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

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

Diversity and Racial Justice

In my post on Monday, I mentioned that I saw a need to support BIPOC led groups and that I would talk more about that. This is from the first of three Facebook posts where I talk about diversity, where it’s important and where it’s not, and how we can actually support BIPOC led alternatives, rather than trying to make our communities look more diverse simply to assuage white guilt.

Here is what I wrote in the post:

I thought that I said some controversial things in this post (and others in this series) and was surprised at how positive the comments were. Here’s what people said in response to what I wrote:

On Friday, I will post on when diversity is important.

Diversity and Racial Justice

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

Black Land Matters

I (Raven) have put out in several places that I am more concerned about diversity among communities than diversity within communities. But having a true diversity of communities requires many different folks having access to the things that can help build community. Land is one of them. Historically, Black folks have been denied access to land. Here is an important proposal to change that and support communities of color in a way that really matters. Rejoice found this resource and I happily published it in our ongoing series of Facebook posts about diversity and race.

Here is the information on the page that the link goes to. If you want to know more here is the link to the actual article (which then has links to resources and the full proposal).

Unfortunately, this piece was not seen by that many folks (unfortunate because I think that it contains really important information). I did get three great comments on the piece, including one from Rejoice who alerted me to the article in the first place. I totally agree with Cara’s comment.

We will be back on Monday, with more on the topic of race and diversity in communities.

Black Land Matters

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

Delbert Africa has died

Delbert Africa was a member of the Philadelphia black commune, MOVE. This was a radical group of activists who lived together and believed that all living beings were interdependent. They annoyed their neighbors and were targeted by the Philadelphia police who raided their home in a violent eviction proceeding in 1978 that ended in a gun fight. A policeman was killed (the police claim it was from gunfire from the house, some witnesses believe it may have been from an accidental shot from another police officer). Nine MOVE members were arrested, charged with third-degree murder, and sentenced to a hundred years in prison each. Delbert was one of the last to be released. Later, in 1985, the mayor and the police decided that the best way to rid the neighborhood of these activists was to bomb the house–which they did, killing eleven people and destroying the entire block.

There weren’t a lot of comments, but here are the four that we got, including my memories of Philadelphia that were related to these incidents. Bizarrely, while Frank Rizzo was the mayor during the 1978 shootout, the mayor who okayed the 1985 was Wilson Goode, a black man, who together with the police chief at the time, classified MOVE as a “terrorist organization.”

If you are interested in seeing Mike Africa Jr’s performance, here is that part of the video:

Tomorrow, part four of our diversity series, Julia’s piece on Whiteness in Community.

Delbert Africa has died

Diversity, Part Three

In response to everything that was happening at Twin Oaks and beyond (see Parts One and Two), Theresa wrote this response:

Needless to say, lots of comments. Here they all are:

Tomorrow, the death of a black activist who was part of a black commune in the seventies and eighties, that was described as a “fusion of black power and flower power.” The police raided them in the seventies in a violent shoot out and in the eighties, after lobbing tear gas at them and firing more than ten thousand rounds of ammunition at the house, dropped two one-pound bombs on the house, killing eleven people in the house including five children.

Diversity, Part Three