Communes are not The Answer

I realized after I wrote the post What If We’re All Doomed, that someone might think that I was claiming that communes are the solution to climate change. Let me be clear. Communes are not the solution to anything. There is no solution! There is no one answer to everything!

There is no one solution to anything that I know of.  People who are looking for The Answer are part of the problem as far as I am concerned. 

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I also don’t believe that everyone should live in a commune. Or any type of community. Some of my closest friends live by themselves. 

I do hope that no one believes that the purpose of this blog is to persuade you to live in a commune.  Not unless it’s something that you were considering anyway but didn’t think it was possible. Or that you never even thought of and get excited now that you know about it.

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from ic.org where there are hundreds of communities listed 

The purpose of this blog is to let people know that communal living is possible and that there are people doing it and doing it successfully. 

Some of my activist friends have been talking about the Overton Window and how pushing the limits of what is possible changes public discourse.  I think that pointing out the possibility of income sharing communities makes various other cooperative ventures seem less wild.

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I want a future that holds more possibilities, not less. I want there to be a wild spectrum of ways in which people can live, people can work, and people can create. And I want communes to be part of the base of this,  supporting people in becoming more of who they want to be. 

That’s not the answer, it’s just part of the vision.

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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

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

Communards 

  • Aaron Michels
  • Brenda Thompson
  • Cathy Loyd
  • Em Stiles
  • Jenn Morgan
  • Jonathan Thaler
  • 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

Thanks! 

Communes are not The Answer

Garlic Scape Tempura

Garlic Scape Tempura

What If We’re All Doomed?

by Raven Cotyledon 

This isn’t going to be an easy post to read, but I believe it looks at some important questions. 

At Cotyledon right now, three out of four of the folks living here (basically everyone except me) are involved with the Extinction Rebellion. Wesley, the newest person in our house, is very heavily involved. 

Wesley describes himself as a farmer but he came to New York City to help out with the Extinction Rebellion, which he sees as our last best chance to save the planet. He is not optimistic. It’s discussions with him that inspired this post.

If anyone still doubts that climate change is real, look at the record breaking temperatures in Alaska, along with the accompanying wildfires.  (Which inspired someone to dub the state of the state, ‘Baked Alaska’.) Wesley said that he never expected to be a ‘prepper’, but given what he knows now, he is headed in that direction. 

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Photo sent to me, captioned: Walgreens, Anchorage, Alaska, July 5, 2019

So what are the communes doing to cope with climate change? And what is any of this worth if we really are doomed?

Wesley pointed out to me that the most likely first major catastrophe is likely to be disruption of the food supply chain. One statistic I have seen tossed around is that stores only hold about a three day supply of food. Fortunately, most of the rural communities grow a significant portion of their own food. Not true of Cotyledon in urban New York, but we are associated with the Ranch and have an urban farm (Hellgate) only a couple of streets away.

Unfortunately, if the food supply did run out, there would be lots of very hungry people who would not care who the food technically belonged to. Also, dumpster diving would be pretty useless in a food emergency; if there was no food in the stores, there wouldn’t be any food in the dumpsters.

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Empty Stores 

Many communes and other communities are also pioneers in off the grid living, which may be essential in a climate emergency. But the real thing that communities offer in any crisis is support and companionship and large doses of cooperation. If you are living in a community, you are not alone and isolated, and this is even more true if you are living in a commune. 

This was brought home to me the morning after Donald Trump was elected. This was not something most of us were expecting, and many of us were in shock. If I had been living alone, I would have had to deal with this all by myself. I was living in Ganas and we had a community meeting that morning (as we did most mornings) and we talked together about how we would deal with this. 

Communities are built to do things together and income-sharing communities even more so. We have far more collective intelligence and creativity and strength in community than any one of us has alone or even just a couple has together. As the challenges pile up, it makes more and more sense to me to figure this out communally. 

But, and here’s the horrible question I began with: what if we are all doomed?  First of all, I don’t think that is a given and I believe that the collective intelligence of communities makes our survival more likely. But it’s a possibility that I think we must consider.  And if we need to consider it, then I think that we need to think about hospice care for the human race. When a person is dying, we try to make them comfortable, we try to figure out how to help them die well.  I think that we may need to consider this for us all. And I cannot think of any better place to do this than in community where we have always focused on taking care of each other. 

I don’t want to end on a down note, and I do believe that it is an honest question whether we will survive or not, but I think that either way, communes and communities are an important part of the process of either making it through or leaving the planet gracefully. 

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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

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

Communards 

  • Aaron Michels
  • Brenda Thompson
  • Cathy Loyd
  • Em Stiles
  • Jenn Morgan
  • Jonathan Thaler
  • 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

Thanks! 

 

What If We’re All Doomed?

Income Sharing: Overcoming Stage Fright

by  Susan Teshu

from Communities magazine, Summer, 1998 (Issue #99)

Thinking about the similarities between income sharing at Common Threads and romantic relationships has been helpful for me. When we were discussing the possibilities of living together I saw us in the “courting” stage.  When we bought a house together and began sharing transportation expenses we were “going steady.” Now that we have begun income sharing we’re “engaged.” The possibility exists that we will wed: total resource and asset sharing. For now, I believe in long engagements.

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The cover of the issue

My worst fears about income sharing a year ago were that I would lose control of my money.  I thought that I’d have to attend a meeting to get permission to buy a pair of socks. I thought people might be judging me for what I wanted to buy and that I would judge them as well. “How could you want to buy that ridiculous thing?,” I imagined us saying to each other.

How did I come to be happy that we are sharing incomes?  The journey has been slow and frightening at times. When Robert and Johnn and I started talking about living together and buying a house, they stated their need for the original members to be willing to continue to discuss income sharing and have it as an eventual goal. They were wise not to ask us to commit to income sharing at outset, because I, for one, wouldn’t have been able to agree.

Some members of our group have been thinking about income sharing for much longer, or have even had previous experiences with this form of communal economy. Yet I had never even heard of the term until three years ago.

To smooth the transition, we each wrote a paper about our fears around the subject. I got to see that I wasn’t the only one who had serious concerns–that was actually reassuring to me.

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Page one of the article

After living together for nearly two years, we decided it was time to focus more on income sharing.  Robert and Johnn created a sample budget, suggesting how we could allocate our combined incomes for household expenses and personal allowances. I don’t like budgets, but realize they are necessary. The provisional budget also gave me something to respond to and helped me think about what was realistic in terms of money income and expenses.

Yikes! This was getting serious.

I started reading about income sharing at Twin Oaks, a community of 90 adult members. That was scary. I knew our situation would be quite different because we are such a small group.  We see each other every day, our lives are closely intertwined. We wouldn’t have the luxury of being somewhat removed from any of the decision processes–we were it. Each one of us would have more input into how we would spend and save our money, compared to a community member at a larger income-sharing community.

Gradually, through the course of our discussions, I came to see how income sharing would benefit me. It had little to do with financial benefit, but rather with the emotional and spiritual benefit of knowing that I would not have to figure out all aspects of how to support myself and my two children by myself.  I knew that Robert and Johnn and I had worked well together in all our decision making up to that point. And I trusted them. “OK,” I said. “Let’s give it a try.”

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Page two of the article

We chose to begin on October 1, 1997, which was also the eve of the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah.

Now the three of us have been sharing our incomes for over six months, and so far we all agree that the experiment is going well. Robert, who keeps track of all matters financial, has informed us that we are doing well in almost all areas of our budget. We have spent little time discussing actual expenditures. I have bought several pairs of socks and even a skirt, all with no discussion.

Although I was concerned that I might be losing control over an important aspect of my life, the opposite has occurred. I enjoy the fact that I am spending money in accordance with a budget, rather than haphazardly, as I did before. Each of the three of us now receives a weekly allowance. Although we don’t need to tell each other how we spend our allowance, I now pay more attention to what I buy.  I want to get the most out of this treasured stipend.

I feel I am reaping the benefits of not having to figure things out on my own. Together we figured out how my children could take music lessons (with a bit of help from Grampa). That was something I had been struggling with for a while by myself.

Paying more attention to money helps me remember that money and material goods, while important and sometimes necessary, are not the be-all and end-all of life. I try to find ways to enjoy and nurture myself and others that don’t require much money, or at least more money than I had previously. These are, for me, the emotional and spiritual benefits of income sharing.

My community mates and I trust each other and have grown even closer. As we share our money, we also have a greater sense of sharing our lives.


(Raven’s notes:  Common Threads was an income-sharing community that Susan, Robert, and I helped create in 1995–actually in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  At the time, I was known as Johnn. It lasted until the year 2000.  I am still close with Susan and Robert–and Amos, who later joined us.  I still miss the community.)

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Income Sharing: Overcoming Stage Fright

Mimosa Community: Cucurbit Planting

 

One of the most exciting businesses to come out of the FEC is Common Wealth Seed Growers.  They’ve been developing new varieties of cucurbit seeds which are disease resistant and specially adapted to the Mid-Atlantic and Southeastern American climate.

It used to be the case that most seeds that farmers grew were locally developed cultivars, specially adapted to the place where they evolved.  But in the last half century, with the rise of industrial agribusiness, seed company monopolies have forced farmers to rely on a dwindling number of varieties. This loss of diversity in our crop genetics has paralleled the loss of viable local farms which help keep community resources circulating locally.

Headquartered at Mimosa Community, Common Wealth Seed Growers has, for the past several years, devoted their efforts to developing downy mildew resistant cucumbers and squash. They’ve developed several open pollinated seed varieties as part of a larger strategy to bring more autonomy into local farms and food systems. Seeds from open pollinated varieties can be saved year after year, giving farmers some independence from industrial seed products, while simultaneously allowing the plants to adapt to their specific local climate. This makes stronger communities, and better food. Yum.

The work that Common Wealth Seed Growers is doing is radical and amazing, and we are very excited to be able to offer their seeds to our patrons. Anyone that joins our Patreon community in the month of July (2019) will be shipped a packet of disease resistant South Anna Butternut, hand packed by Edmund Frost. What special seeds!

 

Mimosa Community: Cucurbit Planting

Communal Cooperation

by Raven Cotyledon

I have sometimes described some of the communes as a combination of a housing co-op and a worker co-op.  There are certainly elements of both in the Virginia communes. In fact, if you buy Twin Oaks tofu you will see that Twin Oaks Community Foods describes itself as “A Worker-Owned Cooperative!”

 

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Twin Oaks Tofu label 

I have lived in three different Boston area co-op houses. Co-op houses (also known as collective houses–especially in NYC where there is something very different called cooperative apartments which are more like condos) are great, but communes involve even more sharing.  In fact, you could say that communes are an even more cooperative form of cooperative. 

Communes cooperate in almost every way I can think of.  Income-sharing, in particular, involves a lot of cooperation between the people who are doing it.  We cooperate in sharing the work of maintaining and cleaning where we live, in feeding each other, in planning together, and in supporting one another.  We care for each other in many ways and we depend on each other. 

Many co-ops are organized around the Seven Cooperative Principles, adopted by the International Cooperative Alliance. I believe that in many ways, communes meet or exceed all of these principles.

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First, a voluntary and open membership. Voluntary, absolutely. Communes are not cults. No one will keep you there.  Open is a little more tricky. Communes, like co-op houses, involve living together. A consumer co-op is easy. Anyone should be able to join. Cooperative businesses have to be a little more selective–not everyone can do every job. Living together means you have to be able to live in your home with each person, so co-op houses and communes need to be more selective still. That said, there is a large push for diversity in the communes. Membership decisions are made about the ability to get along, not about a person’s race or religion or sexual orientation. 

Democratic member control–phrased in early documents as “One man, one vote.” Here the communes do a lot better than that.  They are even more democratic. First, they are open to all genders–not even just men and women, but trans folks, genderqueer, non-binary, two-spirit, and more.  And most communes don’t vote. The majority use consensus, which I believe is more democratic and more cooperative than voting. 

Members economic participation is next, called distribution of surplus in the older documents. This is where income-sharing communities really exceed and excel. Everyone in a commune shares in the economic surplus which is distributed as equally as possible. All the members of a commune get to participate economically as much as they want. 

The fourth principle is “Autonomy and Independence” which is absolutely part of the commune scene. This is the problem that the FEC faces. No one is in charge in the communes. This is the “Egalitarian” part of the Federation of Egalitarian Communities. 

 The fifth principle of the Cooperative Principles is “Education, Training and Information”.  This is as needed in the communes as it is in the co-ops. One of the biggest requests in the FEC budget is for one type of training or another. 

The sixth principle is “Cooperation among Cooperatives” and this is as desirable and sought after in the communes as it is with the co-ops.  In fact, this could be the very purpose of the FEC. 

Finally, “Concern for Community” seems almost too self evident in the communes whose very nature is about building community. 

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All this is not to knock co-ops, but to point out that if you have done co-ops, especially co-op houses, and you want even more cooperation, maybe you should look at the communes.

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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

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

Communards 

  • Aaron Michels
  • Brenda Thompson
  • Cathy Loyd
  • Em Stiles
  • Jenn Morgan
  • Jonathan Thaler
  • 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

Thanks! 

 

Communal Cooperation