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Alabama – don’t blame the whites

Like many folks, I was thrilled to see Roy Moore fail to win the Senate seat. Understandably, the next day many were trying figure out how it happened.  Interestingly, only 1 voter in 10 said that the accusations of child molestation were the most important factor in making their decision.   But 6 in 10 said these allegations were a factor in their decision making.  One of the most common memes to show up after the election was the following:

 

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dirty meme

And the casual observer can be forgiven for thinking that this infographic says that whites in Alabama are happy to vote for a racist, pedophile to protect their attachment to abortion restrictions. Voter turn out was critical in this race, and despite it being a special election (which typically have much lower turn out than regular elections) blacks turned out at a higher level than the last presidential election.   And black voters overwhelmingly voted for Doug Jones carrying him to a statewide majority by over 20,000 votes.

But what did not happen, as the above graphic implies, was whites uniformly voted in favor of Roy Moore in a lopsided majority.  The below infographic gives more useful insights.

evengelical Moore voters

If you consider Alabama’s support of this xenophobic, homophobic judge who was twice disbarred from the bench by the federal government to be a problem, please do not blame all whites.  Instead, you should be blaming Evangelicals.  About 74% of Evangelicals did not vote in this recent election.   Had they voted in historic percentages (closer to 47% participating) Moore would be heading towards Washington and a Senate ethics investigation.  But of the Evangelicals who did, they voted overwhelmingly for Moore. In contrast, 74% of non-evangelical white women voted for Doug Jones.

In Alabama, it is much less about whiteness and much more about religion.

 

 

 

Bye for noo, Milo

Milo MacTavish has gone to the other side.  He was an extraordinary man.

 

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Milo at the Pizza Stone in Vermont circa 2017

Over the life of this blog, I have written about him several times.  About his work as a wandering electrician and his taste or highland Scotch whiskey.  He was part of the crew which started the Karass Inn.  And there are several tales we are not allowed to tell about this old friend.

What is well known about him is that he helped out the communities movement a whole bunch in a number of places.   I worked occasionally as his travel agent, getting him from worthy project to ambitious startup.  He went to Missouri, Colorado, Virginia, Vermont and New York on his nomadic crafts person adventure.  Never by plane, mostly by train.  He preferred to do things right, but he could always work within the budgets of these sometimes struggling entities. This versatility was a big part of why he was so valuable.  All he would ask for, besides our regular room and board was Scotch whiskey.

 

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Milo favorite and clan brand

As important as his work was, Milo will be remembered for his slightly larger than life character.  He was a wild card – “a disrupter” long before that term was popular.  Cantankerous and boisterous, he always had a story (often of Kenya where he came of age or Her Majesties Merchant Navy) and time to listen to yours.   He was also an excellent teacher and shared his skills with numerous communards, some of whom required a fair bit of patience to train.   He was a hard-partying, proud pagan.  Milo had loud opinions about many a thing and had no fear in telling you how uninformed you were on almost any subject where he knew more than you, which was likely most topics.

Milo was a missionary.  He rescued a failing health food coop in Norfolk and managed it with his then-wife Susan.  They ran it together for 5 years.  He canvassed for the Rain Forest Action Network and CalPIRG.  He even worked with the Dolfin Research Lab in Florida.   He had been a cop and occasionally on the other side of the law.   He complained loudly about what he called  “the 3 monos of the world”:  Monoculture, Monotheism, and Monogamy.

 

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Milo and Belladonna at Acorn Circa 2014

Milo was often the life of the party.  And with his passing, some of that party is gone as well.

But Milo would not want us mourning his passing, he would want us to party harder.  There will be one this weekend (12/16) in Norfolk and next weekend (12/23) at the Pizza Stone in Chester, Vermont to remember him.  Contact me if you want more details on these events.

[Milo’s family of choice is trying to get in touch with Milo’s Scotish family to inform them of his passing.  If you have any leads on this, please contact me by email (paxus at twin oaks dot org) or comment on this blog post.]

 

 

 

 

Appreciating being targeted

I talk a lot.  I give tours and presentations and talk at college classes and conferences of all types.  Basically, if they will let me near a microphone and public space, I am happy to try to draw an audience to a public presentation.

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Just give me the mic and no one gets hurt.

Since giving up full-time anti-nuclear organizing in eastern Europe, no one has thought that my presentations were sufficiently contentious as to write up a critique of them and publish it.  Until recently.

Some months back, Kami and I gave a talk at Elon University and some conservative writer was sufficiently outraged that they published a critique of our workshop.

What is so interesting to me about this attack in the American Lens is about 2/3rds of the words are mine.  They are so convinced that anarchism and protesting are abhorrent to their readers that there is not much of a need on their part to editorialize about these evils.    So it mostly ends up being an advertisement for our presentations and ideology.

The most critical things this article has to say are:

The description (of Twin Oaks) also notes that “A number of us choose to be politically active in issues of peace, ecology, anti-racism, and feminism” In other words, it’s basically a commune started in the 60’s didn’t fizzled out.

The Anarchist and Fingerbook maker’s workshop, as previously mentioned, is free to attend and, unlike other similar workshops at other universities, this one is not being held in lieu of an actual class. That’s a good thing perhaps, given it costs $31,247 a year to attend Elon University.

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What makes something outrageous?

This type of thinking was a central part of the strategy which got Trump elected.  Have what you say be so outrageous that the media thinks the story tells itself.  I have no such lofty ambitions but was flattered that my positions were so outrageous that they need so little comment.

Feel free to comment on the American Lens article at http://americanlens.com/research/elon–paxus-calta/

Damanhur Stories

There are magical places.

 

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Hall of mirrors – Damanhur Italy

The problem is many of my readers don’t actually believe in magic.  Oh, you might believe in pop magic: prestidigitation, sleight of hand,  trickery.  But hard magic?  Where the laws of physics are getting bent or broken, where compelling coincidence is basically statistically preposterous? This is where our rational sides kick in and tell us this stuff is just not possible.  I will tell you one of the stories, but you won’t believe me.

 

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The Nucleo called Damjl

But we can get around this rationalism through stories.  It has taken me over two years to get around to telling just a part of my Damanhur story.  These are just the easiest to believe parts.  I don’t think you are ready for the parts i am still struggling with and i am not ready to tell them in this format.  Ask me at a party.

 

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The secret door which lets you into the caves

A group of young Italians shared a vision.  A vision of a place where people would live in community and cooperation.  A place dedicated to the idea that there is an artist inside everyone and the job of community is to get that art expressed.  But it was also a place which was encouraging joint creative adventures, rather than promoting the works of single people and thus none of the tremendous artwork is signed.

 

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A canvas with many artists

This group was divinely inspired.  They had all manner of signs that they were doing the right thing and they traveled the world looking for the right place.  Oddly, it turned out to be just a few hundred kilometers from where they started, about 50 km from Turin.

A couple dozen people moved in back in 1978.  They formed a commune.  Shared income and assets.  They worked straight jobs in the local area and started setting up their own cottage industries.  Just like we do now when we are trying to start new communes.

Except there was the digging.  Every night, for 16 years, some significant fraction of the members of the Damanhur community started digging tunnels and temples under the mountain that they lived in.  They did it in secrecy.  Driving down huge mounds of excavated dirt in trucks in the dead of night to be dumped far from the temples.

They were following a vision.  They worked in secret and told no one outside their community about the project.  But they grew.  In the first 17 years, they went from a couple dozen people to over 400.  It was a federation of communities, clustered in the town which was adjacent to the temples.

 

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Propaganda Cartoon by Damanhur about digging temples

 

It is hard to keep a secret among 400 people, especially if they are as emotionally expressive as Italians tend to be.  Rumor has it there was a domestic dispute.  A couple of Damanhurians were splitting up and the one leaving the community demanded greater child custody and threatened to reveal the secret if they did not get what they wanted.  When they did not they went to the local police (who has been hearing stories for years, but had never been able to find their way in) and revealed the secret doors.

 

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Too big to keep a secret?

The Italian authorities came in and stopped construction of the temple because it was an unpermitted mining activity.  But the media rushed in to cover this beautiful space and the UK tabloid the Daily Mail called it the 8th Wonder of the World.  And the tourists started following in to see it.

 

Damanhur pillars

These pillars are over 20′ high

Through a somewhat inexplicable series of events, i was invited to Damanhur in 2015.  My host Betsy Pool and i had met at one of the most exotic conferences i have ever attended called Building the New World, in Roanoke Virginia earlier in the year.

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I was enchanted by Betsy’s story about how she got to Damanhur, about her work founding the Institute for the Mythology of Humanity and the collection of people she was pulling together to try to promote the complex message of Damanhur’s origins.

 

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Me nearly in the middle, Betsy on my left, Barbara Marx Hubbard on my right.

I lept at the chance to go to this most exotic place, which was made possible by a generous sponsor (communes don’t pay well, international travel is generally inaccessible).  And for a week i toured the temples of Damanhur, learned their stories and chatted with Charles Eisenstein who was part of the same advisory group had been invited to as a storyteller.

 

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Doors in the Temple

I got to do a Transparency Tools workshop in the hall of mirrors (see the picture at the top) which was pretty amazing.

When we toured the temples i learned some curious things about Damanhur.  One was that there were highly realistic portraits of all 600 living Damanhurians on the temple walls.  On my tour of the temples, there was a current Damanhur resident.  The portrait of her was so realistic that when i saw it on the wall i could immediately identify it as her.  When members of the community die, their paintings within the temples are covered and a new portrait is created on the walls of the buildings Damanhur controls around the temples.

 

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Past members live on exterior walls

When people ask me what the most amazing thing about Damanhur is, i often reply that it is a group of 600 non-smoking Italians.  Without a doubt the largest such group in the world.

But when pressed harder, i talk about the plants.  It starts with the Music of the Plants. Research has been going on in plant communication for over 4 decades at Damanhur.  The accessible amazing thing is that they are able to hear plants performing the music that they all regularly make, by hooking up the plants and measuring and interpreting the very low-voltage electric currents between the roots and leaves of the plant.

damanhur music of the plants

 

An even more amazing is the story of a plant which is used inside of Damanhur as a door lock.  If the plant detected that the person who had been introduced to the plant was arriving in anger, it would not let the person into the room.

I said you would not believe me.  And these are the more accessible stories of Damanhur.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A love letter a day

One of the best parts of living in community is getting to design the local culture.  I am spending a lot of time at Cambia Community these days which is just 2 miles from Twin Oaks, where I hope to become a dual member (but that is a different story).

Every morning at 8:30 we are getting together and plan our day.  One of the things we organize is who is going to write a love letter that day and who are they going to send it to and a bit about why.  The community has committed to writing at least one every day.

love letter flying away

Love letters are an underappreciated form of communication.  i have written suggestions on how to write them.   And i am happy that Cambia has embraced this new tradition.

We are using the broad definition of love letter, where anyone you feel strong affection or appreciation for is an acceptable recipient.  Thinking about someone who we have not sufficiently expressed appreciation for is one of the tools we use to figure out which letter should get written next.

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Who should you write today?

 

Point A: Becoming a Circus

Apparently, I was the last activist in the US to hear about how great the Honk Festival was.  As I was enthusiastically explaining the event to other people I kept hearing “Oh, I was on the Honk organizing team 10 years ago,” or “We helped start Honk in New York,” and equivalent recognition.   But despite coming late to the party, it was still a transformative event for me, and the projects which surround me.

It started back in February when our Point A traveling heroes hit Boston.  Maximus said, “We should come back for Honk” and like a fool, I asked, “What is Honk?”  Fortunately, Maximus is patient with me.

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Like many things, Honk grew out of a collection of activists trying something new.  A collection of marching bands took over the streets of Somerville and started performing.  They had fun, they made an impressive amount of joyful noise and they had multiple political messages.  And they agreed to come back next year.  This scruffy initial incarnation has become a treasured institution which brings protest marching bands from around the world.

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I have to confess I had not thought much about marching bands as a protest tool.  Maximus has thought about this a bunch.  He pointed out the power of having noisy attractive mobile groups which do not require amplification.  He waxed eloquently about what it means to take performers off the stage, put them in the street at the same level as the audience and the implicit invitation for people to join in, marching, dancing or banging on anything which one might find handy.

But this was all much later, once we were well into the Honk experience.  It started, as many good things start, with dumpster diving.  Maximus and Rachel had cooked a dumpster dinner for the 400 Honk musicians in 2016.  His invitation to the Point A crew to come up and participate in Honk hoped to replicate their past success.  Fortunately, this plays directly to some of our strengths.

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Steve doing house repairs.

Steve is a man of many talents.  He was an obvious draft pick for this trip in that he can look at a full dumpster and see if there is anything good at the bottom and he can cook for huge quantities of people.  Steve was just one of the ringers we brought on this trip.  We had significant local talent was on hand as well.  We had 4 teams which went out at midnight.  Three of them were car based and one consisted of members of the local radical bicycle gang.  The ten of us started at midnight.

 

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By 3 AM this is what we had hauled in

 

But three hours of diving was followed by a couple of hours of cleaning and sorting and even some time spent arranging to get the above photo.  We had originally scheduled two evenings to gather food, but we did so well the first night, that we canceled the second dive.  We even had to re-dumpster some of our catch, because we exhausted the refrigeration space we had available to us.

Soon all this food would be cooked and prepped into a lovely dinner for 400 musicians.   The other two dinners were catered, but several folks said ours was the best.

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Honk has grown significantly from its early days.  The city of Somerville has embraced this event, local businesses help sponsor it.  But the costs are significant.  They help subsidize the travel of bands from across the country and even other countries.  There were many meals for the performers, most of which were much more expensive to produce than ours.

While our dumpster diving crew was dominated by out of town Point A activists, there was also important representation by locals who came from various places.  Sophia used to live at Craft House, where some of us were staying, in Tracy Chapman’s old closet, which is where we met her.  There are desirable attributes you hope for in a fellow dumpster diver: willingness to get dirty, good sense of humor, willingness to take chances, nimble and stealthy movement, healthy disrespect for the law, willingness to work crazy late without compensation, discernment about which food to rescue and ability to cook are some of them.  Sophia had all this and more.  And at almost 5 AM she climbed the labyrinth fire escape to the residence I was staying in to break me into my locked housing.

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Sophia in the final Honk Parade

Acquiring the huge haul of food is just the first step in feeding the Honk musicians.  We still had to cook it.  Most of our original dumpster divers plus a handful of new locals came out for this formidable task.  My terrible cooking skills are the source of legend and while others toiled in the First Church’s kitchen, I called wholesale hammocks customers. My old college partner Amanda came to help with the cooking, she had fond memories of being on the Honk organizing team years ago and was happy to return to support the effort.

 

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Telos in the final Honk parade

 

Mysteriously, the grill which had been unlocked outside the church for months was moved ten feet towards the curb to aid in loading it into a vehicle to move to the VFW outpost where the meal was being served.  But before we could pick it up, it vanished.  Taken likely by someone who thought it was being left on the curb to be discarded.  This cost us both a grill and preparation time.  I drove one of the Skul radical bicycle gang who had helped with the dumpster dive back to their home to pick up a replacement grill and delivered it to Steve Compersia at the VFW where he started cooking like a fiend.  The grill was not especially well designed and soon Steve was working without the propane on in a blaze of fire.  This attracted the police who decided they were going to shut our meal preparation down.  Fortunately, by the time we were caught, Steve had completed most of the cooking.

 

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Daniel and Z holding Lady Liberty’s head in the Free Palestine float

 

Part of the Point A mandate is to do skill shares when we come to town.  We often do Transparency Tools workshops for the various living collective we visit and this time we did one at Craft House on the Tufts campus [Is this true?].  Before Honk, Courtney from Compersia had worked with Telos on a workshop on how to be an Ally.  And when Courtney agreed to come up to Boston, this workshop became a multi skit performance.

Being an ally is hard.  Many attempting to support oppressed people would get failing grades from the those they think they are helping.  The metaphor which was used as a chorus in our performance was that privilege is like wearing heavy boots in a world full of people wearing sandals.  You must keep being aware of when you are stepping on other people’s toes.  Telos played the failed ally in a series of 20-second micro skits with Courtney using such lines as:

“You should not have put your feet there”

“I don’t see toes”

“Are you calling me a toe stepper?”

And my personal favorite line

“All toes matter”

The final toe stepping micro skit gave curious prospective allies insight into what they might do to get it right, a simple apology and a promise to pay more attention in the future.

 

We had communicated with the Honk organizers about our desire to do our performance and they had offered us the Elm St “stage” at 8 PM on Saturday after the last marching band.  Sadly, the police were not given a schedule that had our performance on it and we were stopped again by Somerville’s finest just as we were trying to draw our crowd.  Instead, we did a dress rehearsal in the Davis Square metro station to a slightly baffled collection of commuters.  Maximus caught it on video.

Honk was an inspiring experience.  At the last dinner, we had together it was obvious we all wanted to come back next year.  As is part of the Point A culture we did a post mortem of our take away of what we learned.  We listed a number of suggestions to improve our efforts.  Get a dedicated food processing crew, distinct from dumpster divers to handle the haul after we retrieved it and not force divers to stay up most of the night.  Bring more people.  Practice our skits longer in advance.  Work more closely with the event organizers to get on the official schedule, to avoid hassles with the police.  Work in advance with more locals like the fine folks from Craft House at Tufts.

 

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Exotic water carrying bike device from final Honk parade

 

The most important transformative aspect of Honk was that we realized we wanted to become a circus.  The Point A trips have often been referred to as a circus, in part because of the joyful chaos they deliver.  But this was something bigger, the idea that we should step out of our comfort zone of giving presentations and workshops into something more theatrical, more like the famous Bread and Puppet troop (which was one of the Honk marching bands).  To get out of the classroom and more into the street.

 

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Infamous Bread and Puppet Theater Troop

 

The excited conversation about our new incarnation explored the idea of circuses as part of transformative festivals.  One thing which makes these kinds of events powerful is that they have the capacity to induce quinks.  [Quinks are the opposite of trauma. Where some specific acute event leaves a lasting positive effect on your life.]  When we reflected on the purpose of the Point A circus what we came up with was that we would try to induce quinks in both the participants and audience.

There’s much that could be said about building community. But what motivates people towards it isn’t usually what people say, but rather the way community makes them feel. People don’t decide to radically rethink the way they are living because someone told them they could, they do it because some powerful event in the lives made them believe it was possible. This is quink, and HONK is uniquely good at producing it. All the sound and color and joyful noise conveys an experience that words never could.

Our mission as Point A is to spread community into the urban areas that need them most. There are many ways to do this, and the most effective involve quinks. It seems like a parading circus is in our future…

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Helis and Maia – Estonian Hitchhikers

After the final parade on Sunday, Daniel and Raven and I hopped in the car with two Estonian hitchhikers we had picked up through Craig’s list.  Maia and Helis’s housing in NYC had fallen apart before our ride, so I spent most of the drive from Boston to NYC reaching out to various Point A allies who might host them.  We ultimately succeeded and deposited them with willing hosts.  Then Daniel and I drove across several states and arrived back at Twin Oaks at 3:30 AM, just in time to do a late night tofu shift.  This revolution does not stop.

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After the all-night drive, Daniel starts tofu at 3:30 AM

This post first appeared on CommuneLife blog.

Havana Impressions

When you go through customs at the Havana airport, you see this digital screen of an analog clock.

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To be convincing, the sweep second-hand jerks a bit every time it moves.  And thus you are introduced to the temporal paradox which is Cuba’s capital.

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The vast majority of cars on the streets of Havana are from two eras, the last decade and the period immediately before the revolution and US embargo, around 1959.

The time machine affect has numerous positive aspects.  The old city streets often have wide parks running through the middle.  A crippled economy means there is little traffic.  High gasoline costs mean that vehicles rarely have just one person in them.  Huge trees line the streets.

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Hawina with one of the many huge trees.

There are some innovations which other places would do well to mimic.  Stop lights on major intersections count down the number of seconds before they turn either red or green, to better inform drivers.

 

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The city streets in Havana are named in a novel and clever way.  The main dividing street is Avenido Paseo.  To the west the streets are increasing in even numbers.  To the east the streets are lettered.  Perpendicular to these, running parallel to the coast the streets are odd numbered.  Thus you can tell uniquely where you are by just knowing 10th and 11th or C and 9th.  No confusing East and West like DC or Streets and Avenues like NYC.

Eye motif in Havana

The architecture favors balconies, flat roofs and porches and the social structures take advantage of these.  Many doors down the street are left open with people inside and outside often visible.  Most buildings were built before there was air conditioning and the architecture encourages placing people in breezes.