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Anarchy at Twin Oaks

Chaos has engulfed the commune! Well, not quite, but perhaps technically so.  The by-laws and policy of Twin Oaks are  tremendously elaborate.  Over the near half century of history of the commune we have designed contingencies for many unexpected circumstances.  What do we do if someone disappears?  What do we do if someone wins the lottery? What if 24 members accept a visitor and 6 reject them? What do you do if you are topless in the garden and the UPS person shows up?  What do we do if there is only one planner?



It is the last of these examples that delivered us to the current non-crisis.  Twin Oaks government was inspired by the book Walden 2, a behaviorist fiction story. Described in Walden 2 book is the planner manager system of governance we use.  Managers control area budgets (both labor and money) and planners operate across multiple areas or full community wide as executives.


I have long joked that the Twin Oaks plannership is a self perpetuating autocracy with a democratic cap.  At any time there are supposed to be at least three planners (up to five if there are stand in planners, who are in training).  When their is a vacancy the planners look at a membership list and seek out a member who they would like to work with.  They approach this member and ask them if they want the job and if they do, then the community is consulted.  The planners have an interview with anyone who is interested.  A veto box is put up, and a minority of the membership (20%) can block a planner, but this is pretty rare.  [Note: this is actually a streamlined description of the process which is actually more complex.]


The plannership is a crazy difficult job.  My personal estimate is about half of the planners drop out early.  There is a rule that you can not run for two consecutive planner terms, but no one has wanted to in the nearly 20 years i have been here.  So what happens if there is only one planner?  If there are no acceptable candidates to join or no one is willing to?

We have elections.  This surprises people who know the community well.  We don’t have elections for individual for any position really, it is not part of our culture.  Managers serve until they tire of a position, they are mostly replaced by people who they train to replace them.  Sometimes a council will choose between a couple of candidates, but this is rarely by voting, instead typically it is done in a meeting.


On October 1st of this year we had no planners.  One term ended and the other resigned.  If there are no planners or just one, then we go to elections.  This has only happened one other time in the last 19 years.

What has the effect been on the community?  Almost nothing.  A decision about a feedback is pending the new planners.  Some managers probably did some things without consulting the planners, but they might have done them anyway.  The internals of the community are both resilient and decentralized.  We don’t need an executive for much of what we do.


And tomorrow the election results will come out.  And i am running.  There are 8 candidates.  Some of the candidates are unexcited about the job, but are open to doing it.  Others, like myself, are excited about the position (which i have done twice before) but are at least somewhat controversial.  Still others are well liked and respected and at least one of those will certainly get the job.

Anarchy was fun while it lasted.






March is Hinkley Dies

What does it mean when the largest nuclear construction company, backed by the most pro-nuclear state, funded by the world’s largest economy, can’t build a reactor in one of the most pro-nuclear countries in the west?  It means the end of the nuclear age is in sight.


Oh, how we try.

I make predictions.  I get that on some level this is quite arrogant.  But i really want this to be true, and it has an unusually good chance.  So I am going to call September 2016, “Hinkley dies”.    I’ve made the case why this ill conceived reactor complex in the UK should be scrapped.    So I won’t go over it all again.

The important thing here is that the new British Prime Minister Theresa May has said she will review the project this month, and almost everyone who has done a review thinks the project should be killed.    But with nuclear power, this is frequently not enough.  I have watched thousands to top flight reports pointing out the flaws of nuclear power, in specific and general cases, and typically these reactors get built.


Cheaper, faster, safer, cleaner.  The choice is clear.

And while Hinkley has its own special problems (including that none of the four attempts to build this design reactor has been successfully completed and some are nearly a decade late now and billions over budget), all of new nuclear power construction is looking down the barrel of low cost solutions using renewables .

This is crazy important.  Even if you don’t care about climate disruption, even if radioactive waste does not bother you, even if you are just a black-hearted capitalist trying to make a buck, unless the market is fixed as it is in Virginia, you would have to be a bit crazy not to shift to renewables over nuclear, because they are just cheaper. Even when you consider the cost of storage of renewable power.

Let’s hope the new British PM takes seriously her own call for reviewing Hinkley Point C.  If she does, she will likely stop this project and, if she does  that, the entire future of new reactors in the west is thrown into question.  And this is a question I have wanted to hear for half my life.


Let’s take one last look








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.

i-95 blockade action

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.

black lives matter meme

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 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

Brexit – Time to Go

In hours, the UK will hold a binding national referendum on leaving the European Union. At this writing, the polls are too close to call.


Is an antidote to empire called Brexit?

If you listen to the mainstream media the voices are nearly united in favor of leaving the EU intact. You will hear endless commentary on how leaving the EU will be bad for the UK’s economy. You will hear that the move represents xenophobia at its worst, how far right sentiments are driving the referendum’s popularity, and how UK ex-pats will suffer. Even the progressive and thoughtful UK newspaper the Guardian says the UK cannot take on issues like Globalization and Climate Disruption from outside the EU.

I want the UK to leave.


Many of the arguments for remaining in the Union that are being advanced are likely valid. Economically, Brexit will induce uncertainty and both currencies and markets will drop.  A separate UK will likely do less for immigrants than it would inside the Union. Ex-patriots may have a tougher time and cross-border traffic will be harder.

But even though the tendencies of the European Union are towards tolerance and inclusion, what the big government has really done at the European level is made the continent safe for multinational corporations to do their most foul work.

The EU “provides the most hospitable ecosystem in the developed world for rentier monopoly corporations, tax-dodging elites and organized crime,” writes British journalist Paul Mason.


What I really want is for a host of these independence-seeking regions to break free from their larger political entities. Alaska and Texas out of the US. Quebec from Canada.  Basques from Spain. Tibet from China. Palestine from Israel. Kurdistan from Iraq. Oh and Northern Ireland from the UK.

I spent a summer some years back fighting reactors in Slovenia, a tiny country that is part of former Yugoslavia. We saw the president mowing his own lawn. We saw a high standard of living and low crime. The national population is 2 million and functioned fine without a standing army. Not every region will find the advantages Slovenia was able to capture when it broke from Yugoslavia. But the worst offenses of the current times are at the hands of the giant players who love big government, big business, big institutions. These corporations and politicians love it because typically it gives them more power, often with less oversight.

We have tried big, it did not work so well. Perhaps Brexit will lead us to more small.


Against all odds, Bernie Sanders still has a chance to become president.  Why do i say “against all odds”?  Well, it starts with the media.

Way back in December, the Sanders staff did an analysis of the mainstream media (MSM) and found that ABC’s World News Tonight had spent 81 minutes on Trump and 20 seconds on Sanders.  Other MSM outlets were similarly uninterested in the popular Jewish socialist running for the country’s top office.  Even the NY Times can’t bring itself to report on this anti-establishment candidate, while it rails endlessly on the establishment ills.

Conventional wisdom would claim that Trump is saying more outrageous and newsworthy things.  I would be hard pressed to disagree on the outrageous part.  But someone advocating for free college tuition and expansion of the ever controversial Obamacare program to cover all US Americans with free health care is saying some pretty newsworthy stuff.  Despite Sanders being remarkable, the MSM is still owned and controlled by a class which finds his radical views unacceptable.


As a political candidate for president in the US you need to have exposure.  What i found canvassing for Sanders in Virginia was lots of people had not heard of him.  So if you can’t get the MSM to cover you, then you need to pay for ads, but these are crazy expensive.  Here is where Sanders is again running against all odds.

Sanders raised $140 million from individual contributions through the end of February.  Clinton raised $160 from people over the same period.  But add to this $60 million in Super PAC money for Clintoand you can see how things are harder for Sanders.

Sanders does not take money from Super PACs. [For a reality check Republicans have raised almost twice as much money as Democrats and over half for the GOP money is from Super PACs, contrasted to 15% for Democrats.]

The thing about long shots is you need to know when to double down and when to walk away.  I don’t generally give money to politicians.  Despite voting, i am still an anarchist and find most of the personality politics repugnant.  I am giving Sanders $27, which is the average amount he has received and feels like a good number to me.

sanders landslides

The reason you double down on the right long shot is not because you are going to win, but it is to be part of the springboard of hope.  Sanders has amazing momentum.  Consider helping the campaign in non-monetary ways if you can, especially if you have friends in NY or California.

After the recent set of landslide victories in Washington, Hawaii and Alaska (which were largely ignored by the MSM), it is time to double down.  The odds are still against us, but the odds are always going to be against us.  I am sending my $27. I hope you will too.



A day with the Sanders Campaign

Generally, I am not excited about personality politics, it rubs my anarchist roots the wrong way. But I have to confess that Bernie is different. Besides having a long history of doing the right thing, he is running on a platform that is basically about re-orienting American priorities to take care of the majority of the people in the country, and especially those who are disadvantaged.

Hillary’s platform says she will do a similar thing, as do many conventional politicians. The differences is Bernie has decades of elected experience doing and trying to do exactly this.

bernie arrested

I do like a guy who is willing to get arrested.

The thing which tilted it for me, the thing which got me out of my chair and had me spend a couple of days campaigning for Sanders leading into the Virginia primary, was his position on nuclear power. It is simply a reasonable position, cutting government subsidies for nuclear development and liability insurance.

It does not take much to satisfy me on this issue. Sadly, not a single major political candidate for president has had this position in my lifetime, not Carter, not Clinton (either one) not Obama. Certainly not any of the Republican candidates for president.

Sanders on Vermont Yankee and more nuclear issues

And it is worth pointing out that this simple, reasonable position would mean the rapid phase out of nuclear power in the US and the complete abandonment of new nuclear development. Without serious subsidy and open ended liability insurance covered by tax payers, nuclear power is economically nonviable.

So after I took some Acorners to a construction job I went to the Sanders campaign office in Charlottesville on the day before the Virginia primary. I said I was at their disposal for the rest of the day and election day. When I said I would make phone calls or go door to door, they told me the face to face personal touch was more important. When I told them I lived in Louisa County, they asked me if I could go back home, because due to some delegate math that I did not quite understand, Louisa County was more important than Charlottesville County. I happily returned to Louisa.

fell the bern t-shirt

I was given 13 regions inside Louisa County to canvas. I was told that we were only looking to talk with people who were already leaning strongly towards Bernie. This is a real “Get out the Vote” effort (called GPTV by the folks who live this stuff.) “Don’t talk with Hillary supporters, and quickly disengage from Trump fans, despite the temptation to argue with them,” I was told by the Sanders campaign staff.

Our conversations with prospective voters were to be mostly about logistics. “What time were you planning on voting?” “Do you need a ride?” “Did you know your polling place is the Moss Nuckalos Elementary School?” “You know the polls are open until 7pm?”

I wanted to spend some time doing it myself before I went back to the communes and got other people involved. Partially this was because I wanted to know if it made sense to send teams of two people. It did.

We were not hitting every house on the block. This is the age of big data and there is all kinds of information about people out there. When I talked with the folks at the Sanders office about where the data about the houses I was visiting came from I was impressed by the answer. “We have address data on everyone who has given Sanders money, we know who is registered to vote as a democrat and most of the addresses in your packets come from modeling.” Computer models are forecasting who you will vote for. They were right a surprising fraction of the time.

Because there is distance between houses and all manner of circuitous driveways, I decided that I would try to assemble two person teams to hit each canvassing areas (which typically had 25 to 30 houses in it.) One person would drive, the other person would talk to people or leave fliers if no one was home. Both would try to navigate, which despite the well designed turfs was often the most complex part of the job.


We finished Turf 3 and several others

Shal and I partnered. He was happy to drive me and preferred not to be talking to lots of strangers. And he, like a half dozen other communards, was excited at the prospect of doing something for this election. Even on just a day’s notice, mobilizing folks was surprisingly easy, and I wish I had started a week earlier.


Shal – my committed driver

The eight canvassers covered about half the territories we were given, which was the only effort in the county. I had some interesting and insightful conversations with people. At least one couple said they were going to the polls because of my visit. Several people were secretive about their plans for voting. The nuclear power plant technician said he was unable to vote because of the planned shut down of the reactor which would have him busy all day. I suppressed my happiness with his apathy and encouraged him to pay attention to the safety of the North Anna reactor complex.

Despite the instructions to stick with logistics conversations, some folks wanted to talk about politics. Fortunately, Sanders’ views are more populist than mine. I talked with a family of vets, where Sanders’ record is strong. I spoke with folks who were worried about jobs and minimum wage, here again Sanders’ positions are popular and his record stronger than Clinton’s.

If the Sanders campaign is going to succeed, it is going to have to learn from the Trump campaign and break through the media’s disinterest in Bernie’s radical agenda. Theoretically, this should not be hard. The Sanders campaign is full of cultural creatives who should be able to come up with the progressive equivalent of ‘Mexicans are rapists,’ ‘Let’s ban all Muslims, and ‘End birthright citizenship.’

Belladonna, who occasionally writes for this blog and equally often hacks in for some of the wilder posts, has done her part.  Below is her clever video parody of Lorde’s haunting tune ‘Royals,’ slamming the former secretary of state. Please share widely.

We did not win in Virginia, not even close (though Kristen points out we did win the Yanceyville precinct, which is where we campaigned).  But this game is hardly over.  Almost regardless of your issue, if you are a progressive or radical, it might be two decades before you get a better presidential candidate with a better record (okay, he is off on drones and Israel) and a better chance of winning.

There are meetups, phone banking opportunities and more.


excluding those pesky superdelegates




2015 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 95,000 times in 2015. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 4 days for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.