Dancing in the Aisles

We published on Wednesday about how Twin Oaks has been helping the Acorn Community with the Seed Racks portion of their business, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. Apparently, folks from Twin Oaks have also been going over to Acorn and helping them directly with shipping out seeds. Here’s a little video from the seed room at Acorn.

Keenan Dakota from Twin Oaks added this comment when the video went up on our Facebook page:

Dancing in the Aisles

Seed Racks at Twin Oaks

Acorn Community’s business, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (aka SESE), is probably the most successful of any of the communal businesses, and with the pandemic, it seems to have become even more successful. In fact, Acorn has more business than they can handle and has been really good about sharing the business with other communities, starting with their neighbor (and the commune that helped start Acorn), Twin Oaks.

One of the parts of SESE is their wholesale business–selling seeds to garden stores and other businesses that then sell seeds to individual customers. Because these businesses display the packets of seeds in display racks, the wholesale wing is called Seed Racks and Twin Oaks runs that part of the business. Recently, with the increased sales, Twin Oaks had to create a larger space for the business. They put up a piece on Facebook and we copied it to the Commune Life Facebook page.

As you can see, over three hundred folks looked at this, and we got five responses.

I think that it’s great that the communes can support each other.

Seed Racks at Twin Oaks

Communal Nomads

by Raven Glomus

Not all the folks in a commune stay put. There are some who go from community to community.  Let’s call them communal nomads.

I probably fit in that category, although I seldom think of myself that way.  I helped start two short-lived income sharing communities:  Common Threads (1995-2000) and Cotyledon (2017-2019).  I’ve lived at three Boston area cooperative houses,  visited Twin Oaks and Acorn enough times to make me a familiar face there, done a three week visit at Dancing Rabbit, and lived at Ganas for two and a half years.  I am now at Glomus Commune and while I would like to think that it might be my long term home and last move, I suspect that might not be true.

Me at Cotyledon, early winter 2017

I know several other folk who migrate from community to community.  Many of them, like me, are trying to find a community that fits, but there are also those who choose this as a lifestyle, not wanting to settle down in one place, preferring to sample a bit from one community and then enjoy how different things are at another.

Nomads definitely serve a function in the communal world.  They carry news from place to place and often bring ideas from other communities–and pass ideas from your community on.  Their contributions often live on after them.  I know that here I’ve heard people talking about how this nomad who was here for a while taught them this or built this thing we are using or, even, just telling stories about them and what they did while they were here.  They influence many communities and add lovely touches.

When someone comes here that has been to many communities, I will often ask them about the places that they’ve been and get some vicarious communal education through them.  I am grateful for these travelers and I know that others are as well.

It’s important to have folks that are long-term, stable members of a community but it’s also useful to have nomads travel through the communes and to enjoy them while they are with us and even have them to talk about after they’re gone.  I don’t talk about them often here on Commune Life, but I am certainly happy that they are in the community world–and, as I said, while I don’t think about it often, I still seem to be one.

The crew at Glomus Commune, spring 2020.  Anande is now at East Wind Community.

Communal Nomads

Mental Health and Community

by Raven Glomus

Mental health is a somewhat controversial issue in the communes, where mental health challenges sometimes flare up but it’s also claimed that communal living improves your mental health. I decided to put the issue out on Facebook.

As you might note, I only got four comments, but they were all detailed and thoughtful:

As they say, it’s complicated. Still, these are issues that need to be addressed in many communities. At what point is the community helpful and at what point does the individuals mental health threaten the community? There aren’t any easy answers but at some point many communities will need to deal with these issues.

Mental Health and Community

Communal Governance

by Raven Glomus

Today seems like an appropriate day to talk about governance.  Not of countries (although I assume there will be many folks thinking about that today) but of communities–specifically, egalitarian income sharing communities, the kind that are in the Federation of Egalitarian Communities (aka the FEC).  

The ‘egalitarian’ in both phrases is because not all income-sharing communities (ie, communes) are egalitarian.  There are income-sharing groups (mostly spiritual communities) that have a guru or bishop or abbot or some other leader who makes most of the decisions for the community.  Egalitarian communities have some sort of ‘horizontal’ governance structure where most to all members have a say in decisions.

That having been said, there are a variety of decision structures in the communes that I am familiar with.  The older, larger communities (Twin Oaks and East Wind) have unusual structures, where most of the newer, smaller communes (like Acorn and Glomus) use consensus decision making.

The FEC only requires of its communities that  a community “Uses a form of decision making in which members have an equal opportunity to participate, either through consensus, direct vote, or right of appeal or overrule.”

I have written about how consensus works.  I’ve also written about when it’s better to use it or not.  My summary of that last article is that consensus works better in small, somewhat homogeneous groups.  For a small commune (including Acorn, which has thirty folks) I think that consensus is the way to go.  Twin Oaks and East Wind are older and larger and don’t use consensus.

Twin Oaks, 1987

Twin Oaks has a very complex decision-making structure that involves their planner/manager structures, their O&I board, and their policies.  Paxus and Keenan, who both live at Twin Oaks, have written about how Twin Oaks governs and they can explain it better than I ever could.

The East Wind community has a whole page on its website devoted to Self-Governance.  It’s worth reading because, like Twin Oaks, their governance structure is complex.  One of the statements on that page is “Our bylaws set forth our purposes, direction, ideology, define the rights and obligations of membership, and state the guarantees made by the community to its members. The bylaws allow for experimentation and are intentionally minimal in their restrictions. The bylaws can be amended in any manner desirable with a two thirds majority vote of full members. The bylaws state that East Wind may ‘govern itself by any reasonable means which its members desire.’ We encourage those who are interested in visiting East Wind to read our bylaws in full.”  It goes on to discuss several other decision making structures, including “Legispol” which is something that I’ve heard East Winders talk about and wouldn’t say I had any real understanding of.

East Wind folks, 2016

For the Fourth of July last year, Theresa wrote a Facebook post that pointed out while communities claim to strive to have all voices be heard, there are barriers, often, to that happening, particularly for people of color or folks coming from other classes or cultures.  This will probably mean changes in our way of governance.

I have claimed that communities are laboratories for social change.  I think that we are places where we can experiment with new methods of governance, and today, as the US changes its government and, perhaps, tries to improve some things, it might be good to look at other ways of governance for society as well as for communities.  

It’s not that I think that you could run a whole countries could be run by consensus (although there are forms of consensus that I think could work with larger groups–I heard of a situation where over a thousand anti-nuke activists needed to agree to an arrest plea and were able to do that using something called small group to large group consensus) and I even suspect that you couldn’t run a country using sociocracy, but I think that we need to look at ways to decentralize power, and I think that the communes are at the forefront of that.

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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 patron communards:
 

  • Aaron Michels
  • Brenda Thompson
  • Cathy Loyd
  • Colby Baez
  • Heather
  • Janey Amend-Bombara
  • Jenn Morgan
  • Joseph A Klatt
  • Kai Koru
  • Kate McGuire
  • Kathleen Brooks
  • Lynette Shaw
  • Magda schonfeld
  • Michael Hobson
  • Montana Goodman
  • Nance & Jack Williford
  • NorthernSoul Truelove
  • Oesten Nelson
  • Peter Chinman
  • Raines Cohen
  • Sasha Daucus
  • Suzi Tortora
  • Tobin Moore
  • Twin Oaks
  • Warren Kunce
  • William Croft
  • William Kadish
  • William Scarborough

Thanks! 

Communal Governance

BIPOC IC Fund

It’s Martin Luther King day in the US and I don’t want this to be lost amidst the pandemic, the storming of the Capitol, the inauguration, etc. Racial injustice is still a major problem in the US (and world) and most communities (especially the communes) are overwhelmingly white.

The Foundation for Intentional Communities decided that something needed to be done about it and this past summer decided to put money into creating change. In November they sent out this email:

None of these links work because these are photocopies of the letter, but if you are interested in exploring this more, here is a link that does work and you can find out more info and ways to donate.

If you believe that communal living has something to offer the world (as I do) then here is a way to make it more accessible to the people who are usually left out of the process.

There have also been several attempts to support the creation of income-sharing communities led by folks of color, but as of the moment, I don’t know that any of these has actually started. It’s very hard to start communes in general and when there’s folks from a less privileged group trying to start it, it seems nearly impossible. Still, I want to credit the FIC for forming a fund to at least remove some of the financial barriers, both to starting communities and to joining communities. I truly hope that this results in more alternatives opening up in the communities movement for Black and Indigenous folks and other People of Color.

— Raven

BIPOC IC Fund

Come Hell or High Water

by Raven Glomus

The two previous book reviews this week (books on sustainable community and collaborative groups) focused on books written about how to do collaborations (including communes and communities) well.  Today I want to review a book about what not to do.  It’s called Come Hell or High Water and is subtitled “a handbook on collective process gone awry”.  It’s published by AK press–“one of the world’s largest and most productive anarchist publishing houses”–that also publishes a bunch of other interesting books (including adrienne maree brown’s book on Emergent Strategy which I based two blog posts here on).

As the cover illustrates, this is a funny, cynical book that has a bunch of cartoons illustrating some frustrating problems.  It also has a lot of hard won lessons about how all these wonderful processes that we talk about here and which other commune building guides extol can go terribly wrong.  It’s written by a couple of anarchists who believe strongly in “egalitarian collectives” but have seen the pitfalls in the process and have looked at ways that form what the authors term “predictable patterns” that can lead well-meaning groups to things like “hierarchy, mistrust, looking out only for oneself, and sometimes even underhanded scheming.”  

Although this is a modest sized book (and a quick read–127 small pages) Delfina Vannuchi and Richard Singer look carefully at issues like misusing consensus, how not to do power sharing, the difference between politeness and kindness, character assassinations and banning, justice and due process and free speech, and how vagueness can lead to authoritarianism.

I’ve seen reviews of this book that complain that this book is overly ‘pessimistic’.  However, I think that it provides a nice counterbalance to all the books on the wonderful things you can do with group process.  (See my two previous reviews this week.)  The cartoons are also a nice touch that makes the emphasis on problems easier to take.

The authors end the book with a section that they entitle “There’s hope” where they talk about how “Virtually all problems in collectives can be overcome by applying compassion, and by being thorough and even-handed in our thinking.”  Sounds lovely but not easy to do, especially when things are tough.  

Here’s the last paragraph in the book, which is a nice summary of their thinking:

“An egalitarian collective is meant to accept and incorporate differences and heterogeneity.  The task is to create a productive, relatively peaceful community out of all the different and sometimes contradictory personalities that form the group.  No collective will ever be a perfect picture of unity, but it doesn’t have to be.  A working collective is more like a crazy-quilt of disparate styles, all stitched up by a common thread.  Frayed edges and all, that’s what a functional egalitarian collective looks like.”

It’s a nice reminder for people living in or trying to build communes.

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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 patron communards:

Aaron Michels

Brenda Thompson

Cathy Loyd

Colby Baez

Heather

Janey Amend-Bombara

Jenn Morgan

Joseph A Klatt

Kai Koru

Kate McGuire

Kathleen Brooks

Lynette Shaw

Magda schonfeld

Michael Hobson

Montana Goodman

Nance & Jack Williford

NorthernSoul Truelove

Oesten Nelson

Peter Chinman

Raines Cohen

Sasha Daucus

Suzi Tortora

Tobin Moore

Twin Oaks

Warren Kunce

William Croft

William Kadish

William Scarborough

Thanks! 

Come Hell or High Water

The Empowerment Manual

by Raven Glomus

Starhawk is a witch and a political activist and a permaculture teacher and the author or co-author of thirteen books.  She has also lived in a collective household in the Bay Area for decades.  In 2011 she wrote The Empowerment Manual, which she subtitles “A Guide for Collaborative Groups”.

Starhawk

I think that this is an incredibly useful book.  While Starhawk points out that there are many different types of what she calls collaborative groups, which are any group of people who are working together for common goals that are decentralized and egalitarian, she definitely includes communities in the mix.  One theme through the book is a fictional story that she tells about “an imaginary cohousing community”.  She uses this story to illustrate many of her points.  Unfortunately, I think the story is one of the weaker point of the book (I think that it’s both hokey and a bit soap opera-ish)  although it does provide useful examples of what she’s talking about sometimes.

The Empowerment Manual has whole chapters on group vision, power and responsibility, communication and trust, “Leadership Roles for Leaderless Groups”, conflict, and, particularly useful, “Dealing with Difficult People”. Information is interspersed with exercises to practice or use what she talks about.  There are two tables of contents, the second labeled “Table of Questions and Exercises”, so you can easily find some of the more useful exercises.

Starhawk ends the book with a chapter focusing on “Groups that Work” so you can see actual examples of successful collaborations.  After looking at three such groups (a cooperative grocery store, the 1999 Seattle blockade, and her own Reclaiming collective) she finishes by listing what she calls ‘Lessons from Success’.  I think that the points that she makes here are so useful for communes and communities that I am going to quote a few paragraphs.  (Italics are in the original.)

Ideals and values are important; they are the guiding force that drives people to organize together and work together.  But groups that survive find ways to balance the ideal with the pragmatic needs of the moment.  They are flexible, rather than rigid, and accepting rather than judgemental.  They value diversity rather than orthodoxy, problem-solving over toeing a party line.

Successful groups balance unity with autonomy.  They have a bias toward freedom and impose the minimal structure necessary.  But they do have structure and often hold a unifying vision and set of core values.

Collaborative groups that last over time reinvent themselves periodically.  They may need to  change their structure, organization and ways of working as they grow and develop.  They are not static, but dynamic, not artifacts, but living organisms.”

I think that, not only anyone who wants to start a community, but anyone who thinks that their community has begun to stagnate, should read this book full of both good ideas and useful processes.

Next, so what could go wrong?  On Friday, a book that looks at that.

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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 patron communards:
 

  • Aaron Michels
  • Brenda Thompson
  • Cathy Loyd
  • Colby Baez
  • Heather
  • Janey Amend-Bombara
  • Jenn Morgan
  • Joseph A Klatt
  • Kai Koru
  • Kate McGuire
  • Kathleen Brooks
  • Lynette Shaw
  • Magda schonfeld
  • Michael Hobson
  • Montana Goodman
  • Nance & Jack Williford
  • NorthernSoul Truelove
  • Oesten Nelson
  • Peter Chinman
  • Raines Cohen
  • Sasha Daucus
  • Suzi Tortora
  • Tobin Moore
  • Twin Oaks
  • Warren Kunce
  • William Croft
  • William Kadish
  • William Scarborough

Thanks! 

The Empowerment Manual

Resilient and Cooperative

by Raven Glomus

It’s book review week again at Commune Life.  Today I want to take the unusual step of reviewing two books that I have only skimmed and partially read because they are connected and one of them was just published.

Both books are by Yana Ludwig (formerly Ma’ikwe Ludwig) although the latest one is co-written with Karen Gimnig.  They are both published by the Foundation for Intentional Community (the FIC, formerly the Fellowship for Intentional Community).  Yana Ludwig lives in the Solidarity Collective, an income-sharing community in Laramie, Wyoming.

The original book that was written is called Together Resilient and is subtitled ‘Building Community in the Age of Climate Disruption’.  It talks about the problems we are dealing with as climate change occurs and how we can deal with it.  The author looks at what the Global Ecovillage Network calls the four dimensions of sustainability: worldview, social, economic, and ecological.  (She also mentions Joanna Macy’s “three types of activism”–a model that has been very important to me–Holding Actions, Systems Change, and Worldview Changes.)  Yana Ludwig then goes on to talk about “Community as Experimental Laboratory”, another concept that I have long espoused–she sees communities as places where we can try out and model what we must do to live sustainably.  

As ‘Case Studies’ for the work that she thinks needs to be done, she uses the communities of Dancing Rabbit and Twin Oaks (although she talks about a bunch of other groups, many not residential communities, but some that are, such as the Ecovillage at Ithaca).  As the subtitle of the book says, everything is very related to community living (the subtitle of Chapter 2 is “Community as a Tool to Reduce Carbon Footprints” and Chapter 4 is entitled “Starting a Residential Intentional Community) and there is a section in the book called ‘The Case for Deeper Communalism’ where the author talks about the advantages of income sharing.  She also includes her ‘Spectrums for Intentional Communities’ chart which I think is one of the more useful tools that community seekers and community creators can have.

My biggest complaint about the book is that the author starts relying on a Ken Wilbur color theory where everything evolves toward what he calls ‘yellow’ and the state he calls ‘green’ (the space that many communes and ecocommunities are in) is too extreme.  Yana Ludwig advocates for what she calls ‘hierarchy-lite’.  Her vision of what she calls ‘Sustainable Cooperative Culture’ fits in between ‘Extreme Competitive Culture’ and ‘Extreme Cooperative Culture’.  Somehow I don’t think that being too cooperative is dangerous and feel that this color theory and these spectrums are trying to paint the more radically cooperative elements as extremists and thus justify her approach as more moderate.   Still, I think that it’s a small gripe for a book that pulls in so many useful ideas and approaches.

Throughout the book Yana Ludwig mentions The Cooperative Culture Handbook–which wasn’t actually written until three years later.  It was just published near the end of last year which is why I wanted to get this review out since this book is practically ‘hot off the press’.  

At the beginning of The Cooperative Culture Handbook, the authors talk about how when Yana wrote Together Resilient, “the section on group dynamics and culture kept getting longer” and “After a conversation with her publisher and editor, it was decided that she’d write a second book”.  Yana Ludwig went looking for a writing partner and, after several partners didn’t quite work out, she began working with Karen Gimnig.  This book is the result and it’s subtitled ‘A Social Change Manual to Dismantle Toxic Culture & Build Connection’.

This is basically a book of exercises.  The authors try to balance personal and group work to help folks do the work that they call creating cooperative culture.  They begin each section with an idea that they call a “Culture Key” and then follow each ‘Key’ with two exercises. They emphasize ‘Discernment’, stating clearly that there are no “simple, easy answers”.  They go on to say that no workshop or policy will eliminate conflict and oppression. “If that were so, this would be a much shorter book!”

Most of these exercises look useful.  The book begins with exercises to promote “Skillful Hearing” and ends with exercises designed to look at multiple ideas of how to proceed and to come up with something that is aligned with the group’s collective mission.  The first three ‘Keys’ all come with an exercise drawn from the Imago Dialogue work developed by Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt and there’s a bit more about Imago Dialogue (which apparently is something that Karen Gimnig was very influenced by) in the appendix.  The authors also put diamond symbols in the Contents next to their “favorite general use exercises.”

My only real difficulty that I have with the book (at least from skimming it) is that it again tries to frame certain viewpoints as extreme–this time breaking methods into “Mainstream Culture, Cooperative Culture, and Counter Culture” and saying “we think the pendulum can swing way too far from Mainstream Culture and land us in the pitfalls of Counter Culture.”    As a person who was very much a part of the counterculture of the ‘60s and’70s, I definitely react to this characterization.  Fortunately, they do say in the beginning, as they are talking about all this that they hope “…that you will give yourself and us the grace to set aside pieces that we may have gotten wrong or described badly, or that simply aren’t a fit for you.”  I think that their emphasis on discernment may be their saving grace here.

I’m very glad that I got these two books.  They look very useful for anyone wanting to understand why community is so useful in our current climate catastrophe as well as anyone wanting to build some of the skills needed for group living. If either (or both!) of these two situations describes you, I would definitely recommend these books.

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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 patron communards:

  • Aaron Michels
  • Brenda Thompson
  • Cathy Loyd
  • Colby Baez
  • Heather
  • Janey Amend-Bombara
  • Jenn Morgan
  • Joseph A Klatt
  • Kai Koru
  • Kate McGuire
  • Kathleen Brooks
  • Lynette Shaw
  • Magda schonfeld
  • Michael Hobson
  • Montana Goodman
  • Nance & Jack Williford
  • NorthernSoul Truelove
  • Oesten Nelson
  • Peter Chinman
  • Raines Cohen
  • Sasha Daucus
  • Suzi Tortora
  • Tobin Moore
  • Twin Oaks
  • Warren Kunce
  • William Croft
  • William Kadish
  • William Scarborough

Thanks! 

Resilient and Cooperative

Emotional Flossing: Personal growth, social hygiene, and being triggered the commune way

by Liv Scott

Illustrations by the author

“What is the biggest challenge of living on a commune?,” I asked when realizing that the regenerative farm I was spending my COVID days was just that. It was as much an icebreaker as it was a question to ease my nerves, as I was taught growing up to proceed with caution when it came to communes. I awaited the answer.

“We trigger each other.” It was so human and so true for moving through life, commune or not.

Without a car, in a pandemic, for five months, I was submerged into the small commune. What struck me most was the awareness of social hygiene of the community: the meetings to form a collective understanding of an individual’s growth and role within the whole. We certainly got on each other’s nerves, but we also held each other, bonded, and evolved as people together. 

Every human has baggage or “areas of improvement,” which we so often cannot recognize until a sudden disruption forces us to stop life, in order to see the pattern of ourselves. Our own pattern of responding when under a stressor ripples out affecting others. We trigger each other. Perhaps in the hectic pace of life we can, overtime, put our pattern together make it conscious and actively “work on it.” It takes time to see that pattern when interactions are brief and often shallow.

However, in the community, these ticks are apparent immediately, where we are constantly bumping up against people’s ups and downs of life. I saw how we quickly learned what each person needed on an emotional level during their ups and downs. It was remarkable to see how people got vulnerable and held each other through COVID anxieties, moods, disagreements, and mournings. Personally, I learned how to communicate my own emotional needs and to trust people in sharing my needs rather than bottling everything up until some idealistic romantic love comes along. I learned how to lean on and be held by others. I was flexing my emotional intelligence muscle.

All the emotional flossing, holding, trigger-induced growth on that small commune, I found beautiful. Yes, at times it was frustrating, but it was also special. It was how strangers coming together to live together can live, work, and build together. It is how basic needs of survival can be met, so the collective can be rooted in their ability to offer something outwards. 

This experience opened me up to a whole new way of thinking about the so-called emotional underbelly of human interactions – being triggered. We live in a traumatized and traumatizing culture, but safe collectives can be catalysts for our own self-awareness, emotional growth and trauma healing. I am grateful for my time living in a commune. Like any real challenge, it is where the true learning lies, so I am glad to have cast my caution aside, built relationships and experienced some healthy individual growth.

Emotional Flossing: Personal growth, social hygiene, and being triggered the commune way