Sumner has had a YouTube channel and we have been publishing his videos about life at the East Wind Community. This is what he is calling the “Final Chapter”–at least for now. In this video he does say that he is planning to post more videos sometime this winter and when he does, we will publish them here.
In the meantime, Theresa at Glomus has been making TikTok videos and we will begin publishing some of them next week.
Here is the final, wrap up video of Sumner’s series about wildlife at East Wind Community. While most of the early footage is of ants, there’s also some bird shots and some stills of flowers plus electronic music made by a friend of Sumners. What may be most important is Sumner’s evaluation of this series and his acknowledgements of assistance with it, which is at the beginning of the video.
Here’s someone who lived at East Wind in the mid-eighties and talks about life in community back then: the kitchen, the start of the nut butter business, and problems with the dairy, among other things. Some real communal history!
Sumner, who usually does these interviews, is himself interviewed by a grad student. He comments that it’s a “Confused, unfocused interview for the most part. Gets better in the second half.” It was done when he was living at East Wind and he comments about East Wind and other communities.
(Note: It may be obvious to say this, but in this situation I want to clearly state that I, Raven, am solely responsible for this content. Other members of the Commune Life team can respond but I take full responsibility for this post.)
Racism is a systemic problem that permeates every corner of this society. The communes, regardless of how much of an alternative they aim to be, are not, by any means, immune.
Last year, mostly in response to the death of George Floyd and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, several folks at Twin Oaks took the community to task for its racism, intentional or otherwise. We published severalposts on Commune Life aboutthis. There was a moment where it looked like Twin Oaks was going to commit to creating significant diversity there, and Keenan, ever optimistic, saw it as quite possible. The Diversity Team at Twin Oaks became REAL (Racial Equity Advocacy and Leadership) and put out a statement on their intentions. Unfortunately, as often happens, things got mired down and members of REAL got frustrated and left. I know that there are still members of Twin Oaks pushing for change but it seems stuck at the moment.
I know that at Acorn, they (under Ira’s leadership) have been trying to find ways of supporting BIPOC leadership. Two projects in particular that they have gotten behind are the Ujamaa Cooperative Farming Alliance, which “recognizes the need for increased diversity in farming and the seed industry, and the need to provide more opportunities and support for growers from historically oppressed and marginalized communities”, and an attempt in Louisa County (home to Acorn, Twin Oaks, and other communities) to create an “income sharing community run by a dedicated people of color”. My understanding is that Twin Oaks is also supporting this.
Here at Glomus we have a mutual aid fund that we have been using to support (among other things) projects created by folks of color and indigenous people–especially POC created communities–and we have also collected money for the last couple of years for black and indigenous farmers and farming projects at Farmers Markets where we’ve sold our produce. We did participate in the protests last year and we have been talking, on and off, about what else we can do. We are a small, white commune and not immune to racist behaviors, but we have tried to deal with them.
This brings me to East Wind Community in the Ozarks of Missouri. East Wind is a large, overwhelmingly white, community. (I’m not sure of its current makeup, but there have generally been one or two folks of color among the sixty odd member community.) It is also, of all the FEC member communities, the one with the largest percentage of working class folks. It has an unfortunate reputation for racism of the more overt kind. Much of that is from some incidents which occurred in 2018 which some East Wind members engaged in rather racist behavior which led to at least two members of color leaving East Wind and a very uncomfortable FEC Assembly that year where we tried (without much success) address racism (as well as sexual misbehavior and transphobia). It also led to a conference at Twin Oaks the following year where we addressed some of that more directly.
As far as I know, East Wind has never directly addressed this stuff (at the Assembly they were mostly defensive) but my understanding is that the folks responsible for the worst of the racist behavior are now gone–and left some time ago.
As someone who has been to East Wind once (during that Assembly) and has only heard stuff, mostly second hand, I am still going to give my take on what I think was/is going on. Paxus has referred to East Wind as the ‘wild west’ of the FEC communities. I see them as leaning toward libertarian and laissez-faire.
They are, as I said, a bit of a white working class community, and the issues of race and class become uncomfortably intertwined here. During the Assembly, I saw white folks from higher class backgrounds attempting to lecture East Wind folks (often using jargon and somewhat academic language) on their behavior and the East Winders involved generally felt condescended to.
I can’t see East Wind as a community apologizing for their behavior. They promote individual liberty there to the extent that during the pandemic, while Twin Oaks and Acorn (and Glomus) used quarantining to ensure safety, there was no direct response by the East Wind community other than affirm individual rights. I am frankly amazed that they did not get hit by the coronavirus–and I still worry for them.
What we realized at the Assembly and is still true is that the FEC is merely a vehicle for connecting the communes and has no power to police them or enforce any standard. As far as I am concerned, Commune Life exists to report on what is happening at the communes and to let the outside world know that they exist and are an alternative to mainstream living. They are often an imperfect alternative, but they are an alternative nonetheless. I am less interested in pointing out what’s wrong with them (although I am open to publishing critiques and have written a few myself) and more interested in exploring what we can do better.
There are a couple of current attempts to help POC led communities form and I am very interested in supporting those and think that they will do more for folks of color than censuring the current communities for what is a society wide problem. I am interested in how we can create more and better alternatives. I am not interested in attacking the imperfect (and rather fragile, considering how many communities have fallen apart) communities that exist.
Again, I want to be very careful to state that everything in this essay is my own opinion and not the collective view of Commune Life. I invite responses.
Sumner takes a wide look at various reptiles, amphibians, fish, and mammals that make their home at East Wind community. Communal sharing goes beyond human folk to the other creatures that we share our lands with.