Communities as Living Organisms

by Raven Glomus

The post we published last Friday, by Katarzyna Gajewska, got me thinking about something I’ve been meaning to write about for a while.  People sometimes talk about communities like they were buildings that could be designed and built and they would remain the way the founders intended forever.

One of the things I’ve often said about Twin Oaks (and sometimes about Ganas, as well) is that no one in their right minds would design a community like Twin Oaks (or Ganas).  That’s because the Twin Oaks that exists now wasn’t designed.  It was planned one way and then it grew, changed, evolved.

A Twin Oaks anniversary picture

My view of communities is that they are living organisms, which grow, and change, and adapt, and often die.  In fact, many communities change in ways that frustrate their founders, often to the point that the founders leave.  Kat Kinkade left Twin Oaks and, in fact, came and went and came and went, and finally came back to die there.  Mildred Gordon also left Ganas, and didn’t come back until she, too, came to die.  Some people here have pointed out that Kevin and Sarah (the founders of East Brook/Glomus) are now gone (although Sarah may be back) and this has allowed us to grow in ways that I don’t think they had anticipated.

This phenomenon is so common that I have heard it called ‘founders syndrome’.  Whether the founder leaves or not, at some point they are faced with a decision, whether to let the community grow in ways they might not have wanted, or to be heavy handed and keep it to the path that they planned.  The thing is, you can control a community like that, but you will probably kill it in the process.

Looking at the six characteristics of living things, the cells of a community are the people.  As there are no animals or plants that do not have cells, there are no communities without people.  Communities certainly use and need energy–things happen in community only when people have the energy to do them and communities die without energy.  Communities don’t grow in isolation–they are forced to adapt to their surroundings.  And they certainly react to changes. They also grow and develop–as I have been saying.  

Finally, not all communities reproduce–the same way that not all people reproduce.  But communities certainly sometimes reproduce–Twin Oaks, for example, begat East Wind and Acorn.  East Wind begat Oran Mor.  And Twin Oaks and Acorn begat Living Energy Farm, Mimosa, and Cambia.

When you think of communities as living organisms, you realize the futility of trying to design and control a community.  You don’t build a community, you help birth it and you help it grow.

Communities as Living Organisms

When Diversity is a Necessity

In my last reprint from Facebook, I mentioned that I was okay with all white communities and that diversity is often more to make white folks feel better. In this Facebook post, I talk about when diversity becomes important. I use myself as an example and, since having some picture makes posts more attractive, I used a picture of myself to illustrate it. Reading the post should explain why.

According to Facebook, we reached 302 people, but there was only one comment, and it was about how my situation resonated with the person who responded. Still, I am always glad when my posts have been helpful for someone–and I never know about people that these posts affect that don’t respond.

On Monday, I will post my final post on diversity, outlining one possible path to diverse community.

When Diversity is a Necessity

Together We Rise

By Keenan

(Keenan is a long time member of Twin Oaks. We have published him before here. He sent us this piece.)

4 July 2020

My take on the history of significant cultural change at Twin Oaks

As has been pointed out many, many times, it is going to take a lot of work to make Twin Oaks a multi-cultural community, or, at least it will take many, many small changes in lots of different parts of the community and in the hearts of members. However, we have done it before; we can do it again.

Women’s equality at Twin Oaks has required significant and steady effort.  For decades Twin Oaks has hosted a women’s gathering. Some years the women’s gathering has earned some money, some years it hasn’t, but the community has never wavered in being supportive of putting resources toward hosting this gathering. The community has built and maintains women-only living space. Twin Oaks has supported and encouraged women taking on non-traditional roles like, for instance, working with machines, constructing buildings, working with big animals and taking on managerial and leadership roles. When women have not arrived at Twin Oaks with training, training has been provided.

Twin Oaks has women only rituals. Twin Oaks makes sure that there is a woman at membership interviews, and that there is a woman as part of the visitor liaison team. The CMT tries to be at least half women. The new member liaisons are typically a man and a woman. Twin Oaks got a handful of women members from an article in the feminist magazine, “Bust.” Women’s space in Oneida has an extensive women’s library.

Women and men have taken on the arduous task of teaching incoming men about what feminism means in practice. We all have come to recognize that the community is better for these efforts because we rise together.

 Many years ago, Twin Oaks had few elders living here. At that time, the discussion in the community included the sentiment that the community couldn’t afford to make the changes necessary to support elders. So what happened was that good members left; seeing no possibility of staying here into their old age, members in their late forties and early fifties left the community in order to save money for retirement elsewhere.

But saner voices prevailed and Twin Oaks built Nashoba for elders. Twin Oaks created a pension policy. An elder advocate position was created and funded. Later, Twin Oaks built Appletree. Consequently, members started making a lifetime commitment to Twin Oaks. These days, far from being a drain on the community, elders like McCune, Carrol, Pam, Hildegard, Shal and many, many others are essential, valuable and contributing members of the community. The community is now happy to care for elders because we now recognize that we rise together.

At another point in Twin Oaks history, children and families were also controversial. Some members harassed women who wanted to get pregnant. Children were banned from ZK’s main dining room and the ZK lounge. Children were forbidden to enter many other areas of the community. The role of the Child Board was seen as protecting some members of the community from the noise and mess of children. Children were seen by some members as solely an expensive hobby of people who wanted to be parents.

But policies changed. Hearts changed. Children became welcome in all parts of the community. The Child Board changed its focus to being an advocate for children. Twin Oaks puts lots of labor resources into creating a quality child program. Children were assumed to be part of the community and expected to contribute to the work here. The children who grew up after this culture shift are the children who have chosen to continue to live in community as adults.  Additionally,  visitors see children in the community and choose to live at Twin Oaks rather than elsewhere precisely because children are embraced and loved here. Parents tend to make a long-term commitment to the community. Rather than being a drain on the community, families are an integral part of the strength of the community. Because we rise together.

It seems that Twin Oaks is on the cusp of making a similar commitment to finally becoming more diverse and multi-cultural. There is no good reason not to. There are not terrible trade-offs to be made. This is not a direction that drains or weakens the community—far from it—becoming a more diverse community will make Twin Oaks stronger, because…

 together we rise.

Together We Rise

Diversity at Twin Oaks, Part Four

Julia Amanita, who lives at Twin Oaks and is part of the Commune Life team, was asked to give her perspective on what is going on at Twin Oaks. This is what she wrote:

There were lots of comments (and still more coming in). Here is what there was a couple of days ago (minus a more personal back and forth between a couple of folks):

Then Aurora shared a link to this meme:

Tomorrow is July first and, rather than continuing to post from our Facebook page, I will print a brand new piece from a regular contributor to Commune Life, Katarzyna Gajewska.

Diversity at Twin Oaks, Part Four

Diversity at Twin Oaks (and Beyond), Part Two

Although Julia’s Instagram post, that was the subject of yesterday’s post, was published on Facebook quickly at their request, we already had a post ready to go up, republishing a post from the Twin Oaks Facebook page, with commentary from us. (Mostly Theresa, although I provided the outline for it.) It was published the next day. Here is the original Twin Oaks post:

As the Facebook caption says, there were 57 comments on the Twin Oaks site. I am not going to put most of them on here–among other things, the comments reached a level of ignorance and acrimony that was truly awful–but I will put the first three, because they were telling:

Here is the commentary that we wrote when we reposted it on the Commune Life Facebook page:

We only got two comments to this post on our site, and they were from the same person:

Julia requested that we keep our Twin Oaks reposts and other material on the same subject, and although we did publish a few unrelated things that were in the queue about Acorn and East Wind, we kept a focus on diversity and dealing with racism. We publicized two workshops related to the subject, both (coincidentally?) on June 23:

And (another Instagram repost from Julia):

There is and will be a lot more on this subject, but much of it is still going on. I am going to take a couple of days to look at other things and then return with Part Three, which will contain current Facebook posts.

Diversity at Twin Oaks (and Beyond), Part Two

Diversity at Twin Oaks, Part One

After the death of George Floyd and the renewal of the Black Lives Matter movement, difficulties that the Twin Oaks community had been having with diversity, escalated. I (Raven) am interrupting the flow of Facebook posts (I had been posting stuff from April), to present very recent posts about the events at Twin Oaks. I will start with this Instagram post that Julia from TO asked me to repost to Facebook and all the comments that it got.

I will try to print most of the comments, but some may be difficult to follow as the order of the comments was changed partway through, and some don’t necessarily follow others.

This is just the beginning of the conversation. More tomorrow.

Diversity at Twin Oaks, Part One

Twin Oaks on Reddit

At the end of February, something interesting and unusual happened. Keenan Dakota, who lives at Twin Oaks, got on Reddit, which has an “Ask Me Anything” (abbreviated AMA) track, and said that he lived in an “…egalitarian, income-sharing community…” and was open to questions–and boy, did he get comments–well over nine thousand! This was the best educational opportunity that I have ever seen for the communes.

I did a post on here about it focusing on all the questions that he got that asked if the communes were cults, but I realize that I never posted anything directly about it here–although there were a couple of Facebook posts. So here are some bits from the FB posts, which give a little of the flavor of Keenan’s Reddit comments. First of all, the original FB post, which doesn’t say much:

It’s interesting to note that although this post reached 950 people (!) and got 290 ‘engagements’, there was only one comment.

I decided that it was so interesting that I published a second post with a few bits from Keenan’s actual Reddit comments:

Of course, this is only a very few of the comments, but at least it gives a flavor of this ground breaking bit of social media.

Twin Oaks on Reddit