Just when you think you know all about your “area of expertise” something new surprises you.
During a recent visit to Crafts House at Tufts someone said, “You should go visit Riot Bayit; they are an income sharing community, right here in Somerville.” I was surprised to hear of an income sharing community we did not know about in an urban region in the North East. What a surprise!
As it turns out, this ambitious group of former Tufts students created a collective house a couple of years back. And after living together that way, they decided they could practice their anti-capitalist politics and support each other better through income sharing. What a reasonable thing to do, which very few folks do in the US.
We spent a lovely evening chatting with them, listening to their origin story and what they were working on as a group. Like most start up income sharing communities, they are not currently participating in a cottage industry. Instead, like Compersia in DC, they all have day jobs and pool their income to cover their expenses and give each member some personal savings each month.
The word Bayit in their name comes from the Hebrew word for “home” and they like the rhyme that Riot Bayit creates. Most of the members identify themselves as Jewish but it is not a requirement. There is a desire to observe Jewish practices such as shabat, and the holidays and celebrations which are not observed in the mainstream are much more actively a part of the life and discussions here. Some members more actively study Jewish history and philosophy and bring their discoveries back the the larger group. As with the name of the house, some Hebrew words are part of the regular vocabulary.
They are activists, organizers, fundraisers, and public advocates. Their politics are on both sides of the front door: at home and in their workplaces. Posters on the stair well wall invite refugees, while conversations recognize their relative privilege. It is also clear that they are already doing things about this unfairness and have intention and momentum to do more.
One of the core values of the collective is addressing income inequality with redistribution. To this end, they give 1/10th of the collective income to organizations who are doing political and cultural work they support. This tithing money is not going to religious organizations; it goes to political non-profit organizations which align with their greater values.
Riot Bayit enjoyed the Point A propaganda and stories and when they encouraged us to return to do workshops with them in the future. My surprise quickly shifted to joy.
Photo Credits: Riot_Bayit@instagram
In early April I was biking from Washington DC to my hometown of Greenville, SC, on an old mountain bike with all my belongings tied on to it with paracord from Walmart. At the end of the third day I was 150 miles into my journey, in the middle of nowhere Virginia. The sun was setting and I was loudly dying of exhaustion as I pedaled slowly past a pointed sign, ‘cyclists welcome.’
I looked at the place, looked at the sign, looked at the road ahead, looked at myself, looked at the sign.. I was indeed a cyclist and all signs pointed to a place that I would be welcome. I didn’t even notice the giant, suspended boat with a deck built around it, or the huge wooden tricycle immediately to my right. I didn’t notice much other than an old house and a rumbling in my tummy. I hopped off the bike, walked past another welcoming sign, and knocked on the door.
I never got back on the bike.
I had arrived just in time for dinner. Gil, who had let me in, was cooking, while another dirty man, woman, and child smiled at me from the bed in the kitchen. I was sweating so much it looked like I had pissed myself. My first impression was suspicious, but after a shower and being shown the composting toilet I felt mostly safe with my new hippie friends. We laughed a lot at dinner and I decided I would stay a day to rest and see what this place was about.
5 weeks later I was driven to the bus stop to complete my ride into South Carolina.
Cambia is a small egalitarian community comprised of nomads and a small central family. They build everything on their property themselves, live in harmony with the natural world around them, and work as hard as they play. I have never known such immediate, unpretentious warmth and love. We lived together, worked together, and played together. I’ve probably never had so much fun, like, ever. Can’t wait to see them again.
Other blog posts about Cambia Community:
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:
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.