pictures from Rejoice
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
The 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.
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.
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).
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.
The 67th annual (previously biannual) Federation of Egalitarian Communities (FEC) assembly was hosted by East Wind this year. In 1977, the very first FEC Assembly was held on East Wind’s land and forty years later both institutions stand as a testament to the durability of income-sharing and communal living. In mid March FEC delegates and people interested to visit East Wind traveled from Twin Oaks, Acorn, Sandhill, The Midden, and Sapling communities to review the state of the communes and plan for the upcoming year. Communities that wish to become full members of the FEC (known as ‘Communities in Dialogue’) that were in attendance included Stillwater Sanctuary/Possibility Alliance (La Plata, MO), Oran Mor (Wasola, MO), The Mothership (Portland, OR), Rainforest Lab (Forks, WA), Cambia (Louisa County, VA), Le Manoir (Quebec, Canada), and Ionia (Kasilof, Alaska). The Assembly consisted of five days of meetings, land tours, and social gatherings in the evenings. A number of topics were discussed, ranging from financial goals and better ways to support Communities in Dialogue to mediation workshops and how best to communicate the benefits of income-sharing.
The Assembly agenda flowed smoothly and a lot of ground was covered. The budget required a lot less time to finalize than last year and everyone was grateful for it. A new addition to the budget is ‘mini-grants’ which is a program that allows any member of a FEC community or Community in Dialogue to make a requests for small amounts of money ($50-$300) to make travel, education, and outreach opportunities become reality. The existing budget for full member scholarships was also approved and Joston of East Wind is receiving the first $500 grant for the budget year for an intensive permaculture training he will be attending next month right here in the Missouri Ozarks.
The FEC’s annual budget is paid for by member dues equal to 1% of net income for each full member community. In addition to access to the FEC funds for promoting the ideals income-sharing community, inclusion in the FEC also allows communities to become members of PEACH which is the catastrophic health insurance fund for East Wind and its sister communities.
The Assembly isn’t all meetings, of course. A tour of Oran Mor and a land walk at East Wind were some highlights of this year’s Assembly. Oran Mor is a Community in Dialogue that is about forty minutes from East Wind. They value living a low consumption life style and avoiding the use of fossil fuels. Last year, when East Wind ended its goat program the remaining goats were gifted to Oran Mor and they are healthy and happy. This year, in return, Oran Mor gifted East Wind with some of their ducks. Thanks Oran Mor!
This year the FEC accepted Compersia as a full member community. Compersia is an urban commune based outside of Washington DC. Steve, Compersia’s ever energetic and upbeat delegate, is excited to participate in outreach by getting people interested in income-sharing and communal living. He emphasized the fact that people with careers in an urban setting can mutually benefit from income-sharing and that communes don’t have to manifest in the form of ‘back to the land’ rural arrangements such as East Wind and Twin Oaks. Also during the assembly, Davi of The Mothership finalized a purchase of a neighboring house in Portland. They are interested in expanding and having the infrastructure for population growth. Urban and rural communes unite!
The Assembly was a great time to meet new people and strengthen the bonds between the FEC communities. Everyone can agree that East Wind was a generous host. Thank you to all the East Winders who served up delicious breakfasts, lunches, and dinners each day and made all our visitors feel welcome! As usual, the quality and abundance of food found in East Wind’s meals amazes everyone who visits. And of course, upon departure copious amounts of nut butters were distributed to be enjoyed by all of our sister communities. All in all, hundreds of pounds of almond, cashew, peanut, and sesame seed butter left East Wind’s warehouse to be consumed by our fellow communards across the continent. East Wind is grateful to be able to share such bounty. The next FEC Assembly will be held in Virginia on Acorn‘s land. Looking forward to it!
Post written by Sumner
Photos taken by Rejoice (thanks Rejoice!)
by Rejoice from the Federation of Egalitarian Communities blog
The annual assembly for the FEC takes place during March, in an attempt to happen at the beginning of the year when it’s least inconvenient to everyone. We have gardeners whose season hasn’t yet kicked into high gear, a goat herd who’s fielding baby goats (conveniently within range of the assembly), outdoor workers whose season hasn’t totally started yet, and people to whom the changing of seasons has absolutely no effect.
“I don’t understand agriculture. I eat trash.” – Alex of the Midden
We come together with two main purposes:
(a) to discuss common challenges, provide mutual aid, discuss problems beyond our reach, relate to each other as individuals and cooperate beyond our essential cooperative venture as a federation.
(b) to set our annual budget, including re-occurring costs of maintaining our obligations as an organization (labor exchange travel subsidy, mutual aid scholarships…), and proposals brought to us as an organization.
For our 2016 assembly, we declared the first three days to be “New Communities Weekend”, and the following three days to be oriented towards our business and budget. During this assembly, we accepted five new communities as being “communities in dialog” with the FEC. This is the largest single-year increase in community-building that anyone can remember, and we are heartened that each community has experienced communards to shepherd them along the path towards egalitarian living.
Our new communities in dialog include Cambia Community of Louisa county, AC/DC of the Point A DC project, Quercus Community as an offshoot of Acorn Community in Richmond, Sycamore Farm Community established by ex-Twin Oakers near Arcadia and the Appalachian Trail in Virginia, and the Chocolate Factory as established by former members and residents of the Mothership also in Portland, Oregon. These communities are largely income-sharing already, or have a strong understanding that this is their community goal. (AC/DC just started sharing income on Thursday, the day after the assembly completed and before they all begin living on the same property.)
It seems likely that at least some of our new communities will follow the path of Sapling Community, the newest full member community in the FEC, which fully joined at the federation during the previous year’s assembly at Sandhill in 2015. The purchase of the Sapling land was internally financed by Acorn Community, the Federation of Egalitarian Communities, and PEACH, instead of bank loans. The community was established by five experienced communards in October 2014, with a cottage industry incubated by Twin Oaks and Acorn Communities, and has already weathered the turnover of all of its founding members and is still the most rapidly successful new community in the movement in the last five years.
Some goals and plans of the upcoming year as we established during the assembly:
- Continue to support developing communities, especially by encouraging work and cultural exchange between communities who share egalitarian values.
- Persue the development of a “Commune Starter Kit,” a collection of information for forming egalitarian and income-sharing communities so that each one doesn’t have to perform the same research, and to get an intern via NASCO who will help us present this information as a coherent package.
- Collect information about communities developing in our midst to understand common problems of forming communities and what information is of use to a developing community.
- Increase our effectiveness as an organization by having multiple interested friends encourage each other to engage with other communities as a federation and keep our finances in order.
- Support Point A, a targeted program by communards and friends to seed egalitarian, income-sharing communities in urban centers along the East Coast.
by Raven MoonRaven
This blog focuses on egalitarian, income-sharing communities, also known as communes. Several weeks back I put out a piece called “Why Income Sharing?” This might be considered a companion piece, exploring the egalitarian nature of the communes.
The Oxford Dictionary defines Egalitarian as meaning: “Believing in or based on the principle that all people are equal and deserve equal rights and opportunities.”
For the way the communes structure themselves, the opposite of egalitarian is hierarchical. Most businesses and religions are organized in a hierarchical way–where the leaders have leaders and the bosses have bosses. Cooperative businesses are one big exception to this. I also think it’s interesting to note that there are a few very egalitarian religions–that is, religions without hierarchical leadership: some forms of Quakers, the Chavurah movement, and the Reclaiming pagans. (I’m personally curious to hear of other egalitarian religious groups.)
Many intentional communities define themselves as egalitarian: almost all co-op households and many ecovillages and cohousing communities. The reason that the communes that we talk about on this blog use the term egalitarian is that there are many hierarchical income sharing communities, where there are leaders or gurus who decide how to manage the money. (Unfortunately, these are also known as communes.) The Federation of Egalitarian Communities in the US was specifically set up to support secular, egalitarian income-sharing communities, as opposed to hierarchical, religious communes.
How egalitarian are the communes in the FEC?
Twin Oaks is the community that some people wonder about. They have planners and managers and make decisions by a type of voting (many of the newer communities have none of these things and make decisions by consensus). There are folks who wonder if the planners run the community–aren’t they in charge and don’t they have the power?
But planners can only be in the position for eighteen months (hardly gurus running the place) and what’s more, their power is limited by the Twin Oaks membership. And since they, themselves, are members of the community and live with, work with, and eat with everyone else (as do the managers) they find themselves very beholden to the community. They constantly read what people write on the O & I board and pay attention carefully to what members think. An unpopular decision can have pretty bad consequences. I heard one story about a planner who after making a membership decision that many people disliked, was run out of the dining room by a member who was upset by the decision and wanted to make it very clear. This makes it difficult to find people who want to be planners. And apparently, recently Twin Oaks ended up (at least temporarily) without any planners.
Similarly with managers. Folks at Twin Oaks point out that most people work in a lot of different areas and people who are managers in one area are just workers in another. It can happen that in the morning person A will be the manager in an area that person B is working in and in the afternoon person B will be the manager in another area that person A happens to be working in.
And, again, Twin Oaks is the most structured of the communes, the only one with planners and one of the few with managers. In most of the communes, it’s just a group of people living together, sharing income, and often working together. In the communes, leadership is just something people do, not a position.
So my point is that the communes on this blog not only share money, but they share leadership. That’s what’s egalitarian about them.
It should be clear that the authors on this blog agree that communes are pretty great. Indeed, the Commune Life Blog is a shameless promotion of communal living, a way of excitedly sharing our dearly loved and little documented way of life. We hope to be inspiring some of the same excitement about communes in our readers, perhaps enough to have them wondering “How do I start one of these things?” It turns out that some of us are already working on an answer to that question, so read on if you’re curious.
To be clear about what we mean when we say “commune,” we’re talking about collectives that are income sharing, which is not quite the same thing as expense sharing. Expense sharing is when a group of people, for example a housing co-op, decides to split the cost of some shared resource, like a shared tool or bulk food. Groups sharing expenses determine the cost of what is being shared and splits it, then each member pays an equal share of the expense using their own money.
Communes, which are income sharing, pool their money before costs appear. No matter how little or much money each member makes, it is put into a collective pool, out of which the group’s expenses are paid. We who share income think doing so is important for a lot of reasons: it allows those without or without as much access to income to live as good a life as everyone else; domestic work can be valued equally to money-making work; it creates a family-like sense of solidarity among a community; sharing resources allows better living with less money, which in turn allows us to work less for the same level of material comfort.
If you’re still wondering how to start one of these things, we’re glad, because the world has lots of room for communities striving toward sustainability, compassion and connection. The world could always use more communes, if you ask us. In theory, the answer is simple: find a group of people and start pooling your incomes. Easy, right? Though simple in theory, starting a commune is actually a very complicated endeavor, requiring a lot of planning, trust and plain hard work. Where do we find a group of people we can trust enough to share money with? How will the shared money be earned? How will we decide how to spend it? What are the tax implications of pooling income? What happens when we don’t agree with the people we are financially bound to? The question of how to start a commune has suddenly split into a multitude of questions, and we’ve opened a can of worms.
Recognizing that starting a commune is easier said than done, some of us at the Federation of Egalitarian Communities and its Point A Project are working to answer the question: “how does one start a commune?” Since “just get out there and do it” isn’t a sufficient answer, we’re creating something of a “commune starter kit” that seeks to guide communities toward successful income sharing as smoothly as possible. Our mission is to distill the essence of what makes a commune work, create a collection of wisdom, reflections, flowcharts and encouragement, then fit it in a box. Introducing the “Commune in a Box!”
The endeavor to start a commune inevitably raises certain questions, many without definitively correct answers. For example, each income sharing community will need some amount of income to share. Should it come from jobs that members work, or should the commune start a cooperatively owned business? How does one start a community business? Likewise, every commune will need a decision making system. Most communes use consensus, some prefer direct democracy, and Twin Oaks uses a planner-manager system based on Walden Two, a utopian novel by B.F. Skinner. None of these governance systems is “correct,” but they are different, and they make for different types of communities. The list of questions a forming community will encounter continues: what will the membership process look like? How will labor be divided? How will members get access to health care?
Our task is to identify these questions that forming communes commonly encounter, reflect on the implications of different answers, and offer a (non-exhaustive) list of possible ways to meet each important need. To do this, we’re bringing together the scattered body of knowledge that already exists on communal living; collecting the wisdom of long-time communards and those who have tried (and sometimes failed) to start communes; and comparatively studying communities that have addressed these various needs in different ways. By highlighting needs to meet, rather than prescribing solutions to them, we hope to create a widely applicable resource, relevant to communities with a variety of visions and circumstances. We’re packing the Commune in a Box with interviews of community founders, history of the communes movement, and a blooper reel of mistakes communards have made in the past that forming communities need not repeat.
Needless to say, this is a lot to fit in a box, but we’re committed to stuffing it in there. We’re working with several forming communities as test cases, and using their feedback to create the most practically useful resource we can for them. Once clinical trials are complete, we will release the Commune in a Box as a wiki-style online resource and (hopefully) physical guide seeking to bring some level of ease to the arduous task of starting a new commune or transitioning an existing community to income sharing. We hope it will accelerate the world’s momentum toward utopia and make income sharing more accessible to those thirsting for a different human narrative. A toast to those creating a more compassionate, sane and sustainable future!
If you’re curious about the project, know of well hidden resources on communal living we could draw from, or would like to be notified when we release the Commune in a Box, you can get in touch with us by sending an email to email@example.com
At this point a cultural icon around the world, Star Trek is known for its futuristic tech, its memorable lines and characters, the adventures of the crew, and its noble and optimistic opinion of humanity. But standing quietly in the background of all the Star Trek TV shows and movies is a very radical set of economic assumptions and propositions more relevant to the humanity of the present than futuristic tech like transparent aluminum or even tricorders. The radical economics of Star Trek were recently given thorough treatment in a new book, Trekonomics, by author and nerd Manu Saadia. In the book, Saadia makes a point and distinction of particular interest to those of us working to organize a deeply egalitarian and democratic economy and society.
The United Federation of Planets operates without money and without markets, a point referenced repeatedly by the crew members. The Federation is, in Saadia’s words, “post-economic”, his preferred way of characterizing their post-scarcity society. “Economics is the management of scarcity,” says Saadia. “With Star Trek, at least inside the Federation, you have basically overcome what [John Meynard] Keynes called, ‘The Economic Problem,’ … the allocation of scarce resources.” It’s easy to see how this is possible in a world with replicators capable of synthesizing anything that a Federation citizen might desire. What’s important to note, though, is that replicators were only introduced in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Even in the pre-replicator world of Star Trek (The Original Series) money and the market have been abandoned as barbaric relics from a less civilized and less humanistic era. In Star Trek, the movement beyond economics is presented not as the result of some cornucopia of technological automation but rather as a policy choice… and as a strongly moral policy choice, at that. The fact that the Federation’s movement beyond economics is a choice continues to be made throughout the various shows by the existence of technologically comparable societies (epitomized by the Ferengi) where money, the market, and scarcity still obviously exist.
Some people just really love money. (All screenshots by Eric Grundhauser via Atlas Obscura)
The flip side of scarcity is abundance, the state of having enough or more than enough of what everyone needs. It is a utopian material condition that many have dreamed of and sought throughout human history and across political traditions. What is described here in Star Trek are the two general methods of approaching abundance. We might call them demand side abundance and supply side abundance. Supply side abundance is the easier one to imagine and is embodied by the post-replicator Star Trek. The means of production have developed to the point that an infinitesimal amount of human labor is transformed into an infinitude of materials goods. It no longer makes sense to talk about prices when your costs are essentially zero. Without the need to manage scarcity the market fades away as product after product is decommodified. It is the communism described by Marx as the near inevitable result of Capitalism’s drive towards mechanization. Our friends, Las Indias, have done a lot of good work exploring the ways in which this form of abundance is beginning to breach into our world, the challenges it poses to the status quo, and the opportunities it presents to egalitarian communalists (see their by donation ebook The Book of Abundance or The Communard Manifesto).
Picard is served a potted plant by a malfunctioning replicator. (All screenshots by Eric Grundhauser via Atlas Obscura)
However, as exciting as a dawning age of supply side abundance is, what I find even more exciting is demand side abundance. By this I mean the world of abundance that is already available to us and has been, pretty consistently, for a very long time. As the stone soup story suggests and as Bucky Fuller calculated the existence of scarcity in the world is not a problem of production but a problem of distribution. But when we talk about distribution in this way we’re really talking about something bigger. We’re talking about Demand or how decisions are made and priorities are set not just around who gets the stuff that is produced but about what is produced in the first place and how it is distributed and made available. Like how we, as a species, decide how many Ferraris are produced versus how much malaria medicine. Or how we decide where we pile up food and when it gets thrown out. Or how much to spend on lawyers to fight health insurance claims versus how much to spend on health care. Any number of decisions, really. The idea hinted at by pre-replicator Star Trek, and the idea clearly explored by Ursula K. LeGuin in The Dispossessed, is how a society can choose to create abundance even in a situation with limited resources. That is to say, how a society can choose to make sure that everyone has enough of what they need. The path that LeGuin’s moon anarchists take is the same path taken by our very real and present day Federation of Egalitarian Communities. That path is one that both works to make distribution as efficient as possible (by extensive sharing, intensive cooperation and coordination, and the removal of barriers to access) while at the same time thinking critically about what is needed to live a good life and, as much as possible, finding non-materialist paths to satisfaction and enrichment. This is what makes LeGuin’s anarchists a peaceful and rich people despite living on an isolated desert planet with very scarce resources and it is what makes the communes of the Federation able to provide comfortable, secure, and satisfying lives (of an arguable middle class or upper middle class quality) on sub-poverty level incomes. It is an abundance that is available to all of us right now if we can change the way that we relate to each other and to our economy.
We are living science fiction. May our message of peace and abundance one day reach the earth… and finally the stars.
The Federation is on its way. (All screenshots by Eric Grundhauser via Atlas Obscura)