The First Two Steps

by Raven

Probably the most popular post that I have written on Commune Life is the one on Four Steps to Building a Commune.  Recently I have started thinking that I missed a few steps. 

When I wrote it, I wrote it with the assumption that someone who wanted to start a commune, had come with experience and checked out the alternatives.  Now, I want to look at those things. Let’s call it steps zero and zero point five. (Or Step 0.0 & Step 0.5)

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Let’s start with step zero. If you are thinking of starting any type of community, but especially an income-sharing community, you should at least have some real group living experience. How do you even know that you would even like living in a community if haven’t tried it first?

I know of people who have given lots of good reasons for why they thought that they would be great in community only to find out that they didn’t like it once they really tried it.  You may be great at working with people. That isn’t the same as living with them. If you’re working with a group of people, no matter how difficult, you can go home at the end of the day. If you are living in a community, you are home. These are the folks that you are with, sometimes 24/7.  If you don’t like that, you probably don’t want to live in a commune. 

I would further suggest that if you are interested in starting a community, you actually live in one (even a co-op or collective house) for a couple of years first, and perhaps visit several others for at least a few weeks, before trying to start something. It’s really good to know how things are done at several places. The problem with only knowing one place before you start another, is thinking that the way that things are done in the place that you lived is the way things are always done everywhere.   

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The more places that you visit, the wider the range of what you see as possible. Three places I would particularly recommend people who want to start a community should visit are: Twin Oaks in Virginia, to see how a commune that has lasted over fifty years works (I have done two three-week visits there plus many shorter stays), Dancing Rabbit in Missouri, to learn the pieces of how to build community, especially an ecological community (I did their three-week program several years back), and Ganas in New York City, to look at a community that fearlessly embraces conflict (I lived there for two and a half years–I would particularly recommend going to at least several of their morning meetings).

Then there is what I would call step zero point five. Ask yourself why you want to start a commune or any other type of community. Is there already a community that would meet your needs? If so, why don’t you want to live there? Please be real.  Starting a community is a lot of work and most new communities fail. At the very least (and this is moving into my Step One of my four steps), find someone else who wants to do this. Even better, see if there is anyone else who is already trying to do something similar. 
many hands together: group of people joining hands

As an example, I helped start Cotyledon because, first, I wanted to start an income-sharing community in the Northeast US and there wasn’t one at the point that I became involved. Ironically, I found some folks prior to this wanting to start a farming community in upstate New York, but after over a year working with them, I decided the way they were organizing wasn’t viable. I found out about Point A, so I would be working with a project out of the communes and after I was up here I met gil and DNA, so I now had a group to work with. (The irony is that a few years after I left, and by that time I was committed to working with Point A, the upstate farming community reorganized so that it was viable and became East Brook Community Farm. I am currently taking my own advice and planning on moving there as  Cotyledon winds down.) And I had literally decades of community living experience, including having previously started a commune in the 1990s, and visiting all the places that I mentioned above, all of which proved very useful in starting Cotyledon. And, even that wasn’t enough when we weren’t able to attract enough people. 

I am not suggesting that you need decades of experience, but I also think that someone who wakes up one day and says, “I want to build a commune” will not get far without, first, having at least some group living experience and perhaps visiting a bunch of communities, particularly places like the one that they are dreaming of, and second, having a really good reason for starting yet another new community, rather than simply joining one.

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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
  • 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! 

 

The First Two Steps

Welcome to Twin Oaks Community

from the Twin Oaks website 

Twin Oaks is an intentional community in rural central Virginia, made up of around 90 adult members and 15 children. Since the community’s beginning in 1967, our way of life has reflected our values of cooperation, sharing, nonviolence, equality, and ecology. We welcome you to schedule a visit.

We currently have membership openings! If you’re interested in exploring life at Twin Oaks, we welcome you to schedule a Three-Week Visitor Period.

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We do not have a group religion; our beliefs are diverse. We do not have a central leader; we govern ourselves by a form of democracy with responsibility shared among various managers, planners, and committees. We are self-supporting economically, and partly self-sufficient. We  income-sharing. Each member works 42 hours a week in the community’s business and domestic areas. Each member receives housing, food, healthcare, and personal spending money from the community.

Our hammocks and casual furniture business has generated most of our income in the past. Making tofu as of 2011 has become roughly equal in importance to hammocks. Indexing books and now seed growing are also significant sources of income. Still, less than half of our work goes into these income-producing activities; the balance goes into a variety of tasks that benefit our quality of life—including milking cows, gardening, cooking, and childcare. Most people prefer doing a variety of work, rather than the same job day in, day out.

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A number of us choose to be politically active in issues of peace, ecology, anti-racism, and feminism. Each summer we host a Women’s Gathering, Queer Gathering, and Communities Conference where we welcome both experienced communitarians, and seekers who are new to community living.

We give tours of Twin Oaks almost every Saturday afternoon from March through October, and on most alternating Saturdays from November through February. 

We offer a structured three week visit designed to give the visitor some general education and experience in living at Twin Oaks. 

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Please do not drop in and expect to get a tour or be able to stay overnight. Tours and visits must always be pre-arranged, and to be a guest here, a member must agree to be your host before you arrive.

 

Welcome to Twin Oaks Community

The 2019 Communities Conference

by Raven (with help from Rejoice) 

The Communities Conference nearly didn’t happen this year. In late May, Julia sent out an email to several communards wondering if we should have the Conference this year. It was late and most of the usual organizers were busy elsewhere. Fortunately, a bunch of people stepped up to the plate. 

The principle organizing team this year was Alexis, Wes, Rejoice, Maximus, Hayley, Anna, Gabby, and Brooke. In record time they helped pull together the longest-running of the three August gatherings at Twin Oaks.  And as a result of their work, the Communities Conference happened.  

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Julia (who didn’t organize but managed the site)
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Rejoice 
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Maximus 
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Wes
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Alexis 
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Anna 
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Brooke 

There were many similarities to previous Conferences.  The meals were great, there were workshops, “Meet the Communities” happened on Saturday morning, and there was lots of networking and connections.  There were tours of Twin Oaks and of Cambia, a dance party Saturday night at ZK at Twin Oaks, and hang out dinners at Acorn and Living Energy Farm on Sunday night.   But there were also differences.

Most of the food this year was dumpstered. There was no printed workshop schedule and all the workshops were created at the Conference. A lot of the Conference was created at the Conference. And it all worked out and worked out well. 

Hopefully next year the Communities Conference will be planned out well ahead of time. But this year’s Conference showed what a bunch of motivated communards could do.  We can build communities and we can build conferences.

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My favorite outhouse at the Conference site 

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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! 

 

The 2019 Communities Conference

Thoughts on the Twin Oaks Queer Gathering

Written by Warren:

I’ve been curious about the FEC communes for a little over a year and this past August I finally had an opportunity to visit Twin Oaks during the Queer Gathering. Generally speaking, it’s not difficult to arrange a visit to these communities, but I live in Sweden and I have a small daughter which makes logistics somewhat trickier. Both visiting and membership procedures are (understandably) much more restricted when it comes to children. However, as a long-time activist in the LGBTQ rights movement, I was really looking forward to experiencing an American queer gathering. Would it be similar to the Danish and Swedish queer festivals that I’d been to? Most of my experience with American queer politics has been through the internet, what would it feel like to meet the thoughts and ideas and personalities of my queer siblings across the ocean in person?

First, a bit about the word “queer.” Queer has become something of an umbrella term for the LGBT community as a way to say sexual or gender minority without getting into specifics. But this hasn’t always been the case and in the Scandinavia capitol cities (and Berlin and perhaps a few other places) “queer” had been long used to describe the so-called faction of LGBT people who were far-left leaning politically, almost exclusively vegan and not at all interested in respectability politics. Conversations at Scandinavian queer gatherings ten years ago were more likely to focus on abolishing marriage and legal gender than marriage equality and third gender markers. There were designated sex-spaces, hands-on BDSM workshops and yes, orgies. I wouldn’t be surprised if the term “pink washing” was actually coined over a pot of vegan stew in the cafeteria of an abandoned school building squatted by queer anarchists. These were also spaces haunted by traumatic childhoods and unhealthy coping mechanisms. The Queers were a crazy, beautiful, amazing, bizarre, radical hot mess. Today, the English-language influence has grown stronger and “queer” is now being used more and more as a catchall term for the alphabet soup even over here. With a shift in language, comes a shift of ideas and culture and that which has no name tends to fade away.

 

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They had buttons like this at the gathering 

My first delight upon arriving at Twin Oaks, was seeing queers in the woods. This was, in fact, the first time I’d ever seen queers camping en masse. Despite being outdoorsy myself, my own LGBTQ-community experiences have mostly been urban. If you missed the sign announcing the grass parking lot, you would know you were in the right place from all the Subarus.  The secluded location combined with intense heat (for me, omg I was dying, never sweated so much in my life) and clothing-optional policy created a vibrant visual “all-bodies welcome” setting that was powerful. Judging by the pronoun nametags, around half of the participants were nonbinary and many more had binary identities with nonbinary bodies comfortably taking up space and freely existing. This alone is something I wish for all trans people to experience at least once in their lives.

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Street sign in New York City near the Stonewall Inn 

The spaces between and beyond gender were stronger and more tangible during this gathering than I’ve seen them.  The flip side of this coin, was that the presence of solidly binary-identified cisgender gay men, lesbians and bisexuals was little more than a murmur. This brings me back around to the question of how big of an umbrella is the word “queer” in reality? Who feels welcomed/described by the word? Is it enough for the author of an online glossary to define a word as a catchall for it to function as a catchall? 

As for the leftist-coloring of the word, that I couldn’t judge at this opportunity– this was afterall a gathering at an income-sharing egalitarian commune. Socialist leanings would be a given. I did however attend a food justice queer revolution workshop during the gathering which trojan horsed Marxism as the solution to climate breakdown and post-apocolyptic governance. If Americans are so scared of socialism they have to carefully dance around it (one participant even quoted Marx without attributing the quote to Marx) at a queer gathering on an income-sharing commune…well, Bernie Sanders has his work cut out for him.

I learned from a workshop on being queer in community, that approximately the same amount of transphobia exists at Twin Oaks and some of the other communities as in the wider American culture, maybe shifted a bit to exclude the extreme negative end of the scale. The usual generational divide between those who get it and those who feel the fundamental rules of nature have been shifted beneath their vary noses, can be felt as much at Twin Oaks as anywhere else. The Queer Gathering is a bubble of freedom and liberation even within the communities movement.

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Author with daughter and friends in the background 

I did bring my 5-year-old daughter with me and was grateful for the free babysitting provided by volunteers. Being babysat by a wonderful, mostly naked man with large breasts was an experience that stimulated questions that led to conversations I was happy to have the opportunity to have with my daughter. Despite being trans myself, back home transness as topic in itself is not one that comes up very often in our day-to-day life. She even took the stage during the audience-participation queer, drag, burlesque, talent show event– I love that she felt safe enough to confront her stage fright and that she too got to experience empowerment and acceptance.

It was wonderful to meet some familiar faces from this blog and other internet spaces, in person– the people you see here are every bit as delightful in real life. Warm, compassionate and inspiring. If you’re thinking about taking the leap and going to visit a community, do it. 

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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! 

 

Thoughts on the Twin Oaks Queer Gathering