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.
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.
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 […]
Against all odds, Bernie Sanders still has a chance to become president. Why do i say “against all odds”? Well, it starts with the media.
Way back in December, the Sanders staff did an analysis of the mainstream media (MSM) and found that ABC’s World News Tonight had spent 81 minutes on Trump and 20 seconds on Sanders. Other MSM outlets were similarly uninterested in the popular Jewish socialist running for the country’s top office. Even the NY Times can’t bring itself to report on this anti-establishment candidate, while it rails endlessly on the establishment ills.
Conventional wisdom would claim that Trump is saying more outrageous and newsworthy things. I would be hard pressed to disagree on the outrageous part. But someone advocating for free college tuition and expansion of the ever controversial Obamacare program to cover all US Americans with free health care is saying some pretty newsworthy stuff. Despite Sanders being remarkable, the MSM is still owned and controlled by a class which finds his radical views unacceptable.
As a political candidate for president in the US you need to have exposure. What i found canvassing for Sanders in Virginia was lots of people had not heard of him. So if you can’t get the MSM to cover you, then you need to pay for ads, but these are crazy expensive. Here is where Sanders is again running against all odds.
Sanders raised $140 million from individual contributions through the end of February. Clinton raised $160 from people over the same period. But add to this $60 million in Super PAC money for Clinton and you can see how things are harder for Sanders.
Sanders does not take money from Super PACs. [For a reality check Republicans have raised almost twice as much money as Democrats and over half for the GOP money is from Super PACs, contrasted to 15% for Democrats.]
The thing about long shots is you need to know when to double down and when to walk away. I don’t generally give money to politicians. Despite voting, i am still an anarchist and find most of the personality politics repugnant. I am giving Sanders $27, which is the average amount he has received and feels like a good number to me.
The reason you double down on the right long shot is not because you are going to win, but it is to be part of the springboard of hope. Sanders has amazing momentum. Consider helping the campaign in non-monetary ways if you can, especially if you have friends in NY or California.
After the recent set of landslide victories in Washington, Hawaii and Alaska (which were largely ignored by the MSM), it is time to double down. The odds are still against us, but the odds are always going to be against us. I am sending my $27. I hope you will too.
Once upon a time, i taught a class on revolution. It was not a history class, it was a design class. What we discovered was that you could only be a revolutionary in a field that you were passionate about, thus part of the class was about focusing on what the students cared most deeply about.
Another part of the class was about looking at power relations and disassembling them where possible, including the power relationship between teachers and students. Part of what we did to rebalance the power relationship was practice having the students in the first class yell “bullshit!” at the teachers.
This was not just a one-off cutesy exercise, it was an invitation for the entirety of the class. Whenever what the teachers were doing was boring or irrelevant to a student, we asked them to yell this at us. In response we would change the trajectory of the class. Sometimes the yelling student would take over leading the class (my favorite). Sometimes the teachers would listen to their critique, offer something different and if was acceptable we would do that instead. A few times we went out and played capture the flag in downtown Charlottesville where the class was held. A couple times we ended class early.
Perhaps every fourth or fifth class someone would yell bullshit at us. We never ignored it.
Students grow up. Ruth was one of my favorites. She was upbeat and clever despite having an impossible home situation. After she graduated she became a teacher of the class for a while.
She joined a spiritual community and found herself critical of the teachings of the spiritual leader of the group. One day during the daily teachings of the master, when the students were supposed to be quietly listening, she realized that what he was saying was nonsense. She yelled “Bullshit” at the guru and left the group.
There is no greater reward to being a teacher than feeling your “lessons” were applied.
Validation Day at Twin Oaks is a mostly internal affair. Unlike some of our larger events (like Anniversary or New Years Eve) we don’t invite that many folks from outside to this event, because we prefer to know people better for this more intimate party. I think there were fewer than half a dozen non-Oakers at this event (if you also exclude the Acorners, ex-members, and the handful of East Winders who are currently helping out at Acorn.)
The important piece of this party for me was that there was such a seamless range between kids and adults. This was helped significantly by the former member kids who joined our current group of teens and early 20s, many of whom are members. An ex-member pointed out that this was the first party she had seen where the kids really felt like it was their party too, like they were not just running through Tupelo, but were on the dance floor, with adults and other youth.
There are very few really integrated inter-generational parties. Think of the last time when 7- and 70-year olds were both on the dance floor enjoying themselves. I think many people have no experience of this. We are building the better party.
Having lots of kids at the event did not dampen the energy of the adults, though I think it does make the adults somewhat more discreet about their amorous attractions. Members got their results from the 6 creatures game and many were excited to find out their (perhaps formerly secret) attractions were shared.
Another indicator that it was a positive event for the participants was that I could not get shuttles to Acorn filled. As is my way at these events, I ran around checking in with people about when they wanted to catch a ride home to Acorn. I checked at 11 PM, no one wanted to leave, I checked at midnight, another failure. At 1 AM a small car went home but it was not even full. Finally at 3 AM I was able to fill the 15 seat passenger van.
The party was not perfect. Unusually, it was held in Tupelo, which is a very large and somewhat rambling space, and the party had several focuses, which made the dance floor seem sparse for much of the night. The kissing booth was a bit too dark and too close to the dance floor, so this funological long lever was barely used.
But even with these minor design flaws, we were clearly doing something right. Participants were praising the event the next day, many having slept in from the late night of celebration.
I am constantly on the lookout for new transparency tools. I have been ending the most recent transparency groups i facilitate with a simple popcorn of appreciations. Whoever felt moved would acknowledge someone else in the group for something they did or a way they are in the world that was appreciated. This was fine, and occasionally compelling, elegant and simple. And as a tool, it was a bit weak.
Kelly from the Point A DC group shared someone else’s appreciation tool at the recent retreat which i immediately snapped up because it is much more powerful. In go round style, people said what it was that they wanted to be appreciated for. This is a bit like a pointed “if you really knew me” where we get to learn a very specific and important thing about you: what it is that you feel under-recognized for that is none-the-less important to you.
It is a bit unclear where to go after this under-expressed appreciation is voiced. Currently, i have someone in the group who feels like they can validate this appreciation in their own words. When i said i wanted to be appreciated for my sloppy and unreliable organizing style, Hawina said “Minimal effort, maximum effect. Yeah Paxus!” and pumped her fist. It was perfect.
But the commune affords other unprompted appreciations. I do a weekly tofu trays shift. You get dressed up for this work – boots, apron, gloves with liners, ear protection, hair nets. In the winter months this is cold, wet, heavy, loud, rushed, non-stop physical work for 3 plus hours (i get that compared with many jobs in the mainstream a single 3 hour weekly shift would seem like a breeze, but we are spoiled). I do this work year round, regardless of my membership status.
I was coming into my trays shift recently and new member David was finishing up in his similar protective garb. He explained to me that the curds were wet and needed to sit longer and drain to make the proper weights. And then he started to walk away towards the clothes changing space. Then he turned around and came back and said,
“Hey, i appreciate that you do this unpleasant trays work even when you don’t live here.”
And then he put out his glove in a fist and i bumped it. I don’t think i have ever done a fist bump like that before. As in “we are all part of the same team, making it happen together.” And it really hit me.
“Will you write about this party in your blog?” an excited visitor asked me at the recent Mardi Gras party in Aurora, the building that 3 week Twin Oaks visitors stay in.
“If you tell me how Twin Oaks changed your life I might,” I replied in a cagey way, always looking for content to feed my hungry blog and my pet theory that this type of lifestyle can improve people’s situation.
Visitor Clive was clear that it had. He talked about coming to Twin Oaks with low expectations and an open mind. He did not want to assume much about this place at all. But he was pretty clear that membership was not what he wanted. His visitor period changed that. He was leaving excited about this lifestyle as an alternative to his straight job. He had things to wrap up before he returned to the commune, but his three weeks had altered the trajectory of his future, he would return again, perhaps in a year, he would apply and if accepted he thought it was quite likely he would live with us.
I was pleased and flattered and I encouraged him to look at other communities as well. The visitor period at Twin Oaks, especially if you have an engaged and thoughtful visitor group, can be quite enchanting. Clive wanted a large community and a secular one, and sadly there are few choices of this type in the US. Smart money is on Clive coming back.
Lisa told her circuitous story of being a refugee from the entertainment industry. When she came to the eventual conclusion that Hollywood was not her cup of tea, she started looking for a simpler and more wholesome way of living. She began by Googling ”Atheist Nunnery,” knowing that one probably didn’t exist, but still feeling that the phrase described the spirit of the kind of place she wanted to find. Initial searches pulled up suggestions for her to try a Buddhist nunnery, which seemed too austere to match her nature, but got her inspired to continue researching other real life communal environments. Her search lead her to communities and her intense curiosity about Twin Oaks connected her to this blog, something which always makes me smile.
Lisa will not apply for membership now. Just before her visit to Twin Oaks, she fell in love with a socialist plumber in Austin, TX and began working on a new business venture in the field of neurological rehabilitation therapy. But there is no doubt in her mind, even having research the place thoroughly before she arrived, the experience of being in community has changed her life and she will return.
I don’t know it the party deserved an A grade, but certainly the visitor period which happened in the same building gets the top grade.
One of the most important capacities of intentional communities is changing culture. This can be changing how people dress, how we report relationships at work, how we teach our children or how we observe holidays.
Valentines Day has always struck me as a broken holiday. It celebrates just one style of relationship, sets people up for too big or too small gifts of their caring, and creates many people who feel left out. Before I lived in community, even when I had a single romantic partner, I never liked this holiday much.
Many years ago, in response, our sister community East Wind developed Validation Day as an alternative. Every member is celebrated in the form of affirmations, no romantic partner required. Part of the celebration is the creation of cards. There is a great dance, often a kissing booth and the 6 creatures game.
The 6 creatures game is designed to take the rejection out of asking someone to hang out or even to make out. The idea is that leading up to the party (which happens around February 14th, famous worldwide for being my son Willow‘s birthday), people who want to play are given a ballot with the names of the others who want to play. There are options (represented by different creatures) for a work date, a play date, a cuddle date, to kiss at the party, hot sex and/or a relationship.
For anyone who is playing, you select what you may want to do with them. I might just want to kiss someone at the party. If they selected only a work date and a play date for me, we would miss each other completely, getting no matches with each other when the games were returned. But if I had selected a play date and kissing at the party, then we would match on the play date and both be informed of that only.
Regular readers will not be surprised to discover I play this game somewhat recklessly. I was willing to have at least a work date or play date with perhaps 80% of the people on this years 6 creatures game ballot. And in my experience, many of the created matches don’t actually get acted on and every year there are some surprises. Yet some of the matches turn out to be important, even life changing.
About 40 people decided to play the 6 creatures game this year, spanning four different communities in the area: Twin Oaks, Acorn, Sapling and Cambia. This is new; until recently only Twin Oaks members played. But as the movement expands locally, more communards want to play this long lever game.
Validation Day is a more internal holiday. Some events, like New Years Eve and Anniversary are big holidays where we invite lots of people to come. Validation Day is still a larger event, but it is more intimate people who know us better. You certainly should not come by without being invited.