Report from the West Coast Communities Conference

by GPaul Blundell of Compersia Community

The Twin Oaks Communities Conference has been happening for decades at Twin Oaks in Central Virginia and every year bring together communitarians and communards, experts and students, founders and seekers from all over the communities movement. It is, without fail, an incredible and, for many people, transformative experience. There is a catch, though: it’s on the East Coast and it’s always on the East Coast (because it’s always at Twin Oaks). The further west you live the harder it is to get to and so it is hardest for the folks on the West Coast.

Three years ago, a solution was born: the West Coast Communities Conference! Hosted for the first two years at the Groundswell Institute in Northern California this year a new organizing team stepped up and moved the conference to Southern California just outside of Escondido.  This year I had the good fortune to get to attend both communities conferences. In contrast to Twin Oaks, where it rained steadily for half the conference, at Terra Madre, the proto-community, organic farm, and event venue that hosted the West Coast Communities Conference, was sunny and dry as a bone. Instead of dense deciduous forest we were surrounded by bare scrubby hills built of sun bleached boulders.

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But those are superficial differences. In many ways, the conferences were a lot alike. Both attracted a mix of community seekers and community veterans with a sprinkling of students, researchers, and people from outside the movement curious to look in. Both had lots of valuable workshops and panels and drew some big names in the communities movement. Both were great networking events, connecting existing communities with community seekers and sparking all manner of other valuable relationships and connections. Both mixed structured content with unstructured networking time and serious work with relaxed recreation.

There were differences, however. Twin Oaks is the oldest largest secular income sharing egalitarian commune in the US. Twin Oaks provides the basic infrastructure and support and does a lot of prep work and clean up but all the attendees of the conference pitch in to cook and clean and play with the kids and keep the whole event running smoothly. This keeps costs down and recreates the cooperative and collective effort that is the basis of communal culture. Terra Madre is a private farm and event venue. The staff there did all the food prep and serving and volunteer opportunities, though present, were more limited. It was interesting to watch the conference participants repeatedly ask the staff if they could help and get repeatedly rebuffed. One unfortunate effect of this was that the necessary ticket price for the WCCC was noticeably higher than the TOCC and a lot of people who would have liked to come ended up discouraged by or unable to pay the ticket price. How many were discouraged, of course, is impossible to tell and the price could likely never get low enough to not draw any complaints.

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Another difference was in what sections of the communities movement were represented. The Twin Oaks Conference, which is co-sponsored by the Federation of Egalitarian Communities, is free to attend for any member of an FEC commune and most FEC communes send a small delegation most years. Additionally, being hosted at Twin Oaks means that a good share of Twin Oaks members will wander up to the conference at some point during the weekend. The end result is that the conference is crawling with communards and egalitarian income sharing communes are an inescapable presence, bordering on the conversational default, most years. The West Coast Conference this year was, of course, hosted at a venue that is not an intentional community (but might be one day) but was also primarily organized by volunteers from within the co-housing portion of the movement. The networks they reached out to were mostly co-housing networks, a couple co-housing networks were event sponsors, and many of the workshops were geared towards a co-housing audience. As such, the majority of attendees and the conversational default at this year’s WCCC was co-housing, not communes. In fact, out of about 60 speakers and attendees only Sky Blue and myself were currently living in an egalitarian commune (and we were both there as speakers and organizers for the event). That being said, there were a handful of egalitarian community oriented attendees and my workshop on the hows and whys of income sharing was both well attended and so popular that several people insisted I lead a follow up session during the open space portion of the conference. A few people left inspired and some hopeful connections were made.

I think that the general lesson here, and the lesson for the egalitarian communities movement specifically, is an unsurprising one. An event, like a community, is shaped by the people who organize it. No matter the stated goals or self-conception, the people who show up to make it happen will quite naturally bring their own perspectives and interests to bear on their work. If we want the West Coast Communities Conference to be more effective as an organizing nexus for egalitarian community we need to step up and devote our time and resources to making it happen. The promising news is that, both at the conference and on the travels around the West Coast before and after it, I saw copious evidence that people are hungry for solutions to the problems that egalitarian community addresses. There is interest in the ideas and experience that we have to offer and there are individuals and groups circling around and looking for an opportunity to get together and transform their lives. The soil is rich. If we attend to it, beautiful things can blossom forth.

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Report from the West Coast Communities Conference

Building Urban Communes: A Point A Report

by Raven

Point A was started by folks who realized that income sharing communities were flourishing in rural areas (there are now five in Virginia and four in Missouri), most people in the US live in cities and communal situations were not doing as well there.

The few urban communes have been struggling. Seattle’s Emma Goldman Finishing School stopped income sharing several years ago. The Midden, in Columbus, Ohio, just transitioned to being a co-op rather than an income sharing community. Quercus, in Richmond, Virginia, lasted less than a year. The Baltimore Free Farm currently doesn’t have an income sharing group (although there are people there that would like to have one again).

 

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Poster by Reynaldo

Point A started in 2013. I’ve reported on its history elsewhere. Here’s what I see happening now.

Washington, DC, is our big success story. Compersia has been up and running for over a year and folks are strategizing on what to do next.

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Compersia’s house

I think that New York (where I’m working) is on the cusp of something. I’m hoping I’ll have more to report very soon.

Even though there isn’t an income sharing community in Baltimore, there seems to be a lot of folks there talking about it. I’ve heard of people from four different groups that are discussing the possibility and I’m not sure why they aren’t co-ordinating with one another.

As I’ve said, Quercus in Richmond is gone. I’m not sure what next steps, if any, can be taken there.

We also had a try at getting a co-op house in Binghamton, NY, to move toward income sharing, although that didn’t happen.

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Sign at the old Genome Collective in Binghamton

And there is a group in Newark, NJ, that is working toward creating a two fold community that would contain an urban portion and a rural farm portion. (An idea that always seems interesting to folks but seems very difficult to pull off.)

In addition, Point A has been going up to the Boston area (the place I’ve lived most of my life) and been giving workshops (as we will be doing this upcoming week), hopefully seeding the area for future commune building.

One US East Coast city (at least in the northeast US) that we haven’t done work in is Philadelphia. I think that it has great potential (New York and Boston are becoming increasingly unaffordable where I’ve heard that Philly still has a lot of lower cost housing stock–and the city has a history of movement organizing, including the group Movement for a New Society, which had a bunch of communal houses called the Life Center). Unfortunately, Point A’s resources seemed stretched to the limit these days, so it’s unlikely that there will be a project in Philadelphia anytime soon unless there are people there who want it.

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Smiling Hogshead Ranch in Queens, which we are trying to build an NYC community around.

If we can get a commune in NYC up and running, I think this could be a starting place for building more income sharing communities in urban areas. (I call this the Frank Sinatra theory of commune building from his line, “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere…”.) Hopefully if we can make it in New York, we can begin to build more urban communes. There’s a lot of cities on the East Coast alone, never mind in the country and the world.

I’ll keep you up to date.

 

 

Building Urban Communes: A Point A Report

Visiting Cambia and Mimosa

by Raven

A couple of weeks ago, Caroline (from the Midden) wrote on Commune Life about attending the Communities Conference and then visiting Acorn and Compersia.  I also attended the Communities Conference and did some commune visiting.  This is my report on the conference and spending time at the new communities of Mimosa and Cambia.

The Communities Conference is an amazing collection of people from various communities, people looking for community, and lots of workshops.  My favorite part is the Saturday morning Meet the Communities event.  This year there were lots of new communities that I learned about, many talking about income sharing, and some of which I hope that we’ll feature in upcoming posts.

After the conference, I hung out in Louisa.  I’ve spent a bunch of time at Twin Oaks (and did more on this trip) as well as Acorn and have had several visits to Living Energy Farm.  This year I decided to spend significant time at the two newer communities, helping out and learning more about them from being there.  Here’s my report on them:

Cambia

While we’ve had a lot of posts from Cambia before (here are three), here is my take on what they’re about and a sense of what it’s like to visit there.

More than anything, Cambia is an experimental and educational community.  This makes it sound a little like Living Energy Farm, but Cambia has a whole different flavor.  Where LEF use unusual technologies to move past fossil fuels and demonstrate how we could move past their use, Cambia has set up a series of kid friendly (but adult interesting) hands on exhibits in their forest, to show things like how much land each American requires to live, how our carbon usage could be balanced, how the ground and water table work, and (on a very small scale) how to use various alternative construction techniques.  (The last was in an exhibit called ‘Barbie’s Ecovillage’ which featured a timber framed doll house that you could create straw bale or cob walls for.)

image1The boat at Cambia

Cambia is a community that seems to attract academic types.  Ella and Gil are lovely folks who are focused on how to educate others, especially children.  (And they have one child, Avni, who also lives there.)  Maximus, the newest member, is a grad student  who is studying communities as an alternative to mainstream life, and using Cambia as a case study.  And, former member Telos, was there visiting while I was there–and he is very interested in the social and political aspects of community.

One of the biggest things about Cambia is their willingness to try all sorts of things.  There was the cute little pond they built to demonstrate how plant can clean water.  I helped them work on the boat they bought to use as guest space.  They seem to have endless ideas on how to repurpose everything.

Mimosa

Where Cambia is relatively new (two years old at this point), Mimosa is brand new.  Mimosa took over the buildings and land of a commune that didn’t make it (Sapling).  It’s located almost halfway between Twin Oaks and Acorn.

IMG_0578Me with Aurora of Mimosa–picture by Peggy Brennan

Mimosa is focusing on the work of agriculture, seed growing, herbalism, and activism.  They only have a few members at this point and are trying to figure out their membership policies.

I got to hang out with them and help out.  The place is beautiful and they are creating new spaces where people could stay.

I felt very welcomed at both Cambia and Mimosa and I was excited to learn the nitty-gritty of running a small new community.

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Another picture showing the boat and the main house at Cambia, sent by Telos

 

 

Visiting Cambia and Mimosa

Caroline Comes to Compersia Community

Hi all, I’m Caroline from the community formerly known as the Midden (long story, for another time.) I’ve been visiting Compersia since the Twin Oaks Communities Conference 9/1 – 9/4. TOCC was pretty great even though it rained hurricane rains on us while we camped in the woods. But I built a huge fire in the pit once the rain slowed and everybody got to huddle and dry out and make merry. The theme of the conference was Racial and Social Justice, and a lot of people walked away with a new deeper understanding of the ways that inequality and white supremacy is encoded into the fabric of our society. We learned ways we can be aware of this and begin to dismantle it. During the conference I went to visit Acorn, and got to reconnect with Rejoice, who allowed us 3 city kids to join her to feed and water the cows and goats. We visited and scratched the head of her beloved Cow and Cow’s offspring Trogdor. We fed goats, we trampled through fields of poison ivy, we jumped a fence.

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This is Cow. Yes, that’s her name.

I’m interested to possibly become a member here at Compersia, so I thought I’d swing by and experience life here for a couple days. Hence, they let me take over their blog post. (Muahahaha!!) No, I really only have nice things to say. Except maybe about the dishes. Which I’ve been told bubble up from flat surfaces, and you have to wipe them away into the dishwasher, and 30 minutes later, more will just spontaneously bubble up from random surfaces, only to have you scrape them away, and repeat this pattern ad infinitum, until you die. Luckily, I don’t particularly despise dish duty any more, and so found a way to make myself useful. Another way to be useful? Declare yourself a jungle gym for the children! Definitely popular among the under 4-foot crowd. M, one of the children, and I had a great conversation one evening about the usefulness of typing as a skill. It may sound boring to the outsider, but was actually quite engaging. Typing: it matters.

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While divesting objects that are no longer useful to him, GPaul offers me this device that is supposedly a peephole for a front door.  I think it’s a magic spyglass.  Tomato, tomaahto. He is not amused.

On Wednesday, Compersia hosted a rousing concert by David Wax Museum, and oooOOOOEEE, that was good fun. They played guitar, accordion, fiddle, the jaw bone of a donkey, and maybe a ukulele?? I may not know my stringed instruments, but I know a foot-stomping good time when I hear one. 35 people came and listened. The children threw flowers. The adults danced and chair-danced. I, for one, can’t wait to hear their Spanish-language album, the one song they played from it set the room on fire!

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The band David Wax Museum may begin a tour of actual wax museums in 2018.  Stay tuned.  **This may or may not be true.

Thursday afternoon I saw a 10+ point buck (male deer) with a fawn wandering through the back yard, and shouted for everyone to come see. The kids were like, “meh,” and apparently the adults don’t like the deer because they eat the garden. But I was floored because it was a majestic beast.

On Thursday evening, my last night here, I offered an iRest Yoga Nidra session to all interested parties. 4 folks had time and interest, and we covered the living room floor with yoga mats, blankets, pillows, and soft things, and did a deep relaxation session. iRest Yoga Nidra is a research-based transformative practice of deep relaxation and meditative inquiry. It’s currently being utilized in VA hospitals, hospice, homeless shelters, and schools. Research has shown that iRest effectively reduces PTSD, depression, anxiety, insomnia, chronic pain, and chemical dependency while increasing health, resiliency, and well-being. Yay healing! Yay deep relaxation! Yay for the post meditation cuddle puddle!

If you’d like to read more or listen to a 20 or 30 minute pre-recorded session by the psychologist who developed this practice based on Kashmir Shaivism, check it out here: https://www.irest.us/projects/irest

That’s all for now. This commundard is over and out. If you want to learn more about the Midden in Columbus, OH, check out our brand new blog to read about our adventures: http://radicalcooperation.wordpress.com

<3,  Caro—-

AKA Caroline Midden

AKA Imperator Furiosa

Caroline Comes to Compersia Community

ESCAPE THE GOLDEN HANDCUFFS

We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.     Albert Einstein

For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.     Audre Lorde

Aurora1The world has changed so much since I was 20.  I am not only speaking about the internet and gay marriage, which are good things, but rather how it seems harder to find your way socially and economically.  The road to economic security far more bumpy. Alienation is rampant. Workplaces are often dehumanizing and many people hate their jobs. There are many causes of this breakdown in our culture, environmental degradation, wealth inequality, a weakened  labor movement, unbridled capitalism, systemic systems of oppression, government cutback of social services, unsustainable and consumer driven lifestyles.  My generation (I graduated high school in 1981) did not do enough to build communal spirit and tackle key problems.  We gave greed and materialism a pass.

I was lucky enough to be part of a generation that had access to higher education that was affordable. Unlike many of today’s graduates, I did not graduate from college in huge debt. I could choose meaningful work even if it did not pay well. I could travel and choose to live alternatively. Currently, student debt is crippling and thus limits choices after graduation.  From the get go, you have to make money to pay off your school debt.  This is the beginning of the golden handcuffs that force people to work for money rather than to have meaningful occupations.

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I am not surprised when I meet people in their 20’s (which I do quite frequently since I have a 24 year old daughter) that they are frustrated with their lack of prospects and are often not sure what to do with their lives.  Given my generation’s failure to usher in a world with better prospects, I hesitate to give advice.  Nonetheless, this is what I think: Pursue paths that teach you how to think and live differently. If you can learn one thing, it would be how to radically share resources.  This solves many problems including alienation and economic instability.  Millennials are already choosing to live communally out of necessity.

Egalitarian income sharing communities are models for radical sharing and living in non-hierarchical ways that offer a way of life that gets us away from competition and the scarcity mentality and instead offers a way to learn skills that build cooperative culture.

 

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No one really knows how life will change as the planet heats up, but we do know that we cannot and will not be living in the same unsustainable way we live now. At the very least, we can predict that we will be living with scarcer resources and less mobility.  People will have to work together and share more.  In the future it will be helpful for people to know how to grow their own food and conserve water  People simply cannot be so wasteful.  Conservation and community building will be the key to your happiness.  It will be important to learn to live simply and by that I mean learning to be happy with what you have and getting out of the more is better mentality. Learning to find joy in connecting with others, sitting around having good conversations and working side by side will be the best way forward.

What are the tools for building this way of life?  This is a complicated question that is explored in  Maikwe Ludwig’s upcoming book “Together Resilient” (soon to be released).

 

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College is no longer the only way forward.  I am not even sure it is the best way forward.  (A comical perspective on this assumption.)  Sadly our education system with its emphasis on test scores and competition does not emphasize cooperative culture skills.or the skills needed for a post climate-change world.  Many people leave college having never really learned the skills required for building community the heart of which is cultivating a sense of interdependence and problem solving.  I am not saying everyone should abandon college aspirations, but I do want to offer another way for those who can’t afford or are not drawn to academia.  The life lessons one learns when building and living in community are lessons that are transportable and don’t leave you in a mountain of debt. For more information on income sharing egalitarian communities check out the Federation of Egalitarian Communities.

 

Aurora DeMarco lives and works as a member of Ganas, an intentional community in New York City.  She is also looking to join an FEC community down in Louisa Virginia.  She is 54 years old and a mother of two daughters.

ESCAPE THE GOLDEN HANDCUFFS