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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Communal Governance

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