I’ve been hoping to have some of the folks in the communities that I’m going to talk about tell their tales, and I’m still hoping that will happen, but in the interests of transparency, I want to put out some of what is happening.
I’ve heard it said (and have said it myself) that 90% of new communities fail. It’s not a real statistic but it is an acute observation. Anyone working closely with community building knows the stories. (And it’s not that strange–I’ve also heard that 90% of new business fail.)
At this point, three of the communes that have graced this blog are gone: Quercus, Sycamore Farm, and the Midden. The Midden lasted more than seven years (they bought a house in 2010) and only fell apart recently. (Note: Not completely accurate. See my comment in the comments section.) Quercus lasted (I think) less than a year. Sycamore Farm may have done the best of all–as their community fell apart another community near Twin Oaks and Acorn (called Sapling–we were never able to get anything from them) was also doing poorly. The founders of Sycamore Farm were able to take it over and it has become Mimosa. (As I said, I’m hoping the folks that were part of Quercus and Sycamore/Sapling/Mimosa can tell their stories. Folks involved have said that they’d like to, but communitarians are busy people.)
A lot of this is simply the nature of building community. It’s just not easy–if it was, there would be ten times the number of communities that there are now. Community involves people and people are both wonderful and can be very difficult.
(Notes: This report is rather out of date. Also, it’s significant that we took something from Paxus’s blog, your passport to complaining, this week because his blog was the main inspiration for this blog. His blog has lots of stuff on communes, but also polyamory, nuclear power, political situations, and stories from his family and his life. He got the idea he should have different blogs focused on different topics. From there we talked about the idea of a blog focused on egalitarian income sharing communities that he and many other folks could contribute to. That became this blog.)
“Look for the place with the canoe in the front yard.” It is pretty safe to assume that another canoe was not going to make it into another yard in downtown Columbus OH on Halloween. And we were already warned that this was not going to be a “normal” visit.
By most measures the Midden is a fantastically successful community. And one key to their success is in their name.
A midden is an intriguing or marvelous rubbish heap. Pack rats and octopi make middens—so do ocean currents and human civilizations. We call our house The Midden because we make use of the artifacts (groceries, furniture, shoes) thrown away or overlooked by mainstream society. And all the while, we’re using this stuff to build more whole and meaningful systems to provide for ourselves. [All quotes from the Midden website]
We arrive in time for dinner. Much of the house is not here this evening. Some doing their political works, others touring, still others will be back later. The house is a lived in construction site, but most of the bed rooms look well lived in and are decorated with political posters and exotic art. We have arrived with the intention of working with them on our way back from NASCO, and we can already see that we will be working on blown cellulose insulation. I have a long love affair with insulation materials.
We also love to care for each other, share our skills and ideas, and do what we can to confront systems of oppression that bring us all down. We’re eco-activists, prison abolitionists, housing justice advocates, writers and theater artists, adventurous human beings and more.
They are also charming, dedicated, sarcastic, spunky, counter culture kids who are the newest member of the egalitarian communitymovement. They were great hosts, embracing us not just as guests but as valued co-conspirators in making things better. The refrigerator rivals a suburban fridge for high end fare, the only difference is much of it made a brief stop in a dumpster first. Amazingly they have only spent $340 on food for all 7 of them since the first of the year (excluding coffee). The kitchen sink is a perfectly positioned bathtub.
We believe in things like: doing it ourselves, anti-authoritarianism, using (and re-using) our resources responsibly, friends and hanging out, dumpstering, caring for each other and staying solid. You can read more athttp://themidden.wordpress.com/.
While a couple housemates tell me that all the members like and respect each other, what really holds the place together is their shared commitment to political change. We try to kidnap Cole and get her to come to NASCO with us. She wisely resists, thought she was tempted by the idea of doing her own guerilla skill share.
We’re solid. We defend space that is safe, secure, and reliable for ourselves and our friends. We know where we stand in relation to the neighborhood, the city and the community and we own and shape that position. We practice security culture. We protect ourselves (to the best of our ability) from crisis both within and outside the house. We hold practices and policies that keep us stable, effective and creative as individuals and as a group. By pausing to think about what we think, want, and need, we make ourselves resilient and able to adapt to change.
We do end up spending a day helping install insulation. Billy from the Baltimore Free Farm scrambles thru the crawl spaces pumping fire resistant paper into the hollow spaces between ceiling and roof. We put in a long day of insulating and shlepping the heavy blower machine to the third floor. And we are satisfied that the house will be much warmer this winter for our efforts.
The Midnights (as I like to call them as a compression of Midden-ites) are game to guerilla workshop material to NASCO 2014. When I say we are going to run 24 new workshops, Alex instantly replies “We will do 6 of them.” We have met our partners in crime, and they live behind the canoe is Columbus Ohio.