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
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.
Paul Manafort is in jail. He was out on bail and had already violated the terms of his home confinement once. So when he was caught witness tampering (a crime especially agitating to judges) he was remanded to prison.
Legal titan Alan Dershowitz argues Manafort should not be imprisoned. “The government says he did it, he says no he didn’t do it. He didn’t know they were witnesses, and his conversation’s entirely innocent. Why does the government get to win without a hearing or trial?” Dershowitz recently told Fox and Friends.
Dershowitz knows thousands of mostly poor US americans are in prison having never been tried or convicted, in situations like Manafort’s. And while he decries the status quo, he gets media attention when it is the president’s rich white campaign manager being mistreated. He is a civil libertarian and “Trump whisperer” because of his frequent and legally compelling criticisms of the Mueller Investigation.
But Fox News is not just important because this lawyer who helped get O. J. Simpson off is critical of the special counsel’s investigation. Fox is the mouthpiece for Trump’s base and they rely on this story telling network for the talking points needed to justify his criminal and unethical behavior. After Fox News insufferable Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson perhaps the most important apologist for Trump. Carlson has been called Fox News’s “Master of Misdirection” by the Washington Post.
Please only listen to the first 3 minutes of this video
I don’t want to be responsible for your mental health if you take a larger dose.
Faced with the prospect of Manafort flipping on the president who Fox News loves, Carlson is pulling out all the stops in the above audio broadcast. The first moments of this Carlson monologue quotes one of the presidents better written tweets.
Then Tucker builds an amazing story in which Manafort crime become the crime of all politicians – that he did not register as an agent of foreign governments. Tucker falsely claims that this is Manafort’s core crime. Manafort has been indicted for many other more important offenses including: conspiracy against the US, money laundering, tax evasion, failing to report foreign bank accounts, lying to the FBI as well as witness tampering.
[For a much more amusing treatment of exactly this problem you should watch this funny episode of John Olivers Last Week Tonight’s building the case against Fox News https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC3XTzVzaHQEd30rQbuvCtTQ]
You need to, very occasionally, in measured doses, watch Fox News, because so many people are being poisoned by it and believing it. With millions of dedicated viewers, you may well find yourself in an argument with one of the Fox News fans. If these deceptive stories are left unchecked, then we are well down the highway to authoritarianism and war.
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.
I’m lucky. My upbringing was affluent and comfortable and basically trauma free. I come from an advantaged class background. I am white and male in a world which has been designed to privilege these attributes. I have a low maintenance body and fairly good genes. I went to fancy schools and learned how to play some of the games which support the existing power structures and inequitable distribution of wealth.
So if one cares about fairness, how do you justify this unfair advantage? Some of my peers, like Sara, do anti-oppression work. Decoding their class privilege, calling out racism, classism and sexism where they see it. I’ve done a small amount of this work, but it is hardly my focus. And sadly, I am aware because of regular mistakes, I am still not getting this stuff.
Instead what I try to do is to look at this set of gifts as set of obligations. If I have been lucky, much of my work should be focused on giving back to others. Early on this drew me to activism. I selected anti-nuclear activism because it requires a certain unlikely combination of attributes. You need to be able to argue with people who come from these advantaged class backgrounds about technical and financial things. You need to be able to pour energy into long campaigns, which you are almost certain to lose and then you need to not get discouraged and keep on doing it, and even encourage others to join you.
One of my gifts is optimism. It is easy to have it, given my background. And the obligation (in my thinking) around this gift is taking on nearly hopeless causes. Not because you want to waste your time, but because there is social and cultural value to fighting the good fight in a world where the bad guys often win.
Some of the Point A folks went to NYC recently. It was quite an educational trip for me. And at first on it I was quite discouraged. If seemed like the idea of starting urban income sharing communities was nearly impossible.
On one hand you had the real estate developers. Especially in New York City, real estate prices are so out of control this often unsavory profession takes on especially monstrous dimensions. They have money to invest, tremendous motivation and their eyes everywhere for a bargain or opportunity.
On the other side you have the ugly force of gentrification. This is where often well meaning folks looking for inexpensive space inside the urban environment set up their artist’s lofts in economically disadvantaged areas, only to make these areas desirable and trendy. This in turn raises property values and ultimately they get themselves and, more importantly, their poor neighbors kicked out by the real estate developers described above.
I did not see a way around these vexing forces when we started talking with folks about the Point A project. And while I am nothing like confident we can figure this out, I am now feeling more optimistic about doing something we can be excited by and proud of.
[This was written over 3 years ago, since then the Point A project has made quite some progress in finding real anti-gentrification allies. More on this in my next post.]