A Question of Longevity

This is the next in a series that I’ve posting here on questions that have gone up on the Commune Life Facebook page. Here’s the first question we reposted and the second and the third and the fourth and finally the fifth and latest.

In early January, I posted this question on our Facebook page:

Here’s a sampling of the responses that I received:

My comment at the end of the thread is actually a response to Lucy Perry’s question at the beginning of it.

Honestly, I wish I knew a magic formula to guarantee longevity for communities. It is possible; look at Twin Oaks. But, as Julia points out, even longevity brings its problems.

A Question of Longevity

Communes and the Coronavirus

by Raven Glomus (with assistance from Theresa Glomus and JB East Wind)

The subject of this post will probably not surprise anyone. In one way, I hate to add to the constant drumbeat of coronavirus stuff.  It’s all our news feeds are filled with and it gets tiring–to me, at least. On the other hand, I think that it’s important that folks know what the communes are doing about this pandemic. 

In some ways, the communes are great places to ride out the pandemic. At this point, they are all rural and a bit isolated. It’s fairly easy to disconnect from the social world and you don’t need to feel isolated, since you have other people who are just as isolated with you.  It’s perfect–until someone somehow gets the coronavirus. 

This is the downside of the communes. We share income, we share a mission, we share our stuff. We also share germs. Once someone in a commune gets the coronavirus, everyone is probably going to get it.  There is also more back and forth between the various communities than there is contact with the outside world. That means there is also the likelihood of it rapidly spreading from commune to commune.

So what are specific communities doing to deal with the coronavirus?

Twin Oaks had been talking about quarantining sick folks in one cabin and only allowing caregivers in and out.  The caregivers would not be allowed to eat in the dining hall, to contain the spread of the coronavirus. 

Now, as of Saturday, Twin Oaks is in full quarantine/locked down mode.  No visitors are allowed except for essential services, such as UPS. Members leaving the property without the consent of the Planners won’t be allowed to return until the pandemic has abated. 

They have cancelled visitor periods for March and April and all Saturday tours at Twin Oaks have been canceled for the foreseeable future.

At Acorn, they quarantined themselves early. They have instituted thorough sanitation procedures in every area of the community. These include thoroughly wiping down surfaces that people interact with, and even nearby surfaces that might not be interacted with.  For off farm business trips, members have been instructed to wear gloves during the entire trip, to drop off items at designated areas and sanitize priority items, and then discard gloves in designated trash areas and sanitize hands with hand sanitizer immediately.

Acorn further instructs that if a person is having difficulty breathing, they should have a designated emergency person take them to the hospital. That person should prepare to shower upon returning to Acorn and put the clothes they wore immediately into a washing machine (with hot water), sanitizing all surfaces of the washing machine. 

Anyone at Acorn who feels sick or shows symptoms of the Coronavirus, has been told to stay in their own room. They have been instructed to stuff a towel under their bedroom door, keep a window open as much as possible, have a designated person bring them meals, and have a stock of snacks in their room. If they need to leave their room, they should wear a mask and sanitize all knobs and surfaces that they come in contact with.

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Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (Acorn’s business) has posted the following on Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/SouthernExposureSeeds/posts/10156779388296254 

At East Wind, they have had two community meetings to discuss the Coronavirus. They have stopped visitor periods for April and have effectively made a prohibition on guests.  They say that they have a solid amount of food and could be well situated to weather the pandemic.

Economically, their nutbutter business has been impacted with a drop in sales to those who use our product as an ingredient in their manufacturing (some examples are juice and snacks). On the other hand, the distributors that they work with are experiencing large spikes in sales. It seems unclear if they will lose money due to the virus but it is definitely a possibility.

Being one of the most rural communities, East Wind has yet to see the full extent of impact it will face. As things change, they may start taking more serious actions, but of the various communes, they think they may be in a pretty good place in terms of being prepared and isolated.

Here at the Glomus Commune at East Brook Community Farm, we are smaller and are looking at people coming here on a case by case basis. We have told people who just want to visit not to come.  With other people, who are planning to come here on a long term basis, we are checking on their health status and whether they are coming from a high risk area before giving them permission to come. As with all the communes, things are changing daily. 

Communes are semipermeable and still quite connected with the larger society. We are all going to have to see where this pandemic goes. 

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Thanks for reading! This post was made possible by our patrons on Patreon. The Commune Life team works hard to bring you these stories about our lives in community, and that work couldn’t happen without support from our audience. So if you liked this article, and want to help us make more like it, head on over to https://www.patreon.com/communelife to join us! 

Deep gratitude to all of our patrons:  

Communities

  • Compersia Community
  • East Brook Community Farm
  • The Federation of Egalitarian Communities
  • Twin Oaks Community

Communards 

  • Aaron Michels
  • Brenda Thompson
  • Caroline Elbert
  • Cathy Loyd
  • Em Stiles
  • Jenn Morgan
  • Janey Amend-Bombara
  • Jonathan Thaler
  • Joseph A Klatt
  • Julia Elizabeth Evans
  • Kai Koru
  • Kathleen Brooks
  • Laurel Baez
  • Lynette Shaw
  • Magda Schonfeld
  • Michael Hobson
  • Nance & Jack Williford
  • Peter Chinman 
  • Raines Cohen 
  • Suzi Tortora
  • Tobin Moore
  • Warren Kunce
  • William Croft
  • William Kadish
  • William Scarborough

Thanks! 

Communes and the Coronavirus

Are Communes Cults?

by Raven East Brook 

A few weeks ago, Twin Oaks communard Keenan went on to Reddit and said that he lived in a commune in Virginia and invited folks to ask him anything. He got over nine thousand comments.

Many of the comments were very good questions.  However, a number of people asked if Twin Oaks was a cult and several commenters insisted that it was. And the more that Keenan said it wasn’t, the more that they decided that meant it was.

Of course, a good question is, what is a cult?

This was a cult.

Merriam Webster defines a cult as: “great devotion to a person, idea, object, movement, or work (such as a film or book)” and “a usually small group of people characterized by such devotion”.

First and foremost, there is no great leader at Twin Oaks or any of the other communes; no one is the object of “great devotion”.  There is a reason we call ourselves “egalitarian” communities. There is no one in charge. About the only thing that everyone agrees to at Twin Oaks is that sharing is a good thing and I doubt that many people there would say that they are “devoted” to sharing. 

There is also this notion that people are trapped in cults; that they are not allowed to leave. We are definitely not cults by this definition. People leave Twin Oaks and the other communes all the time.

A third way that cults are talked about is claiming that everyone is required to believe the same thing. As I said above, about the only thing that everyone believes in, in the communes, is sharing and I am not even sure that everyone believes in that. On any other subject, I am sure that if you talked with ten communards, you’d get twelve different opinions–at least. 

This is Twin Oaks. Not a cult. Really.

I suspect that what these commenters mean by cult is that we are different. We’re weird. I am not disputing that. In a capitalist, individualistic society, where people are encouraged to get what they can for themselves, and maybe a few loved ones, doing this radical amount of sharing, and working on being as equal as we can be, is very different. 

The idea that we could share everything is very threatening to some people. They want to say that it would never work, but it’s been working at Twin Oaks for more than fifty years and it is still working. So they dismiss it as a cult. 

I am not claiming that this level of sharing will work for everyone or that this is something everyone should do.  I am just saying that this is a real option and it can work. 

We are not creating cults at the communes, we are creating culture. 

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Thanks for reading! This post was made possible by our patrons on Patreon. The Commune Life team works hard to bring you these stories about our lives in community, and that work couldn’t happen without support from our audience. So if you liked this article, and want to help us make more like it, head on over to https://www.patreon.com/communelife to join us! 

Deep gratitude to all of our patrons:  

Communities

  • Compersia Community
  • East Brook Community Farm
  • The Federation of Egalitarian Communities
  • Twin Oaks Community

Communards 

  • Aaron Michels
  • Brenda Thompson
  • Caroline Elbert
  • Cathy Loyd
  • Em Stiles
  • Jenn Morgan
  • Janey Amend-Bombara
  • Jonathan Thaler
  • Joseph A Klatt
  • Julia Elizabeth Evans
  • Kai Koru
  • Kathleen Brooks
  • Laurel Baez
  • Lynette Shaw
  • Magda schonfeld
  • Michael Hobson
  • Nance & Jack Williford
  • Peter Chinman
  • Raines Cohen 
  • Sumner Nichols
  • Tobin Moore
  • Warren Kunce
  • William Croft
  • William Kadish
  • William Scarborough

Thanks! 

Are Communes Cults?

Advice to a New Planner

by Paxus Calta

from Your Passport to Complaining

“We are looking for reluctant leaders.” Twin Oaks founder Kat Kinkade and East Wind Founder Deborah were/are fond of saying.  If you fear corruption or abuse of power, then having people who are leading not excited about the job, or doing it because they are motivated for their care for the collective is a good insurance policy.

The founders of Twin Oaks were deeply concerned about the failures of the existing decision making systems.  So much so they designed their own.  It has stayed in place, largely unchanged for 5 decades now.  It starts with the assumption that simple majorities are dangerous beasts and we can do better than that.  But because the commune was founded in 1967, before feminists secularized the consensus-decision-making process, they did not want to wait until everyone agreed.  Good ideas, headachey to implement.

Consensus-graphic.png

Near the “top” of this largely flat decision making process are the planners, the communities highest executive power.  I’ve been a planner twice, my Dutch wife Hawina is currently a planner.   Decisions of the planners can be overridden by a simple majority of full members of the community, though this happens less than annually.  [So technically, the membership is at the top of our hierarchy.]

Being a planner is one of our toughest jobs.  Right up there with the membership team and the pets manager.  The membership team is often hard because we don’t have much room for compromise on most membership decisions, you are either accepted into the community, or not (technically you can get a “visit again”, but you get the point).  The pets manager is difficult because you have to tell some kid that that they can not keep the stray dog they just fell in love with or you have to tell some long-term member that the community is not going to pay $4,000 for the surgery their aged cat desperately needs.  Trust me you don’t want this job.

sick cat.jpg

The plannership is difficult for more complex reasons.  First, is that members’s desires for quick solutions to their pressing problems often result in them rushing to the planners, telling them what is wrong and then being frustrated by them saying either “we are not the people you need to be talking to” (because there is another responsible manager or council) or that their clever solution is not accessible for any of a number of reasons.  Leaving the frustrated member to say “well, if I were planner I would certainly do this”.  Which is generally speaking not even true, because the group of 3 planners works by consensus and tend to protect the institution over the desires of a single agitated member.

However, there are more vexing aspects of the plannership.  When they take on complex and/or expensive issues like how do we spend a quarter of a million dollars to solve the tofu waste water problem, you basically can’t win.  The planners listen to all the manager and experts they can find.  They post papers or run surveys asking for community input, which often receive anemic response.  They slave away trying to make a good choice and then when they announce it, often many people are unhappy with it.

Sometimes they are unhappy and well informed, wishing the planners had taken the path they were advocating instead of the one they selected.  But far more often members are upset  because they have not studied the issue, don’t understand the trade offs and did not get exactly what they wanted.

The big problem is that we are frequently unable to keep the personal away from the political at Twin Oaks.  If the planners did not make the choice I wanted on this controversial and complex issue, I am then angry with them personally.  This results in the nightmare situation where you work hard on balancing many factors, craft what you think is a wise choice with your fellow planners and then you lose friends over it.

This does not always happen of course, but it happens enough that I have some standard advice which I share with every new planner.

There may well be a time when working for the planners puts you in a place where you feel like you need to make a choice “Am I going to take care of the community and push forward with this difficult decision or am I going to take care of myself and my relationships with other members?”  If you find yourself in this situation, take care of yourself and quit the job.

People who know me might be surprised at this recommendation.  I go to a lot of meetings.  I often joke that I am “a bureaucrat for the revolution”.  How can I be recommending people walk away from their top executive job, just when the community needs them to help shepherd in a decision?

take care of yourself - umbrella.jpg

Turns out it is easy.  We will make a decision, even if you are not a planner.  But if the plannership is risking you burning out, or damaging your personal relationships within the community, then the cost is too high.  Hopefully you will live here for many years after your plannership.  If you have alienated or pissed off important relationships within the community, it can be the feather (or brick) which tilts the balance in favor of you leaving the commune.  Or potentially worse, staying regretting that you have lost these friends and allies.

I have given this advice enough and talked with planners who have taken it and not. So there is an important follow up: if you do decide to quit the plannership to take care of yourself, don’t guilt trip yourself about it.  I believe over half of planners do not complete their 18 month terms.  Policy prohibits someone being a planner twice in a row, but in the 20 plus years I have been at Twin Oaks, no planner has expressed a desire to immediately do a second term.

Image result for surreal prioritize friends

The institution is quite durable.  Sometimes the right thing to is to abandon the process (and often the job) and instead prioritize your long term relations with  your friends and the commune.

Advice to a New Planner

The Twin Oaks Wastewater Project

by Raven East Brook

When I was down at Twin Oaks for the Social Technology Conference and the FEC Assembly, I couldn’t help but be aware of the work that was going on creating a drainfield for the tofu wastewater.

This is hopefully the ending phase of a five year upgrade to Twin Oaks’ tofu factory.  This post contains some pictures that I snapped while I was at the community as well as some that are taken from the Twin Oaks Facebook page.

The overall plans
Plans for stabilization ponds
Creating specially engineered drainfield lines
The ponds under construction
Another view of the tarped ponds
Storage tanks
The pretreatment tanks going in

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Thanks for reading! This post was made possible by our patrons on Patreon. The Commune Life team works hard to bring you these stories about our lives in community, and that work couldn’t happen without support from our audience. So if you liked this article, and want to help us make more like it, head on over to https://www.patreon.com/communelife to join us! 

Deep gratitude to all of our patrons:  

Communities

  • Compersia Community
  • East Brook Community Farm
  • The Federation of Egalitarian Communities
  • Twin Oaks Community

Communards 

  • Aaron Michels
  • Brenda Thompson
  • Caroline Elbert
  • Cathy Loyd
  • Em Stiles
  • Jenn Morgan
  • Janey Amend-Bombara
  • Jonathan Thaler
  • Joseph A Klatt
  • Julia Elizabeth Evans
  • Kai Koru
  • Kathleen Brooks
  • Laurel Baez
  • Lynette Shaw
  • Magda schonfeld
  • Michael Hobson
  • Nance & Jack Williford
  • Peter Chinman
  • Sumner Nichols
  • Tobin Moore
  • Warren Kunce
  • William Croft
  • William Kadish
  • William Scarborough

Thanks! 

The Twin Oaks Wastewater Project

Twin Oaks New Year Slide

from the Commune Life Instagram account:

Twin Oaks New Year Slide