The Throw Away Society

The DC Chapter of Point A is moving rapidly towards the birth of the first commune. As we approach the moment of our launch we’re hammering out the foundational mechanics for our group. And arguably the most foundational, most essential policies are for membership and expulsion: how people are included and excluded. Thinking about expulsion is not a fun topic and many democratic and collective groups don’t really think about it. Some (like Kommune Niederkaufungen in Germany, apparently) seem to get on just fine for years. For other groups, not having thought much about expulsion eventually causes a conflict to blow up into an explosive crisis and, with an unfortunate frequency, destroy the group.

A community is a web of relationships, and a healthy community reinforces and weaves those relationships thicker and tighter. The complexity and strength of this web is the source of the value and power behind a vibrant community: it brings meaning to our lives, it enriches us socially, and it gives us access to support and assistance when we need it. It can include our closest allies, collaborators, audience, and friends. But it’s the very importance of our community that makes it that much more painful when an assault or serious breach of trust occurs within it. The bigger we are, as it were, the harder we fall.

When a member of our community hurts us or breaks our trust, it is common and reasonable to want them to leave and never come back. Maybe we fear that they’ll hurt us again, or maybe seeing them reminds us of the pain they’ve caused us, or maybe we feel like they’ve broken their side of the social compact and so don’t deserve membership any more. However, in a deep and vibrant community, and especially one with any history, ostracizing a member is messy because inevitably important relationships exist between other members and the perpetrator of the offense, relationships which are not destroyed by the offense. If the aftermath of a serious offense is not handled with sensitivity and care to all sides, it is all too easy for the community to divide into camps and begin to attack itself. If the perpetrator is ostracized and their remaining relationships are not honored, then damage can cascade through the web that is the community. That damage can cause other members to lose their faith in the community’s ability or desire to care for them and frequently results in an exodus of people from all sides of a conflict.

Additionally, although ostracism is sometimes appropriate, it often has the same problem as the throw away society that it resembles: it assumes that there’s an “away” where you can throw people where they won’t do harm (much like we assume there’s an “away” where we can throw trash where it won’t do harm). That’s not always true and if we don’t deal with the root cause of the offense and the perpetrator has not taken on the project of self-reflection and change we want them to then we might just be passing our problem on down the line to the next community they end up in. Similarly, this “throw away justice” assumes that the person who has committed the offense is no longer of value. They are trash and not worth saving.


In light of all this serious thought about the process of expulsion is of obvious value. Especially knowing that often when an offense occurs emotions run high, people are in pain, and quick and skillful action is necessary to prevent harm from spiraling out of control. It can be difficult or even impossible to conceive of, design, and execute such a response if it has not been discussed by the community in advance. When we design such a process, then, there are a few deep questions we need to consider. If we choose to not just get rid of people whenever they harm someone, how do we respond to offenses in a way that takes care of the whole community and leaves us stronger and better people on the other side? When and why is the work to do that beyond our ability and how can we tell? If it is beyond our ability… what do we do then?

The Throw Away Society

Meetings, Meetings, Meetings

Photos from the DC community

(Thanks to Steve and GPaul)

DC Mtg 1

Connor tells it like it is so hard his fingers blur!

DC Mtg 2

Ascension Day! The meeting at which AC*DC officially began… after two plus years of work.

DC Mtg 3

Point A DC folks and Joseph from Sandhill and some group house friends relaxing at a game night.

DC Mtg 4

One of Point A DC’s first event, “Let’s Do It Better Together”, featured a bunch of parallel conversations, this one on income sharing.

DC Mtg 5

Point A DC has its first event of the summer talking about why communes are important and what stands in the way of people joining them with members of AC*DC, Twin Oaks, Acorn, Cambia, and the Chocolate Factory and curious potential communards to be.

Meetings, Meetings, Meetings

A Look Behind the Scenes in DC

by GPaul

A little while ago, while the DC communards were still scattered between a few different houses, a fellow member of the as-yet-unnamed DC commune shot me this quick note:

Hey, I liked this article that you wrote:

It occurred to me that a blog article that peeks behind-the-scenes at what policies we’re working on, why and how the discussion/consensus/writing process works, would be interesting. Especially for people who would consider starting a commune. And for people who are like, “So what are you DOING? What is the ‘work’ that you keep talking about?”
I thought about this because when one of your housemates and I were chatting in the car today, they were like “GPaul keeps talking about all the work people are doing for Point A, but I don’t get it. What is the work?” And they live with us.

A little embarrassing, certainly, but to be fair the work of starting a commune is varied and non-obvious. In fact, even people planning on starting communes or really almost any sort of intentional community, frequently underestimate how much work goes into organizing them. The general advice from the intentional communities world is that any group trying to organize an IC of any significant complexity should plan on putting in one full person-year of work on it. In theory this can be done equitably by all the future members of the community but most advisors recommend paying one or two people to focus all their time on it. The communes have another option open to them, of course, which is to gift the labor time of one or more of their own communards to the task of organizing a new commune. This is a big part of how Twin Oaks started East Wind and Acorn and how Acorn started Sapling and assisted in the founding of Living Energy Farm. And most recently it is how Acorn assisted us in the founding of the first Point A DC commune.

A little peek behind the curtain. What strange magic are these communards up to?
A little peek behind the curtain. What strange magic are these communards up to?

So what does all this work look like? What takes a person-year’s worth of focused attention and labor? Here’s a partial list patched together from what occupied my time for year or so of organizing that I put in before the commune launched and other members started taking over a lot of the work (which is, of course, the goal for a horizontal democratic commune).

  • Develop a pitch (or vision) for the commune that is both viable, inspiring, specific enough that people can imagine what it would be like but at the same time open ended enough that they can see room within it for their down dreams and schemes.
  • Identify and individually recruit the initial group.
  • Write, design, and produce fingerbooks, pamphlets, business cards, and a website to get the word out.
  • Plan agendas, draft agreements, organize events, bring in speakers, check in with initial group to work through concerns and make sure that the project is engaging for them and that they feel inspired and invited.
  • Keep doing that for a long time.
  • Talk about what sort of property you want and can afford, go looking for it, follow up on leads, research potential properties, talk to owners.
  • Research legal issues specific to your city.
  • Research legal options for your group to incorporate or organize.
  • Research tax implications for your legal organization.
  • Continue recruiting, organizing events, checking in with people, drafting agreements, organizing meetings, attending meetings.
  • Plan social events and trust building events between prospective members.
  • Then do them.
  • Get involved, under the banner of your commune, in groups and efforts and events that you want to be engaged with and that you want to be engaged with you.
  • Cook food for meetings and events.
  • Clean up after meetings and events.
  • Look after the kids.
  • Mediate conflicts between potential members.
  • Research financing and funding options and then pursue them, either by wooing individuals or institutions.
  • Don’t completely neglect your own needs.
  • Write blog posts.
Surprisingly complicated for such a simple goal: can't we all just get along?
Surprisingly complicated for such a simple goal: can’t we all just get along?
A Look Behind the Scenes in DC

Building a Commune in DC

Food Prep

Ira Wallace shares stories from a lifetime of learning to live together. We are eating, asking questions and making food for Acorn Communities Land Day celebration.


Shopping list on our kitchen’s chalk wall!

Steve and friend

Our dragon-master faerie-queen finds his natural spot, perched on our tallest communard.

DC Backyard

Dishwasher delivery – picked up on our bike trailer!

Backyard Discussion

Welcome to our backyard. Those are American Elm trees, a classic tree that has been ravaged by blight, but they are wonderful shade for our constant outdoor meals.

How to be FEC

We want to part of larger movement, and with this flowchart, we will be.


As we get our new home fixed up, the cats begin crawling through the walls. The cutest kitten is definitely Ash, who is watching you from the ceiling!

Building a Commune in DC