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.
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.
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.
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.
- Register for the Twin Oaks Communities Conference
- Register for the Cambia Labor Day Program
- RSVP on Facebook, either going or interested to get regular updates.
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.”
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?”
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Architecture shapes culture, so a guiding principle of Cambia is, if we can make it beautiful, we do. Architecture is unique as an art form because it integrates function with form. This includes landscaping and outdoor play spaces.
Stepping stones are interesting because they have multiple functions; for example. they can protect clover, especially in the winter. The form also affects our local culture: when you walk on stepping stones, you are called to a child-like stance.
You can walk with your hands hanging down by your sides, and what tends to happen is that your arms raise up to maintain your balance. The stepping stones can draw you into being playful and childlike. As your hands go up, you are more likely to skip and as you start to skip, you are more likely to smile.
Cambia also boasts a trampoline. The trampoline draws kids from the surrounding communes. We recently replaced our broken one, in an assembly effort which was guided by a gaggle of giggly kids.
The German modern architect Mies van der Rohe is famous for two sayings, both of which are applicable. “Less is more” is the argument for minimalist architecture to achieve simplicity, using white elements, cold lighting, large space with minimum objects and furniture.
The second aphorism is “God is in the details“, expressing the idea that whatever one does should be done thoroughly because details are important.
Cambia is a handcrafted commune, in sharp contrast to the grandmother commune, Twin Oaks, just down the road. Twin Oaks is a large place which includes industrial spaces, warehouses, tofu production facilities, rope machines, gang drills, and sawmills. All the spaces are closer and on a more human scale at Cambia. Some of the art is tiny and temporary.
Handcrafted means focusing on details: doorknobs from twisted branches, floors of pebbles and clay, tiny signposts, salvaged redwood around the hot tub and hyacinth pool. It is these and dozens of other tiny aspects that makes this stepping stone commune so precious.
Other Blog Posts about Cambia:
Roommate #1 – A 66-year-old white male bookworm, compost fanatic, systems devotee, and community networker. Technically retired but excited to be involved in many projects. Community is my passion.
Roommate #2.0 – A funky woman in her mid-forties who loves cooking for folx, dancing, biking, being outdoors and, although I can be quite serious at times, playing the jester. My passions lie in food sovereignty, mushroom growing, gardening and bringing slow-medicine into our everyday lives. I help support our community working odd jobs, giving massages and occasionally teaching workshops on mushroom cultivation.
Roommate #3 – Almost 40 y/o white male. Works various gigs offering environmental education, volunteers as a nonprofit leader and urban farmer. Enjoys bike rides, dancing, dumpster diving and participating with a local artist collective. Down-shifting towards a slower, contemplative life.
Progressive (if not radical) and cooperatively minded. A good communicator and listener. You are interested (if not experienced) in living communally. This doesn’t mean you have to be the most social person out there! but you’re responsible, respectful, interested in participating in the community in some way (i.e. not simply looking for a room). You’re also financially stable, however, you make that happen. You’re compassionate and non-judgmental. You may be of any gender/sex/sexuality/race/ ethnicity/religion, and you respect those who align differently along those (and all) categories.
We are an income-sharing, egalitarian residence, and this differs from other collective houses (which can sometimes mean nothing more than sharing a big space).… But what does it mean? Basically, we pool the products of our labor, including monetary income, salvaged food, clothes, etc. helping insulate us from the corrosive and isolating effects of capitalism. Although scary to get into, once established, income sharing makes everything else we are trying to do easier. From each according to their ability, to each according to their need.
As for the term egalitarian: Let go of the idea of justice and deserving. We’re making it all up anyway. What matters is that we’re being taken care of and that so is everyone else. Liberty, equality, community. By basing our economy on equal access to resources rather than an equal distribution of resources we celebrate and support differences and eliminate a lot of paperwork on our way to our post-scarcity utopia.
The three of us who are already income-resource-sharing meet every week, usually over dinner (or weekend brunch), to discuss and organize that aspect of our living agreements and general household concerns, norms, and ideas. Moving in as a non-income sharing participant, we ask that you commit to attending a house meeting every other week as a participant, while the alternate week you are welcome to observe, especially if radical sharing is of interest to you. We also want to be transparent so you understand that, although we are consensus-based, the income-sharing group may need to make some decisions that could impact you.
While we have yet to establish a schedule of household chores and responsibilities, it will be expected that you participate in the work of the house which could also include assisting us in developing communal norms and standards.
THE HOUSE & NEIGHBORHOOD:
Located at 21st Street and 30th AVENUE on the Astoria/LIC border, a short walk to grocery stores, post office, laundry, restaurants, banks, healthcare and cultural amenities including libraries, the waterfront, Socrates Sculpture Park, Rainey Park, Hallet’s Cove, Two Coves Community Garden, Noguchi Museum, Welling Court Mural Project, Boys and Girls Club, Astoria Park (& pool) and Hellgate Farm (where we bring our compost).
Transportation: Express bus at the doorsteps two stops to the F train and easy access to the W & N trains. Approximately 25 minutes to midtown transfers. Plus the NYC Ferry, Astoria route is 4 blocks away.
We share the basement and ground floor of a row-house (not a large apartment building) with 4 bedrooms and 1-½ bathrooms. A full, eat-in kitchen, separate and roomy living room, plus a bonus room downstairs that we are currently utilizing as a craft room and for visitor accommodations.
ROOM, RENT & EXPENSES:
Unfurnished (but we could provide shelving and/or a bed upon request) 14’x8-½’ and a closet with a south facing window. A wonderful blank slate!
Monthly cost: $950 (includes utilities!)
Move in cost (1st and last month’s rent): $1900
Couples are welcome, see question below.
RESTRICTIONS: Pets are negotiable, no smoking indoors.
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One way to think about community is as an antidote to the problems of contemporary society. A strong case can be made that deep sharing mitigates most climate disruption contributors. We see that highly intentional community helps heal some people’s mental health challenges. But the real allure of community is something larger.
If we look at living together and sharing our lives as a long lever for creating culture, then isn’t it possible to design a community in which the members become well harmonized and deeply mutually supportive? Community asks the question “How might we come up with a way to live together in which amazing, healing and transformative things are accessible to the people who live this way? How could we develop a set of rituals and communication patterns which helps members of these communities manifest their dreams? And if this is possible, what do we know about these types of successful cultures already so we can experiment with them?”
One of the things we know for sure is we can not be supportive without being communicative. And the more we can trust, the more we can share what we find to be true, the more profound our ability to advise and ally with people.
Cambia is reviewing how we dream and vision. The community is small and reforming and old traditions are being reconsidered by new members as well as founders with new eyes. For me the piece of greatest interest is the exploration and manifestation of personal dreams. I believe this is a rich place for meme craft and hopefully deep personal satisfaction.
We are tinkering with the parameters of a dream alliance. The basic idea is simple, I tell you my dream and invite you to support it and then we switch roles. If you don’t have a dream, or it feels incompletely formulated (“i want more music in my life”) then your ally will guide you through an exploration to help refine and define it more.
If your dream is ambitious (“we need to deconstruct industrial capitalism”), your dream ally might help you identify the next piece (“let’s start a worker coop”). If your dream is sprawling (“i want to get people to think!”), then perhaps your ally makes you look on a focused part (“let’s start an inspiring book club”).
But more important than suggestions from your ally is a willingness to help manifest. “I would cook and drive for a local Food Not Bombs chapter, if that was your calling” or “You need to stop Trump, I will go door to door with you before the next election”. Or perhaps simple logistics “I’ll watch your kid while you meditate/exercise.”
I was excited about this thinking and I brought this rough idea to the Thursday night book club at Cambia. We are reading Charles Eisenstein’s “The More Beautiful World our Hearts Know is Possible”, one chapter each week and talking about it. And after my enthusiastic description of dream alliances, Craig was uninspired. “I am not excited about exploring people’s individualistic dreams, what would make this interesting to me is if we were seeking and building our shared dream.”
This is consistent with Eisenstein’s thinking. That we need to move past dualism and find a new story which connects everything. Craig gets this, which is why he has been pushing this book, and the concept of InterBeing. InterBeing, as close as I can tell, is a sort of secular enlightenment, where you feel and react from a place of being connected with everything and seeking some type of harmony with it all.
I don’t get it. I am a dualist. This is slightly challenging to the book group I think. Perhaps it is a bit like having a libertarian in your anarchist discussion groups. You are all talking about getting rid of government, but are way out of line when it comes to what happens next.
And even though I don’t quite get it around Interbeing, Craig’s challenge feels like a friendly amendment. There is something very powerful about seeking our shared dream together. The alliance is richer, when it is our dream instead of you supporting mine in exchange for me supporting yours.
And I am again grateful for Cambia which thinks these are the questions we should be pondering and energy well spent exploring and cultures worthy of our efforts to design them. I think a carefully constructed dream alliance could be super memetic. And that is my personal holy grail.