The FEC Assembly

by Raven Cotyledon

The Federation of Egalitarian Communities is the organization that connects egalitarian, income-sharing communities in North America. It was created to facilitate transportation and labor exchanges between the communes. It was never meant to be a governing body for these communities, but currently it has been involved with various controversies between the communities and between communities and individuals.

This is Rejoice. She is the Secretary of the FEC.  She gets to be involved in tangles like where we will hold the Assembly.

 

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Rejoice

The Assembly is a meeting of delegates from the communities in the FEC.  Originally we were going to hold the Assembly at East Wind, a large community in southern Missouri, but due to some controversy, we ended up holding it at Oran Mor, a small community, a half hour away.  Some of us spent a lot of time going back and forth between the two communities, through the Ozark region of Missouri. 

 

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The building at Oran Mor where we held Assembly meetings

We had over twenty-five people descend on Oran Mor (not including members of their community and East Wind).  We came from communities in Quebec, New York, Washington, DC, Virginia, Oregon, Washington state, and Alaska (and, of course, Missouri).

 

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Arielle and Marie-Claire from Le Manoir in rural Quebec 

 

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Rachael and Maximus from East Brook Community Farm in central New York state

There was a lot of drama, personal and political, but there were also a bunch of more mundane things, like creating a budget for the next year.  There was some discussion about Commune Life, both the blog and the YouTube channel. An important item was creating leadership teams, so Rejoice wouldn’t have to do everything alone–and we could focus on getting more stuff done.

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Caroline from Compersia in Washington, DC
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Lo and Jesse from the Mothership in Portland, Oregon

One interesting aspect, we have been dealing with, is the FEC constitution, which was written many years ago and seems increasingly out of date.  Among other things, the constitution has an anti-discrimination clause which some folks thought meant queer communities, Jewish communities, women’s communities, and communities of color couldn’t join.  We were talking about changing the constitution, but it seemed tricky. We decided instead of changing the constitution, we might create a document with interpretations of the constitution, which might be easier to change in the future.

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Iz and Tea from Rainforest Lab in rural Washington
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Greg from Ionia in Alaska

In spite of everything, I was glad we had this Assembly.  It was wonderful to meet so many folks building communes around North America and the struggles we engaged in were difficult but important. It still seems amazing and critical to me that our communities are kept connected. This is the next level of community building–creating networks of communities and keeping the communication between our communes growing.

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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

  • Sumner Nichols
  • Tobin Moore
  • Kai Koru
  • Bryan Utesch
  • Jenn Morgan
  • Jonathan Thaler
  • Nance & Jack Williford
  • Julia Evans
  • William Croft

Thanks!

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The FEC Assembly

Acorn: We have a new membership process!

Membership decisions are consistently one of the hardest aspects of living at Acorn. We can disagree about how much money to spend on a goat fence, or where to put a building, but when you’re talking about people, and the friendships formed, or the other social dynamics that develop, the stakes are much higher. After a string of difficult membership decisions that strained the social fabric of the community, we concluded that our old membership process was not serving us well.

The old process was that visitors would come for three weeks, do a round of clearnesses, which involved having a conversation with every member on the farm, and then we would try to come to consensus about whether to make the person a provisional member or not.  If we made them a provisional member, there would be a year long period where they did more rounds of clearnesses and we would come to consensus about making them a full member.

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The Acorn Community

When I first showed up in 2013, there was a stated norm that “if it wasn’t a clear yes, it was a no.” But in my experience, this was only a thing people said, and didn’t actually reflect how the decisions were being made. Probably this was true at one time, but as membership turns over, and the culture shifts, this norm fell by the wayside. Members could “stand aside” from a decision, indicating that they were not excited about a potential member but would be willing to live with them, but there was confusion about what that actually meant, and how many it took to be “not a clear yes.” Any full member could block the decision, rejecting the visitor’s membership, but since it only took one member to do that, there was no incentive for other members who also had reservations to “throw their social capital onto the fire,” which led to members feeling unsupported in saying “no”.

There were other problems too. The short amount of time to get to know someone well enough to make a decision was causing us stress. Even though a provisional member is “provisional,” a year is a long time, long enough for real connections , friendships, and romantic relationships to form. It became very difficult to say “no” at that point, and so we ended up feeling a lot of pressure to be confident in our initial decision, before we had enough experience with a person to actually feel that confidence. Clearnesses and the processing of emotions that leads up to them can be emotionally intense and taxing. The frequency with which we were going through that with the steady stream of new visitors was leaving us raw and without enough emotional energy to maintain our own relationships. To complicate things even further, over the years we had glommed on different mechanisms like the “Delta Maneuver,” which allowed visitors to stick around as interns until a membership slot opened up, which provided us flexibility to achieve the outcomes we wanted, but that was clunky and confusing.

So over the summer of 2017, we had a bunch of meetings where we talked about what a new membership process could look like. Most of us liked the sentiment of “if it’s not a clear yes, it’s a no,” but we needed a clearer implementation. A significant portion of the membership wanted to feel less rushed in their decisions, and like a provisional decision was actually provisional. We liked the function of clearnesses, but recognized that it was overloading us. So we wrote a bunch of words down and came to consensus on it, with the understanding that it will need to be re-consented on next summer after we evaluate how it is working for us.

One of the biggest changes is the actual decision making mechanism. Instead of consensus, we came up with something we called a “test for excitement.”  In a test for excitement, every member present is asked to answer either “excited”, “accept”, or “have reservations”.  A “have reservations” answer cancels out one “excited” answer, and if there are at least 50% “excited” answers, then the decision is passed. This gives people some room to express concerns without feeling like they are solely responsible for saying “no,” and it ensures that there is actually enough enthusiasm to constitute a clear yes. Any one member can still block the decision, so underneath it still functions like consensus decision making.

We also made the length of the visitor period flexible, up to six months. This lets us get to know people better, and even for them to get to know us better and make their own decision on if they want to live here.  We put a test for excitement at one and three months, so there is a less emotionally intensive path to take when it becomes clear someone is not working out. Any time during the first five months of a visitor period, the visitor can ask to be considered for membership. We do a test for excitement here, which is really a decision to commit our emotional energy to doing a round of clearnesses with this person.  This insulates us a bit from the emotional processing with people who there is a good chance aren’t going to work out anyways. If we invite someone to be a membership candidate, then they have the rest of their visitor period to do their clearnesses, after which we do another test for excitement to make them a provisional member.  If that sounds confusing, don’t worry, we have flow charts.

We’ll see how this works over the next year. It’s likely we’ll want to make some tweaks, and it’s possible it will crash and burn and we’ll have to come up with something else entirely. We’re currently looking for a few new members, so if you’ve been thinking about checking out a project like this and don’t mind being a guinea pig for our new process, now is the time to apply! Please see the information here about how to do that.
Following is a graphical representation and the text of the policy.
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Membership Track

Our membership decision making mechanism will be termed a “test for excitement” and will consist of members answering either “excited”, “accept”, or “have reservations” about a particular decision. A threshold of 50% of the members who were asked need to have answered “excited” for the decision to pass. An answer of “have reservations” will cancel out one “excited” answer. Any one member can also block the decision. In membership decisions where clearnessses are required, a block or “have reservations” answer will not count if the clearness did not happen and the member is at fault for not getting clear. The member is not at fault if they scheduled and showed up for two clearnesses. Blocks and answers of “excited” or “have reservations” will only be accepted from members who have attended all discussions. If a member is not able to attend a meeting but has a strong desire to block or have their answer counted, they can request that the discussion be delayed for up to two weeks until they return. The answers of individual members are confidential and should not be shared with the person who the decision is about, or any other non-members.

The discussions about membership decisions should at minimum consist of a go-around where everyone present at the meeting has a chance to speak. Space should be made for popcorn discussion to process anything that might have come up in the go around. If no one feels that there are any unresolved issues, then the test for excitement will be held. As long as anyone feels that something is unresolved, discussion will continue for up to one hour after the go-around. For visitor period extension and invitation decisions, the test for excitement will be held at the end of this discussion, regardless of whether there are still unresolved issues. For provisional and full member decisions, if there are still unresolved issues at the end of the one hour period, the discussion will be tabled until the next meeting, where another go-around and discussion will be held. Regardless of whether there are still unresolved issues, the test for excitement will be held at the end of this second discussion, which can go for a maximum of two hours.

Visitors can stay for up to six months. At one month and three months, the membership will evaluate how the visitor period is going and decide if we would like to extend it. At these points, the visitor’s process shepherd should put their visitor period as a topic for the member meeting. After a discussion, a test for excitement should be conducted with the members present. If we decline to extend a visitor period, the visitor will have some amount of time to get their next move figured out before they have to leave. During their first month, they will have one week to leave, and any time after that they will have two weeks. This time is not guaranteed and can be shortened by the group if there are concerns for safety or discomfort. Members are encouraged to give feedback to people whose visits have been cut short, but they are not obligated to do so.

Any time up to five months into their visitor period, the visitor can make a request to be considered a membership candidate by writing it on the member meeting agenda. The process shepherd should print out the interview questions to give to the visitor, to be filled out and put in the file folder with the rest of the member interviews before the meeting. At the next member meeting, there will be a discussion and a test for excitement among the members present on whether to invite that visitor to be a membership candidate. If we do not invite them, they will have two weeks to leave. This time is can be shortened or extended by the group. If they are invited, the membership candidate will then have until the end of their visitor period to complete a round of clearnesses. After the clearnesses are complete, the process shepherd should put the membership discussion on the member meeting agenda. At the meeting, there will be a discussion of what came up in the clearnesses and how people feel about making the visitor a provisional member. A test for excitement should be held at the end of the meeting, or be tabled for the next meeting if there are unresolved issues.

Provisional members can apply for full membership no less than a year after being invited to be a membership candidate (and after having been a provisional member for at least six months), and no more than two years after becoming a provisional member. Time off the farm such as for LEX or family emergencies will not count towards these time limits. During provisional membership, a round of clearnesses should be conducted every six months on the farm. The member should discuss their intention to apply for full membership in the clearness preceding their application. After they have completed their clearnesses, they should put their full membership discussion as a topic on the member meeting agenda. At the meeting, there will be a discussion of what came up in the clearnesses and how people feel about making them a full member. A test for excitement should be held at the end of the meeting, or be tabled for the next meeting if there are unresolved issues.

If the provisional member has not completed a round of clearnesses after one year, or two years has passed without applying for full membership, a test for excitement will be conducted and a decision made regardless.

Acorn: We have a new membership process!

The Blog is Back

by Raven Cotyledon

If you have looked at this blog over the last six to nine months, you will have noticed that there have not been a lot of posts.  I stopped managing Commune Life about the middle of last February due to a combination of internal politics and some burnout. Since then, the quantity of posts has gone way down, with a flurry of posts around this summer’s Communities Conference. Over the last few months there has been one post a month, written by me.

Prior to February, we had been publishing three posts a week, every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. One of the things contributing to my burnout was trying not to have most of the posts be written by me.  I was constantly contacting communards and requesting posts from them. Unsurprisingly, most communards are busy people. The most common response that I got was that they thought it was a great idea and would love to write something–when they had time. Sometimes they would write something, eventually.  Often the result was repeated email chains promising “soon…” or, worse, no longer even responding to my emails.

In spite of that, I managed to keep to the Monday, Wednesday, Friday schedule for twenty-one months, nearly two years.  Some folks might regard this as a symptom of insanity. Further proof of insanity would be that I intend to return to that schedule again, starting with this post.  But there are some differences.
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The biggest is that this blog is now part of a whole Commune Life family.  Maximus took over the management of Commune Life this summer and has expanded it to include a YouTube channel, a Facebook page, and an Instagram feed.  Commune Life is no longer a lonely little outpost, but part of its own little community. One of my difficulties had been having no understanding of or skill with social media. Now there are other folks working on the social media aspects.

Where I had devoted Mondays to new articles and Wednesdays to photoessays, this time around, I will include both on Mondays and use Wednesdays to repost the YouTube videos that Maximus and others have been making.  Fridays will once again feature re-posts of pieces about communes from around the internet. And, unfortunately, many of the Monday pieces will probably be from me.

I will apologize in advance. I want to show the diversity of income-sharing communities and feature a variety of writers but, given how busy communards generally are, I will give them and me a break, and just write a bunch of the upcoming posts.  That said, I still hope to get as much new stuff from other folks as I can. This is not *my* blog and there is a good chance I may get other folks involved in the future which may result in more writers on this blog.

And while most of the communities featured will be part of the Federation of Egalitarian Communities, occasionally we will do posts on communes out of the FEC, either because the communities aren’t in North America or because they don’t fit in the current FEC criteria, which I hope will change soon and I will talk about next week.

Finally, and best of all, the blog and the YouTube videos and Instagram pix and Facebook features are all part of one endeavor. Or goal is to show that communal life is a vibrant reality.   Another world is not only possible, it’s here. And at Commune Life, we want to make it visible.

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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

  • Sumner Nichols
  • Tobin Moore
  • Kai Koru
  • Bryan Utesch
  • Jenn Morgan
  • Jonathan Thaler
  • Nance & Jack Williford
  • Julia Evans
  • William Croft

Thanks!

The Blog is Back

Cotyledon at One

by Raven and Gil of Cotyledon

On November 26th, 2018, the Cotyledon community celebrated our first year in Astoria, a lovely  neighborhood in Queens, NY, with the founders having dinner together, and the next weekend throwing a party for ourselves.

Some good things from this past year include, surviving our first year (not all communes do), becoming an official Community in Dialogue with the Federation of Egalitarian Communities (FEC), becoming a Not for Profit corporation in the State of New York, and having fun along the way.  Some of that fun was organizing events: we have hosted monthly “Idealist Days” which have included an NYC cooperative house mixer, some game nites, a few workday/potlucks at Smiling Hogshead Ranch, a waterfront cleanup, and a community mandala making event.

We also co-created the “Communes and Communities” Meetup group which regularly brings together a broad swath of New Yorkers to explore community topics and share lived experiences.  Over the Labor Day weekend, DNA, Gil, and Raven traveled together, with a couple other New Yorkers, to attend the Twin Oaks Communities Conference in Virginia.  We meet weekly to discuss house happenings, develop our framework, plan future events and deepen our interpersonal relations.

We currently have three very passionate people committed to building community together, and two more wonderful folks who like living with us and we adore living with even if they cannot commit to staying with us for the long-term or share income. And, surprisingly, we are doing fairly well financially.

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Raven, DNA, and Gil

As an FEC Community in Dialogue, we are striving towards meeting the seven principles of Egalitarian Communities. In doing so, we are actively working in our neighborhood and various communities. We are currently engaging in the struggle to block Amazon from entering our community.  We also enjoy working on urban fairs and organizing around food justice.

The biggest drawback for us is that we are still only three income-sharers.  The three of us had been talking about creating this for two and a half years before we actually made the move and rented a place together, so we’ve been fleshing out and organizing around our principles for three and a half years now, watched a bunch of people come and go, and it’s still just the three of us.

If you know anyone who is up for the challenge of building an income-sharing community, an act that considerably helps buffer the impacts of living in one of the most expensive cities in the country, wants to continue developing the gritty details of agreements and structure while helping move towards creating a cooperative business (or two), and has ideas on how to keep the money flowing in while all this is happening, please send them our way and they can be part of our second year here.

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The Cotyledon Logo

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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

  • Sumner Nichols
  • Tobin Moore
  • Kai Koru
  • Bryan Utesch
  • Jenn Morgan
  • Jonathan Thaler
  • Nance & Jack Williford
  • Julia Evans
  • William Croft

Thanks!

Cotyledon at One

Crafting Community: Do’s and Don’t’s

by Raven Cotyledon

I have said all this before but here are what I see as the most important ways to successfully  craft community, broken out into a list of Do’s and Don’t’s:

DON’T start by buying land or getting a place

DO have a few ‘bottom lines’ for what you want the community to value or what the community is about

DON’T have a detailed plan before you have others involved

DON’T ever have a plan that you are not willing to change

DO try to find like minded people who want to start a community with you

DO look for good people with useful skills

DON’T be too fussy however

DON’T reject people because they are not perfect

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DO talk about what you want and make collective agreements together

DO support, encourage, and care for the people you are building community with

DON’T critique, belittle, or discourage people

DO come up with steps and goals in building community

DO think about money and pay attention to finances

DON’T limit your thoughts to jobs and traditional sources

DO celebrate your successes

DON’T be discouraged when things don’t happen quickly

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DO keep at it

DO get support to keep at it

DO make commitments to each other

DO keep those commitments, especially when it becomes difficult

DON’T give up

Two important pieces in here, that I am convinced make a difference, are to support others and make sure you get support for yourself.  Building community isn’t easy; if it was we would have a lot more of 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

  • Sumner Nichols
  • Tobin Moore
  • Kai Koru
  • Bryan Utesch
  • Jenn Morgan
  • Jonathan Thaler
  • Nance & Jack Williford
  • Julia Evans
  • William Croft

Thanks!

 

Crafting Community: Do’s and Don’t’s

Aspirational Egalitarianism

by Raven Cotyledon

The Federation of Egalitarian Communities is a network of North American communes. As the name implies the communities involved have a commitment to equality and egalitarianism. Unfortunately, these communities are filled with flawed and fallible human beings, as is the nature of any human endeavor.  Thus, as the title of my post suggests, egalitarianism is an aspiration, something aimed for but not always accomplished.

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Right now the FEC is struggling with questions about how to better live up to its name. Racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, and transphobia (and more) are all found in our communities because these oppressions are a basic part of our society and the communes are not separate from society.   The communities are mostly white, mostly middle-class, and while there is a decent percentage of women, there is still misogyny, and while we try to be a safe place for queer and transfolk, it isn’t always true.

So the work is about how to change that. How can these communities reflect the world we want rather than the world we have?  I would suggest that the first step is to acknowledge that we are still far from where we want to be. At Twin Oaks they give visitors a booklet with the title “Not Utopia Yet.”  This reflects both where we are and where we want to go.

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Each year the FEC has an assembly of representatives from the member communities and the  Communities-in-Dialogue where we talk about pressing issues in the communities. Figuring out how we can really become more egalitarian is one of the top topics this year.


 

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:

  • Acorn Community
  • Compersia Community
  • Cotyledon Community
  • East Brook Community Farm
  • The Federation of Egalitarian Communities
  • Twin Oaks Community
  • Sumner Nichols
  • Tobin Moore

Thanks!

 

Aspirational Egalitarianism