Organizing?

How 8 communards organized a conference but failed to build a geodesic dome:

How do you organize a conference with no one in charge?

Organizing in community is not a linear process.  Mistakes are part of the process. Multiple people work in parallel. Sometimes there’s conflict. But eventually, the work gets done, and the result is something that could not have been made in any other way. Process over product.

Organizing?

Communal Cooperation

by Raven Cotyledon

I have sometimes described some of the communes as a combination of a housing co-op and a worker co-op.  There are certainly elements of both in the Virginia communes. In fact, if you buy Twin Oaks tofu you will see that Twin Oaks Community Foods describes itself as “A Worker-Owned Cooperative!”

 

extrafirmtofu
Twin Oaks Tofu label 

I have lived in three different Boston area co-op houses. Co-op houses (also known as collective houses–especially in NYC where there is something very different called cooperative apartments which are more like condos) are great, but communes involve even more sharing.  In fact, you could say that communes are an even more cooperative form of cooperative. 

Communes cooperate in almost every way I can think of.  Income-sharing, in particular, involves a lot of cooperation between the people who are doing it.  We cooperate in sharing the work of maintaining and cleaning where we live, in feeding each other, in planning together, and in supporting one another.  We care for each other in many ways and we depend on each other. 

Many co-ops are organized around the Seven Cooperative Principles, adopted by the International Cooperative Alliance. I believe that in many ways, communes meet or exceed all of these principles.

7-cooperative-principles

First, a voluntary and open membership. Voluntary, absolutely. Communes are not cults. No one will keep you there.  Open is a little more tricky. Communes, like co-op houses, involve living together. A consumer co-op is easy. Anyone should be able to join. Cooperative businesses have to be a little more selective–not everyone can do every job. Living together means you have to be able to live in your home with each person, so co-op houses and communes need to be more selective still. That said, there is a large push for diversity in the communes. Membership decisions are made about the ability to get along, not about a person’s race or religion or sexual orientation. 

Democratic member control–phrased in early documents as “One man, one vote.” Here the communes do a lot better than that.  They are even more democratic. First, they are open to all genders–not even just men and women, but trans folks, genderqueer, non-binary, two-spirit, and more.  And most communes don’t vote. The majority use consensus, which I believe is more democratic and more cooperative than voting. 

Members economic participation is next, called distribution of surplus in the older documents. This is where income-sharing communities really exceed and excel. Everyone in a commune shares in the economic surplus which is distributed as equally as possible. All the members of a commune get to participate economically as much as they want. 

The fourth principle is “Autonomy and Independence” which is absolutely part of the commune scene. This is the problem that the FEC faces. No one is in charge in the communes. This is the “Egalitarian” part of the Federation of Egalitarian Communities. 

 The fifth principle of the Cooperative Principles is “Education, Training and Information”.  This is as needed in the communes as it is in the co-ops. One of the biggest requests in the FEC budget is for one type of training or another. 

The sixth principle is “Cooperation among Cooperatives” and this is as desirable and sought after in the communes as it is with the co-ops.  In fact, this could be the very purpose of the FEC. 

Finally, “Concern for Community” seems almost too self evident in the communes whose very nature is about building community. 

7-Cooperative-Principles-1-1ukrmu5

All this is not to knock co-ops, but to point out that if you have done co-ops, especially co-op houses, and you want even more cooperation, maybe you should look at the communes.

____________________________________________________________________________

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

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  • Compersia Community
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  • Aaron Michels
  • Brenda Thompson
  • Cathy Loyd
  • Em Stiles
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  • Julia Elizabeth Evans
  • Kai Koru
  • Kathleen Brooks
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Thanks! 

 

Communal Cooperation

Status

by Raven Cotyledon

At the close of my final article on the Detailed FEC History, I wrote: “The current status of the FEC communities (as far as I know and subject to change with little or no notice): Full member communities–Twin Oaks, East Wind, Acorn, and  Compersia; Re-forming communities–Sandhill and Mimosa; Communities in Dialogue–Oran Mor, The Mothership, Ionia, Rainforest Lab, Open Circle, Cambia, Le Manoir, East Brook Community Farm, and Cotyledon.”

What do these statuses mean? What is the difference between a Full community and a Community in Dialogue? What is a Re-forming community? And what is an Ally (or Allied) Community?  That’s what I want to explore here. (Warning: in great detail.)

Most of this information has been taken from the FEC website and more information can be found there. (Yes. As long as this is, I left out a bunch of things.)

From the section on Joining the FEC:  “The first step in becoming an FEC Community is to contact the FEC Secretary… The FEC Secretary is responsible for guiding you through the process, or connecting you with a delegate from another community to do so.

“There are six things that we expect from a community before applying for full membership in the FEC.

*  A member of your community completes a questionnaire, and sends out written information that you have about your community…  

* The members of your community make some kind of collective binding agreement, with a defined process for changing that agreement, that represents a written affirmation of the FEC’s seven basic principles.

* A representative requests for your community to officially become a Community-in-Dialogue with the FEC, at least one year before applying for full membership in the FEC.

* Members of your community develop and maintain an active relationship with the FEC or at least one FEC community by attending monthly conference calls, visiting other communities or doing labor exchange, written communication, attendance at our annual assembly, conferences attended or hosted by other FEC communities, or other forms of sharing.

* One or more delegates chosen by your community attends annual assemblies of the FEC.  A community can apply for membership in the FEC during the second assembly to which they send delegates.

* A representative of the FEC designated by the delegates visits your community, and co writes a report to the FEC and its member communities about your community and your adherence to FEC values.

* Consensus of the existing FEC communities is necessary to accept a new community, both as a Community-in-Dialogue and as a full member community in the FEC.

“For your community to become a full member in the FEC, delegates will evaluate your community on the basis of these requirements and criteria.  Once accepted the new community is granted full member rights and privileges from that point on.”

But, before we go into Full Membership Status, here’s a lot more on Communities in Dialogue.  The status of Community in Dialogue was created at the January, 1980 Assembly.

EastBrook Sign
East Brook is a Community in Dialogue 

 

From the section on Community-In-Dialogue Status:

“If a community is seeking FEC membership but is not yet at the point where the Assembly will approve its application, that community may apply for Community-in-Dialogue (CID) status. For a community to be accepted as a CID, the Assembly need only be convinced that the community is actively working toward meeting the membership criteria, and that there exists a mutual desire for cooperation between the community and the FEC.

“The Assembly shall not be obliged to accept a community as a CID, even if it is working toward meeting the membership criteria, if it is felt that the community in question is actively contradicting those criteria (e.g., using violence, being governed by a leader or minority, discriminating on any of the grounds outlined in the Federation’s basic principles).

“A Community-in-Dialogue shall:

1 Maintain an active relationship with at least one FEC community through activities such as visiting or labor exchange, written communication, attendance at conferences, etc.;

2 Attend FEC assemblies if they so desire, and participate in discussions on a limited basis;

3 Pay an annual base tax of $100, plus $5 per working member.

4 Be eligible to participate in FEC projects specifically designated by the Assembly (e.g., conferences, training programs, etc.) on the same basis as members, but with the understanding that FEC members receive space priority… and

5 Have their status reviewed annually by the Assembly.

A Community-in-Dialogue shall not:

1 Vote upon or ratify decisions of the Assembly; or

2 Be eligible for transportation subsidies without approval.”

TOOT1
Twin Oaks is a Full Member Community 

From the section on Full Membership:

“CID status essentially has been the category we hold interested communities in while they are working to meet all the criteria for full membership. There is no fixed limit on the amount of time a community can have CID status; presumably, as long as the delegates see no reason to revoke that status, they can be CID as long as it takes until they can be accepted as full members.”

“The only guidelines the FEC Constitution gives about new communities joining is that they must meet the seven core principles of the FEC. The decision is made through normal decision making structure we establish for all our decisions.”

“Communities desiring full membership in the FEC should:

  1. Be a Community in Dialogue for at least one year, and meet the requirements for communities in that category, such as attending Assemblies, participating in FEC discussions, having at least one site visit, etc.

 

  1. Have the seven FEC principles as core values of the community in their Bylaws (or equivalent fundamental documents). This does not have to be a word for word copy…  but the community should be able to demonstrate that those principles are part of the community’s written core values.

 

  1. Be actually following the above seven principles.

 

  1. Have group ownership of all land, property, and other major resources.

 

  1. Have a detailed income-sharing model in place, preferably already functioning for some time before applying for full membership.

 

  1. Appear to be sufficiently stable, in terms of population, economics, and other relevant factors.

 

  1. Have, at minimum, three members, none of whom are in a romantic relationship or family.

 

  1. Not have different tiers or levels of membership, or significantly different privileges based on membership length, beyond the provisional to full member process. Once people are full members, they should have the same basic level of political and economic equality.

 

  1. Not have any blanket restrictions on people joining based on sex, gender, age, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, and other similar discriminatory categories.

 

  1. Have systems in place to provide for the health and medical needs of all its members up to at least the requirements of PEACH. Since FEC membership guarantees automatic membership in PEACH, and since one of the presumptions of PEACH is that member communities are taking care of the health needs of its members up to the catastrophic level where PEACH kicks in, this is something we need to evaluate.

 

  1. Be able to address a variety of less tangible factors that the delegates believe are necessary. There are likely going to be many situations where a community seems to be in a somewhat borderline situation with some of the above criteria, or there may be issues about things that we can’t think of in advance.”
Aviva1
Ganas is an Allied Community 

The Allied Community or Ally Community status was created at the September, 2004 Assembly.  There isn’t a lot written about this status on the FEC website, but if you look at the Our Communities page, you will see Baltimore Free Farm, Ganas, Living Energy Farm, Terra Nova, and the Walnut Street Co-op listed as Ally Communities.  From what I have heard, this status was created at the request of Ganas, which is not (by their own admission) an egalitarian community, but has a long relationship with Twin Oaks and the FEC and wanted some status within the FEC.  Terra Nova and the Walnut Street Co-op also have had a long history with the Federation of Egalitarian Communities. When Living Energy Farm realized that they were not going to be able to become income-sharing, at least for a long time yet, they requested this status. And, honestly, Baltimore Free Farm is on the page in that status because there is no income-sharing group there now, but there are people there that hope they will in the future. This is not an official status for them. They are literally there because I didn’t want to completely take them out since they might return in the future.

img_20160624_172209361
Sandhill is a Re-forming Community 

The Re-forming Community status is the newest status having just been created at the November/December, 2017 Assembly.  It was created to address difficulties with two full communities which had dropped down to only a few folks, less than the required amount: Mimosa (formerly Sapling, which Acorn had put a lot of energy into) and Sandhill (one of the oldest communities in the FEC).  It is so new that there isn’t yet a section on the Our Communities page (even though there is supposed to be one).

From the section on Re-forming Community Status:

“Becoming a Re-forming Community is a voluntary action taken via the full member community’s own internal decision making process, although members of other communities may gently encourage them to consider the idea.

“Re-forming Communities will be given a separate section on the web site, and are encouraged to include a paragraph in their long description explaining why they are currently a Re-forming community.

“The FEC will make special efforts to assist Re-forming Communities in returning to the principles of The FEC.

“Re-forming Communities may elect to begin paying dues equal to those of a Community in Dialog and their rights and privileges will be reduced to those of a Community in Dialog. Re-forming Communities may choose to continue paying Full Member dues and retain the rights and privileges of full member communities. The delegates may check in about this at each assembly.

“In order to regain their status as a full member of the FEC, a Re-forming Community applies in the same way a CID applies for full membership, but the application can be made at the FEC Assembly or on a Conference call. Re-forming Communities who have elected to reduce their dues to the CID level must pay the dues that would have been due during the current fiscal year had they remained a full member community.

“Full Member communities who experience major turnover may find the experience of re-forming to be more like starting a new community than coming back into alignment with The FEC principles. Such a community may also elect, by their own decision making processes, to change their status to Community in Dialog by submitting a CID application.”

If you have read all the way to here, I am sure that you are truly interested in the Federation of Egalitarian Communities.  You may be wondering about the Seven Principles mentioned several times here. Rejoice has promised to write seven posts about these principles, analyzing each of them. I look forward to publishing them here in the future.

Meanwhile, again, if you have any questions about any of these statuses, I suggest that you go to the relevant section on the FEC website (follow the link) where there is even more information, or ask in the comments.

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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

  • Aaron Michels
  • Brenda Thompson
  • Cathy Loyd
  • Em Stiles
  • Jenn Morgan
  • Jonathan Thaler
  • Julia Elizabeth Evans
  • Kai Koru
  • Kathleen Brooks
  • Laurel Baez
  • Lynette Shaw
  • Magda schonfeld
  • Michael Hobson
  • Nance & Jack Williford
  • Peter Chinman
  • Sumner Nichols
  • Tobin Moore
  • Warren Kunce
  • William Croft
  • William Kadish

Thanks!

 

Status

A Detailed FEC History: Part Five, the Tens and Teens

by Raven Cotyledon

(This is the fifth and final part of a series.  Part one is here, part two is here,  part three is here, and part four is here.)

This post should bring us up to date on the History of the FEC and its Assemblies, concluding with last year’s Assembly.

This decade began with two Assemblies, one in March of 2010, and one in November. Twin Oaks, East Wind, Sandhill, Acorn, and the Emma Goldman Finishing School attended both of them. Twin Oaks reported a population of 92, East Wind 50, and Acorn 30.  These are close to their current populations. The March Assembly was also attended by a community named Patchwork. The only other note was that “Villages in the Sky” was discussed.

The November Assembly brought two new communities, both of which had something different to offer.   The Midden was an urban community, in Columbus, Ohio, very much on the model of Emma Goldman. Living Energy Farm was a rural commune in Louisa, Virginia (home to Twin Oaks) but was focused on being off the grid and a demonstration of fossil fuel free living. Both communities were exciting to the FEC and both have, in their own way, ended up moving away from income-sharing.

cropped-cropped-wider-header (1)

The 2011 Assemblies followed the same March and November pattern as the previous year.  Twin Oaks, East Wind, Sandhill, Acorn, and the Emma Goldman Finishing School again attended both Assemblies, along with Living Energy Farm (LEF). I have nothing else on the March Assembly, but the November Assembly brought back The Midden, along with Skyhouse and two new communities, the Possibility Alliance and Camp Pleasant.

Camp Pleasant was another one time Assembly attendee, but the Possibility Alliance was something else.  Also known as the Stillwater Sanctuary, they made low tech LEF look extravagant. LEF uses small scale electric power, but the Possibility Alliance didn’t use electricity at all. The Possibility Alliance had a telephone, but no computers (or TVs–they had a “no screen” policy) and, of course, no website. But it wasn’t hard to find them, with articles about them all over the web. Also, their method of income-sharing was operating under the “gift economy”, where they only took what was given to them and shared the excess.

planting-first-year-1024x768
Planting the first year at Living Energy Farm

Also for the November, 2011 Assembly, in addition to the populations staying the same at Twin Oaks, East Wind, and Acorn, Emma Goldman reported having 10 folks, Skyhouse 4, and The Midden 6.  And the reported topic that Assembly was something called the “league of activist communities”.

There was only one Assembly in 2012, in March. It was attended by Twin Oaks, East Wind, Sandhill, Acorn, the Emma Goldman Finishing School, The Midden, Red Earth Farms (for the last time at an Assembly), and CRIC House, a new community in California that wouldn’t last long, but actually lead to another community in Louisa.  While most communities that reported their population stayed the same, Acorn dropped down to 27 and Emma Goldman down to 8. It’s also notable that Skyhouse, which had been a stable little sub-community in Dancing Rabbit ecovillage, was now gone, having lost three of their four folks and the remaining member decided not to start over again.  

There was also only one Assembly in 2013, in April. Attendees were Twin Oaks, East Wind, Sandhill, Acorn, the Emma Goldman Finishing School, The Midden, CRIC House, and the Possibility Alliance. Acorn now reported 28 folks, but The Midden dropped down to 3. It was also reported that the Emma Goldman Finishing School was not fully income-sharing, and this was their last Assembly.

image
The Emma Goldman Finishing School

And, again, there was but one Assembly in 2014, in March, but it was a packed and busy one and I was there.  It was held at Acorn and attendees included Twin Oaks, East Wind, Sandhill, Acorn, Living Energy Farm, Sapling (which was a short lived offspring of Acorn), the Baltimore Free Farm (a scruffy punk anarchist collective), The Midden, CRIC House, the Possibility Alliance, and Willow Vale Farm (the would-be community that I was representing). Willow Vale never got the land that they wanted and I soon left the project for complicated reasons, but they eventually bought land in another place with another name.  This was the decade where several community attempts crashed and burned and new communities came out of them. (The transformations will become apparent as we go along.)

The 2015 Assembly was again in March. There was a good attendance: Twin Oaks, East Wind, Sandhill, Acorn, The Mothership, Living Energy Farm, Sapling, the Baltimore Free Farm, The Midden, the Possibility Alliance, Living Tree Alliance (yet another one time Assembly attendee), and Oran Mor were all there.  CRIC was gone (but wait). Living Energy Farm reported a population of 5, Sapling also 5, and Oran Mor 3.

By 2016, the communes movement seemed to be taking off. Attendees at the March Assembly were: Twin Oaks, East Wind, Sandhill, Acorn, The Mothership, Living Energy Farm, Sapling, the Baltimore Free Farm, The Midden, Cambia (the new Louisa community founded by folks from CRIC), Ionia (a community in Alaska), Compersia (in Washington, DC), Oran Mor, Sycamore Farm (in southern Virginia, created by some folks from Twin Oaks), Open Circle (also in Virginia, but north of Louisa), Quercus (in Richmond, Virginia, founded by folks from Acorn), and Le Manoir (in rural Quebec).  Cambia reported a population of 2, Ionia 30 (they had been around a long time before they discovered the FEC–or vice versa), Compersia 6, and Le Manoir 6. The movement appeared to be exploding, but some of these communities weren’t going to last long.

IMG_0070
Welcome to Cambia

By the next year (2017), two of these communities were gone.  For complicated reasons, neither Sycamore Farm nor Quercus made it. Living Energy Farm and the Baltimore Free Farm, while both continuing on, stopped trying to do income-sharing. In 2017, there were again two Assemblies.

The March Assembly still had a lot of communities at it: Twin Oaks, East Wind, Sandhill, Acorn, The Mothership, Sapling, the Baltimore Free Farm, The Midden, Cambia, the Possibility Alliance, Ionia, Compersia, Oran Mor, Rainforest Lab (a new community in rural Washington state), Open Circle, and Le Manoir were there.  The notes list three things happening: minigrants were created (these are small amounts of money–$500 or less–given to communities to pay for things like workshops, travel, infrastructure, etc), “Commune Life blog begins” (they noticed!), and “conflict resolution team ideas” were discussed.

The November Assembly had much the same crew but with some significant changes. The Midden and the Possibility Alliance were gone.  The Midden transformed itself into a cooperative house and the founders of the Possibility Alliance eventually moved to Maine. Sapling transformed itself into Mimosa.  It was the same place but all the people who started it were gone and it was taken over by the folks who tried to start Sycamore Farm. There was also one new community, East Brook Community Farm in rural New York, started by the folks who tried to start Willow Vale Farm. (As I said, new communities were emerging from the wreckage of the old.)

There was again one Assembly in 2018,in November. It had basically the same crew as the November, 2017 Assembly. Populations reported on the chart were Twin Oaks 92, East Wind 50, Acorn 28, Mimosa 2, Cambia 2, Ionia 30, Compersia 6, Oran Mor 3, Rainforest Lab 2, and Le Manoir 6.

The chart ends there but there was an Assembly last December. Fortunately, I was there. It was filled with controversy (as I suspect many others were), and due to that, the site was changed at the last minute from East Wind to Oran Mor (although many of us stayed at East Wind and they provided strong support for the Assembly). Present were folks from Twin Oaks, East Wind, Acorn, The Mothership, Cambia, Ionia, Compersia, Rainforest Lab, Oran Mor, Le Manoir, East Brook Community Farm, and Cotyledon (the new community in New York City, which I was representing).  Folks from Sandhill also tried to make it, but they had children with them and since there was a stomach virus which swept through many of the delegates, they decided not to risk it. In spite of the controversies (and there were a bunch of them), we passed a budget for the FEC (something that apparently didn’t happen the previous year) and began forming teams in the hope of expanding the leadership of the FEC.

Instagram video of the 2018 attendees

The current status of the FEC communities (as far as I know and subject to change with little or no notice): Full member communities–Twin Oaks, East Wind, Acorn, and  Compersia; Re-forming communities–Sandhill and Mimosa; Communities in Dialogue–Oran Mor, The Mothership, Ionia, Rainforest Lab, Open Circle, Cambia, Le Manoir, East Brook Community Farm, and Cotyledon.

Some takeaways from all this history.

Obviously, communities come and go. What’s more interesting is that the people who start communities often try again. Cambia was started by CRIC House folks. Sapling and Sycamore Farm both fell apart, but the folks who started Sycamore Farm took over Sapling and remade it as Mimosa. The folks who tried to start Willow Vale Farm eventually got East Brook Community Farm going. I have been to three different Assemblies representing three different communities: Common Threads (1996), Willow Vale (2014), and Cotyledon (2018).  There are communitarians who are passionate and don’t give up easily.

Also, a bunch of the communities that look like they have left are actually still around, just no longer income-sharing or wanting to be part of the FEC. Or wanting a different status in the FEC. The Ally Communities status was created to keep a connection with communities like Ganas and Living Energy Farm. I also know of at least one community that most people thought was long gone which has recently approached the FEC, possibly wanting to return.

The FEC itself is an interesting organization. I have written a bit about what it is and isn’t and how difficult it is to keep all these communities connected. I know that in this series I have focused on the Assemblies, but that’s what I have the information about and that’s where most of the decisions were made.  As always, if you have more information, feel free to share it in the comments.

I will probably write an addendum featuring the 2019 Assembly later this year, and maybe, if I am still around and Commune Life is still around, in another decade or so, I will write the FEC history of the Twenties. Meanwhile, for a shorter, more abbreviated and interactive version of FEC History, watch the video Maximus put together.

____________________________________________________________________________

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

  • Aaron Michels
  • Brenda Thompson
  • Cathy Loyd
  • Em Stiles
  • Jenn Morgan
  • Jonathan Thaler
  • Julia Elizabeth Evans
  • Kai Koru
  • Kathleen Brooks
  • Laurel Baez
  • Lynette Shaw
  • Magda schonfeld
  • Michael Hobson
  • Nance & Jack Williford
  • Peter Chinman
  • Sumner Nichols
  • Tobin Moore
  • Warren Kunce
  • William Croft
  • William Kadish

Thanks!

 

 

 

 

A Detailed FEC History: Part Five, the Tens and Teens

FEC TV

from the Commune Life Instagram site

FEC TV