“Ask me again in September.” This phrase is my shield against requests of all kinds—everything from friendly hangouts to an offer to join the tofu management team. I say it so often now that I’m just waiting for the moment when someone asks me “what’s your name?” and all that I can say is a dreamy “September…”.
I was the Twin Oaks Women’s Gathering intern in 2016, which is why I decided to join Twin Oaks [you can read more about my protracted membership process in a future post]. Therefore, it was only logical that I would become a Women’s Gathering organizer this year. I’ve been attending the planning meetings since I was a visitor in January; I traveled to the farm from Baltimore for every meeting but one between then and when I became a member on May 26th.
At some point this spring, I joined the Queer Gathering team thanks to some friendly pestering from the original organizers. From there it became a slippery slope: I was just dipping my toes into Communities Conference work when someone who had agreed to bottom-line the whole conference suddenly left the community to take care of a family member. At that point, I decided to stop fighting it, and I allowed the conference beast to consume my being in its entirety.
As July inches in, everything is eerily calm. The conference site is slowly becoming habitable after its long winter hiatus. I usually have no more than twenty unread emails in my inbox at any given time. I still have time for tofu shifts, cooking, and childcare. But I know that’s all about to change.
Come find me at the QueerGathering on August 3rd—only slightly deranged—as I lead a workshop on using glitter to battle gender dysphoria and body hate. Then, join me again at the Women’s Gathering on August 17th, slipping into full lunacy as I fittingly lead a group of women to howl and scream at the moon and the sky (it’s healing, I swear). Finally, you might recognize me as hot pink hair on a human-potato hybrid at the Communities Conference from August 31st to September 2nd as I coordinate childcare and put out (hopefully metaphorical) fires all over the conference site.
On September 3rd, I sleep. Then you can ask me your questions.
If you want to follow developments of the events on Facebook, here are the pages for these events:
This Spring a team of colorful communard builders convened for a secular barn raising. Even though everyone came for different personal reasons, the shared goal was clear, make an old sheep barn more hospitable for commune members. One would assume that a simple, tangible goal would lead to a predictable week, but jumping to that conclusion would skip all the flying fish and cornucopia of magic that happened in-between.
Within the Federation for Egalitarian Communities (F.E.C.) this type of trip is called a LEX, and it’ as culturally far from the norm as East Brook is from any major city. With each turn down another unmarked country road, you are taking another deviation from the cultural norms around work, leadership, and purpose. Officially a LEX, short for Labor Exchange, is a time based currency used between participating members of the F.E.C. through which community members can help their fellow communities, and expect equitable hourly return of help at their own community Yet, the culture of LEX goes far beyond any quantifiable market exchange, and unlocks a culture of radical generosity that questions cultural norms most people take for granted.
While driving down Country Highway 22, the first intersection I had to make a turn at was “Construction projects need clear blueprints in order to be productive.” It seemed obvious that would be a right turn, but I was wrong. On the first day of the build, the travel weary crew was introduced to a small warehouse of materials and an even smaller dilapidated barn, with the general guiding principle being, “The more of these new building materials that we can refurbish the old dilapidated barn with, the closer we will be housing more communards.” One week later 1,000 square feet of insulated flooring was installed, two new walls were built, two doors were installed, and the ceiling was made watertight with a glistening new roof, and yet I didn’t see a single blueprint drawn. Not even a back of the envelope sketch was made. This whole project was a streaming interplay of experimentation, action, teaching and rethinking.
The next crossing on the road was across the train of thinking that says “successful projects need leaders”, which I expected to be a mandatory stopping point, but instead we rolled right passed it. While gaining labor credits through LEX was a periphery benefit to some of the builders, the majority of us came with the intention to gain more confidence in our building skills. Keenan and Nina have decades more building experience than the rest of us, but I’d be surprise if an observer would have been able to discern this. Both of them held space for learning in the egoless way a graceful mentor let’s you flourish in the skills you already have while opening the door for you to lean into your learning edge. It wasn’t that we were leaderless, but more accurately it was that each of us lead ourselves to show up the responsibilities we could fearlessly accomplish.
Now that the previous turns had lead me to unfamiliar territory I knew to turn the other direction when I arrived at the assumption that “efficient productivity needs schedules”. One of the experiences of commune culture that has profoundly changed my life is the experience of abundant food, beauty and friendship without the sweaty palm anxiety of fiscal scarcity putting you a couple paychecks away from being homeless. This separation of work from pure fiscal survival, to making work a voluntary choice to celebrate ones gifts within their chosen commune family, is rarely more alive than at a LEX build. From 6 a.m. till 7:30 p.m. there was a steady stream of workers gracefully picking up the hammer where the last person left off. Slipping away for a nap or meandering down to the stream to get lost in the glistening water where so common that announcing you were taking a break felt unnecessarily formal. We all trusted that everyone was giving as much as they felt called to, and our love for each other dwarfed the importance of renovating a barn, so we skipped planning our day in the morning, and instead celebrated our accomplishments in the evening.
I knew I was close to my destination when I was faced with the assumption that “hot tubs are expensive indulgences for wealthy people” and I turned the other direction to arrive at East Brook. Communes tend to be wealthy in “resource yards”, sometimes called junk piles by other Americans, which are often stocked with a variety of metal tubs. These bulky containers are as hard to find a use for as they are to get rid of, so they tend to become vernal pools for mosquitoes. However a few of us had experience turning these treasures into fire heated hot tubs, lovingly referred to as Hippy Stew pots. With juvenile enthusiasm we tinkered and toiled until the old barn was outfitted with the makings of a hot tub. Granted it took a few kettles of water boiled in the kitchen to nudge the temperature up to the point of indulgence, but the sensation of winning at life was authentic.
Now that all my assumptions on people’s relationship with work had been inverted, I was hardly surprised when fish began raining from the sky. We were cautiously enjoying a hot afternoon, after a couple days of snow in late April left us suspicious of the order of the seasons, when an epic toil of prehistoric ferocity began in the sky above us. An osprey resolutely clutching a fresh fish catch from the adjacent brook was blindsided by an eagle that mistook the osprey for a food delivery service. The two toiled hundreds of feet above the ground, claws and feathers rolling through the sky in defiance of gravity, until the still squirming fish slid out from the talons and came plummeting towards us. With a crash it landed gasping for water on the metal roof. Maximus and Rachael swiftly collected, gutted and fried it. That night I ate flying fish, and when I tasted it, I realized that to be abundantly wealthy is to be grateful for all that I have already been given.
Feeling helpless and hopeless about climate disruption? Some of the most powerful solutions are in places most people are not looking.
In 1985, Amory Lovins wrote the ground breaking article, “Saving Gigabucks withNegawatts,” where he argued that utility customers don’t want kilowatt-hours of electricity; they want energy services such as hot showers, cold beer, lit rooms, and spinning shafts, which can come more cheaply if electricity is used more efficiently. Intentional communities and especially income sharing communes can use a similar approach to reducing their carbon footprint.
You can think of communities and climate in a way similar to negawatts. People living in community don’t really care if they own a car or bicycle or set of clothing. What they want are transportation services and clothing services. If these can be provided more efficiently than through personal ownership then their needs are met. This is where radical sharing comes in and changes the entire climate discussion.
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 scholarshipswas 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 PEACHwhich 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. Compersiais 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!