The conference was at Terra Madre Gardens outside of Escondido, CA, all of 40 miles from the Mexico border. Hot and dry, succulents seemed to be having a grand old time and even the oak trees’ leaves had spikes like hollies as if to say “keep your thieving mitts off of my water!”
Welcome to the conference! Here’s an orientation board.
The folks at registration came up with a colorful way of communicating what you were seeking in an intentional community.
Much conversation was had over the delicious food cooked by the crew at Terra Madre Gardens.
Sky opens the conference on Friday night with some framing thoughts for the weekend ahead.
Alayha, the event’s MC (and occasional cosmic clown), gets the crowd warmed up before one of the workshops.
The dining area was always active with conversations large and small.
GPaul and Betsy share their thoughts on a panel at the conference.
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.
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.
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.
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:
While we’ve had a lot of posts from Cambia before (herearethree), 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.)
The 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.
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.
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.
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!
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
Perhaps you are thinking about what you should be doing over Labor Day weekend. You have decided it is too expensive and too much hassle to go to Burning Man. You could visit your relatives, but Thanksgiving is looming and that is really a much better holiday for that activity. You could stay home and watch some sporting spectacular on TV, with teams you don’t especially care about and with perhaps too many advertisements between plays.
Or you could come to the Twin Oaks Communities Conference. It is reasonably priced, it has no commercials, you won’t get fine dust in everything you own, and, unless they are pretty cool already, you probably won’t see any of your relatives.
But rather than talk about what won’t be there, let’s explore some of what will be happening at this year’s conference.
The event is a mix of different types of content and social/cultural aspects. The content comes in three big forms. There are scheduled workshops, the schedule for which is at the bottom of this post and the detailed descriptions can be read here. [You need to click the arrow by the workshop titles to open up the full descriptions].
There is Open Space, which allows the participants to design their own workshops and present them. While the scheduled workshops are all on themes directly related to communities, the open space portion of the event can be on any topic which participants are excited about. In the past this has included permaculture, polyamory, anti-oppression work, a critique of Occupy and how to dumpster dive.
The other formal piece of content to conference provides is the “meet the communities” gathering Saturday morning. Everyone who is in a community (including ones which are forming) gets 60 seconds to introduce what they are doing. Then all the representatives distribute themselves in the main gathering area and put up little signs or put out other information on their place and answer questions presented by milling participants. There might be 30 or 40 communities represented. And you might just find the one which is a great choice for you.
There is lots of informal content. Experts and adventurers at meals talking about their experiences. Late night chats around the fire, about how happy we will be to not hear so much about Trump and concerns about Hillary. There will be new friends and romances. Smokers will chat comically or conspiratorially in their little area. Coffee and early morning rituals will bond new allies.
While the information provided would be sufficient reasons to come to this event – the culture, fun and personal connections seal the deal. For many people the conference is brushing up against the very different way of living at an income sharing, secular community which has deep sharing agreements. The communities conference dance on Saturday night is one of the best dances Twin Oaks has all year. Mud pits beckon.
Here is the scheduled workshop program
Saturday: 1:30 – 3:15 PM
Panel discussion with the Federation of Egalitarian Communities
Consensus 201: Different levels of agreement for a consensus proposal
Organizing Community? Remember PC2
The Community Land Trust: Networking Wealth
Saturday: 3:45 – 5:30 PM
The Parable of the Sower Intentional Community
Culture Hacking 101: How to Create a Participatory, Intentional Culture For Your Community
Mutual Credit and Sociocracy
Sunday: 9:00 – 10:45 AM
Creating Fertile Ground for Community
Boundaries: Speaking Truth, Meeting Needs, and Releasing Attachments
The Role of ICs in Manifesting a New Paradigm/Next System