We had the second Point A meeting at the Keep, which was a bit smaller yet felt stronger. We spent a fair amount of time describing some of the more important income sharing models which are being used in the intentional communities movement. It felt desirable to describe them here.
Twin Oaks intentionally has the simplest of income sharing models with regard to membership. You are either a member, and thus part of the income sharing group or you are not part of it. There are some minor (but important) differences between provisional members (who have not yet been in the community for 6 months) and full members (who have been thru their full member poll, have been in the community for over 6 months and basically have tenure), the most significant of these is health insurance and dental care.
What Twin Oaks is trying (and largely succeeding) in doing is creating a classless (internally) society, where no one has greater access to the collective resources once they become a member. All the income from the businesses is pooled and the group collectively decides how to distribute it. Almost everything the community provides is distributed freely to the members and there is not a seniority or merit based preference for resources. [Open rooms are filled on a seniority basis, based on when you first moved into that residence, not when you first moved into the community.]
Acorn is less worried about creating a single classless group and more interested in the flexibility of longer term “guest workers” which we call interns. Interns are not members, they are not co-owners of all the property and resources of the community and they have a specific period of time which they have been approved to live and work in the community, typically 6 months of less.
To the untrained eye, there is little difference in the day to day life of interns at Acorn when contrasted with members. They have to have their own health insurance and they dont get to go to the member portion of the community meetings. But they do get the monthly stipend of $75 like regular members and they have the same labor obligations, housing situation, and general access to resources that members have.
Acorn complicates the situation further by having Associate Members who need to spend at least 2 but no more than 6 months of the year at Acorn. Associates do not have health insurance or a voice in the member-only portion of the community meetings. Regular members must do clearnesses with associate members if they are around during their time when they are doing clearnesses, but need not with interns.
Again, with the exception of seniority based room selection, everything is distributed without preference to seniority or work performance. [While described separately, i consider the Twin Oaks and Acorn Income sharing systems to be basically the same and thus only counted as one distinct model.]
Our sister community on Staten Island uses yet another model. The core members of Ganas own the community and all it’s assets. This is occasionally described as a group marriage, because unlike Twin Oaks and Acorn, this part of the community is both income sharing and asset sharing (TO/Acorn are only income sharing).
The next ring of membership at Ganas is workers, there are members who are actively part of the several businesses the community own, including the book store/cafe, the recycled clothing store and the used furniture store. They get room and board and several hundred dollars per month.
Renters at Ganas do not work in the collective businesses but are still part of the meal plan for the community. They pay a few hundred dollars a month for their rooms and can attend community meetings if they like (these are actually open to everyone including non-members) though they usually do not.
The Gizmo and The 3 Tiers of Income: EGFS uses a piece of software they wrote called The Gizmo to balance the community labor+money desires (expressed by the annual budget) with the labor desires of each member. The community inputs the community budget in money and house labor (meal prep, cleaning, maintenance, etc). Then each member tells the Gizmo if they have income generating labor and if so what their hourly wage is and then what mix of house and income labor they’d like to do. The Gizmo takes the budget, the wages, and the preferences of everyone, chews on it, and then spits out schedules for everyone in both income producing and house labor. Everyone then owes those hours and that money to the house. A person can work over quote for their job or for the house (overquote house work pays an agreed upon wage) and keep that money for themselves. There is a cap to these private earnings, though.
In the story i tell, at it’s inception Twin Oaks wanted a decision model which was better than simple democratic voting. The founders thought that communards could make better decisions than what came from the “50% plus one” model which dominated elections and government process. In the search for the elusive super majority, they did not want to set a threshold percentage, perhaps because they wanted something more subtle and dynamic than vote counting at the core of our process. They wanted to leave open the possibility that a small group with strongly held beliefs might be able to shift the groups outcome by carefully reasoned arguments and compelling logic.
Twin Oaks started in 1967, before the feminists had borrowed and adapted the consensus process from Quakers – creating a decision tool which could be used in a secular environment. And since simple majority rule had created so many dysfunctional system it seemed wise to try for something which was more representative, even if it was slower. Now over 45 years later we often wish we could go back to the founders and say “hey, the problem with this system is that we often can not tell when we are done. We don’t know when to run over a vocal minority in favor of the super majority. We don’t know how to interpret silence from most members on most issues. It would appear that decision making power is tilted towards those who write on the O&I board.”
Six years later, in 1973, East Wind was founded in the Ozarks. This was another income sharing community, which used the same base concept that members would each work a quota of some number of hours each week (currently 35 at East Wind and 42 at Twin Oaks) which would satisfy their obligation to the community. In exchange, the community would cover all the costs associated with their living. In many ways, East Wind was a close sister community of Twin Oaks. But most of the founders had come from Twin Oaks and they were ready for a new decision making model.
East Wind would embrace a voting model for many of its decisions. And in a significant deviation from Twin Oaks, it would elect it’s managers every year. [At Twin Oaks typically managers stay until they decide to leave the job or the community.] But the frontier culture of the Ozarks would influence the East Wind decision method and anarchism would creep in. People unfamiliar with commune decision making systems often laugh when they hear the East Wind technique characterized as anarcho-democratic, having a hard time imagining how that might work. But in what might be some libertarian’s wet dream, East Wind uses a dynamic mix of respecting (or tolerating) a high level of personal initiative (often without any formal group making decision process) with voting based group decision making.
Enter Acorn. Born a mere 21 years ago Acorn had a number of tools available to is which it’s older sisters did not have or choose to use. Specifically, it had consensus decision making. For those unfamiliar with the process here is a quick flow chart of how it works:
But you can look at it more simply. We sit around and talk, someone facilitates, but we agree to keep working the problem until everyone is okay with the solution. There are some technicalities (like blocking and standing aside) but it is a lovely elegant decision system for groups our size (about 30). Can consensus work with these larger communities (Twin Oaks is currently 93 adults, East Wind is at 73 adults – both communities are at their population capacity and have waiting lists)? The answer is certainly yes, i have worked in much larger groups that use consensus. Neither of these communities is likely to change their culture so dramatically as to embrace this newer decision system, despite there being (i believe) general belief that it produces better results.
And Acorn does not have managers. This is an interesting configuration, it works surprisingly well. The community is committed to anarchist organizing techniques. Instead of formal managers various members will in a flexible and decentralized way pay attention to certain aspects of the community. We don’t have a kitchen manager but we do have one person and sometimes more who is most involved with the kitchen and who generally takes care of the area, manages its needs, and who you should probably check in with before doing something in that area so that you don’t duplicate or frustrate other folks’ efforts. It is, we like to say, a system emphasizing personal initiative and responsibility. And without bureaucrats it’s hard to have bureaucracy. There are no forms, no legalistic process, no committees. If you want to know or do or change something you have to find the people who care and talk to them about it.
Someone tried to kill me this morning.
As controversial as i sometimes am, this does not happen often. In fact it has never happened until today. There is a story, of course, and i am going to tell it to you.
At moments after 5 AM this morning i smelled smoke. I had been sitting with the door open in the conspiracy office in the middle of Acorn’s main building, Heartwood. I jumped out of the office and there was a fire burning right outside the dishwashing area, which was less than 10 feet from where i was sitting. As i looked around quickly for a fire extinguisher, i saw that there were three large diesel containers on the floor of the building and someone had poured the fuel on the floor. I started screaming to wake people up.
I dragged the gas containers, which were still partially full, out of the kitchen/living room area and down the hall away from the blaze. As soon as i was sure other people were awake and getting people out of bed, i called 911 – it was 5:08 AM.
Unlike other life threatening emergencies, like a couple of car crashes i have been in, everything did not slow down around me as my adrenaline kicked in to survival mode. And despite the danger of the situation and the urgent need for action i felt somewhat calm. And even as i was fighting the fire with other responsive Acorners, i was thinking to myself “Who did this?”
We don’t have many enemies. Mostly, people are excited about the communities’ movement and want us to succeed. From the moment i saw the gas cans (which fortunately turned out to be diesel fuel cans, which burn quite slowly, unlike real gas cans – or especially, gasoline ignited in the movies), i suspected it was Nero.
Nero was a gregarious volunteer at the communities conference. He was a bit odd in manner, said things which did not always make sense. But he compensated for this with his generally pleasant manner and his willingness to work. Frankly, there are a fair few strange folks in community, and saying weird things occasionally is not a big red flag.
After the fire was extinguished by the fire department, i started looking for Nero. i found his tent which was partially open, despite the light rain – making me think he had run. Inside the tent there was a mostly empty backpack, several mattresses piled unevenly and clothes strewn about.
Nero was the only person unaccounted for in the 40 odd people who were sleeping at Acorn that night, further solidifying the circumstantial case against him. None of the cars were missing (and the keys are fairly accessible) nor was the cash box missing. As classical motives vanished, my fears that it was an “inside job” started to seem more real.
Nero had been struggling some the last week, his mania was amping up. And though i was not his Acorn host anymore, i felt some responsibility, because i asked him to come to Acorn after the community conference. We had a good long talk a few days ago. I told him if members were uncomfortable about him being around, i would have to ask him to leave. I said it several times and it was clear that he both agreed and supported such a choice.
Things seemed to get better after our talk. He was ranting less, listening a bit more. He did take a couple days off work, but he had worked so much in the previous 5 weeks, i was certainly not going to tell him to leave, since he was responding to constructive criticism. And i was a bit worried.
i wrote an informant about the fire, which specifies that there was no structural damage to the building and no one was hurt by the fire directly. But what haunted me through the day, even after Nero was apprehended, was the idea that i had helped Nero several times, including inviting him to come to Acorn, which he had really wanted. And then this early morning, he walked past my clearly visible back several time as i worked in the conspiracy office, placing inflammable liquids in the room beside me and then he set it on fire.
Update: Nerois under arrest for 3rd Degree Arson and one count of attempted murder (on me actually, perhaps because i was the first to give the police information). The maximum sentence for these two crime is life, the minimum is 20 years. He is being held in the Orange County jail, which is where i did tiny time for my local anti-nuclear arrest actions. He is being held without bond. His bond hearing is Tuesday and the state trooper said because he is a high flight risk and the crimes so serious, he is unlike to have a bail option. i have decidedly mixed feeling about Nero going to jail for a long time. What he did was messed up, and wasting his life in prison is a 3rd rate solution.
[Edited by Judy Youngquest]
When i was doing fund-raising work for east European environmental groups, i often applied for money at the Regional Environmental Center in Budapest. My lover Krista was on the staff that reviewed the grants which i was submitting. I asked her boss to kindly withdraw her from the group reviewing applications i submitted. He flatly declined me saying, “You Americans are always worried about conflict of interest, don’t tell me how to do my job.”
Living part time at Acorn is creating some borderline conflict of interests for me (or perhaps they are full fledged and i just cant see them). At Twin Oaks i am the manager of Outside Work. I try to find work for members of the community (outside of our cottage industries) and typically the community gets the money (or most of it) and the members get labor credits.
At Acorn i am running the staffing initiative for the construction of the new seed office. Part of my job is hiring people to work at Acorn (typically for a meager $10/hour) to supplement the Acorn work force on the building, so hopefully we can move the seed business in by the end of the first week in December.
There is a long tradition at Twin Oaks that anyone can post a Vacation Earnings job of the 3 X 5 board. Vacation Earnings (VE) differ from Outside Work (OW), because with VE the member actually gets to keep the money (with OW you get mostly or completely labor credits). Though money earned for VE can only be spent when you are off the farm for more than 24 hours (this is how we define “on vacation”).
So here starts my dilemma. Am i the seed building chief of staff posting a $10/hour position to Oakers who might want some liquidity beyond the $85/month the community provides? Or am i the manager of Outside Work who is offering these members $3.33 an hour and 2/3rds of a labor credit for each hour worked?
So it seemed appropriate as Outside Work manager for me to bring this up with the planners (which is a group i am also part of). Therefore what are our objectives here? Are we trying to make more money for the community or are we trying to provide some additional pocket money for members? Many will answer that we need to find a balance, some of both – all of the above. But there are reality constraints.
If we tell members that for this job they can only make $3.33/hour because they are getting labor credits for the rest of the work, they are quite unlikely to take advantage of this opportunity, because they can make better money at a regular VE job. It is also the case that Twin Oaks wants this project completed in an expedient fashion and Oakers are playing an important part of that effort. On the other hand, Twin Oaks does not want to feel taken advantage of by Acorn or that they are drawing for personal pay labor away from the Twin Oaks system, which needs a lot of labor to run as well.
The key with “Conflict of Interest” is to recognize that others can make good decisions and that often despite how wise or experienced you might be, the best thing is to let others choose so you can be sure that your bias does not slip past you.
[Edited by Judy Youngquest]
Perhaps it was last summer, in my previous room in Tupelo, after perhaps 6 months of other people guesting in my room fairly consistently, i went back to it to stay for a few days. A fairly small amount of abandoned stuff showed up in the room including this bag.
It had gotten a bit moldy, so i was unsurprised when the most recent guests said they had no knowledge of it. I figured if it was important to someone, if i wore it around the commune they would spot it. So i cleaned it up, put a few handy things in it and started wearing it around. This of course resulted in no one stepping forward and claiming the bag, tho several people commented on the dapper European “man bag” look i was donning.
It had handy things in it; i continued to carry it around having never really had a backpack or handbag that i dragged around in the past.
i am an unusually distracted and distractible person. i am most interested in the current drama or possibility; i look for emergencies and oft step in when there is a useful place for me (even if i am over-committed to less pressing things which need my attention). “Paxus is best in the first 24 hours,” Thomas said the other day, and i had not thought about it that way, but it is likely true. Often when people ask me when is a good time to talk i quip:
There are only two times: now and not happening.
Given that choice almost everyone chooses now. This also means i dash out of spaces a lot. People joke about how long i will sit at the lunch table before i jump up to talk to the next person. For me lunch is not a meal, it is a networking opportunity, if i get food that is great. But what i really want is to see Willow and the people who can help me with the myriad other hanging items.
Correspondingly, i am constantly forgetting the above depicted handy bag. And this is where the real advantage of living in this type of community comes in. As long as i am at Acorn or Twin Oaks, if i leave the bag behind, even in highly trafficked public areas, it will stay put.
Pun (formerly Maddy), Amy, Fig and i put on an under-rehearsed version of “When Communes Fail.” Which was 4 songs from “Jesus Christ Super Star,” with dramatic text read by ex-visitor Fig (short for Figment of your Imagination). Pun was an animated and compelling Judas (who of course is right in his analysis, just like many of our friends scrambled in tactics). i played Jesus and Simone Zealot.
So there is Kamikazi theatre, where you have one or two days to pull together rehearsals immediately before the performance. Our crew felt this to be excessive rehearsing, so instead we printed the lyrics, largely ignored them, depended on our failed memories, cues from the audience and help from other actors to bumble thru the songs. What we missed in precision we made up for with reckless enthusiasm.
Running around before the show i got up a blog post, did a pair of shuttle runs between Acorn and Twin Oaks (i do a lot of driving between these two places these days), talked for 10 minutes with Pun in the smoke shack, printed some of the lyrics, reenlisted some cautious singers and zipped thru a few buildings and vehicles.
Somewhere in there i misplaced the man bag.
One nice thing about living between these two communities, despite the tremendous traffic connected with the Communities Conference event, i was quite confident that wherever i had left it, i would find my drivers license, wallet, credit card, flashlight, markers and other valuable items. it would not be stolen, nor even really lost. It was just momentarily safely displaced. [Turned out it was in the new seed office.]
[Edited by Judy Youngquest]
Several people have said the most useful piece of the Loud Love event was the transparency tools workshop. i was powerfully reminded that while the tools are useful, what appears to be happening is that people are longing to be asked these revealing questions. Given the smallest opportunity, most people will share deep feelings and vulnerable information about themselves, even with people they don’t know very well.
We have re-started the transparency group at Acorn. There were a few people excited about it and a number of people who showed up when it happened who seemed to like it. My original thought was that we should try to fuse Acorn’s more festive culture with this tool set and instead of having the classical, slightly formal transparency discussions, have transparency parties, where the format is more relaxed, less full group oriented with more smaller conversations. Distracting food and drink could be part of it as well.
Instead, at the first Acorn transparency event this year, we stuck to a more conventional format, with the group in a circle and a single person revealing themselves to everyone using several different tool sets. And i was blown away again.
What was exciting for me was that one member of the group talked about their intense and difficult experience when they were young in urban gangs. What was curious was i had actually heard this story from this person before, but i did not realize how big an identity piece it was for them. How this violence had influenced their choice to leave their decaying urban center and ultimately settle into the commune sphere. In the transparency context, i could connect the dots in a way i had not before.
We need another new word, it is the opposite of betrayal. It is something more than just “bonding”. What transparency groups do is build trust and connections. i see it almost every time we do one. i fear that this happens so rarely, that the need for these trust building experiences are not in sufficient demand. if we are clever, we will change that.
i woke up and looked out the window and saw someone i did not know, but i could guess who they were. i threw on my clothes, bopped out the door and said
“You must be Dragon, i am Pax”
to which he replied “i know i read your blog most mornings”
and of course this peaked my curiosity (and tickled my immodesty). We talked for a bit, of his mixed ethnic origins (Mayan, Swedish and Mexican), his early life fishing for food with him mom as a child. The same mom who bought a school bus which she named Lucy and painted it before taking Dragon and his sister across the country, turning their poverty into an adventure. Dragon told me that he was engaged, which is a state he hoped to maintain indefinitely, not really believing in marriage, but embracing commitment.
i may never know Dragon’s given name. Wild Horse named him shortly after he arrived and Dragon embraced this with the willing acceptance and daring which seems his style. And i dont need to know his given name, because for me his taken one is better in every way.
But what won my heart was when Dragon offered to cook at Twin Oaks on short notice. i had invited a couple of enthusiastic Land Day guests to stay at Twin Oaks and see if it might work for their family. I got them assigned a week of work each and then they vanished without a word. And thus their unfilled labor assignments become my headache as their host. Today i needed a prep cook and Dragon stepped up cheerfully and the crew back at Twin Oaks was impressed with his speed and pleasant manner.