Beyond Babylon: Communal Culture

by Raven Glomus

Someone joining a commune for the first time will quickly notice that income sharing communities have a somewhat different culture than mainstream society (which some people in the communes refer to as “Babylon”).  The differences are both more obvious and more subtle than you might expect.

One way that the differences are more subtle is that almost everything that we will explore and that stands out from mainstream society are beliefs and behavior that are only held by a minority of folks (although often a significant minority) in the communes and almost all of it can be found in mainstream society if you look hard enough.  

There is a lot of variety in the beliefs and behavior of the people living in the communes.  About the only thing that most folks have in common is a strong belief in sharing stuff.  (After all, that’s what income sharing communities are all about.)  However, there is also a very strong cultural norm of tolerance and even acceptance of these unusual beliefs and behaviors.  What makes it communal culture is not that the majority of folks in the communes believe or practice any of the following and, as I said, it’s not that you can’t find these things out in the mainstream, it’s that you won’t find the tolerance and acceptance of this stuff out in “Babylon” (this term is controversial in the communities) that you will in the communes.

 Let me start with sexuality and gender.  

I think that the majority of folks, in at least the bigger communes, are often heterosexual, cisgendered, and monogamous, as they are in the mainstream world.  And every variation that you can find in the communes, I’m sure that you can find in the mainstream.  But queer folks (gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, just plain queer, etc) and gender variant folks (trans men and women, nonbinary folks, genderfluid, etc) as well as polyamorous people are much more visible and accepted in the communes.  You will learn quickly at the communes to pay attention to people’s pronouns and you will see a variety of relationships if you pay any attention at all.  Differences are celebrated in community rather than put up with or sometimes actively disparaged as they often are outside the communes.  What is discouraged in the communes is any sort of slighting or elevation of one type over another.

Spirituality is in some ways very similar.  Probably the majority of folks in the communes identify as Christian, Jewish, or atheist/agnostic/skeptic/humanist as do most folks in the mainstream, although I suspect that there are less Christians and more atheist (etc) folks in the communes, and most of the Christians are probably from more tolerant denominations, like Quakers, Unitarians, UCC folks, and nondenominational, than the mainstream.  You will find very few fundamentalist folks in the communes–mostly because they are less accepting of differences.  Likewise, the Jews in the communes are often from what I call the three Rs (Reform, Reconstructionist, and Renewal) or secular Jews. It would probably be difficult to maintain an Orthodox Jewish identity in the communes. 

But beyond this there is a great variety of other beliefs including Pagan/Witch (popular in some of the communes), Buddhist, Taoist, Animist, Sufi, some types of Hinduism/Yogic practice, and general New Age.  Again, this isn’t the majority of folks in the larger communes, but it is generally accepted.  For example, Pagan rituals are often held on seasonal occasions and anyone who wants to can attend.  The community doesn’t sponsor these rituals (the communes are very clear that they don’t take any stand of individuals beliefs, except to support the tolerance and diversity of them) but they are open to them happening.

One thing that will become obvious to anyone who spends a good deal of time at any of the communes is that nudity is more acceptable at the communes than in mainstream society.  Not that any of the communes are anything like a nudist colony.  Most of the time folks are clothed in at least the amount that mainstream culture approves of (although some of the outfits are more unusual than you would normally see outside of the communes) but there are also occasions when folks are naked and this is generally accepted–for example, hot tubs and saunas.  Swimming in private places in the communes is almost always clothing optional.  (I heard someone talking about people using the term ‘skinny dipping’ and said, “At the commune, we just call it swimming.”)  At East Wind they have a recently built group shower that is used by various groupings and Twin Oaks has a ‘nudity policy’ that is four pages, single spaced, outlining where you can be naked (and when) and where you must be clothed, as well as where you can be topless–and any place that a man can walk around shirtless, a woman can walk around shirtless, and anywhere a woman is required to wear a shirt, men should also wear shirts.  (This is part of being an egalitarian community.)  And, again, there are many people in the communes that you will never see naked and that may even avoid areas where they know that nudity may occur.

And finally, there is a great variety of political views at the communes.  I would say that here the communes are in fact, a bit different overall than in “Babylon”, in that the communes definitely shade to the left.  That isn’t to say that there aren’t any centrists or even the occasional libertarian, but there are lots of liberals and progressives, as well as socialists, anarchists, communists, ecofeminists, and a large number of apolitical people.  What you won’t find in the communes are almost any right wing folks and few conservatives.  What the communes are intolerant of is intolerance.  Bigots are not welcome in the communes.

And that is the single biggest thing that creates communal culture.  We like our diversity of expression and even the most mainstream looking folks in the communes will defend it.

Beyond Babylon: Communal Culture

BIPOC IC Fund

It’s Martin Luther King day in the US and I don’t want this to be lost amidst the pandemic, the storming of the Capitol, the inauguration, etc. Racial injustice is still a major problem in the US (and world) and most communities (especially the communes) are overwhelmingly white.

The Foundation for Intentional Communities decided that something needed to be done about it and this past summer decided to put money into creating change. In November they sent out this email:

None of these links work because these are photocopies of the letter, but if you are interested in exploring this more, here is a link that does work and you can find out more info and ways to donate.

If you believe that communal living has something to offer the world (as I do) then here is a way to make it more accessible to the people who are usually left out of the process.

There have also been several attempts to support the creation of income-sharing communities led by folks of color, but as of the moment, I don’t know that any of these has actually started. It’s very hard to start communes in general and when there’s folks from a less privileged group trying to start it, it seems nearly impossible. Still, I want to credit the FIC for forming a fund to at least remove some of the financial barriers, both to starting communities and to joining communities. I truly hope that this results in more alternatives opening up in the communities movement for Black and Indigenous folks and other People of Color.

— Raven

BIPOC IC Fund

My Hopes for 2021

by Raven Glomus

Welcome to 2021!  The year 2020 is officially over.  One of my commune mates pointed out that nothing really changes as the calendar year rolls over, but there’s a lot of symbolism, especially this past year when so many (mostly not good things) happened all at once.

I will try to focus on commune related things in listing my hopes, but the coronavirus has had a major impact on the communes, and will need to be dealt with.  My first and biggest hope for this year is that, with folks getting vaccinated, we may be able to move somewhat beyond having to deal with the repercussions of the pandemic.  In terms of this happening, I’ve heard everything from late spring, to the summer, to sometime in the fall.  This will mean a lot for the communes.

The only good thing out of all this is that I think that the pandemic has increased interest in communal living.  It’s also made it hard to join communities.  So when some of the pandemic restrictions are lifted, I am very hopeful that many of the communes, which are at low populations now, will be able to bring in some good folks and increase their membership.

I also hope that this encourages some folks to decide to actually create communities.  There’s certainly enough interest in it–maybe with restrictions being lifted, some folks will decide to just do it.  I know that I am often discouraging of people simply starting communities, but if someone is really willing to begin the work (and a lot of this work is outlined on the blog) and reaches out and knows others who are also interested–and especially if they have some communal living experience, goodness knows we need more communes.  And I believe that if 90% of new communes fail, and we want to get at least ten new communes up and running, we’re going to need to start a hundred communes to get there, so I am actually in favor of folks starting communes, particularly if they are willing to do the research and networking they will need to do.

A big, pandemic related, hope for this year is that if the restrictions can be eased on time, there can be the usual August gatherings at Twin Oaks this summer.  I have never been to the Queer Gathering and I was planning to go last year but TO canceled all three gatherings.  My hope for this summer is that the Queer Gathering and the Women’s Gathering and the Communities Conference can all happen again.  I mentioned networking earlier and these are all great networking events.  If they happen (I hope, I hope, I hope they do) I would strongly encourage anyone interested in communal living to attend at least the Communities Conference, and if you identify as queer, the Queer Gathering, and if you identify as a woman, the Women’s Gathering.

Another hope for this year is that the communes continue to look at and figure out how to embrace racial justice, whether that’s by figuring out how to become more diverse or by figuring out how to support communities of color.  For horrible reasons, there was a large upswelling of interest in this over the course of 2020.  My hope is that this wasn’t another political phase but the beginning of some sustained work in all of our communities.

And my final hope for this new year is that folks find fun in all of this.  A lot of 2020 was grim and we have a lot of work to do, building back community membership, creating new communities, and continuing to work on racism (and classism and sexism and homophobia and transphobia and creating access for people with disabilities and…) and that we find a way to be joyful and even playful in all this because we will never attract anyone if we are all too damn serious.

What are your hopes for 2021?

My Hopes for 2021

The Token: A Review

by Raven Glomus

Crystal Bird Farmer has not actually “lived in community” but she serves as a board member for the Foundation for Intentional Community and an Editorial Review Board member for Communities Magazine.  She begins her book, The Token, with a story about visiting Twin Oaks and attending the Communities Conference.  She then announces that she’s your “new Black friend”.  She’s here because you claim that you want diversity–and this book is all about how to actually work for diversity.

The program she recommends is divided into three parts: first, preparing your community;  second, doing The Work; and third, creating culture conscious spaces.  The Work (those are her capitals) is anti-racism/anti-oppression work, which is not easy work.  The first step is preparation and that includes figuring who the team is that is going to lead this work and figuring out how to deal with the resistance that will inevitably come up.The Work includes looking at identity and privilege, implicit bias, microaggressions, and majority culture and there are mini ‘workbooks’ at the end of each section devoted to one of these topics that give the format for a group discussion on the topic.  The book then focuses on “creating culture conscious meetings” in ways that make them feel more inclusive.  Crystal Bird Farmer ends the book by exploring what she calls “limits to inclusion”–creating separate space when needed and “how not to recruit leaders”.  There is a very useful section on “tools and resources” that includes many powerful books on racism and anti-racist work for those who want to go deeper.

By now, you may be thinking that this is probably a very thick book and wondering where you will get the time to read all this.  Well, I have some good news for you–this is a very short book (86 pages, 96 if you include the resources and index) and is a very easy read.  Crystal Bird Farmer writes in a friendly and engaging style.  This is a book that needs to be read by anyone who wants to figure out how to make their community more diverse and more inclusive and a great introduction to dealing with all the baggage that makes it impossible to achieve inclusion and diversity.  I would highly recommend it–and you can buy it directly from the author.  I love that she also suggests that you can get it from a local bookstore and does not mention a large internet book (and everything else) seller.  I hope that it becomes widely read and makes a difference in our communities.

The Token: A Review

Filters

In early August, Theresa wrote a Facebook post wondering about how we could make the communes more accessible to more people–and also mentioned that the communes filter out people. That’s not a bad thing, but maybe we need to change the filters:

You can see that it got a lot of comments. The first few are personal responses, mostly pretty much on target.

Then Allen Butcher (at first responding as ‘The Fellowship of Intentioneers’) joined the discussion and it soon became a three way triolog between him, Zamin Danty, and me, Raven (sometimes posting as Commune Life). The following thread quickly becomes very long, technical, ideological, and perhaps nitpicking, as we focus on the differences between ‘communalism’, communism, and anarchism and which are best, and even appropriate, for describing what we do in egalitarian communities. If you are bored by long-winded political discussions, you may want to end reading here. On the other hand, if you are a commune theory buff and the nitty gritty of how income sharing relates to political movements, read on.

Filters

Declaration

On July 4th, Theresa posted her declaration of how communes need to be governed:

I think it was a great little post and it got a lot of views, but only one comment, and that was on the original Declaration of Independence:

I will add that I, Raven, also believe that more voices need to be heard, especially if we want to create communities that really challenge the status quo rather than just being comfortable places for white, middle-class folks to live in.

Declaration

Why are we so white?

During the month of June, when we were publishing a lot of stuff on Facebook about racial justice, Theresa wrote this post on why the communes have trouble keeping members that aren’t white.

There were, as you can see, a lot of comments. Here are some of them.

George Myers asked a question about why some forms of diversity seem to work in the communes, but race seems to be different. This got several responses.

There were a bunch more comments, including a long response from Gil Benmoshe which elicited a long response from Lyra TaChai.

Finally, there was a nuanced discussion between Cara Ziegel, Mary Hall, and Shayn Ephraim looking at beliefs, feelings, embodiment, and trauma in upholding white culture.

Why are we so white?

Racial Justice Work in the Communes

Continuing on the theme of racial justice, Theresa wrote this piece on Facebook looking at the difficulties and contradictions involved in doing this work as white folks.

She added this graphic:

The first comment that we got was from Rachael, also in our commune, giving a link to a source for this graphic:

Since this is a picture and the link doesn’t work, here is a working link.

Zamin K Danty commented with an interesting idea, but I spotted a problem.

And then Thomas Russell added a host of thoughts.

Racial Justice Work in the Communes

One Path toward Diversity

This is the final in a series that I (Raven) wrote for Facebook on diversity. I talk about my experience meeting the amazing Grace Lee Boggs and how she said that she and her husband helped create a very racially diverse group. I see this as a model for one way that the communities might become more diverse in a way that supports folks of color rather than simply recruiting them so that the communes don’t look so white.

Here’s what I wrote:

I also included a photo of Grace Lee Boggs:

She was an incredible person.

I only got two comments, but I was taken with what Crystal Bird Farmer said. My double reply is because I am still not used to the way Facebook works and I wanted to be sure that it was clear that I was responding as myself and not as an ‘official’ Commune Life voice.

I also heard from Zamin K Danty who was concerned about this approach. I didn’t respond but I want to make it clear that this is only one path to creating diversity.

One Path toward Diversity