by Raven Cotyledon
I was just looking at the statistics for this blog. By far the most popular Commune Life posts were my piece on “Four Steps to Building a Commune” and the article Paxus wrote on “So You Want to Start a Community”.
I had been wondering why they were so popular until I realized that WordPress also gave statistics on search engine terms that found us. For 2018, the most common were “how to start a commune”, followed by “starting a commune”, “building a commune”, and “how to create a commune”. For this year, they were “how to start a commune”, followed by “how to set up a commune”, “starting a commune”, “where to build a commune”, and “how to make a commune”.
So the title of this post can be seen as a shameless attempt to drive up traffic. It can also be seen an attempt to answer a question a lot of folks seem to be asking.
For folks wanting to start a commune, reading the two posts that I said were so popular would be a good first step. Here I want to expand on what is in the two posts and reinforce some things.
But first, make sure that a commune is what you want to start. Various web dictionaries define a commune as a group of people “living together and sharing responsibilities”. Some say “live and work together”, some say “sharing possessions and responsibilities”, a few say “share everything”. As usual, there is some truth in all of it.
In the communities world, communes are income-sharing communities. In this blog, we focus on “egalitarian, income-sharing communities” (as opposed to hierarchical ones where the money often flows upwards). As I wrote in a recent post, communes are only a small percentage of the communities movement. If you are interested in learning about communities in general, my advice is to start at ic.org, the Fellowship for Intentional Communities website. On the first page they have a section of a “Diversity of Models” that will help you learn about the various types of communities.
There is a lot of good advice in both of our popular articles, regardless of the type of community that you want to start. Paxus begins his piece by saying, “Before you start a new community you should: 1) See if there is an existing community which meets your needs, [and] 2) Live in an existing community before you start one”.
I want to expand on this. Indeed, starting a new community of any kind is “crazy hard work” (as Paxus points out), but if you really want to start one, I think that you should visit a few and then live for a year or two (at least) before you go off to start one.
More specifically, look for communities of the type that you want to start. If you really want to start a commune, check out the Federation of Egalitarian Communities and read through this blog carefully (especially the posts on Creating Community). I recommend that you visit some established communities first (like Twin Oaks, East Wind, and Acorn, something that has been around for at least ten years), and then join a small, relatively new community. (Also, if you are interested in building a community with a high emphasis on eco-sustainability, I strongly recommend that you at least do a brief visit to Living Energy Farm and do the visitor’s program at Dancing Rabbit, both of which will give you a good deal of useful tools for building ecovillages and other types of sustainable communities.)
Visiting established communities will give you some idea of how a community can function and work in the long term, but joining a fledgling community will teach you the nuts and bolts of what it takes to get a community up and running. Also, you will make a lot more difference to a struggling community than one that has been going for a while and you will see more clearly the underpinnings of communal living that often function so well in a long running community that they can be missed. And it will be much more of an adventure, since it often isn’t clear whether the community will survive and how it will actually turn out. (Here’s a shameless plug: if you are interested in living in New York City, Cotyledon, our little commune, could use some people interested in building community.)
As I said, stay with the community you choose to live at for a year or two and learn what you can. Then turn to the advice I gave in my post: find people, make agreements, find an income source, and, only then, find a place.
I can’t emphasize enough starting by finding the people. I know so many communities floundering because they don’t have enough folks. Kat Kinkade is one of my idols. She helped start three communes that are all still running (Twin Oaks, East Wind, and Acorn). I asked someone who knew her what she knew. He said her advice was to build up the population of a community quickly.
In her book, Is It Utopia Yet, Kat claimed that thirty people was “the minimum for security”. I think that you need at least ten. Small communities are fragile and brittle, and I believe that you need to have at least four to be even really functioning as a community. Thus, the more people that you have (that are in agreement and working together), the better a community’s chances for survival.
We need more communes and we need more communities. If you found this post because you wanted to know how to start a commune, I hope that you follow through. If you have interest, the tools are available. Check out various communities, try living in one, then look for people. It is lots of work, but there’s support available, and there are others looking as well. It’s the work I am doing and I think that it’s really important.
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Deep gratitude to all of our patrons:
- Acorn Community
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- East Brook Community Farm
- The Federation of Egalitarian Communities
- Twin Oaks Community
- Tobin Moore
- Kai Koru
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- Jonathan Thaler
- Nance & Jack Williford
- Julia Evans
- William Croft
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