Uninauguration- DC Jan 21st.

This is a repost of the CommuneLife blog.  Lot of great pictures of communards getting out and being part of what many are describing as the largest protest in the history of the country.   There is still lots to do, and we can celebrate that this event was a big gathering and an inspiring success.

Photos by Steve and GPaul of Compersia Folks from the DC and Virginia communes were very involved with the protests: Christian and Paxus of Twin Oaks appreciate PETA’s big fuzzy suits. Vegans GPaul of Compersia and Christian of Twin Oaks pose with PETA people. Paxus of Twin Oaks and GPaul of Compersia rest after the […]

Multi-colored “pussy hat” on Paxus was knit by Hawina, who was unable to attend, but wanted to be there in spirit.

 

via Uninauguration — commune life

The O&I Board – too many options

Around 50 years ago the founders of Twin Oaks decided that they were going to radically depart from conventional decision-making techniques.  They disliked voting, consensus had not been secularized by the feminists yet and waiting for everyone to agree seemed time-consuming, so they thought they would develop something new.

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Almost everyone in community makes decisions in meetings, but Twin Oaks was founded by writers.  They thought a dynamic writing-based decision system could get around some of the big problems associated with running a complicated community.  To this end they developed the O&I Board.  O&I stands for “Opinions and Ideas”.  Critics of this system occasionally quip that the name really comes from “Oh am I bored”.

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Gil Cambia at the Twin Oaks O & I board

The way it works is pretty straightforward.  There are 2 dozen clipboards placed on a wall and anyone can put up a paper with a proposal for something new on one of them.  At the end of the proposal you have posted you leave blank pages of paper so that other members can make comments or suggestions.

There are several advantages to this system.  The first is that you don’t need to gather everyone in the same place at the same time to discuss something.  On our busy, large farm this is significant plus.  People can read everything that others have written, or skim it if that is their interest, or skip it completely if the topic doesn’t resonate with them.  Readers can comment in whatever length they feel appropriate, from multiple pages, to simply dittoing something someone else has written and signing your name (this is a pretty common practice).  Members can make alternative proposals or point out unaddressed problems and hopefully the proposal becomes stronger for all this input.  The pressure to agree with someone who is talking to you and who you want to make happy as well as some groupthink problems are decreased.

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Less groupthink on paper.

But there are problems as well.  Written communication is much more likely to result in flame wars than face-to-face communication.  If you can see how what your saying is upsetting someone, your humanity kicks in and you may tone down your words – the O&I looses this important control.   Because you are somewhat more likely to be attacked on the O&I than in a meeting, some members shy away from this format not wishing to be in the center of a controversy.   Written communication is difficult for some people.    If there are many comments on a proposal, the later ones do not get as much attention as the earlier ones and there is no notice that new important comments have been added, so you have to keep checking on papers with which you are concerned.

The real problem with the O&I board is none of these described above, nor is it a problem with the board itself, but rather with it as an entrance ramp to our decision-making process in general.  The real problem is once you have posted on the O&I board, if there are any significant number of comments your next steps are unclear.

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Sure, if everyone says “This is a great idea, lets do it!” then it is clear, but this very rarely happens. If your proposal is contentious or has several sets of recommendations on how you should change it, you as the author of the original proposal are at a crossroads. Should you push on with your proposal? Should you do a community survey? Should you call for a community meeting? Should you go talk with the people who seemed most upset about your proposal and see if you can find a compromise? Should you talk to the people who are most supportive of your proposal and ask them to help you advance it unmodified? Should you talk with the planner or the council about it? Should you just give up and drop it completely? This is, for many members, simply too many options. Especially since if the proposal is at all controversial no matter which one you choose some critic is going to call “bad process” on you for not having done it the way they want it done. Perhaps this is why after 50 years no other community has decided to mimic the O&I board as their central decision-making tool.

 

 

 

 

 

Disrupt J20 – Inauguration Protests

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

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I like this sign.

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

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

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

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

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

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Unidentified protester part of successful blockade – Getty Images

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

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

But there is another way.

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New more responsible tactics for the Black Block

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

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

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

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

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Festival of Resistance

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

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amazing posters

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

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Cel is an honorary member of the Wolf family

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

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The key Message

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

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Resistance families – Nadine Bloch and clan

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

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

There were lots of good signs

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There are many under threat

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

More marching tomorrow.

Inauguration Protests – a user guide

Fortunately for me, my anger and confusion about the election results were quickly redirected.  Within a day of president elect Dumpster Fire’s electoral college coup the requests started coming in.  “Where can we stay in DC for the inauguration protests?”  “Are you coordinating transportation to these events?”  “Which action can I get arrested at?” “Which actions are permitted and family-friendly?”

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Then began the frustrating and confusing task of figuring out what actions were in fact happening around the inauguration.    Unsurprisingly, part of why this is confusing is Trump’s partisan Inauguration Committee is working hard to ban protests from happening anywhere near the event.  They will fail.

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Fortunately, my friend and world-class organizer Mike Ewall of the Energy Justice Network did much of the information gathering for me.   Mike compiled a list of most of the known actions around the inauguration, which I turned into a Google document and started adding information to about how many people are attending and whether these are likely arrest actions.

DC area intentional communities are planning on hosting known out-of-town protesters (or perhaps we should take a page from the Dakota pipeline activists book and call them “Democracy Protectors”).  If you are planning on coming to these events and need housing, let me know.

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Generally speaking, I agree with clever guy George Lakoff who wrote for Resilience in an article called “WHY CAMPAIGNS, NOT PROTESTS, GET THE GOODS“:

In order to build the kind of power that creates change you need a direct action campaign that harnesses a series of actions into an escalating sequence. Millions of Americans have participated in the past half-century in such campaigns: bus boycotts and lunch counter sit-ins, the Fight for $15, farmworkers, campus divestment campaigns on South African apartheid and fossil fuels, strikes against corporations, impeding mountaintop removal coal mining, blocking the U.S. plan to invade Nicaragua, preventing the completion of the Keystone XL pipeline. Despite this, most Americans don’t understand the difference between a protest and a campaign.

I think it is a good idea to go to these protests to help prevent them from being just one-off events and turn them into an on-going campaign and movement.  This means that countering “he who shall not be named” and his plunder monkeys is going to take a lot more than freezing our butts for one weekend in late January in DC.

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Twin Oaks is Full

On the 4th of July this year, this blog pronounced that there were “Vacancies in Paradise*”.  This was our poetic way of saying that after seven years of having a long waiting list, there were actually some spaces at Twin Oaks community.  The article went into some length about how Twin Oaks is not paradise or utopia (despite both the media and academics trying to label us that way) and that this is just an internet ploy to get you to read the article based on the catchy headline.

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 Paradise is in your mind.  Community is a real place.

A quick 6 months later, this is no longer true and Twin Oaks has a waiting list again. It might become a long one.

The population limit of the commune is determined by the number of adult bedrooms.  We have about 107 bedrooms total and around 16 of them are for our kids.  This leaves 91 adult member rooms.  By the time i wrote the Vacancies blog post, we had dropped to 82 members.  By last August we were at 77 members and people were really starting to worry.

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Kaweah is the most recent residence

The community does not function well at 15 people less than capacity.  There are 88 tofu shifts, 49 dish washing shifts, 55 garden shifts and hundreds more of smaller tasks every week to keep this hyper village going.  If we are down 20% of our membership, a bunch of that work moves over to those who are still here and because some have limited work capacity, other members are even more heavily impacted. And some work just does not happen at low population, which can either drop our income or our quality of life or both.

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We want to be at our population limit

Fortunately, population at Twin Oaks has bounced back in a big way.  We are already at 91 labor sheets this week. The second to last visitor group was quite unusual in that it had 10 visitors and every single one applied for membership (this has not happened in the last 19 years). A couple actually said they say the Vacancies in Paradise article and it spurred them to apply.

While we did not accept everyone one of them probably and some are interested in joining in the spring, just the threat of a waiting list has filled us faster than normal.  Plus there were 3 really good visitors in the November group and did accept all of them.

Don’t despair.  If you really want to live in community there are still many which have openings, even here in Louisa county, even ones which are income sharing.  And if your heart is set on Twin Oaks, then just apply to do a visit.  About 20 members a year move on, you won’t have to wait too long before there is a place for you.

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Perhaps this is the right place for you?

 

Trust Fall

By Gil Cambia

Ask anyone what is the first association they have with the term “hippie commune” and you’ll get “free love.”  This term technically makes no sense, unless you assume that all love in Babylon is expensive and that Milton Friedman, bless his heart (or lack thereof), didn’t mean to say “no free lunch” but “no free love”. Either way, it begs the question of what is meant by that term and whether there is any truth in it. This article is somewhat of a personal account through the thorny rose garden of compersion.  [Compersion is the feeling of joy associated with seeing a loved one love another; contrasted with jealousy.]

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Ever done a trust fall? You know–when you step up on a platform and fall back, against every bit of intuition which yells at you “We’re gonna die!” and “Don’t do it,” only to be caught by all of your friends. I’ve done it many times and guided many people through the process, as I’ve worked in the ropes course industry for many years. I still remember the look on this 11-year-old boy’s face after getting caught. His eyes sparkled with a combination of elation, disbelief, sheer love, and a little bit of residual tears of fear from the 5 minutes it took him to finally drop. What I saw in him was actually a new emotion, one that he didn’t expect to experience. It was more powerful than he had words for.

This is all nice and good, but there is something different that happens to parents when they watch their children try the trust fall. They don’t get to have the endorphins, adrenaline, and peer pressure. It just feels so scary to watch a loved one go through it, especially if you don’t get to be a catcher. I’ve had some parents tell me that they went through a more challenging ropes-course experience in watching their children participate than in participating themselves. Nonetheless, it can be a powerful growing experience even when it isn’t very enjoyable.

So my little family and I moved here to the Louisa communes and started a new one called Cambia, and we’re doing quite well, all things considered. Something you need to know about the Louisa communes, however, is that people are very polite. They don’t just assume that because you are a family you must be monogamous. In fact it might be rude to utter such Babylonian terms, so they ask you right away if you are polyamorous. And asking one spouse is also too presumptive, and one should really ask both in case one of them is poly and the other is still stuck in their ways.

This is all well and good. We, of course, do not believe in sexual possessiveness and felt mildly appreciated for that. So no, we didn’t get subsumed into orgies right away. People just wanted to know in the same way that they want to know one’s preferred pronoun. But the compersious challenge came right away when my son said he didn’t want me to be his primary and that other people are more fun to play with.

Hmm… he’s right. I’m often preoccupied and am trying to do multiple things while watching him. What do I do? I try to be better and more fun but a part of me wants to tell other people in my community to not be so much fun. I don’t want him to start crying every time I tell him it’s my turn to watch him. It is so insulting. Does he not remember all of the reusable diapers I washed by hand with hand-pumped ice cold water in the rain? The answer is no, he doesn’t and he doesn’t need to remember. I wouldn’t want him to be polite and suffer through his time with me, pretending it’s the best thing since homemade flatbread. And just to add insult to injury, he sometimes calls other people “Daddy” and seems to not bother changing that mistake. Sometimes calls me by other people’s names too, but he never confuses me with the really fun people in his life.

Good Gaia, he’s only 4, not 14. I’m not ready to be snubbed. Why is this happening??? I know why, and I know that it’s good. He is growing up with endless adult attention, people to play with and teach him things. On my end, however, not only do I feel inadequate as a parent, but I also feel like I must not want what’s best for my child but what’s best for my ego.

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So guess what, I realize that there is no way to win his heart without offering mine completely. I try my best to play with him with full attention, with creativity, but without being contrived or fake. I just started taking more interest in him and in wanting him to enjoy the game I create for him. This effort turned out better for everyone involved. And if Milton Friedman was reading this paper he would attribute it to the breaking of monopoly that I had over him, and that the competition sparked improvement in quality. Ugh, maybe you’re right just this one time. In the big picture, though, Milton, you’re wrong. Competition also leads to reduction in quality and increase in the Kitsch factor. The pressure on me was to be a better dad and not a more attractive dad, because my motivation was not sales but connection.

Sorry about this economic digression. Let’s digress into anthropology instead:

It takes a village, right? There is one culture remaining that does not have a word for “father” and does not have a word to distinguish “mother” from “aunt”. This is one of the last matriarchal societies on this planet.

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The Mosuo people of the southern Yunan province of China have been living in a matriarchal and matrilineal way for longer than recorded history (not fair; they had no written language so most of their existence is before recorded history). Every household has a matriarch whose mother, sisters, and brothers help with raising all of their children regardless of who birthed whom.

The Mosuo traditionally have no marriage. They practice something they call “walking marriage,” which is a secret connection between a man and a woman as the man is invited by the woman to her private room, which she gets when she turns 13 after her “flower ceremony,” where she has the liberty of inviting whomever she wishes to her space and they must leave by dawn.

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This ritual functions to create a complete uncertainty of paternity. Every man knows who his nieces and nephews are, but not his children. This is far from perfect now. There are many Han (dominant culture) influences and their traditional ways of life are disappearing.

The important thing to realize about the Mosuo is that they have very low rates of violence, rape, murder, warfare, child abuse or abandonment in comparison to patriarchal tribal societies. Though difficult to document or verify, it appears that more sex and more sexual diversity is experienced by both genders. This last point should surprise us, shouldn’t it? When women are in charge, there is more sex and more diversity than when men are in charge?

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As one anthropologist describes it: “In matriarchies, mothers are at the center of culture without ruling over other members of society,”  “The aim is not to have power over others and over nature, but to follow maternal values, ie. to nurture the natural, social and cultural life based on mutual respect.” From a reproductive perspective, it makes perfect sense. For the reproductive fitness of the female, it makes sense to have support in raising children. Unlike men, she cannot have hundreds of children through raping and pillaging, and restricting the reproduction of other men will not help her children in any way.

This is the reality of the bonobo and the naked mole-rat. They also have structurally determined paternity diffusion, and what’s the result?

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Cuddle puddles! Unlike gorillas and chimps, bonobos do not fight invaders, steal their females, kill their young, play political games, or abandon their orphans. And yes, they have more sex than any other primate, and they are pretty undiscriminating about their sexual partners.

When a male does not know who is his child, and he figures that at least a few in the group are, he has an evolutionary pressure to care about the entire group, not just his own. Also, if he can’t stop a female from mating with others multiple times a day, it’s better for him just to join the fun than to try to control it.

So how did it go for me? How am I handling being in an open relationship? It wouldn’t be very interesting if I said that it was great, would it? It really wasn’t easy, though. Of course I love those who love my spouse, but it’s hard not to feel insecure. I’ll spare you the details that you may have read this far just to get to some juicy stuff.

Let me just say the following: it’s the greatest trust fall of all. Just when you think you are falling to your death, when it’s someone else’s time to spend the night with your partner, you get caught by both your partner, their new partner, and the entire support network of poly love warriors.  It’s an incredible feeling. Your intuition yells to you, “She doesn’t want you anymore!” and your partner smiles and reaffirms that she will always love you. You lay there in the hands of those who caught you and you think you must have fallen to your death and woken up in heaven, and the truth is you did.

When love loses restrictions, suddenly the love with a partner becomes a true rather than an obligatory expression. Suddenly your partner not only feels owned by you but actually appreciative for the effort and struggles you are willing to go through for his or her well being. What better way is there to show love?

To be honest, it isn’t instant nirvana. It takes a long time to overcome the internalized patriarchy completely. But luckily, the path is not pure suffering. There is a distinct experience of greater love and greater security.

The cultivation of compersion is that of true love. It’s about vulnerability, it’s about trust without control, it’s both letting yourself fall and getting caught by the soft loving hands of your friends, and about watching those you love get caught by others and not by you. Through this process you get nudged to become a better, more loving, and more lovable person (or so I hope).

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In a broader perspective of communal living, our movement is focused on creating wealth out of sharing, not out of possessing or overproducing. We have mastered it in shared land, housing, work, risk, costs, childcare, and many resources, but the most important aspect, the one that is also the least depleted by sharing with others, is love.

Why Communities? An Appeal

The holiday season is a time for making charitable requests, so this is mine. I want to ask you to support the Fellowship for Intentional Community, which supports the larger network of intentional communities, mostly in the US. The FIC has all manner of lovely and useful programs (Directory, Magazine, Bookstore, Resources). They are the organization best positioned to accelerate the development of intentional communities, amplify the impact they have on society, and foster collaboration between intentional communities and the larger movement towards cooperation, sustainability, and social justice.

But that is not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about why intentional communities matter and why they matter especially now.

Mental Health: People are going crazy, and not in a good way. The stress on many people since the election has been incredible. Fear and anxiety in people who are part of oppressed groups is understandably incapacitating them in some cases and traumatizing them in many more. Add to this a spike in hate crime and the tremendous uncertainty of the time ahead and you have a recipe for some serious psychosis.  

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One of the things we know from our work with academics is that living in community improves your mental health. In some ways this is completely unsurprising. Whatever services and support a community supplies, the stress on its members is decreased. Whatever support and affection members of communities provide one another, this is more joy and security in our lives. If we are looking at tough times it is wise to look to the people we trust and care for most and build community with them, intentionally.

Climate Effect: The Secretary of State (SoS) select was blocked from perhaps the largest deal in history by the Obama administration’s sanctions on Russia after the annexation of Crimea. This 1/2 trillion dollar plan for Exxon and Rosneft to drill the Arctic will curse our grandchildren to a wasted planet.  

But even if we are able to stop this project, no one actually has a solution to the climate problems that are facing us. No one but us. The key to this climate and environmental fix is sharing.

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The income-sharing intentional communities movement is demonstrating that you can live a middle class, lifestyle on below poverty level income. The radical sharing involved is not easy, but it is completely accessible. Intentional communities are at the front lines of this critical social experimentation.

Trust and Empathy Building: If we are going to depend more on our love ones and friends, if we are going to dare to try to live together, we need to recognize that our communication is flawed and we show up with baggage. We have to be able to name our biases and prejudices and be willing to work on them. We need to be able to clear the air of past hang ups and commit to building trust and empathy among each other. Communities are working on these tools. Clearness process, Transparency Tools, Nonviolent Communication, and more are at the center of the culture of many communities.  

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you have to be willing to look at yourself

Intentional community is the laboratory for the practices and new cultures we need if we are going to weather these coming difficult times. Please support the best organization supporting these initiatives across the county.