Becoming a Circus

Apparently, I was the last activist in the US to hear about how great the Honk Festival was.  As I was enthusiastically explaining the event to other people I kept hearing “Oh, I was on the Honk organizing team 10 years ago,” or “We helped start Honk in New York,” and equivalent recognition.   But despite coming late to the party, it was still a transformative event for me, and the projects which surround me.

It started back in February when our Point A traveling heroes hit Boston.  Maximus said, “We should come back for Honk” and like a fool, I asked, “What is Honk?”  Fortunately, Maximus is patient with me.

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Like many things, Honk grew out of a collection of activists trying something new.  A collection of marching bands took over the streets of Somerville and started performing.  They had fun, they made an impressive amount of joyful noise and they had multiple political messages.  And they agreed to come back next year.  This scruffy initial incarnation has become a treasured institution which brings protest marching bands from around the world.

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I have to confess I had not thought much about marching bands as a protest tool.  Maximus has thought about this a bunch.  He pointed out the power of having noisy attractive mobile groups which do not require amplification.  He waxed eloquently about what it means to take performers off the stage, put them in the street at the same level as the audience and the implicit invitation for people to join in, marching, dancing or banging on anything which one might find handy.

But this was all much later, once we were well into the Honk experience.  It started, as many good things start, with dumpster diving.  Maximus and Rachel had cooked a dumpster dinner for the 400 Honk musicians in 2016.  His invitation to the Point A crew to come up and participate in Honk hoped to replicate their past success.  Fortunately, this plays directly to some of our strengths.

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Steve doing house repairs.

Steve is a man of many talents.  He was an obvious draft pick for this trip in that he can look at a full dumpster and see if there is anything good at the bottom and he can cook for huge quantities of people.  Steve was just one of the ringers we brought on this trip.  We had significant local talent was on hand as well.  We had 4 teams which went out at midnight.  Three of them were car based and one consisted of members of the local radical bicycle gang.  The ten of us started at midnight.

 

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By 3 AM this is what we had hauled in

 

But three hours of diving was followed by a couple of hours of cleaning and sorting and even some time spent arranging to get the above photo.  We had originally scheduled two evenings to gather food, but we did so well the first night, that we canceled the second dive.  We even had to re-dumpster some of our catch, because we exhausted the refrigeration space we had available to us.

Soon all this food would be cooked and prepped into a lovely dinner for 400 musicians.   The other two dinners were catered, but several folks said ours was the best.

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Honk has grown significantly from its early days.  The city of Somerville has embraced this event, local businesses help sponsor it.  But the costs are significant.  They help subsidize the travel of bands from across the country and even other countries.  There were many meals for the performers, most of which were much more expensive to produce than ours.

While our dumpster diving crew was dominated by out of town Point A activists, there was also important representation by locals who came from various places.  Sophia used to live at Craft House, where some of us were staying, in Tracy Chapman’s old closet, which is where we met her.  There are desirable attributes you hope for in a fellow dumpster diver: willingness to get dirty, good sense of humor, willingness to take chances, nimble and stealthy movement, healthy disrespect for the law, willingness to work crazy late without compensation, discernment about which food to rescue and ability to cook are some of them.  Sophia had all this and more.  And at almost 5 AM she climbed the labyrinth fire escape to the residence I was staying in to break me into my locked housing.

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Sophia in the final Honk Parade

Acquiring the huge haul of food is just the first step in feeding the Honk musicians.  We still had to cook it.  Most of our original dumpster divers plus a handful of new locals came out for this formidable task.  My terrible cooking skills are the source of legend and while others toiled in the First Church’s kitchen, I called wholesale hammocks customers. My old college partner Amanda came to help with the cooking, she had fond memories of being on the Honk organizing team years ago and was happy to return to support the effort.

 

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Telos in the final Honk parade

 

Mysteriously, the grill which had been unlocked outside the church for months was moved ten feet towards the curb to aid in loading it into a vehicle to move to the VFW outpost where the meal was being served.  But before we could pick it up, it vanished.  Taken likely by someone who thought it was being left on the curb to be discarded.  This cost us both a grill and preparation time.  I drove one of the Skul radical bicycle gang who had helped with the dumpster dive back to their home to pick up a replacement grill and delivered it to Steve Compersia at the VFW where he started cooking like a fiend.  The grill was not especially well designed and soon Steve was working without the propane on in a blaze of fire.  This attracted the police who decided they were going to shut our meal preparation down.  Fortunately, by the time we were caught, Steve had completed most of the cooking.

 

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Daniel and Z holding Lady Liberty’s head in the Free Palestine float

 

Part of the Point A mandate is to do skill shares when we come to town.  We often do Transparency Tools workshops for the various living collectives we visit and this time we did one at Craft House on the Tufts campus.  Before Honk, Courtney from Compersia had worked with Telos on a workshop on how to be an Ally.  And when Courtney agreed to come up to Boston, this workshop became a multi skit performance.

Being an ally is hard.  Many attempting to support oppressed people would get failing grades from the those they think they are helping.  The metaphor which was used as a chorus in our performance was that privilege is like wearing heavy boots in a world full of people wearing sandals.  You must keep being aware of when you are stepping on other people’s toes.  Telos played the failed ally in a series of 20-second micro skits with Courtney using such lines as:

“You should not have put your feet there”

“I don’t see toes”

“Are you calling me a toe stepper?”

And my personal favorite line

“All toes matter”

The final toe stepping micro skit gave curious prospective allies insight into what they might do to get it right, a simple apology and a promise to pay more attention in the future.

 

 

 

We had communicated with the Honk organizers about our desire to do our performance and they had offered us the Elm St “stage” at 8 PM on Saturday after the last marching band.  Sadly, the police were not given a schedule that had our performance on it and we were stopped again by Somerville’s finest just as we were trying to draw our crowd.  Instead, we did a dress rehearsal in the Davis Square metro station to a slightly baffled collection of commuters.  Maximus caught it on video.

 

Honk was an inspiring experience.  At the last dinner, we had together it was obvious we all wanted to come back next year.  As is part of the Point A culture we did a post mortem of our take away of what we learned.  We listed a number of suggestions to improve our efforts.  Get a dedicated food processing crew, distinct from dumpster divers to handle the haul after we retrieved it and not force divers to stay up most of the night.  Bring more people.  Practice our skits longer in advance.  Work more closely with the event organizers to get on the official schedule, to avoid hassles with the police.  Work in advance with more locals like the fine folks from Craft House at Tufts.

 

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Exotic water carrying bike device from final Honk parade

 

The most important transformative aspect of Honk was that we realized we wanted to become a circus.  The Point A trips have often been referred to as a circus, in part because of the joyful chaos they deliver.  But this was something bigger, the idea that we should step out of our comfort zone of giving presentations and workshops into something more theatrical, more like the famous Bread and Puppet troop (which was one of the Honk marching bands).  To get out of the classroom and more into the street.

 

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Infamous Bread and Puppet Theater Troop

 

The excited conversation about our new incarnation explored the idea of circuses as part of transformative festivals.  One thing which makes these kinds of events powerful is that they have the capacity to induce quinks.  [Quinks are the opposite of trauma. Where some specific acute event leaves a lasting positive effect on your life.]  When we reflected on the purpose of the Point A circus what we came up with was that we would try to induce quinks in both the participants and audience.

There’s much that could be said about building community. But what motivates people towards it isn’t usually what people say, but rather the way community makes them feel. People don’t decide to radically rethink the way they are living because someone told them they could, they do it because some powerful event in the lives made them believe it was possible. This is quink, and HONK is uniquely good at producing it. All the sound and color and joyful noise conveys an experience that words never could.

Our mission as Point A is to spread community into the urban areas that need them most. There are many ways to do this, and the most effective involve quinks. It seems like a parading circus is in our future…

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Helis and Maia – Estonian Hitchhikers

After the final parade on Sunday, Daniel and Raven and I hopped in the car with two Estonian hitchhikers we had picked up through Craig’s list.  Maia and Helis’s housing in NYC had fallen apart before our ride, so I spent most of the drive from Boston to NYC reaching out to various Point A allies who might host them.  We ultimately succeeded and deposited them with willing hosts.  Then Daniel and I drove across several states and arrived back at Twin Oaks at 3:30 AM, just in time to do a late night tofu shift.  This revolution does not stop.

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After the all-night drive, Daniel starts tofu at 3:30 AM

 

 

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The party does not stop

 

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Honk bands support social change

 

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Honk band performs on Boston Subway

 

 

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Z and Lady Liberty

 

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Becoming a Circus

The Possibility Alliance

from MoonRaven’s Social Alchemy Blog, June 11, 2013

(Note, this is from four years ago and information is probably out of date.)

A week ago Monday, we got to visit yet another community, this one in La Plata, 40 miles away from Rutledge, called the Possibility Alliance (and also known as the Still Waters Sanctuary).  I had hoped to visit it after I was done with my Dancing Rabbit visit because the train station I was being dropped off at is in La Plata.  However, I was told the only time we could visit was in the middle of our DR stay (because they’re in a ‘retreat year’), so I figured it wouldn’t happen.  However, it turned out that most of the visitors group wanted to check out the Possibility Alliance and a couple of people had cars so a whole bunch of us went off attend their community tour.

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Artwork from the Possibility Alliance newsletter, THIRST, Issue # 1

The tour was led by Ethan Hughes, their charismatic leader. (At least one person at DR warned me about him–but for our brief visit he seemed fairly easy-going.)  He began the tour by citing the mission of the Possibility Alliance: “Living for the upliftment of all life and reaching for our highest human potential.”  He also claimed that the PA was guided by five practices: 1) Simplicity–he said others called it ‘radical simplicity’ and he thought of it as ‘necessary simplicity’, 2) Service–many different kinds of service, but one that’s often associated with the PA is their ‘Superhero Bike Rides’ where people dress up as superheroes and ride into towns offering to help in any way that’s useful, 3) Social Engagement and
Nonviolent Activism, 4) Self Transformation, and 5) Silliness, Celebration, Gratitude, and Joy.  Finally, after quizzing us on things like dying people’s regrets and what our most passionate wishes were, he led us on a tour of the sanctuary.

We got to see his house and the new timberframed/straw-bale home that they

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More artwork from their newsletter

were building, the very mellow draft horses that they own, the pond that they’ve recently tranformed, and the land and how they’ve been taking care of it.

Life at the Possibility Alliance is extremely low-tech.  They don’t have electricity (they use candles, they also don’t have a website although they do have a phone).  All the building done there is with hand tools rather than power tools.  They try to apply permaculture principles to their work.

They also run on ‘the gift economy’–taking what is offered but not charging for all their courses and workshops, including a permaculture design certification course which other places often charge enormous amounts of money.  We all enjoyed the tour and the place, although we were clear that this was only a taste of what the place was about.

For another view of the PA, see this post by leavergirl on her blog Leaving Babylon.

Quote of the Day: “What we would like to do is change the world.  Make it a little easier for people to feed, clothe, and shelter themselves as God intended them to do…. There is nothing we can do but love, dear God–please enlarge our hearts to love each other, to love our neighbor, to love our enemy.” – Dorothy Day (as quoted in the Possibility Alliance newsletter)

 

The Possibility Alliance

The Common Unity Project–Community Building Retreat

By Timber

Recently 13 members and prospective members of The Common Unity Project attended a weekend workshop titled “Heart to Heart Communication” created by an extraordinarily wise and highly intuitive community building workshop facilitator RoseMarie Pierce. RoseMarie’s innate ability to gently guide people inward to the route of their problems is confounding.  She has over 20 years of experience sharing these workshops which use the framework based on the principles identified by Dr. M. Scott Peck in his books: A Different Drum and The Road Less traveled.

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Members at TCUP originally sought out to find a solution to what we felt was a lack of communication process. We value living in community as a way to enrich our individual experience. We want to learn how to live authentically with one another; to build deeper, interdependent relationships; to heal past wounds and break free of our own egoic patterns.  Yet without a communication process and a common understanding of conscious communication we found that we were struggling to implement these ideals and bring them into our everyday being.

“True community is not simply an aggregate of people…but a people which have made a commitment to communicate more authentically, more intimately, more vulnerably.” — M. Scott Peck

The weekend workshop turned out to be a profound experience for everyone. The basic premise of Heart to Heart communication is that everyone has their own unique perspective in how we see the world, and how we see the world is a direct reflection of how we see ourselves within it. Our external likes, dislikes, judgements, blame etc, are all projections of our own individual experience. When we start to understand this we can learn to speak truthfully, taking responsibility for our feelings rather than trying to change or blame others.

The weekend began in complete silence. Slowly whenever someone felt comfortable they would begin to share themselves with the group. Layers began to shed. Feelings that have been withheld for some time were expressed. At times what one person said would trigger feelings in someone else. We learnt to acknowledge these feelings without identifying with them. What is this feeling?…  Where is it coming from?… What do I make it mean?…. Is it true?…

The workshop agenda was with no direction or goal. We were simply asked to “speak our truth at all personal cost.” We the participants took the wheel, it was a spontaneous journey that took us in all directions and gave everyone an opportunity to share their deepest selves. Past traumas, childhood secrets and withheld truths came up and new levels of understanding and connection were reached.

The workshop ended like it began… in complete silence. I felt a comfortable calmness in my body. Like I had let out everything that was keeping me distant from others and revealed my true self, I had nothing left to hide. I looked around the room and I saw everyone with new eyes, I felt no judgment being given or being received. I felt unconditional love and complete trust for everyone at that moment.

After the course we have had much time to reflect, there seems to be a general sense of empowerment from this new way of interaction. More and more we are taking responsibility for our perception of a situation, and our language we now use is starting more and more to represent that. We have continued weekly Heart to Heart circles without a facilitator and more layers are being revealed. There is still struggle, pain, emotions and there always will  be. We now have the tools to express and work through these feelings and because we are sharing them with each other, everyone benefits.

The Common Unity Project

RoseMarie Pierce, B.Sc.Pharm, is a holistic pharmacist with more than 40 years experience in both conventional and natural medicine. Currently, she counsels and lectures on holistic health and mind/body vitality, as well as offering group workshops in community-building. She has decided she would like to dedicate herself fully to facilitating Heart to Heart Workshops and she is eager to offer these workshops to more intentional communities in the future. You can find more about her @ http://www.holistic-pharmacist.com

 

The Common Unity Project–Community Building Retreat

Twin Oaks Over Time

by Valerie

from The Leaves of Twin Oaks, Fall 2017

Fifty years is a long time, and we know life is change. Here are some aspects of life at TO that have not-changed and changed; how we’ve remained “True To Our Roots” and how we’ve “Embraced Change”.

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Group Photo from 20th Anniversary

“True To Our Roots”

What’s Stayed Essentially The Same Over 50 Years

Egalitarianism and Income-Sharing: We have stayed true to these original values. This (combined with our size of 100 people) sets us part from most intentional communities. We continue to have a communal economy and non-hierarchical decision-making and access to community financial and other resources. We still share the profits from our businesses, as well as our houses, cars, bathrooms, a checkbook and the joys and challenges of living so closely together.

The Planner-Manager System: Taken straight out of B.F. Skinner’s book “Walden Two”, this model of self-government has served us well over our 50 years. Each work area (Garden, Kitchen, Office, etc.) has a Manager who organizes and keeps that area functioning smoothly, while issues that affect the community as a whole are facilitated by a rotating group of 3 Planners.

The Labor System: Although we’ve tweaked it a few times over the years, the Labor System is still at the core of our self-organizing.  Every Tuesday, each member hands in a Labor Sheet for the coming week. The Labor Assigner essentially has a list of all the jobs that need to be done that week, and they work their magic to match up the open jobs with the people who sign up to do that type of work. At once flexible enough to allow members to do only the work they want to do, and structured enough to fill several hundred workshifts a week, the Labor System is a thing of administrative beauty. In a significant way, it is the backbone of the community and some people believe what kept us from folding like so many other 60´s communes.

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Group Photo from 50th Anniversary

“Embracing Change”
What’s Changed Over 50 Years

Technology: Like the rest of the planet, this is more present here than ever before. Along with much of humanity, we have cell-phones, social media, websites, and our long-term ban of commercial television is somewhat moot in the age of online streaming video.  However we do have some communal limitations on when, where and how much members can use some technology.

Child-Care: We long ago abandoned the 100% communal child-raising that Skinner favored and we practiced for a time, although we do still do some group childcare shifts.

Community Income Streams: During the “Pier 1 decades” (roughly the 70´s – 90´s), making hammocks comprised up to 80% of our communal income. When Pier 1 dropped us in the early 2000´s, we had already begun to diversify our businesses. Today, Hammocks makes up about 20% of our income, Tofu/Soyfoods about 30%, with the remaining 50% divided among various smaller collective businesses including Book Indexing, growing and packaging seeds for our sister-community Acorn’s Southern Exposure Seed Exchange company, doing administrative work for the Fellowship for Intentional Community, and more.

“No community is an island”: For many years, Twin Oaks was the sole intentional community in Louisa County where we are located.  Beginning in the early 90´s when we helped start Acorn Community 8 miles from us (to accommodate our Waiting List of 25 people), every few years another new community has sprouted up, with appropriate tree-themed names to boot-first Acorn, then Sapling, and now Cambia (as in tree bark cambium) and Living Energy Farm (shortened to LEF, pronounced “leaf”). There is a high degree of interconnectedness among the Louisa communities, from Labor Exchange agreements to cross-community friendships and romances.

Twin Oaks Over Time

Report from the West Coast Communities Conference

by GPaul Blundell of Compersia Community

The Twin Oaks Communities Conference has been happening for decades at Twin Oaks in Central Virginia and every year bring together communitarians and communards, experts and students, founders and seekers from all over the communities movement. It is, without fail, an incredible and, for many people, transformative experience. There is a catch, though: it’s on the East Coast and it’s always on the East Coast (because it’s always at Twin Oaks). The further west you live the harder it is to get to and so it is hardest for the folks on the West Coast.

Three years ago, a solution was born: the West Coast Communities Conference! Hosted for the first two years at the Groundswell Institute in Northern California this year a new organizing team stepped up and moved the conference to Southern California just outside of Escondido.  This year I had the good fortune to get to attend both communities conferences. In contrast to Twin Oaks, where it rained steadily for half the conference, at Terra Madre, the proto-community, organic farm, and event venue that hosted the West Coast Communities Conference, was sunny and dry as a bone. Instead of dense deciduous forest we were surrounded by bare scrubby hills built of sun bleached boulders.

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But those are superficial differences. In many ways, the conferences were a lot alike. Both attracted a mix of community seekers and community veterans with a sprinkling of students, researchers, and people from outside the movement curious to look in. Both had lots of valuable workshops and panels and drew some big names in the communities movement. Both were great networking events, connecting existing communities with community seekers and sparking all manner of other valuable relationships and connections. Both mixed structured content with unstructured networking time and serious work with relaxed recreation.

There were differences, however. Twin Oaks is the oldest largest secular income sharing egalitarian commune in the US. Twin Oaks provides the basic infrastructure and support and does a lot of prep work and clean up but all the attendees of the conference pitch in to cook and clean and play with the kids and keep the whole event running smoothly. This keeps costs down and recreates the cooperative and collective effort that is the basis of communal culture. Terra Madre is a private farm and event venue. The staff there did all the food prep and serving and volunteer opportunities, though present, were more limited. It was interesting to watch the conference participants repeatedly ask the staff if they could help and get repeatedly rebuffed. One unfortunate effect of this was that the necessary ticket price for the WCCC was noticeably higher than the TOCC and a lot of people who would have liked to come ended up discouraged by or unable to pay the ticket price. How many were discouraged, of course, is impossible to tell and the price could likely never get low enough to not draw any complaints.

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Another difference was in what sections of the communities movement were represented. The Twin Oaks Conference, which is co-sponsored by the Federation of Egalitarian Communities, is free to attend for any member of an FEC commune and most FEC communes send a small delegation most years. Additionally, being hosted at Twin Oaks means that a good share of Twin Oaks members will wander up to the conference at some point during the weekend. The end result is that the conference is crawling with communards and egalitarian income sharing communes are an inescapable presence, bordering on the conversational default, most years. The West Coast Conference this year was, of course, hosted at a venue that is not an intentional community (but might be one day) but was also primarily organized by volunteers from within the co-housing portion of the movement. The networks they reached out to were mostly co-housing networks, a couple co-housing networks were event sponsors, and many of the workshops were geared towards a co-housing audience. As such, the majority of attendees and the conversational default at this year’s WCCC was co-housing, not communes. In fact, out of about 60 speakers and attendees only Sky Blue and myself were currently living in an egalitarian commune (and we were both there as speakers and organizers for the event). That being said, there were a handful of egalitarian community oriented attendees and my workshop on the hows and whys of income sharing was both well attended and so popular that several people insisted I lead a follow up session during the open space portion of the conference. A few people left inspired and some hopeful connections were made.

I think that the general lesson here, and the lesson for the egalitarian communities movement specifically, is an unsurprising one. An event, like a community, is shaped by the people who organize it. No matter the stated goals or self-conception, the people who show up to make it happen will quite naturally bring their own perspectives and interests to bear on their work. If we want the West Coast Communities Conference to be more effective as an organizing nexus for egalitarian community we need to step up and devote our time and resources to making it happen. The promising news is that, both at the conference and on the travels around the West Coast before and after it, I saw copious evidence that people are hungry for solutions to the problems that egalitarian community addresses. There is interest in the ideas and experience that we have to offer and there are individuals and groups circling around and looking for an opportunity to get together and transform their lives. The soil is rich. If we attend to it, beautiful things can blossom forth.

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Report from the West Coast Communities Conference