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from the Spring, 2021, Leaves of Twin Oaks newsletter
Photo (clockwise from top left): Acorn, Cambia, LEF, Little Flower (Catholic Worker logo).
If variety is the spice of life, then life is good for community living in Louisa. In addition to Twin Oaks, there are several other intentional communities in the county.
How did these all arise? In early 1967, a supporter of the ideas of Twin Oaks donated the land we now live on—that is why we are located here. In the early 90s, we helped found Acorn, as a way of providing a communal living option for the 25 people on our Waiting List. In 2010, two ex-members founded Living Energy Farm, a fossil-fuel-free farm and community. And within the last 5 years, Cambia has sprung up nearby as well. We’re also connected with Little Flower, a Catholic Worker community that offers radical hospitality and does various anti-poverty, anti-military and anti-oppression activism. All of these communities are within 10 miles of us, and it makes for a great “community of communities”.
The advantages of this inter-connected network are many. Most of the other communities chose to settle here due to proximity to Twin Oaks, in order to take advantage of the social and skill-sharing abilities due to that closeness.
We collectively engage in various cooperative activities, including both work and play. If one community needs a skilled person such as a conflict resolution facilitator, or someone with experience repairing a broken well-pump, they need only look as far as the next community over. In this way we provide mutual aid. We share the work of Acorn’s Southern Exposure Seed Exchange business. We have developed a Labour Exchange Program amongst all the communities. It can be fun to spend time working at another community and sometimes very helpful to take a break from one’s home community, for example following a relationship break-up or similar community stress.
This broader network also provides a larger social pool and increased options for inter-community friendships and relationships. One family was “bi-community” for a few years and eventually settled into the one community that they decided fit them both best. On major community holidays, we provide communal shuttles and send people back-and-forth, so we can celebrate with each other without each person having to take their own vehicle.
And when it comes to membership, each community has its own unique commune “flavor.” If a given visitor interested in communal living isn’t quite the right fit for one community, there are several similar-but-just-different-enough options nearby. It’s also not uncommon for members to move back and forth between communities either as dual-members, or, if they realize they are better suited to another commune, to make a more permanent move over to that one, while still maintaining their existing friendships and connections.
We know that diversity is strength and we are grateful for these diverse communities that share this piece of earth with us.
Twin Oaks: An income-sharing, egalitarian ecovillage of 100 people supporting themselves on 500 acres.
Acorn: A consensus-based community sharing income generated from the sale of heirloom seeds.
Cambia: Focused on co-creating a culture of social sustainability and harmony that nourishes us as well as the earth.
Living Energy Farm: (LEF) A zero-fossil-fuel education center developing sustainable technologies that are accessible to all, regardless of income.
Little Flower: A Catholic Worker homestead that practices hospitality and does resistance work around issues of militarism and social injustice.
This is the latest in a line of interviews that Sumner has done, but this time it’s with someone who was a provisional member that decided that East Wind community wasn’t for them. Here’s someone with interesting insights into the way that the community was run, is somewhat critical, but makes the point that different communities work for different people, and if the community you are interviewing for doesn’t work out for you, don’t take it as a sign that you aren’t suited for community living.
(I’ve written about urban communes before, but next Sunday I will be on a panel talking about urban communities–all types of communities, not just communes. If this is a subject that interests you, you should join us. – Raven)
Join us for Free Online Intentional Urban Community Panel Discussion
Would you and your co-op mates be interested in participating in an online urban intentional communities event? The topic is the struggles and resilience of urban communities. Urban communities often encounter challenges that rural ones do not, as how to create a rural community is more established. It is organized by Ganas (an urban community in New York City) and also an ecovillage activist group called Gen North America. The panel consists of 5 seasoned leaders and experienced dwellers of urban intentional communities from San Francisco, New York City, and Washington DC.
Join here for the Zoom call that is taking place Sunday, April 11, 3PM EST/ 2PM CDT/ 1 PM MDT/ 12 PM PST.
Dr. Zarinah Agnew lived in an intentional community in San Francisco for the last 9 years, and is a steward of Haight St Commons (HsC), which is a collective of around 75 communities in the Bay Area. It has a decentralized federation that shares resources, learnings, housemates, documents, a radical fund, a newsletter and more. She is part of a global federation called the Embassy Network. She is director of a non profit that supports the creation of experimental commons and autonomous spaces. On the ground, one of the projects that she stewarded is called the Second Life Project, which are autonomous spaces centered around the needs and wisdoms of formerly incarcerated individuals.
Darrell Duane is the founder of Glowhouse in Washington, DC, which existed since 2000. Glowhouse hosts a community of holistic practitioners, burners (people passionate about Burning Man), and also meditators. They do avid couch surfing, and enjoy healthy eating and authentic relating. Duane is working on a number of projects, such as the Crypto Universal Basic Income Foundation, DMV Ecovillages, Ranked Choice Voting Support Network, Lovers of Living Together DC, and Organic Groups
Raven Glomus has helped start a number of urban communities. In 1995 he founded Common Threads in Cambridge, Massachusetts which lasted 5 years and more recently created Cotelydon Community in Queens. He has also lived in a number of co-op houses in the Boston area and he manages the Commune Life blog. Ironically, he now lives in a rural commune in the western foothills of the Catskills. He is concerned about the fact that there are no more urban egalitarian income sharing communities in the Federation of Egalitarian Communities, and is passionate about how to start and maintain such communities.
Maddie Hana Fontaine is a lifelong urban communitarian. She was part of communal living since she was 10 years old, and as an only child, learned a lot growing up in an intentional community in Madison, Wisconsin from other children and adults. She was part of Madison Community Cooperative (MCC), an organization of multiple urban coops. She lived in Ambrosia and also Friends in Madison, both part of MCC, and then after college, she lived in Youtopia in Brooklyn. She learned much about conflict resolution, adaptability, leadership, interpersonal relationships, and how to share space with others in her experience.
Michael Johnson co-founded Ganas, a 65 member community in New York City in 1980, He regards it as an experiential research center in democratic culture where people live and work together. He had been immersed in the cooperative/solidarity economic movements since 2007 with the Valley Alliance of Worker Co-operatives (New England), SolidarityNYC, and Grassroots Economic Organizing Collective (GEO), which he is a regular contributor and editor. He is the author of The Growing Democracy Project: A Cultural Strategy for Taking Our Love, Power, and Democracy to New Levels.
Leon Tsao (Ganas member and fellow communitarian)
former home of Cotyledon, urban commune that was in NYC
Coyote, a long time Twin Oaks member, died a couple of weeks ago. It’s far from the first death there. When you’ve been a community for well over fifty years, you will will see a lot of deaths (and a lot of births). How does a commune deal with death? Twin Oaks documented Coyote’s funeral and I put it on our Facebook page. Here’s what we published:
When this was published on Facebook, we got a comment remembering someone who had died at Alpha Farm.
It’s sad, but death is part of life and we need to develop our own ways of dealing with it.
Warning: this is a strange video. As Sumner says, it’s about two bats doing… something. Fighting? Sex? There’s a bunch of footage (including a brief cameo by a peeper frog) and a lot of speculation. There’s a lot of life at the rural communes and much of it nonhuman. Sumner has been documenting it at East Wind. (Also, language warning. Folks at the communes pretty much say what they are thinking and not always in the most polite manner. Still, nothing you couldn’t hear in the cities if you listen.)
“From each according to their ability, to each according to their need” Karl Marx
Kat Kinkade, the founder of three successful communal ventures, who re-defined contemporary utopian theory, and who spearheaded the rebirth of a communal movement, improbably spent her waning years living alone in a small house with just her cats and pet rabbits for company.
I first met Kat in 1982, and remained her friend until her death. On December sixth, the day that would have been Kat Kinkade’s ninetieth birthday, I looked her up online. I knew Kat to be a towering intellect and a complicated person, but the Kat Kinkade that I knew, and the legacy that she has left, were not represented in the articles I found. So I want to try here to take a shot at setting the record straight about Kat Kinkade.
In 1967, at the age of 36, Kat Kinkade didn’t merely want to start a commune where she and her daughter could live, she wanted to build a communal movement. After starting Twin Oaks, she founded the magazine, Leaves of Twin Oaks. She edited Communities Magazine and made sure that Twin Oaks kept the magazine afloat by putting in a great deal of money and labor until, many years later, it eventually became self-sustaining. Communities Magazine annually produced a Directory of Communities—the sole reference source for seekers looking for intentional communities. Later, Communities Magazine went online, creating the web site ic.org, still the go-to informational center of the global intentional communities movement.
Kat wrote and published two books, A Walden Two Experiment, and Is it Utopia Yet, about the founding and evolution of Twin Oaks Community. Twin Oaks held the first communities conference a year after getting started. This enduring yearly event (between 100 and 200 participants each non-covid year) has been the birthplace of dozens of additional communal ventures. Kat helped found the network of income-sharing communities, the Federation of Egalitarian Communities. That organization provided the inspiration, template, and early staff for the much larger, more expansive communal network, the Foundation for Intentional Community.
Kat Kinkade approached her movement building with missionary zeal. Her mission: a society based upon absolute equality. Kat meant to forge a model of society that would manage to defy the central failure of societies world-wide—the gravitational tendency of wealth to concentrate; the rich get richer, the poor get poorer. So, how do you know if a society has attained equality?
“Equality in a community is a relationship structured so that no member envies another. Simple. [Equality creates]a general feeling of fairness, a logical first step in the pursuit of happiness.”
(Kat in “Journal of a Walden Two Commune,” from “Walden House Newsletter,” Aug, 1966, p. 14)
My attitude to every request for special privilege was always the same: “Why you?” In other words, what is there about you that makes you deserve to have more than other people? …
I was known as a hard-nosed egalitarian, and this is one of the reasons people called me “very idealistic.”
(Kat in Is It Utopia Yet? 1994, p. 46-50)
Kat read the novel, Walden Two, about a fictional utopian society written by the behaviorist B. F. Skinner. She became inspired, and wasted no time gathering a small handful of other idealists who saw this book as a how-to manual for starting an actual utopian community.
Even as those first eight pioneers unloaded their bags from a van in June of 1967, adherents arrived, eager to join, but, over the coming years, the community chose, to Kat’s enduring disappointment, to put new applicants on a wait list, allowing the community to grow only at a modest pace. In a few years, frustrated that her cohorts lacked appropriate enthusiasm for growth, Kat left Twin Oaks and founded East Wind community. Kat Kinkade’s goal was to gather up all of those eager young people seeking community being turned away by Twin Oaks and to quickly grow East Wind to several hundred members. Kat drafted East Wind’s initial policies in order to welcome open membership as a means to spur growth. Kat’s stated ambition was for the community to grow to 1,000 members. Yet, as East Wind stabilized at around fifty or so members, contentiousness escalated. Rather then fostering tolerance, strife from open membership caused the community to change direction, slow growth, and become more selective.
Disappointed yet again, Kat Kinkade left East Wind. Eventually, Kat rejoined Twin Oaks where, twenty years later, as Twin Oaks had a growing wait list, Kat set about starting her third communal experiment, Acorn community, essentially an anti-Twin Oaks, and an anti-East Wind. No longer focused on rapid growth, Acorn would remain small. There would be more commitment to interpersonal connection, less focus on written policy. At Acorn, financial rules would be looser than at Twin Oaks, so people could meet individual needs more easily.
All three communities, Twin Oaks, East Wind, and Acorn continue to thrive today.
Although all founded at different times and having differing premises, among these different communities there are structural commonalities:
–A commitment to financial and political equality among all members—no class divide.
–The structure of the community is a corporation. The corporation owns everything. No individual’s name is on anything—not a house, a plot of land, or even a car—therefore, no one person will control decisions.
–Equity accrues to the community—no draining of communal coffers for personal pay-outs if (when) members leave.
–In case of dissolution of the community, communal assets are not divided up among the members—no temptation to dismember the community once it becomes financially successful.
–Labor is valued equally—no tendency to develop a professional elite. This type of labor ideology also recognizes as valuable work that in other societies is devalued and done by the disempowered—often a racial minority, or women, or immigrants, or children—or all of the above.
–Members accepted on the basis of their ability to work and get along with others—no purchasing membership privileges.
Kat Kinkade and I were, bizarrely, both in the same visitor group at Twin Oaks, applying for membership in 1982. Kat was returning from her stint living “in the wilderness” after leaving East Wind. (The wilderness, in this case, was Boston.) While living at Twin Oaks, Kat did not hold back on expressing her disappointment at the many failures of the community. I was surprised to hear the founder disagreeing with the entire premise of the community that she founded, and where she was living.
Part of my disillusionment came from watching the worst aspects of communism in action. I saw a larger and larger part of the community sitting around on the front steps of the dining hall smoking cigarettes and drinking their wake-up coffee at 11 in the morning, and heard them ridicule as “workaholics” the people who made the money and kept the organization together. There was gross exploitation, but in reverse. The proletariat was exploiting the manager.
Particular personalities are watchdogs to make sure that nobody else gets more than them. I just loathe this trait. So little by little I thought, “This is not merely an ugly trait in a particular individual.” Our rigid equality sanctifies envy. You know what I said when we first started this community back in 1967? I wrote, “Equality in our community is that state in which no one member envies another.“
(Kat in Is It Utopia Yet? 1994, p. 87-89)
It took me about seven years and a fair amount of self-examination, as well as observation of the people I lived with, to discover some unsettling things about my equality theory. People will and do work for the common good…when the Community desperately needs to have a great deal of work done in a hurry, it relies about ninety percent on good will, personal conscience, the labor system, and community feeling…if we’re going to get the other ten percent, we need to add an incentive program of some kind, some method by which added effort gets added reward. I have learned that personal gain is, not a stronger motivation than the good of the Community, but a more reliable one. I no longer preach absolute equality. I live…a rough equality that doesn’t create gross differences or engender severe envy. Give people a little chance to serve themselves on the side, and they will give heartily out of their core efforts for the group.
(Kat inIs It Utopia Yet?1994, p. 46-50)
Kat, in her later years, tried to gently moderate the extreme egalitiarianism embodied in Twin Oaks’ policies—the very policies that, years earlier, she had drafted. Kat, as a community planner, created communal labor budgets that allowed people to write music, articles, books and plays—as well as to perform music and plays. Kat was part of a group that re-worked the labor system to allow more individual flexibility (Members who worked more hours each week would gain more freedom from labor constraints.) Kat established a committee that offered labor and money grants to individual members for their personal hobbies or needs. To allow people to travel, Kat created a seniority-based vacation fund. Kat supported the community in creating an income incentive program that allowed a member or groups of members to work “off the system” for money to fund personal and group projects.
However, Twin Oaks was populated by idealists why had been drawn to Kat’s earlier writings about absolute equality—many had not kept up with Kat’s own evolving ideology. Each of Kat’s proposed “liberalizing” policies was approved only over resistance, or allowed only on a temporary, experimental basis. As Kat lost political influence these policies were re-examined, cut back, or canceled completely. Currently at Twin Oaks, every one of these policies that Kat favored has been undone.
Kat Kinkade eventually just wanted to live on her own. In 2005, at the age of 74, she moved into a small house near Twin Oaks, paid for by her daughter. Soon after that Kat was diagnosed with cancer. In 2007, once she began to seriously decline, Kat moved back to Twin Oaks, and died in July of 2008. Her daughter, Josie, a doctor, said that her Mom received Rolls Royce care those final months at Twin Oaks.
Online these days, uninformed critics of communal living refer to Kat Kinkade as a guru—they paint a fearsome picture of her as a domineering presence. Kat provided leadership, but she did not have the traits typically associated with a guru. She started a new community and, once it was on its feet, she left. By this means, Kat ensured that other leaders emerged, overcoming the problem of “founder’s syndrome.” Kat did not feel threatened when members aspired to leadership, rather, she sought out and encouraged leadership in others. Far from being the keeper of the ideological light, Kat was often critical of whatever community she lived in, this granted space for other members to step forward as the public face of the community. Kat actively disliked acolytes. She gave short shrift to anyone who could not engage in a lively intellectual debate—she was pleased by members who could cogently disagree with her.
Being willing to actually change her mind was the key attribute of Kat’s that allowed her to be so effective. Kat believed in honestly looking at her own beliefs—even deeply held beliefs—to see if they held up in the light of new information. Kat believed in trying things out—experimenting—then examining and accepting the results of those experiments. Because Kat Kinkade grounded her actions and policies in reality-based information, what she created endures—three thriving communities and a thriving communal movement. Thank you, Kat.
It’s been a long and difficult winter. The pandemic has made it worse. I’m sure that it’s been better for those of us that live in community, but it’s been hard for us also. Now we are being told that the worst of the pandemic may be over by summer. By summer the weather will be warmer and there will be a lot more things to do.
I am always trying to think up questions to post on Facebook. We probably get a better response to the questions that I post than to anything else I put up on the Commune Life Facebook page. Although the question I posed recently did not say anything about communes or community, I figured by this time we have gathered a community related audience and they would respond appropriately. So I just asked:
As you can see, we reached 210 people and got five comments. I figured some would have nothing to do with community and other comments would. And, so it was. (Although, I put in my own answer which biased it a little in the direction of community responses.)
This is the fourth in a series of interviews done by Sumner (ex-East Wind member) of former and current members. Here are the first three: Zan, Jim Adams, and Joston. These are amazing slice of life at a very long running commune and capture the good and the hard of commune life.