photo essays about the challenges and benefits of collective living.  We are especially excited about the flavors of community where there is a high degree of resource and income sharing.

in Mineral, VA, on Thursday, June 18, 2015.

Acorn Porch – photo credit Sarah Rice

The proposed format for this blog is that we will do three postings each week:

  1. Monday – New article of general interest on community life
  2. Wednesday – Photo essay from communities across the country
  3. Friday – Historic blog posting which was popular and remains current

We are stocking articles and photo essays now.  If you would like to be involved in this volunteer project as a contributor, editor, social media promoter, photographer or in another capacity, please comment on this post and we will get back to you.

solar hot water and bikes

Twin Oaks Solar Hot Water System and Shared Bikes

The CommuneLife.org project is part of the Federation of Egalitarian Communities (FEC) Point A project.  While the Point A project is promoting new communities in north eastern US urban areas, the CommuneLife blog is promoting both rural and urban shared living solutions across North America.

 

 

 

Boston Area Workshops March 19th

If you have friends or allies in the Boston/Cambridge area, I recommend two workshops on Intentional Community:

  • Community in Crisis: How to Manage and Mend – 1 PM (Facebook Event)
  • Community as the Solution to Climate Change – 3:30 PM (Facebook Event)

Saturday March 19 at MIT Room 13-4101.105 Massachusetts Ave. Cambridge Mass

It’s a short walk from the Kendall Square Subway Station.

Residential intentional communities both represent a solution to major problems facing humanity and work with some of our most complex interpersonal dynamics. These two workshops examine how to navigate some of these troubles and what fixes communities are offering the greater society.

These two workshops are open to the general community, though the first workshop (Community in Crisis) is especially applicable for members of cooperative houses and co-housing communities.
storm

Community in Crisis: How to Manage and Mend

Invariably, communities will experience conflicts and interpersonal problems and occasionally these are quite serious. This workshop looks at different types of critical problems that have hit communities, especially ones where the cohesion of the membership is threatened, and looks at best practices for managing them. How do you avoid putting members on trial? What are the trigger words that escalate conflicts and how do we communicate effectively and avoid them? How do you use shuttle diplomacy before mediation to lower tension? How do you know when the whole group is involved or when it can be managed by a smaller sub-group? When is it clear the group needs to break up/change composition to make things better?

Once you are on the other side of a crisis, what can be done to rebuild trust and intimacy? How do you harvest knowledge from the problem to avoid repeating it in the future?

This interactive workshop will use role plays and case studies to explore different approaches to the art of building community harmony.

Presented by Paxus from the Point A project.

fifth sacred thing

Intentional Community as a solution to Climate Change

Central to the problem of climate disruption is idle material resources. The UN IPCC recommends an 80% reduction in carbon footprint by 2050, yet no industrial nation is on track for this level of reduction. In central Virginia the members of income sharing communities are living middle class (or some might argue upper middle class) life styles while outperforming this target reduction. The secret to their success is radical resource sharing.  

The  Twin Oaks Community represents over 100 people sharing cars, clothes, income, businesses, buildings, and bicycles and thus dramatically reducing their per person climate effect. This lifestyle is also culturally rich, economically sustainable, and mutually supportive.

This workshop will begin with a presentation on the sharing technologies which underpin these village economies and how the members maintain the trust needed. The second portion of the workshop is interactive and will explore how urban dwellers, including workshop participants, can foster sharing systems in urban environments.  

Paxus Calta manages recruiting and outreach for Twin Oaks community. He is coordinating the Point A campaign to spark new high model-value communities inside the five boroughs of NYC. He has fought nuclear reactors in eastern Europe, hitchhiked across the Pacific on sailboats, and smuggled monks out of Tibet.  

 

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