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Commune Exports – Fatherhood

In the time of Trump, it is critical to seek high functioning alternatives to the mainstream culture.  Twin Oaks and the surrounding cluster of egalitarian communities could be a model for new behaviors of sharing technologies and cooperative culture.  But perhaps our most daring export, because many default culture citizens think they are expert in this, is how to be a father.

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Keegan and adder (sic) are two young fathers living in a rural income sharing egalitarian commune.  But if you are willing to listen, i think their advice might be applicable for your world as well.

Other articles about communes and families:

This is a rich topic.  Your comments are welcome.

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Willow behind me, before Women’s March (Pussy hat by Hawina)

Disrupt J20 – Inauguration Protests

It was not even 6:30 AM and I got handed a sign.

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I like this sign.

I was especially happy to see one of my core issues (nuclear power) on the stylishly designed placard.

We assembled in McPherson Square in downtown Washington DC.  The plan was simple. There are six entrances to the Inauguration Celebration. Our goal was to block as many of them as possible to disrupt the flow of MAGAs (Make America Great Again hat people) and therefore the program.

Organizers told the group we were in that we had a number of undocumented immigrants in it.  This meant we were going to do so-called “soft block” actions to reduce the risk of arrest.  This included our “soft blockade.” Which really meant we were constricting traffic and slowing the progress of people trying to make it to the inauguration.

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I am in the middle, Xian to my right.  GPaul snapped the pic

We were surprisingly effective.  In part because the DC police were unwilling to suppress the protests.  One of the gates was actually closed by locked down protesters, aided because the police were unwilling to hurt people to remove them.  This stems from past protests where DC police roughed-up and arrested protesters prematurely and the city had to pay huge civil settlements.

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Unidentified protester part of successful blockade – Getty Images

It seemed as though the strategy was to arrest as few people as possible.  Other gate blockers were dragged away by the police, and sometimes needed to be cut free.

We were with the peaceful non-violent protesters who were not breaking the law.  These Movement for Black Lives activists who blocked the gate were using a known civil disobedience strategy; one in which they knowingly break the law (usually trespassing or obstructing traffic) with the intent of being arrested and standing trial for what they have done.

But there is another way.

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New more responsible tactics for the Black Block

There are those who would break the law, mostly destroying property, without any intention of cooperating with the police in their arrest and incarceration. While often identified as a group, the Black Bloc is really a tactic.  It was originally developed in Germany for use in anti-nuclear and squatting actions in the late 1970s.  Besides all the black clothed fashion, this tactic includes protecting yourself from police violence including scarves, sunglasses, ski masks, motorcycle helmets with padding, or other face-concealing and face-protecting items.  This guise allows it difficult to distinguish between different participants and harder to prosecute.

Frankly, groups using Black Bloc tactics have been hugely head-achy for me.  They often come to events that they do not organize and intentionally incite violence from with the police, demonstrating their predominantly white, male privilege.  If you are trying to organize a non-violent civil disobedience action, a group using Black Bloc tactics can be one of your worst nightmares.  It can destroy your action. It can ruin your relationship with the locals.  It can incite police violence towards your peaceful protesters. And they can result in dangerous escalations of tensions.

The Black Bloc was different this time.  First off, no single group could claim ownership over Trump’s coronation.  More importantly, the group using these tactics was so big, that it did not really attach itself to any other action and acted autonomously (which is how they are supposed to work).  People using these tactics broke some windows, burned an empty limousine outside the offices of the Washington Post, and were involved in the bulk of the 217 arrests from today’s actions.

Predictably, CNN would divide the protest world evenly between those destroying property and those who were not.  In fact, there were so many actions and so few of them were destructive of property or violent, that almost all our large crew did not see any altercations with the police.  Though there were some of us who sought out people a part of the Black Bloc to shadow the protests.

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Festival of Resistance

We were involved in several actions.  Perhaps the most fun was the Festival of Resistance which started at the Union Square train station and marched back to McPherson Square.  What you can’t see well enough from the above picture is that the parade stretches for blocks and blocks back to the station.

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amazing posters

Shepard Fairey who created the famous Obama “Hope” image is back with “We the People” which had three lovely female images.  As far as resistance art work goes, this was a great event.

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Cel is an honorary member of the Wolf family

If there is not enough time to have fun at these actions then you are definitely doing it wrong.  At the end of the action we all relaxed a bit and found some folks with similar strange ideas as us.  Cel has always identified with Wolves.

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The key Message

Protesters have all manner of advise.  Much of it was directed angrily at Trump.  Another big chunk of protest banners are oriented towards generalized critiques for general consumption.  And finally, the smallest fraction of poster art is directed towards other protesters, like this image above.  We are going to need a lot of bravery in the coming time.

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Resistance families – Nadine Bloch and clan

You political experience is tremendously influenced by who surrounds you and how much you know them.  I was lucky at this action.  Most of the fine folks from Compersia in DC were at this action.  Add to this various Point A activist from up the eastern seaboard and I had my very own basket of deplorables.

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Steve, GPaul, MPJ, Xian and Chris part of the Festival of Resistance

There were lots of good signs

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There are many under threat

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No one gets to sit this one out, easy ain’t an option

More marching tomorrow.

Upsetting the MBAs

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This is being published simultaneously with Commune Life Blog.

During tours of Twin Oaks I make sure to point out the things which we do that are unconventional.  This makes the tour more memorable and hopefully thought provoking.  At three different points there are business practices which drive MBAs a bit crazy:

Embracing Inefficiency:  The jig that we make hammocks on is quite unconventional.  If you go into any other woven hammock shop in the world, you will see a weaving jig which is operated by a single person.  Sometimes these are upright and the person is weaving at eye level.  Sometimes these are positioned like our jig and people weave at waist level.  From the right angle these look like a capital U.

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Our jigs looked at from above look like a capital H instead.  This makes it possible for two people to weave hammocks across from each other.  What we clearly observe is that when people can talk with other workers their productivity goes … down.

Why would any self respecting business use tools which make worker productivity decrease?  Well, the easy answer would be we are not a self-respecting business in the conventional sense.  As you might know all work (including income work) done at Twin Oaks is done by volunteers.   Hammock shop managers think first of what will get people and keep people in the shop and only secondarily about what makes them go fast.  If you oppress or make uncomfortable your hammocks production staff, they will go out into the garden or cook or make tofu or take care of kids or any of over 100 jobs which are available.

This has most MBAs scratching their heads.

Profit Insensitivity:  As business professionals walk around and understand our economy they start to ask good questions.  “If you make a much higher dollar/hour by having people work in the hammock shop or the tofu hut, why don’t you pull workers from low dollar/hour areas (like Garden) and simply make more money and buy organic food?”

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Garden work is not lucrative – Photo credit: Aaron Cohen

The answer is “we want to grow our own food”.  This is a cultural value for us.  We want to live in a place where we are involved in all cycles of the farm, growing fruits and vegetables, running our own dairy and chickens programs and in good years even our own bee hives.  None of this makes economic sense.  We don’t do it for the money.

This causes MBAs to start pulling their hair.

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Marketing without Money:  Arguably the most unconventional thing we do is pretend that we can do almost all our marketing without spending money on it.  We spent less than a thousand dollars a year on advertising.  We prefer to use labor to do marketing.  The problem is people generally don’t move to communes if what they want to do is marketing.  I have been one of the few marketing managers in hammocks for decades, and I have not done very much with it until recently.

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Our biggest sale ever.  Use “COMMUNELIFE2016” as the discount code

Our unwillingness to go to trade shows, run promotional advertising with our many online vendors, even run ads in our local friendly urban press cause MBAs to look for the door.

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Really, it is not safe in here

Uncharacteristically, an MBA from Richmond is interested in Twin Oaks.  She has a good job and stable circumstance, but was profoundly influenced by the Women’s Gathering and wanted to check out the place which organized it.

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I was excited by someone with business experience possibly living with us, despite the peculiarities listed above, there is much for us to learn.  So as I do with people who really want to live here, I went over the biggest obstacles most outsiders have coming to the community.

  1. We are Filthy.  We can claim we are a farm, or that we have a bunch of kids and messy strangers.  But truth told at our core we are more than a bit unclean.
  2. Limited Privacy.  Your personal space ends at the door to your room.  There are lots of people out there and some of them are quite unusual.
  3. We will push your buttons.  Hard as it might be to believe, what ever they are we will push them.  If you know your hang ups, than this will be a personal growth opportunity.  If you don’t know what plugs you in, the we are guaranteeing a (probably painful) journey of self discovery.  Because we will find these buttons for you and push them.

Alexis did not pause.  She had done her research, she was unworried about the filth.  She was looking forward to living much more collectively and felt like she had a pretty good handle on her buttons.  I just hope she is right.

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Accessible Anarchists: Can Masdeu

It started with the asparagus and a hole.  

For 50 years the lepers hospital had been abandoned, fenced off and losing the struggle against entropy.  Late in the fall of 2002, a handful of liberators cut a hole in the fence, letting themselves and the locals in. These mostly poorer pensioners from the outskirts of Barcelona had for years watched the fenced off asparagus sprout inside and go to seed.  Not this year.

But the story only begins with this “chance harvest”. While locals reclaimed and seeded this newly available agricultural land, the squatters planted roots of their own in this place they renamed Can Masdeu (house of many springs).  And as expected, before the first plants had sprouted, the police had arrived – not worried about the vegetables, but rather a different  “weed” taking root.  In April 2003, several dozen Barcelona riot police arrived to remove the illegal occupants from this long abandoned 3 story “mansion”.

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The gardens of Can Masdeu

What the police found was 11 people suspended on various platforms and perches designed so that to remove any one person, would cause another (or in some cases two other) people to drop from great height, potentially to their deaths.  To this day, there are chairs mounted on the outside of the building – outside the top floors, where protesters sat for 3 days, through a rainstorm and mostly without food – waiting for justice.  And finally it came.  A local judge ordering the police to retreat, declaring human life is more important than property. It did not hurt that the dozens of local and imported supporters at the squat were aided by very visible protests and lobbying going on inside the city of Barcelona and even the Spanish Embassy in Am*dam was under siege by sympathetic anarchists.

But as romantic and exciting as the origin myth of Can Masdeu is, it is the current projects and dreams which makes it such an important and seductive place. Two dozen young people (from 22 to 39) have built gardens and bread ovens, opened a community bike shop, constructed meditation spaces, planted fruit trees, installed solar cookers and reversed entropy. They have inspired a DIY/”we can do it” culture which manifests both cordial relations with the locals and deep connections to the rural squatting movement (which is more secure than urban squats, because Spain, like most places, is suffering from urban flight).  Meals at Can Masdeu are a cross between a noisy family reunion, a conspirators clandestine gathering and a polyglot’s wet dream, with the colorful players switching languages every few moments.

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The internal economics are pretty simple.   Everyone (visitors and members alike) pays 1 Euro (about $1.20) a day for the dry goods – mainly organic and bio regional foods which are collectively cooked by volunteers each day.  On our last night there no one signed up to cook and cheerful, last minute, self selecting recruits finished cooking at 11 PM. (Which is only an hour or two later than dinner normally is.  This is Spain – or more precisely Catalonia – after all.)  The food is good. It is mostly vegan of necessity since cheese is expensive – but there are no culinary restrictions placed on the group.

Though simple, the meals were wonderful.  Culinary success is fostered by a culture of joy and political action.  Stuff from the gardens, food left behind after the farmers market (in a novel twist, farmers don’t feel it necessary to put broken glass into food which they can not sell, to keep others from eating it as we are so fond of doing in the US), bread from their clay ovens, dry goods purchased with the money chipped in – all create a squat cuisine which kept us out of the wonderfully tempting Barcelona restaurants.

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Every Saturday a free coffeehouse with local and intl talent.

We were lucky to get in.  Jana and Frodo recommended the place, but June is one of their closed months.  They have been so popular that they need to control the visiting of folx so as not to get overrun with outsiders. Our boat into Tarragona arrived just as a closed month began – but we were generously granted an exception (which we had arranged by e-mail in advance).  We gave back to the squat with a presentation on Twin Oaks which was attended with great interest. They were trying to figure out many of the sharing systems that more mature communities have already developed.  At 1 AM I was still answering questions, Hawina having fielded the first hour of them, while I chased after Willow (at this writing was age 2), who seemed to get the infectious spirit and thought that he owned the place.

It is not utopia yet either;  one problem and benefit is the clash between the Spanish “manana culture” and the North European (esp. British and German) punctuality.  The squat is perhaps 2/3rds locals and 1/3rd internationals and Gesine (who was our host and is from Germany) was really struggling with the group’s ability to make decisions effectively.

While we were there a couple of Dutch co-counseling instructors were there teaching a class.  But their meeting techniques did not seem to take hold the way some of the squatters had wanted. I found myself wanting to be able to materialize Tree and plant her in this place for some months.

Squats, especially large ones which are likely targets for eviction are generally a mix of disheveled and broken stuff – and that which has been repaired or renovated.   There is dodgy wiring and the same “second world” plumbing style as East Wind (running water inside, but outside composting toilets).    But these folx were fast on their feet.  At one point Willow charged into one of the living rooms, with cushions missing from chaotic couches, piles of papers on the dirty floor.  An hour later we returned and the couches were complete and positioned for a meeting, the floor cleaned and cleared, a meeting agenda on the easel in front of the space.  And in my favorite anarchist tradition, no one was claiming credit for the magical transformation. It just sort of happens, because it needs to.

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It is not hardware or architecture which makes Can Masdeu important, it is the culture creation, the social relations and the politics which does.  “We don’t just wear black,” says Gesine, explaining that part of the perceived threat of the squat to the establishment is that they are media friendly, accessible to (and in fact supporting of) locals from different ages and classes and constantly doing outreach.  Barcelona is one of the most heavily squatted cities in Europe. The combination of poverty, speculation on rising real estate values and a legal system which does not deify property rights has caused an explosion in squatting and the anti-military service campaigns.  The moneyed class does not want popular, accessible squats like this one – it emboldens folx to take matters into their own hands.  Squatters are supposed to be dangerous fringe criminals, not helpful, friendly, folx fixing people’s bikes and respecting each other and the land and local tradition.

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Bike powered washer – like Quercus had

Even during their closed month there are tours and workshops every Sunday.  There was a series of sessions on healing arts when we were there – taught not by folx from the squat, but by Barcelona practitioners using the space with the squat assisting in promotion for the event.  The local school has several student groups who choose (and are encouraged) to meet there, in the café and ample conference spaces.  There is a growing book library, a free shop (a commie clothes look alike), and a tool library as well as all the squatting propaganda you could possibly want.  One of the rooms is for storage and construction of giant protest puppets and is also the flamenco dancers practice space.  These types of multicultural mixed use spaces are common.

My last day, by good fortune, I ended up in a long conversation with Martin from the UK, who spent a year looking for this place before actually squatting it. His was an amazing and tragic tale, complete with getting cut from the rope which was blocking the G8 from arriving at their Swiss retreat.  He dropped over  60 feet into two feet of water, broke his back and was lucky not to be paralyzed, much less alive (see www.aubonnebridge.net website for the amazing and disturbing video of the action). We talked about the culture of Can Masdeu, the meetings and process, the hopes and relations with other projects.  For me it was the perfect arrival to Europe.  People who had a very high level of commitment to radical political work, but were not stuck in old boxes, which would for example, keep them from the media, or distance them from the local population.  We talked about his desire to protect this ecosystem, which he felt was at the edge of its carrying capacity with the gardens which had already been planted.   And how amazed he was at what they had so far created.

And it might all end in October.  After 5 failed criminal cases have been run against them, Can Masdeu now faces a civil suit, which it may be nearly impossible for them to win – because in fact they don’t own the property and someone else does.  The police might not evict – this happens sometimes.  But the most likely future is that in the winter of 2004/05 there will be a call to defend the squat.  They hope hundreds of people will help defend the house and if they resquat there may be a popular action, hopefully with many hundreds of people especially people from the barrio. They have grown deep roots.  My guess is many more than the original 11 people who risked their lives will be in dramatic and dangerous positions, with more than 3 days food and a very enthusiastic and very large group of people all around them supporting them.

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Follow the graffiti which looks like this

I’ve seen the future and it is off the end of the metro green line in Barcelona

Update Nov 2016:  The police did not come.  To this day Can Masdeu continues to host events, political protests and a dynamic scruffy band of anarchists, who are now joining 20 other Catalan communities to build their movement.

Compersia lands on the Atlantic

A collection of intrepid adventurers have launched the newest income sharing commune in Washington DC and it is called Compersia. After failing twice to name this new community using naming parties, they discovered that one of the limitations of naming parties is that they are good at coming up with funny or lighthearted names. But when you are naming your home you might want something a bit more serious.

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Compersia retreat January 2016

Compersia is derived from Compersion, which is roughly defined as the opposite of jealousy.  More precisely compersion is when you feel good about your intimate experiencing intimacy with another person.    Part of the reason why compersion is only roughly defined as the opposite of jealousy is that you can feel both compersion and jealousy at the same time.

The name is barely a month old and the major liberal magazine, the Atlantic, has completed a 6 minute video on them.  Here is the link to the Compersians discussing their community.  The reportage is all in the words of the members and thus it is a pretty upbeat piece of coverage.  Compersia is looking for new members and this might well help.

Curiously, just the day before the Atlantic posting, Realtor.com ran an article called “With Housing Costs Sky-High, the Commune Makes a Comeback” Which quotes a number of our friends at Ganas and Twin Oaks.

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A collection of Old Twin Oaks photos use by Realtor.com

Nice to be seen a bit by the more mainstream press.

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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