(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.