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School?

If you are a good parent, you are open to be learning as much as you might be teaching.  So it has been with Willow from early on.

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Willow, me and Hawina in Ithaca

Willow had been home schooled almost all of his life.  Some of his commune kid friends had gone to conventional school.  They did not speak well of it.  It would come up with some regularity, that their were people (like his grandmother) who really thought he should go to conventional schools.  Willow was not having it.

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A couple of years back my mother thought it would be fun for us to go to Cuba together.  Willow thought it would be good to learn some Spanish before he went.  There being no one at Twin Oaks Community who was willing to teach him, he decided to take a class at the local community college.

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Hawina and Willow in Cuba

I was stunned.  After over a decade of intransigence around the possibility of going to school he just suddenly switched.   I asked him about it.

“Willow why did you decide to go to school?” I asked

“Do you know the difference between community college administrators and high school principals?”  He challenged.

I knew I would not be able to guess, so i just caved.  “No i don’t know, would you tell me?”

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“Sure”  Willow offered.  “The principal is trying to keep everyone in high school.  The community college administrators are trying to keep the customers satisfied.  The difference is the principals are trying to keep the bullies in class.  The administrators are trying to thrown them out.  I don’t want to go to any institution that is trying to keep the bullies in.”

I had never considered such a thing, but clearly this made sense.

Willow is in his third semester of community college, pulling straight A’s, finishing his fancy Clonlara online high school curriculum early and thinking about summer school in video game design.  I am pretty excited and feel proud he made his own decisions to get here.

[As with all posts significantly about him, Willow has signed off on this one.  Thanks to Kelpie for proof reading]

 

Camping with Rachel

You get to make some choices about how you grow old.  If you work a soulless job, don’t get much exercise because you are either commuting to work or sitting in front of a computer all day, and are not excited about the people you spend your free time with – you will, i am guessing, age hard and fast.

Alternatively, if you love what you do, if you are active – running around doing errands or construction or child care, if you love the people who you are spending time with and they inspire you, then you run a better chance of aging gracefully.

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Another one of my reckless theories is that if you are living ruggedly your body will adapt and be stronger longer.  And that if you create a comfortable easy situation, you will become accustomed to comfortable circumstances and then require them.

I spend most nights at Cambia rather than Twin Oaks.  Cambia is still working on its winterization and my room in the main house is heated at night by space heaters and electric blankets.

Or it isn’t.

For the last few weeks (when i have not been in Florida) i have been sleeping in my room without the aid of heating equipment.  It is a bit brisk, i have heaps of quilts and blankets, and it is fine.

Most weekday evenings i watch youtube recordings of Rachel Maddow’s storytelling on the big screen in my Cambia room.  I think she is very clever and i am quite excited about the current national news.

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When i was explaining my peculiar anti–heater stance to my Cambia clan, Mar responded “It is like you are camping out with Rachel Maddow.”

 

GivingTuesday – Rustling Roots

First things first, we are running a crowdfunding campaign for Rustling Roots, which is the sustainability education project of my favorite small community and part time home Cambia Community.  Please donate generously if you can.  And so we know it came from this source please donate a dollar amount with a single penny added (so $35.01 and the like).  Here is the link.

This is the lovely promotional video for the project which was made with some of my favorite kids (From Twin Oaks, Cambia and Mimosa communities).

These communities are all different and important models of sustainability.  They have tiny carbon footprints, home schooling programs and a vision of a better world.  In an often insane world, these places and projects are a ray of hope.

Please support us if you are able.

 

 

Mega development in Louisa

A couple of months back I learned of the shadowy plan in which the Louisa county supervisors had purchased options for several large tracks of land within the county for a proposed mega development.

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Over 1000 acres of proposed development – now stopped

Local citizens from across the county (not just the ones from the affected areas) started organizing, specifically bringing people to the supervisors meeting and demanding public input on this proposed plan.  It was clear that the supervisors were expecting this proposal to not get much public attention and that they could simply pass it while no one was paying much attention.  The supervisors, who normally have little public interest in their work, were surprised to find over 100 locals at their meeting upset about their proposal and decision making.

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Louisa Board of Supervisors – Photo Credit: CBS19 – News

When pressed about why they were advancing this proposal, the answers the supervisors gave were contradictory and thin.  They promised jobs, they promised the $50 million city funded water and sewage system would not raise taxes, they promised this would not be like the several other Louisa industrial park development projects.

These contradictory promises hurt the case for this development and the locals continued to organize and opposition to the development grew.  At the same time the supervisor position on it seemed to harden.  At the first vote on the project, 3 of the 7 supervisors voted in favor of the development and 3 against, and one was not in attendance that evening, but appeared to be in favor of the plan.

 

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Cambia and some of the other local communities got involved.  Cambia set up the Facebook page and made calls to the supervisors.  One supervisor got 347 different people calling them and only 7 were in favor of the project.

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Protesters at Louisa Supervisor Meeting – Nov 20 – Photo Credit: Me

This time, despite the odds, the good guys won.  The county supervisors hearing for the fourth straight meeting how locals were furious about this proposal reversed themselves and voted unanimously to kill their own project.  Now it is time to get locals together to talk about what type of development we do want, to help the supervisors do the right thing.

 

7000 Doors

Bringing 10 people, all from out of state to Florida, to work on an ambitious political campaign for 3 weeks is a rich logistical tapestry.  On the day after the election, GPaul (who was the flawless finance minster for the team) reminded me by text that I needed to send thank-you letters to our donors.

Shortly after this my cell phone started buzzing like crazy.  “We are heading for a recount. We need to contact all the people who submitted votes by mail or provisional ballots and confirm these were received,” was the message we got from Organize Florida, the organization for which we had been volunteering.

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Now it was not just Senator Nelson facing a close election needing a recount, but the Gillum/DeSantes governor’s race as well.  And we were back to phone-banking.  Our team, now spread across the country, were phone-banking from airports in California and collectives in Oregon, and folks at the Virginia communes also started calling.  We helped burn through two lists of over 7,000 people in a few hours.

Normally, one would not know who had voted by mail, because one would not have their phone numbers.   Hard Knocks was the group we canvassed with and it was set up by the very politically active labor-union SEIU.  In the Tampa Bay area our canvass knocked on over 1.5 million doors.  We helped thousands of people get their vote by mail ballots.  We brought people to the polls for early voting and educated  them on a number of down-ballot items, including those for the State Senator Janet Cruz and the initiative to restore felon voting rights.  In the end our 10 volunteers, mostly from income sharing intentional communities, hit more than 7000 doors.

At each door that answered, we gathered information about whom they were planning to vote for, including what method they would use.  When the recall became imminent that same database gathered in the months leading up to the midterms could now be employed to reach back to those voters and see if they were actually being counted.

At this writing both the Senate and Governor elections are being recounted.   There is some chance that either of these Democrats will win, and if either does it will be further proof that we made the right choice to go to Florida to work on these elections.  A couple of my anarchist comrades have written long essays about how it is wrong to be involved in these or any elections.  Most of the crew in Florida self identifies as anarchists and is doing this work because the threat of staying on the sidelines is too large.

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Titanium Feather

What of course would be grand would be for us to be the titanium feather which tips the balance.  But even if we don’t I certainly feel good about trying.

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November is “Gov. Gillum”

There is something especially reckless about making forecasts on close elections.

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What could go wrong?

Florida has better than average voter suppression techniques.  Current Governor Rick Scott has been an effective advocate of blocking poor people and especially people of color from being able to vote.

Thus betting that a charismatic young black first term mayor of the seventh largest city in the state would become Governor instead of the Trump protégé is especially dicey.  But if Tampa is any indication the enthusiasm with Andrew Gillum is impressive.  Every neighborhood I visit has Gillum signs up.  Suspicious faces break into smiles when I mention I am campaigning  door to door for him.  And then I ask “And Democrats all the way down?”

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Neighborhood Gillum Office in Old Town Tampa

And they often concur, democrats all the way down.  And this maybe the most important legacy of the Gillum run.  Bill Nelson is the current effective three term (that is 18 years) Democratic Senator from Florida.  Why have you never heard of him (unless you are one of the wonk/political hack readers of this blog)?  Because he is deathly boring.

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League of Extraordinary Gentleman

Due to term limits, current Governor Rick Scott is making a bid for Bill Nelson’s Senate seat and it is quite close (FiveThirtyEight.Com predicts shows Nelson up 51.3% to 48.7).  If Nelson prevails quite some credit should go to Gillum who has helped breaking early voting turn out records, overwhelming both the states racist history and powerful voter suppression techniques.

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Tens of thousands of voters have already been blocked in Florida

When I lived in Czechoslovakia I learned of the Slavic month naming convention that is different from the English language one.    This has been hybridized by a number of people I know into a personalized month naming convention, either on a regular basis, or where an extraordinary event  determines the month name.

We are pulling out all the stops to make true the month name “Governor Gillum,” and I am recklessly predicting a Gillum win.

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Canvassers of Team Tampa: Photo Credit: Calico

 

 

 

 

 

Want to Phone Bank?

People keep asking us how to volunteer to phone bank.

Schedule to Phone Bank for Florida  

This will hook you up to the collection for group we are working with on Florida’s critical candidates and referendums.

Nationally, these are the groups we think are doing some of the more accessible organizing for phone banking:

After weeks of being asked to take pictures with inspired citizens getting out to vote, Thumbs had only compiled a photo collage of garden gnomes and copulating dragon flies.  However, when Karen challenged him to put this tiny hat on a stray neighborhood cat, he delivered with this Fred Astaire feline putting on the ritz.

Yesterdays challenge action was Karen asked Thumbs to put this tiny hat on a stray cat and take a picture.  Our man was up to the challenge

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i never said i was beneath using cat pictures 

 

Communards to Florida for Voter Rights

“You live in a bubble, I could never do it.  I need to be more connected to the real world.”  People visiting the communes often say things like this.  Often with praise for what they perceive as our prosaic and even idyllic life style.  It is a completely understandable criticism and it still rubs me the wrong way.

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But communards are often quite connected to the “real world” and some are working actively to influence local and national politics.  I am proud to say many more communards have stepped up during the time of Trump.

I am happy to be traveling with a group of capable organizers all of who hail from intentional communities from across the country which are supporting this campaign to restore ex-con voting rights in Florida, to help maintain the Democratic Senate seat and elect the states first black Governor.  Here is some of the key information:second chances banner florida.png

If Florida Amendment 4 passes, it will restore voting rights to 1.5 million Florida residents.  This represents over 10% of the states total population and over 20% of the African American voters.  As a voting group, ex-cons are most commonly Democratic, African American voters are overwhelmingly Democratic voters.  If this amendment passes it becomes extremely difficult for Trump to take Florida in the 2020 election. Without Florida, it is extremely difficult for the Republicans to win the Electoral College. Florida is one of only 4 states which basically permanently restricts ex-cons from voting.

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 (1) Dark Green–convicted felons always retained the right to vote; (2) Medium Green–right to vote after prison term completed; (3) Light Green–right to vote after prison term and parole completed; (4) Light Red–right to vote after prison, parole, and probation completed; (5) Medium Red–certain felons never regain right to vote; (6) Dark Red–no felons regain right to vote

If you want to support such an effort, please visit our GoFundMe page and donate to help cover our travel and living costs.  Stay tuned to this blog for regular reports from Tampa and Orlando.

Surprising Discoveries – Riot Bayit

Just when you think you know all about your “area of expertise” something new surprises you.

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Riot Bayit at dinner circa 2017

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.

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handknit hanukkah socks! 15 socks for 14 feet

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.

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Portraits of members on the wall

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.

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Building the new commons in Somerville

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

Unity in the Communities Movement

This post is one in a series on workshops being offered at this years Twin Oaks Communities Conference. Nicole Bienfang of The Transition will be presenting a workshop entitled Where’s the UNITY in the Communities Movement?

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Nicole Bienfang – Presenter

When you look at the writings of many founders who started ICs their intentions were to create a concept that grew to global proportions, but how does that happen when there is no unity of vision on how to grow the communities movement? How can we build a global system that supports our growth on a grassroots and global level when each IC acts as an isolated silo? Nicole’s workshop intends to dig deep into these questions and many more like them. Through group participation attendees will find out what other participants are currently struggling with, what is working for them, how neighboring communities can better support each other, and what overlapping issues resonate with everyone  present.

Through the workshop you will find practical advice and resources with opportunities for self-reflection using group participation to illustrate workable examples and determine the focus the workshop takes.

Things that will be covered:

  • How each individual can contribute to the global growth of the IC movement
  • How to prevent founder burnout
  • How to create partnerships between individuals and ICs that are mutually beneficial
  • How to tap into an IC mutual aid network for tangible items and skills

Nicole’s  workshop is right for you if you are:

  • Struggling finding IC members that meet your ICs needs or criteria
  • Need resources or funding to get your IC off the ground
  • Would like to reduce your stress in founding your IC
  • Could use some sage wisdom from people who have “been there done that”.

Are you yearning for community?   The Transition serves social change makers (including ones wanting to form intentional communities) and provides them with support, space, and resources they need to succeed in the work they do, through an Action Plan, personal development, training and and most importantly an online and offline mutual aid network. Through their research The Transition knows when you can connect and share assets, people and ideas, everything changes for the better. You can help them create the world’s largest database of assets and resources, owned and cultivated by social change makers from all over the world, by registering on their website www.thetransition.org. When you join The Transition and become active and engaged with their online and offline community many resources are made available to you as well, by taking part in their global family. The more registered users that are enroll on the site the more assets and resources become communally available to all who are part of their mutual aid network. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • Food
  • Shelter
  • Land
  • Free WiFi
  • Spaces to assemble
  • Work space for projects
  • Household goods
  • Tools
  • Training
  • Education
  • Volunteers
  • “Blueprints” and Case Studies (crafted from input from individuals who learned the hard way and  what not to do)
  • Funding to support projects or get new ones off the ground

Map with registered The Transition website users spanning multiple countries.

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Living in Community?

The Transition website is useful to people in many different situations-those who live communally, those trying to create social change groups, alternative living situations or those already involved in growing networks of activists.The Transition can help your community by:

  • Matchmaking (matching communities with specific needs, with prospective communards, interns, or volunteers who have those skillsets)
  • Screening prospective community members to make sure they are qualified leads with aligned values
  • Training (Non-Violent Communication, Conflict Resolution, Meeting Facilitation, Community Governance etc)
  • Cross-Promotion, PR, Outreach  for your community and your community’s cottage industries
  • Syndication for blogs, podcasts, video, music created by your community and individual communards
  • Providing access to mutual aid (tangibles,skill-sets, travel accommodation)
  • Updating our “Community Brain” with the newest and latest information to benefit your community’s longevity
  • Promoting your events (Open Houses, Work Parties, Parties, Speaking Engagements, Conferences etc.)

A page from their member’s skills searchable inventory which includes expertise rank, and expandable details for more specifics

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Objects page on The Transition website showcasing objects available to website users.

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Some things they have in the pipeline in various stages of development are:

  • A radio show that can help elevate and create a positive image for the IC movement in Babylon.
  • A benefits program (life Insurance, legal counsel, exclusive discounts and sign-up incentives for everyday and monthly expenditures online and in local communities etc)
  • A “People’s Bailout Program” to help get individuals out of financial debt (so they can invest in creating communities and positive social change projects)
  • A crowd-funding platform called The Cooking Pot built within their website, that will offer a match contribution for all funds raised
  • Alternative Spring Break programs for Teens & College Students
  • Alternative Scouts program for youth
  • Emergency/Relief Fund

Their organization and website is co-created and 100% volunteer run meaning that every registered user is part of the transitional process from our current zeitgeist to the a more idealized version of what we want the future to be. By relaying their newly acquired resources and findings from their social change work made “in the trenches” every individual using the site is strengthened and can eliminate pitfalls other activists and organizers made before the dawn of the internet.

You can listen to a podcast overview about the organization @ https://tinyurl.com/yc3h7pj4

If you are interested in volunteering or getting involved in any capacity start Your Action Plan.

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Nicole Bienfang: As a co-founder of The Transition, she has dedicated her life to increasing the positive impact social change makers have on society. She is a research driven, lifelong learner, who uses that knowledge to build stronger relationships among communities with individuals from around the world.