How to Start a Commune

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”.  

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Literally building 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.

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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.)

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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.

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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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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

  • Tobin Moore
  • Kai Koru
  • Jenn Morgan
  • Jonathan Thaler
  • Nance & Jack Williford
  • Julia Evans
  • William Croft
  • Aaron Michels
  • Cathy Loyd
  • Laurel Baez
  • Magda schonfeld
  • Michael Hobson
  • Sasha Daucus
  • William Kadish

Thanks!

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How to Start a Commune

Why doesn’t Twin Oaks have community meetings?

from Keenan’s Twin Oaks blog

Why doesn’t Twin Oaks have community meetings?

I have been asked this question many times in recent years by people new to Twin Oaks, and I burble some sort of platitudes about trusting people who make the decisions, but the truth is that I don’t actually know why Twin Oaks doesn’t have more community meetings.  Other communities have more meetings; East Wind’s democracy-based culture means that they have decision-making community meetings; Ganas’ culture is based on daily hours-long community meetings; new-age spiritual communities like Sirius start every work shift with a group gathering.

The common bias is that collectivist groups are systemically hamstrung by the necessity of ponderous and contentious group decision-making—which means many hours hammering out agreements in group meetings. But Twin Oaks is as collectivist as it is possible to be—and we don’t have community meetings. How is this possible?  Are we all being oppressed by a mysterious and powerful ruling elite?

We used to have community meetings.  During much of my tenure there was typically a once-a-week community meeting.  During economic planning time, or when a building was being designed, or during contentious issues in the community, that was bumped up to twice-a-week meetings. Why does Twin Oaks so rarely have community meetings now? I have a few guesses. Twin Oaks doesn’t have community meetings because:

Being in a meeting is an unpleasant experience.

Meetings are typically poorly attended, therefore, being unrepresentative of the community, there is little justification for allowing the people in a meeting to make a final decision.  After a meeting there will be an O and I  paper posted, or a survey taken. Meeting attendees have little more influence over a final decision than non-meeting attendees, so why bother going to a meeting?

 

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Or maybe it’s the lack of chairs 

Decisions get made anyway.

Twin Oaks has a decision-making infrastructure.  If no communal decision gets made, then some sub-group of the community has the power to make decisions. In fact, Twin Oaks has somewhat overlapping spheres of organizational influence, so even if there is a non-functioning sub-group of the community, the default isn’t that the collective steps forward, but that some other subgroup will step forward and make a decision.

GOOD decisions get made.

Due to our lack of hierarchy and inability to accrue political power (or really, who knows why) the planners and other decision-making groups typically make good decisions.  There is not really any need on the part of the membership to be hyper-vigilant to protect the community from heading off of a cliff, because competent and capable people are making decisions that fairly consistently accurately reflect the will of the community.  Why spend two hours in a meeting when you know that the planners are going to make the right call anyway?

Twin Oaks has loads of policies.

Over the years, Twin Oakers have hammered out and written down many policies.  These days, when an issue comes up,  people on a decision-making committee will consult Twin Oaks’ policies.   It is much easier for a committee to look up an appropriate policy than it is to get a community of people to gather together and agree on a new policy in the first place.  Lots of those earlier meetings were to determine Twin Oaks policy.  That work has been done, so now fewer community meetings are needed.

  The pace of growth has slowed.

The whole community wants to be involved in the design of a building.  A new building uses lots of the community’s resources and to some degree determines the future direction of the community.  There were many community meetings involved in the whole process of approving and designing new buildings. There is now very little need for these sorts of community meetings.

There ARE lots of meetings, just not community meetings.

Lots of Twin Oaks’ fairly routine decision-making has been delegated to subgroups of the community–planners, econ team, membership team, health team, child board.  In fact, there are lots of meetings necessary to live at Twin Oaks, just not very many large-scale community meetings.

Twin Oakers eat and work together.

One function of community meetings (in other communities) is to encourage members to get to know one another. At Twin Oaks there are many ways that we hang out with each other casually in our day-to-day lives. I have noticed that most Twin Oakers can, at a distance at twilight, recognize other members just by their stride.  If we know each other’s walks, we must know each other pretty well.  Mainstream people might gossip about people at work, or people in the neighborhood, or complain about the government, but for us, it’s all the same group of people.  We have a fairly intimate knowledge of the life details of our co-members.

There are lots of small social gatherings.

Throughout most of Twin Oaks’ history there were only two things to do: work and huge parties.  The culture these days favors smaller social gatherings—and LOTS of them.  This builds the bonds of community.  All of these mechanisms of social interaction means that we don’t really need meetings to get to know each other better.

 We facilitate meetings poorly.

As we have had fewer meetings, our group experience in having meetings worsens.  We have less experienced meeting participation, and less experienced facilitators. Going to one poorly run meeting is a powerful disincentive to go to a future meeting.

It’s painful to recognize our diversity of values.

We don’t actually want to recognize our diversity.  That is, we can maintain the illusion that we are living with like-minded people for a long time, as long as we don’t put it to a vote.  In a meeting, people voice their opinions and, inevitably, someone’s opinion will be in the minority. I have often heard (or said) as I walked out of a meeting, “What sort of people do I live with?”

People are busy.

Twin Oaks’ population hasn’t risen for a long time, but Twin Oaks expands businesses and infrastructure.  We keep doing more with the same number of people.  In thinking about going to a community meeting, everyone has to weigh whether going to the meeting is more important than whatever else they might do during that time.  For most people, the value of doing the other thing is more worthwhile than the value of going to a community meeting.

People are happy.

Twin Oaks’ turnover continues to be very low.  People are staying at Twin Oaks, presumably because we are all happy.  In any case, there isn’t much clamor for big changes in the community.  Unhappy people want changes in the community and go to meetings to campaign for these changes.  Happy people go to happy hour.

In conclusion,

I am a believer in the power of meetings. I believe in the wisdom of the group.  I believe that we are made smarter when we meet together and share our communal wisdom.  Admittedly, this is a somewhat faith-based rather than empirically-based opinion.  I have a sneaking suspicion that the community would be stronger and feel more supportive if we met together as a community more often.  But I don’t know.  I keep expecting the fabric of the community to begin to unravel because we don’t do stuff together as a community. But numbers work against this belief of mine.  If there were a chart tracking community turnover and community meetings, it would show that when Twin Oaks had more community meetings, turnover was very high, as there have been fewer meetings, turnover has dropped. Coincidence, no doubt.

I am interested in other people’s opinions about this topic. Are there points I make here that you disagree with? Is this a problem in the community?

Maybe we could have a meeting about it…

Posted 26th February 2014 by keenan

 

 

 

Why doesn’t Twin Oaks have community meetings?

Small Percentages

by Raven Cotyledon

I wanted to entitle this post “Communes are Only a Very Small Percentage of Communities, and Communities are Only a Very Small Percentage of the Ways People Live,” but I figured that title was way too long to fit.

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In the nineteen-eighties, I was involved with a radical group and lived in a house with a bunch of folks including a woman also involved with this group. She said that one of the purposes of being so radical was not to expect that everyone would be radical but that we would push the dialogue left, helping moderates become liberal and liberals become progressive.

I do not expect everyone to live in a commune or even some form of community, but I want as many people as possible to know that communes and communities exist. I realize how small a percentage of the population lives in communities, let alone communes, but I think that everyone can learn important things about sharing, in fact radical sharing, from the communes.

Diana Leafe Christian, in her book Finding Community, briefly complains about how well known the communes are, given how small a percentage they make up of the communities movement. She says, “The first reason for this prominence, I think, is because income-sharing communitarians tend to be activists, if not enthusiastic proselytizers, for their radically non-competitive way of life.  For them, having a close-knit and intimate group (in the smaller communes), pooling incomes, taking care of each other financially, and being on a level playing field with fellow members financially is a form of political activism, and they’re proud of it.”
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Well, it’s true. I don’t think communards actually proselytize, but many of us (myself included) see living this way as a challenge to our competitive, capitalist society. I don’t expect everyone to do it but I want it known that it’s possible.  That’s the reason for this blog. That’s the reason that I talk with people, go to events (like the panel on sharing in communities that I was on Thursday, 2/7), and help start things like the meetup group in Manhattan on Communes and Communities that I am a co-organizer for.

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In a time when life in this society is only becoming more stressful, when inequality is increasing, and when people are feeling more and more isolated, our tiny number of communities, point to a different way.  And while I doubt we will ever include a large or even medium percentage of the population, I certainly want to grow our movement. I see us as the seed for something bigger. And I hope that this blog helps water that seed.

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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

  • Tobin Moore
  • Kai Koru
  • Jenn Morgan
  • Jonathan Thaler
  • Nance & Jack Williford
  • Julia Evans
  • William Croft
  • Aaron Michels
  • Cathy Loyd
  • Laurel Baez
  • Magda schonfeld
  • Michael Hobson
  • Sasha Daucus
  • William Kadish

Thanks!

Small Percentages

East Wind’s Path to Membership

Living in an intentional community can be a deeply rewarding experience. Many people are realizing the shortcomings of consumer culture and are searching for a better way to live. Living at East Wind offers the opportunity to be your own boss and pursue work that truly interests you, to develop a deeper connection with the natural world, to share your day-to-day life with an extended family of like-minded people, and to be a part of a movement to create a better quality of life for everyone in your community. East Wind isn’t the place for everyone, but some of our current members consider moving to community to be one of the best decisions of their lives. If we desire something better than ‘the American dream’ for ourselves and for future generations, we must develop alternatives and set an example for others to follow. So take some advice from Mohandas Gandhi and “be the change you want to see in the world.” That’s what East Winders do every single day.  Leading an autonomous life is an incredibly empowering experience.  You will certainly be amazed as your innate potential reveals itself.

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Those interested in joining East Wind are welcome to inquire about arranging a visit. Contact us first at ew.membership@gmail.com, as dropping in unannounced is not accepted. After completing a three week visitor period, visitors can apply for either provisional membership or associate status at East Wind. Provisional membership is somewhat of a trial membership, and is a year-long process to becoming a full member. You can click here to read all legislation pertaining to membership and visitors.

East Wind is self-governed through direct democracy. All members and visitors are welcome to participate in our political processes and speak in community meetings. However, visitors, provisional members (those during their first year of membership), and those with associate status are not granted a full vote. Provisional members receive a half vote in community ballots after three months of membership, and can vote on all issues except for those that deal with membership. Visitors and individuals with associate status have no voting rights, but may still attend community meetings and share their opinions. All full members have an equal vote and equal access to utilize the established processes. Only full members can sign and pass petitions.

After one year, provisional members are subject to a vote on their membership—if they receive a simple majority of yes votes, they are awarded full membership, full medical coverage, and a full vote in future ballots. However, if they receive a majority of no votes, they will be asked to either extend their provisional membership by six months before undergoing a second vote or to leave community. If this sounds like a lot of pressure, please keep in mind that the overwhelming majority of membership votes are in favor of the new member. This process is designed primarily to keep out individuals who do not do their fair share of work or make current members feel uncomfortable or unsafe.

All full members are equal owners of our land, our businesses, and our assets. Full members can only be expelled from community by the action of two-thirds of full members through petition or vote. Expellable offenses include failure to do fair share, physical violence, theft, violating the community’s property and income codes, and deliberate attempts to destroy or disband the community. The decision to expel a member for these or other offenses is made by full members of the community on a case-by-case basis. Though problems do occasionally arise, we are usually able to resolve issues amongst ourselves and expulsion is extremely uncommon.

East Wind offers a home to those who want to help us in our mission to create a sustainable and egalitarian communal lifestyle. If these values are important to you, please consider visiting us in the Ozarks and getting involved.

 

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East Wind’s Path to Membership

A Bit about Oran Mór

by Raven Cotyledon

Oran Mór means ‘Great Song’.  It comes from the Celtic creation myth of the melody that sang the world into existence and continues to co-create it.

Oran Mór community was founded in 2003 by two couples from East Wind who wanted to live a more sustainable life.  Both couples are gone, but the community continues.

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The Catbox, where the kitchen is

I visited Oran Mór in December when the Federation of Egalitarian Communities held their assembly there.  It seemed a sweet place.

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Ish and Desiree

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Carlos

Current residents include Desiree, Carlos, Opa, Chris, and April, as well as goats, ducks, chicken, geese, guinea fowl, cats, and dogs, and a deer who has adopted them.  Ish lives nearby and visits frequently.

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Opa

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Chris and April

Oran Mór community is still committed to living harmoniously with the land and each other.   It’s very apparent if you spend any time there. I’m glad that I got to spend time with them.

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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

  • Tobin Moore
  • Kai Koru
  • Jenn Morgan
  • Jonathan Thaler
  • Nance & Jack Williford
  • Julia Evans
  • William Croft
  • Aaron Michels
  • Cathy Loyd
  • Laurel Baez
  • Magda schonfeld
  • Michael Hobson
  • Sasha Daucus
  • William Kadish

Thanks!

 

 

A Bit about Oran Mór