by Cel Free Farm
I live in an urban community called the Baltimore Free Farm. What does that mean? I gaze over our three row houses and community garden. Chickweed spills over the sides of an herb planter. I think back on my community’s less than intentional start and natural evolution into an intentional community. I am proud of the progress. The memories of our origin still leave a mark on us as we move to a quieter, gentler culture. They represent lessons learned. Life here is complicated and beautiful.
For those of us who are new to the intentional community movement, an intentional community is a residential group brought together by a shared vision. Many would argue that intentional communities are as old as humanity. They come in all shapes and sizes. They form around a variety of ideals from religious ones to secular political ones. Of course, here I am most interested secular egalitarian communities. These are communities that structure themselves to encourage even distributions of power and greater inclusivity. This is done by adopting democratic or consensus based decision making structures to include the widest number of voices possible. Many communities adopt partial or full income sharing to equalize income generating and important non-income generating work. They strive to be living, working examples of a need-based economy. Many communities come together around a variety of issues. Some focus on food access, sustainability, or a combination. Others focus on issues around gender, relationship, racial, physical, neurological, or other forms of diversity. There are even communes that focus on helping other communes build themselves.
Whether the idea is new or old, I find it helpful to remind myself what draws me to this way of living. I like to compare a commune to a very well thought out art piece. Like an art piece, an intentional community presents a possibility; a fresh perspective. Here is a little living example of how a truly egalitarian world would look. Here is proof that it is possible. Here is an example of the many ways we can organize ourselves in an egalitarian manner. There are sustainable farms and small urban gardens. There are even nomadic cyberpunk communes. What new forms could a commune take? How many other possibilities are there?
There are, of course, the struggles we all go through as well. Conflict can develop between members even in the most carefully constructed systems. As much as we try to prevent it, there will occasionally be members who attempt to dominate others. We can receive criticism from other activists about our involvement in other forms of activism and our perceived or real inclusiveness. Money and other resources can become tight. Legal problems can develop. Communards are not immune to the range of human experience of birth, death, love, loss and the like. People have stilled end up hurt, sad, and lonely. We are far from perfect. It is important to remember that perfection is not the goal. Progress is.
The troubles of the outside world still loom in the distance. Police and military machines still spread violence. Prisons still overflow. Capitalism still pits us against each other. Power is still concentrated in the hands of the elite. Revolution after revolution replaces one dictator with another. Climate change is still underway. Local and national laws can change for the better or worse. The homeless still starve on the streets just for making the wrong mistake at the wrong time. Bigotry and hatred still exist. Violence still exists in its many forms. Inequality is still rampant and institutionalized.
As challenging as life can be, I cannot help but still feel hopeful for the many new communities springing up globally. Each one contributes to this movement meaningfully. The urban communities are clearly visible in the wider community. The rural communities provide models for sustainable agriculture. Old communities show successful approaches to common problems. New communities represent fresh possibilities. Let’s keep supporting each other until we no longer can. Let’s keep expanding until it is no longer possible. Let’s keep working on ourselves until there is no one left. Even if the world is doomed, let’s keep trying until the end.