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If this is your first time here…

What If We’re All Doomed?

by Raven Cotyledon 

This isn’t going to be an easy post to read, but I believe it looks at some important questions. 

At Cotyledon right now, three out of four of the folks living here (basically everyone except me) are involved with the Extinction Rebellion. Wesley, the newest person in our house, is very heavily involved. 

Wesley describes himself as a farmer but he came to New York City to help out with the Extinction Rebellion, which he sees as our last best chance to save the planet. He is not optimistic. It’s discussions with him that inspired this post.

If anyone still doubts that climate change is real, look at the record breaking temperatures in Alaska, along with the accompanying wildfires.  (Which inspired someone to dub the state of the state, ‘Baked Alaska’.) Wesley said that he never expected to be a ‘prepper’, but given what he knows now, he is headed in that direction. 

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Photo sent to me, captioned: Walgreens, Anchorage, Alaska, July 5, 2019

So what are the communes doing to cope with climate change? And what is any of this worth if we really are doomed?

Wesley pointed out to me that the most likely first major catastrophe is likely to be disruption of the food supply chain. One statistic I have seen tossed around is that stores only hold about a three day supply of food. Fortunately, most of the rural communities grow a significant portion of their own food. Not true of Cotyledon in urban New York, but we are associated with the Ranch and have an urban farm (Hellgate) only a couple of streets away.

Unfortunately, if the food supply did run out, there would be lots of very hungry people who would not care who the food technically belonged to. Also, dumpster diving would be pretty useless in a food emergency; if there was no food in the stores, there wouldn’t be any food in the dumpsters.

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Empty Stores 

Many communes and other communities are also pioneers in off the grid living, which may be essential in a climate emergency. But the real thing that communities offer in any crisis is support and companionship and large doses of cooperation. If you are living in a community, you are not alone and isolated, and this is even more true if you are living in a commune. 

This was brought home to me the morning after Donald Trump was elected. This was not something most of us were expecting, and many of us were in shock. If I had been living alone, I would have had to deal with this all by myself. I was living in Ganas and we had a community meeting that morning (as we did most mornings) and we talked together about how we would deal with this. 

Communities are built to do things together and income-sharing communities even more so. We have far more collective intelligence and creativity and strength in community than any one of us has alone or even just a couple has together. As the challenges pile up, it makes more and more sense to me to figure this out communally. 

But, and here’s the horrible question I began with: what if we are all doomed?  First of all, I don’t think that is a given and I believe that the collective intelligence of communities makes our survival more likely. But it’s a possibility that I think we must consider.  And if we need to consider it, then I think that we need to think about hospice care for the human race. When a person is dying, we try to make them comfortable, we try to figure out how to help them die well.  I think that we may need to consider this for us all. And I cannot think of any better place to do this than in community where we have always focused on taking care of each other. 

I don’t want to end on a down note, and I do believe that it is an honest question whether we will survive or not, but I think that either way, communes and communities are an important part of the process of either making it through or leaving the planet gracefully. 

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Thanks for reading! This post was made possible by our patrons on Patreon. The Commune Life team works hard to bring you these stories about our lives in community, and that work couldn’t happen without support from our audience. So if you liked this article, and want to help us make more like it, head on over to https://www.patreon.com/communelife to join us! 

Deep gratitude to all of our patrons:  

Communities

  • Acorn Community
  • Compersia Community
  • Cotyledon Community
  • East Brook Community Farm
  • The Federation of Egalitarian Communities
  • Twin Oaks Community

Communards 

  • Aaron Michels
  • Brenda Thompson
  • Cathy Loyd
  • Em Stiles
  • Jenn Morgan
  • Jonathan Thaler
  • Julia Elizabeth Evans
  • Kai Koru
  • Kathleen Brooks
  • Laurel Baez
  • Lynette Shaw
  • Magda schonfeld
  • Michael Hobson
  • Nance & Jack Williford
  • Peter Chinman
  • Sumner Nichols
  • Tobin Moore
  • Warren Kunce
  • William Croft
  • William Kadish

Thanks! 

 

What If We’re All Doomed?

Income Sharing: Overcoming Stage Fright

by  Susan Teshu

from Communities magazine, Summer, 1998 (Issue #99)

Thinking about the similarities between income sharing at Common Threads and romantic relationships has been helpful for me. When we were discussing the possibilities of living together I saw us in the “courting” stage.  When we bought a house together and began sharing transportation expenses we were “going steady.” Now that we have begun income sharing we’re “engaged.” The possibility exists that we will wed: total resource and asset sharing. For now, I believe in long engagements.

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The cover of the issue 

My worst fears about income sharing a year ago were that I would lose control of my money.  I thought that I’d have to attend a meeting to get permission to buy a pair of socks. I thought people might be judging me for what I wanted to buy and that I would judge them as well. “How could you want to buy that ridiculous thing?,” I imagined us saying to each other.

How did I come to be happy that we are sharing incomes?  The journey has been slow and frightening at times. When Robert and Johnn and I started talking about living together and buying a house, they stated their need for the original members to be willing to continue to discuss income sharing and have it as an eventual goal. They were wise not to ask us to commit to income sharing at outset, because I, for one, wouldn’t have been able to agree.

Some members of our group have been thinking about income sharing for much longer, or have even had previous experiences with this form of communal economy. Yet I had never even heard of the term until three years ago.

To smooth the transition, we each wrote a paper about our fears around the subject. I got to see that I wasn’t the only one who had serious concerns–that was actually reassuring to me.

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Page one of the article 

After living together for nearly two years, we decided it was time to focus more on income sharing.  Robert and Johnn created a sample budget, suggesting how we could allocate our combined incomes for household expenses and personal allowances. I don’t like budgets, but realize they are necessary. The provisional budget also gave me something to respond to and helped me think about what was realistic in terms of money income and expenses.

Yikes! This was getting serious.

I started reading about income sharing at Twin Oaks, a community of 90 adult members. That was scary. I knew our situation would be quite different because we are such a small group.  We see each other every day, our lives are closely intertwined. We wouldn’t have the luxury of being somewhat removed from any of the decision processes–we were it. Each one of us would have more input into how we would spend and save our money, compared to a community member at a larger income-sharing community.

Gradually, through the course of our discussions, I came to see how income sharing would benefit me. It had little to do with financial benefit, but rather with the emotional and spiritual benefit of knowing that I would not have to figure out all aspects of how to support myself and my two children by myself.  I knew that Robert and Johnn and I had worked well together in all our decision making up to that point. And I trusted them. “OK,” I said. “Let’s give it a try.”

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Page two of the article 

We chose to begin on October 1, 1997, which was also the eve of the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah.

Now the three of us have been sharing our incomes for over six months, and so far we all agree that the experiment is going well. Robert, who keeps track of all matters financial, has informed us that we are doing well in almost all areas of our budget. We have spent little time discussing actual expenditures. I have bought several pairs of socks and even a skirt, all with no discussion.

Although I was concerned that I might be losing control over an important aspect of my life, the opposite has occurred. I enjoy the fact that I am spending money in accordance with a budget, rather than haphazardly, as I did before. Each of the three of us now receives a weekly allowance. Although we don’t need to tell each other how we spend our allowance, I now pay more attention to what I buy.  I want to get the most out of this treasured stipend.

I feel I am reaping the benefits of not having to figure things out on my own. Together we figured out how my children could take music lessons (with a bit of help from Grampa). That was something I had been struggling with for a while by myself.

Paying more attention to money helps me remember that money and material goods, while important and sometimes necessary, are not the be-all and end-all of life. I try to find ways to enjoy and nurture myself and others that don’t require much money, or at least more money than I had previously. These are, for me, the emotional and spiritual benefits of income sharing.

My community mates and I trust each other and have grown even closer. As we share our money, we also have a greater sense of sharing our lives.


(Raven’s notes:  Common Threads was an income-sharing community that Susan, Robert, and I helped create in 1995–actually in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  At the time, I was known as Johnn. It lasted until the year 2000.  I am still close with Susan and Robert–and Amos, who later joined us.  I still miss the community.)

 

Income Sharing: Overcoming Stage Fright

Mimosa Community: Cucurbit Planting

 

One of the most exciting businesses to come out of the FEC is Common Wealth Seed Growers.  They’ve been developing new varieties of cucurbit seeds which are disease resistant and specially adapted to the Mid-Atlantic and Southeastern American climate.

It used to be the case that most seeds that farmers grew were locally developed cultivars, specially adapted to the place where they evolved.  But in the last half century, with the rise of industrial agribusiness, seed company monopolies have forced farmers to rely on a dwindling number of varieties. This loss of diversity in our crop genetics has paralleled the loss of viable local farms which help keep community resources circulating locally.

Headquartered at Mimosa Community, Common Wealth Seed Growers has, for the past several years, devoted their efforts to developing downy mildew resistant cucumbers and squash. They’ve developed several open pollinated seed varieties as part of a larger strategy to bring more autonomy into local farms and food systems. Seeds from open pollinated varieties can be saved year after year, giving farmers some independence from industrial seed products, while simultaneously allowing the plants to adapt to their specific local climate. This makes stronger communities, and better food. Yum.

The work that Common Wealth Seed Growers is doing is radical and amazing, and we are very excited to be able to offer their seeds to our patrons. Anyone that joins our Patreon community in the month of July (2019) will be shipped a packet of disease resistant South Anna Butternut, hand packed by Edmund Frost. What special seeds!

 

Mimosa Community: Cucurbit Planting

Communal Cooperation

by Raven Cotyledon

I have sometimes described some of the communes as a combination of a housing co-op and a worker co-op.  There are certainly elements of both in the Virginia communes. In fact, if you buy Twin Oaks tofu you will see that Twin Oaks Community Foods describes itself as “A Worker-Owned Cooperative!”

 

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Twin Oaks Tofu label 

I have lived in three different Boston area co-op houses. Co-op houses (also known as collective houses–especially in NYC where there is something very different called cooperative apartments which are more like condos) are great, but communes involve even more sharing.  In fact, you could say that communes are an even more cooperative form of cooperative. 

Communes cooperate in almost every way I can think of.  Income-sharing, in particular, involves a lot of cooperation between the people who are doing it.  We cooperate in sharing the work of maintaining and cleaning where we live, in feeding each other, in planning together, and in supporting one another.  We care for each other in many ways and we depend on each other. 

Many co-ops are organized around the Seven Cooperative Principles, adopted by the International Cooperative Alliance. I believe that in many ways, communes meet or exceed all of these principles.

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First, a voluntary and open membership. Voluntary, absolutely. Communes are not cults. No one will keep you there.  Open is a little more tricky. Communes, like co-op houses, involve living together. A consumer co-op is easy. Anyone should be able to join. Cooperative businesses have to be a little more selective–not everyone can do every job. Living together means you have to be able to live in your home with each person, so co-op houses and communes need to be more selective still. That said, there is a large push for diversity in the communes. Membership decisions are made about the ability to get along, not about a person’s race or religion or sexual orientation. 

Democratic member control–phrased in early documents as “One man, one vote.” Here the communes do a lot better than that.  They are even more democratic. First, they are open to all genders–not even just men and women, but trans folks, genderqueer, non-binary, two-spirit, and more.  And most communes don’t vote. The majority use consensus, which I believe is more democratic and more cooperative than voting. 

Members economic participation is next, called distribution of surplus in the older documents. This is where income-sharing communities really exceed and excel. Everyone in a commune shares in the economic surplus which is distributed as equally as possible. All the members of a commune get to participate economically as much as they want. 

The fourth principle is “Autonomy and Independence” which is absolutely part of the commune scene. This is the problem that the FEC faces. No one is in charge in the communes. This is the “Egalitarian” part of the Federation of Egalitarian Communities. 

 The fifth principle of the Cooperative Principles is “Education, Training and Information”.  This is as needed in the communes as it is in the co-ops. One of the biggest requests in the FEC budget is for one type of training or another. 

The sixth principle is “Cooperation among Cooperatives” and this is as desirable and sought after in the communes as it is with the co-ops.  In fact, this could be the very purpose of the FEC. 

Finally, “Concern for Community” seems almost too self evident in the communes whose very nature is about building community. 

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All this is not to knock co-ops, but to point out that if you have done co-ops, especially co-op houses, and you want even more cooperation, maybe you should look at the communes.

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Thanks for reading! This post was made possible by our patrons on Patreon. The Commune Life team works hard to bring you these stories about our lives in community, and that work couldn’t happen without support from our audience. So if you liked this article, and want to help us make more like it, head on over to https://www.patreon.com/communelife to join us! 

Deep gratitude to all of our patrons:  

Communities

  • Acorn Community
  • Compersia Community
  • Cotyledon Community
  • East Brook Community Farm
  • The Federation of Egalitarian Communities
  • Twin Oaks Community

Communards 

  • Aaron Michels
  • Brenda Thompson
  • Cathy Loyd
  • Em Stiles
  • Jenn Morgan
  • Jonathan Thaler
  • Julia Elizabeth Evans
  • Kai Koru
  • Kathleen Brooks
  • Laurel Baez
  • Lynette Shaw
  • Magda schonfeld
  • Michael Hobson
  • Nance & Jack Williford
  • Peter Chinman
  • Sumner Nichols
  • Tobin Moore
  • Warren Kunce
  • William Croft
  • William Kadish

Thanks! 

 

Communal Cooperation

East Brook: How We Choose Our Members

from the Commune Life tumblr account

Membership processes are often in flux. Below is the membership process document for East Brook Community Farm, as of February 2019

Below is an outline of the process which begins with you not being a member and ends with you being an income sharing member.

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Step 1: Introductions

  • You learn about East Brook, and then ask to come visit for a short period of time (can be a day, a week, or a month).
  • You come visit for this short period.
  • You leave.

Step 2: Formal request to begin the membership process

You write a letter to East Brook asking to live with us for a long but finite amount of time (between 6 months and 1 year), as a residential member.

This letter should describe why you want to live here and what kinds of things you want to do with us.

We respond. Possible responses include:

  • Yes! Lets live together for that amount of time!
  • We need more info! We are interested in what it would be like to live with you, but don’t know you well enough yet to commit to a multi-month stay. Why don’t you come back for a few weeks or a month and we’ll get to know each other better?
  • No! We don’t think East Brook and you are a good match right now.

Step 3: Roles and Goals

After your residential membership request has been accepted, you write up a roles and goals document. This should happen either before you move in or within the first month of living together.

  • This document outlines the roles you see yourself playing in the community during your residential membership period, and describes the goals you have in those roles by the end of the period.
  • Your roles and goals arrangement may include a stipend for you, or it might not. Either way, at this stage, while we live together, we make most decisions together but you do not share income or make long term financial decisions with us.

Once the roles and goals document is written, we have a meeting to talk about it. Changes to the document might be suggested, and consensus is reached. General excitement is had. We live with you now! We will definitely live with you until your residential membership period finishes!

We schedule your membership check-in meeting, which will happen about ⅔ of the way into your residential membership period.

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Step 4: The Membership Check-in meeting

Near the end of your residential membership period, we schedule this meeting to review how your time here has been, and what the future might look like.

If you want to continue living here, you bring a revised copy of your Roles and Goals document to the meeting, and we discuss what it would be like to live with you as an income-sharing member for the upcoming year

You may decide to remain a residential member of East Brook and not move forward into income sharing with us.

This meeting should be celebratory, not judgmental. We appreciate our time together and collectively imagine a path forward.

Step 5: Income-sharing membership consensus

The current income-sharing members meet without you and reach consensus about if we want to live with you and share income with you.

This meeting may happen before Step 4 in some circumstances.

Possible decisions include:

  • Yes! Lets live together for another year and share all our income!
  • We need more info! We are interested in what it would be like to live with you more intimately, and share our incomes together, but some concerns have come up during your time here and we need more experience living together before we explore the income-sharing path. Let’s revise your roles and goals to fit the next 6 months, and then after that we’ll check in again and re-explore income-sharing membership.
  • No! After living with you for the last several months, we’ve decided that it is not best for the community to continue to live together. We ask that you find somewhere else to live after your residential membership period is complete.

Step 6: Income Sharing

Once we have reached consensus on income-sharing membership, the details of the income-sharing agreement need to be worked out.

Income-sharing agreements at East Brook are modular, and tailored to the needs and resources of each individual. Our income-sharing agreements have four parts:

  1. Financial disclosure – this part describes your savings, material possessions, and expected income over the next year.
  2. An explicit agreement that all the money you make in the next year will be shared with East Brook, and all expenses you might incur in the next year will be paid by East Brook.
  3. A budget – This part details how the money you earn will be allocated by East Brook, and how East Brook will meet your needs.
  4. An exit agreement – some amount of your income is allocated towards exit savings, so that you have resources should you choose to leave. We make arrangements for cars and other material possessions to facilitate amicable leaving.

Once this agreement is made, next we take actions to implement it. Actions might include:

  1. You get access to East Brook bank accounts (either by being added to the account or getting a credit card which East Brook commits to paying)
  2. Any paychecks you receive from outside income are designated to be deposited into East Brook accounts.
  3. Any regular bills you have are designated to autopay from East Brook accounts.

Once income sharing is implemented, you are now an income-sharing member for the next year.

Step 7: Following Up

Income sharing members are members “indefinitely” but their membership is subject to regular conversation and exploration with the other members.

One year after you become an income-sharing member, we all meet and once again review and revise your roles and goals document.

  • This is a time to reassess your experience in community. Is it living up to your expectations? Are there things about your life or your relationships which you would like to work to change? How can we improve things? Might it be time to leave soon? Do you want to change your roles? Did you achieve the goals you set? What new things would you like to accomplish in the next year? How can you be supported in personal growth?

Unlike the first check-in meeting, there is no follow-up meeting after this one where all members besides you are present. (Unless someone wishes to trigger our expulsion process, which should almost never happen). However, this meeting is a time for everyone to seriously consider how our lives are affected by living together, and to explore all options available to us to continue to support each other and the community we live in. The meeting should encourage discussion of radical changes to our roles and relationships, if they are needed.   (Default is you continue to live here, this is just a chance to explore your options and figure out if your life is on a path you truly want blah blah blah etc.)

The meeting concludes with consensus on your updated roles and goals document. Then we schedule your next check-in meeting for a year or two from now. This process repeats indefinitely.

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East Brook: How We Choose Our Members