Kat Kinkade, the anti-guru: her complex but enduring legacy

by Keenan Dakota

From each according to their ability, to each according to their need” Karl Marx

Kat Kinkade, the founder of three successful communal ventures, who re-defined contemporary utopian theory, and who spearheaded the rebirth of a communal movement, improbably spent her waning years living alone in a small house with just her cats and pet rabbits for company.

Kat Kinkade

I first met Kat in 1982, and remained her friend until her death. On December sixth, the day that would have been Kat Kinkade’s ninetieth birthday, I looked her up online. I knew Kat to be a towering intellect and a complicated person, but the Kat Kinkade that I knew, and the legacy that she has left, were not represented in the articles I found. So I want to try here to take a shot at setting the record straight about Kat Kinkade.

In 1967, at the age of 36, Kat Kinkade didn’t merely want to start a commune where she and her daughter could live, she wanted to build a communal movement. After starting Twin Oaks, she founded the magazine, Leaves of Twin Oaks. She edited Communities Magazine and made sure that Twin Oaks kept the magazine afloat by putting in a great deal of money and labor until, many years later, it eventually became self-sustaining. Communities Magazine annually produced a Directory of Communities—the sole reference source for seekers looking for intentional communities. Later, Communities Magazine went online, creating the web site ic.org, still the go-to informational center of the global intentional communities movement.

Kat wrote and published two books, A Walden Two Experiment, and Is it Utopia Yet, about the founding and evolution of Twin Oaks Community. Twin Oaks held the first communities conference a year after getting started. This enduring yearly event (between 100 and 200 participants each non-covid year) has been the birthplace of dozens of additional communal ventures. Kat helped found the network of income-sharing communities, the Federation of Egalitarian Communities. That organization provided the inspiration, template, and early staff for the much larger, more expansive communal network, the Foundation for Intentional Community.

Kat Kinkade approached her movement building with missionary zeal. Her mission: a society based upon absolute equality. Kat meant to forge a model of society that would manage to defy the central failure of societies world-wide—the gravitational tendency of wealth to concentrate; the rich get richer, the poor get poorer. So, how do you know if a society has attained equality?

Equality in a community is a relationship structured so that no member envies another. Simple. [Equality creates]a general feeling of fairness, a logical first step in the pursuit of happiness.

(Kat in “Journal of a Walden Two Commune,” from “Walden House Newsletter,” Aug, 1966, p. 14)

My attitude to every request for special privilege was always the same: “Why you?” In other words, what is there about you that makes you deserve to have more than other people? …

I was known as a hard-nosed egalitarian, and this is one of the reasons people called me “very idealistic.”

(Kat in Is It Utopia Yet? 1994, p. 46-50)

Kat read the novel, Walden Two, about a fictional utopian society written by the behaviorist B. F. Skinner. She became inspired, and wasted no time gathering a small handful of other idealists who saw this book as a how-to manual for starting an actual utopian community.

Even as those first eight pioneers unloaded their bags from a van in June of 1967, adherents arrived, eager to join, but, over the coming years, the community chose, to Kat’s enduring disappointment, to put new applicants on a wait list, allowing the community to grow only at a modest pace. In a few years, frustrated that her cohorts lacked appropriate enthusiasm for growth, Kat left Twin Oaks and founded East Wind community. Kat Kinkade’s goal was to gather up all of those eager young people seeking community being turned away by Twin Oaks and to quickly grow East Wind to several hundred members. Kat drafted East Wind’s initial policies in order to welcome open membership as a means to spur growth. Kat’s stated ambition was for the community to grow to 1,000 members. Yet, as East Wind stabilized at around fifty or so members, contentiousness escalated. Rather then fostering tolerance, strife from open membership caused the community to change direction, slow growth, and become more selective.

Disappointed yet again, Kat Kinkade left East Wind. Eventually, Kat rejoined Twin Oaks where, twenty years later, as Twin Oaks had a growing wait list, Kat set about starting her third communal experiment, Acorn community, essentially an anti-Twin Oaks, and an anti-East Wind. No longer focused on rapid growth, Acorn would remain small. There would be more commitment to interpersonal connection, less focus on written policy. At Acorn, financial rules would be looser than at Twin Oaks, so people could meet individual needs more easily.

All three communities, Twin Oaks, East Wind, and Acorn continue to thrive today.

Although all founded at different times and having differing premises, among these different communities there are structural commonalities:

–A commitment to financial and political equality among all members—no class divide.

–The structure of the community is a corporation. The corporation owns everything. No individual’s name is on anything—not a house, a plot of land, or even a car—therefore, no one person will control decisions.

–Equity accrues to the community—no draining of communal coffers for personal pay-outs if (when) members leave.

–In case of dissolution of the community, communal assets are not divided up among the members—no temptation to dismember the community once it becomes financially successful.

–Labor is valued equally—no tendency to develop a professional elite. This type of labor ideology also recognizes as valuable work that in other societies is devalued and done by the disempowered—often a racial minority, or women, or immigrants, or children—or all of the above.

–Members accepted on the basis of their ability to work and get along with others—no purchasing membership privileges.

Keenan and Kat

Kat Kinkade and I were, bizarrely, both in the same visitor group at Twin Oaks, applying for membership in 1982. Kat was returning from her stint living “in the wilderness” after leaving East Wind. (The wilderness, in this case, was Boston.) While living at Twin Oaks, Kat did not hold back on expressing her disappointment at the many failures of the community. I was surprised to hear the founder disagreeing with the entire premise of the community that she founded, and where she was living.

Part of my disillusionment came from watching the worst aspects of communism in action. I saw a larger and larger part of the community sitting around on the front steps of the dining hall smoking cigarettes and drinking their wake-up coffee at 11 in the morning, and heard them ridicule as “workaholics” the people who made the money and kept the organization together. There was gross exploitation, but in reverse. The proletariat was exploiting the manager.

Particular personalities are watchdogs to make sure that nobody else gets more than them. I just loathe this trait. So little by little I thought, “This is not merely an ugly trait in a particular individual.” Our rigid equality sanctifies envy. You know what I said when we first started this community back in 1967? I wrote, “Equality in our community is that state in which no one member envies another.

(Kat in Is It Utopia Yet? 1994, p. 87-89)

It took me about seven years and a fair amount of self-examination, as well as observation of the people I lived with, to discover some unsettling things about my equality theory. People will and do work for the common good…when the Community desperately needs to have a great deal of work done in a hurry, it relies about ninety percent on good will, personal conscience, the labor system, and community feeling…if we’re going to get the other ten percent, we need to add an incentive program of some kind, some method by which added effort gets added reward. I have learned that personal gain is, not a stronger motivation than the good of the Community, but a more reliable one. I no longer preach absolute equality. I live…a rough equality that doesn’t create gross differences or engender severe envy. Give people a little chance to serve themselves on the side, and they will give heartily out of their core efforts for the group.

(Kat in Is It Utopia Yet? 1994, p. 46-50)

Kat, in her later years, tried to gently moderate the extreme egalitiarianism embodied in Twin Oaks’ policies—the very policies that, years earlier, she had drafted. Kat, as a community planner, created communal labor budgets that allowed people to write music, articles, books and plays—as well as to perform music and plays. Kat was part of a group that re-worked the labor system to allow more individual flexibility (Members who worked more hours each week would gain more freedom from labor constraints.) Kat established a committee that offered labor and money grants to individual members for their personal hobbies or needs. To allow people to travel, Kat created a seniority-based vacation fund. Kat supported the community in creating an income incentive program that allowed a member or groups of members to work “off the system” for money to fund personal and group projects.

However, Twin Oaks was populated by idealists why had been drawn to Kat’s earlier writings about absolute equality—many had not kept up with Kat’s own evolving ideology. Each of Kat’s proposed “liberalizing” policies was approved only over resistance, or allowed only on a temporary, experimental basis. As Kat lost political influence these policies were re-examined, cut back, or canceled completely. Currently at Twin Oaks, every one of these policies that Kat favored has been undone.

Kat Kinkade eventually just wanted to live on her own. In 2005, at the age of 74, she moved into a small house near Twin Oaks, paid for by her daughter. Soon after that Kat was diagnosed with cancer. In 2007, once she began to seriously decline, Kat moved back to Twin Oaks, and died in July of 2008. Her daughter, Josie, a doctor, said that her Mom received Rolls Royce care those final months at Twin Oaks.

Online these days, uninformed critics of communal living refer to Kat Kinkade as a guru—they paint a fearsome picture of her as a domineering presence. Kat provided leadership, but she did not have the traits typically associated with a guru. She started a new community and, once it was on its feet, she left. By this means, Kat ensured that other leaders emerged, overcoming the problem of “founder’s syndrome.” Kat did not feel threatened when members aspired to leadership, rather, she sought out and encouraged leadership in others. Far from being the keeper of the ideological light, Kat was often critical of whatever community she lived in, this granted space for other members to step forward as the public face of the community. Kat actively disliked acolytes. She gave short shrift to anyone who could not engage in a lively intellectual debate—she was pleased by members who could cogently disagree with her.

Being willing to actually change her mind was the key attribute of Kat’s that allowed her to be so effective. Kat believed in honestly looking at her own beliefs—even deeply held beliefs—to see if they held up in the light of new information. Kat believed in trying things out—experimenting—then examining and accepting the results of those experiments. Because Kat Kinkade grounded her actions and policies in reality-based information, what she created endures—three thriving communities and a thriving communal movement. Thank you, Kat.

Kat Kinkade, the anti-guru: her complex but enduring legacy

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

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

Riding Out the Apocalypse

It was mid-May and by then the extent of the pandemic was apparent. Having had success in writing my post on the difficulties with starting communes, I thought I would try to write something that would attract folks. I thought about my guilt in being in such a perfect situation for this difficult time and wrote about it. It reached 685 people (more than I had ever gotten before) and got 24 comments, so I guess it “touched a nerve” as they say. Here’s what I wrote:

Here are the comments. I can’t really put them in chronological order because Facebook keeps moving the order around, but I will try to put them in an order that I think makes sense. I will start with some comments that I answered:

And one that the writer answered themself:

Then there was a back and forth between Audrey Bochantin and Cicada Musselman:

And James Buchanan’s questions about starting a community, with several folks answering:

And Aurora DeMarco’s comment on conflict as a deterrent:

There were a bunch of general, affirming comments

Finally, there is this long thread:

Riding Out the Apocalypse

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

RACISM, CAPITALISM, AND THE POLICE

This is a piece we put up on the Commune Life Facebook page, that comes from the personal blog of Boone Wheeler who lives at East Wind. Here’s what I wrote on our Facebook page followed by a copy of the article direct from Boone’s blog.

by Boone Wheeler

“There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”

WARREN BUFFET

Black Lives Matter.

I support the protesters. I support the rioters. I support the looters.

That said, I don’t think protesting, rioting, and looting will be enough. To truly pull a weed out, you must get its roots, otherwise it just grows back. Similarly, to effect real social change, we must address the root cause.

To that end, in this post I trace the origins of American racism and police brutality and demonstrate that they spring from the same well – capitalism and the elites that created it, maintain it, and benefit from it. I further suggest that to end racism and police brutality, we must end capitalism.

The Invention of American Racism

The following excerpts are all taken from the phenomenal A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn. The emphasis is mine.

Only one fear was greater than the fear of black rebellion in the new American colonies. That was the fear that discontented whites would join black slaves to overthrow the existing order. In the early years of slavery, especially, before racism as a way of thinking was firmly ingrained, while white indentured servants were often treated as badly as black slaves, there was a possibility of cooperation.

By the years of the Revolutionary crisis, the 1760s, the wealthy elite that controlled the British colonies on the American mainland had 150 years of experience, had learned certain things about how to rule. They had various fears, but also had developed tactics to deal with what they feared.

The Indians, they had found, were too unruly to keep as a labor force, and remained an obstacle to expansion. Black slaves were easier to control, and their profitability for southern plantations was bringing an enormous increase in the importation of slaves, who were becoming a majority in some colonies and constituted one-fifth of the entire colonial population. But the blacks were not totally submissive, and as their numbers grew, the prospect of slave rebellion grew.

With the problem of Indian hostility, and the danger of slave revolts, the colonial elite had to consider the class anger of poor whites-servants, tenants, the city poor, the propertyless, the taxpayer, the soldier and sailor. As the colonies passed their hundredth year and went into the middle of the 1700s, as the gap between rich and poor widened, as violence and the threat of violence increased, the problem of control became more serious.

What if these different despised groups – the Indians, the slaves, the poor whites-should combine? Even before there were so many blacks, in the seventeenth century, there was, as Abbot Smith puts it, “a lively fear that servants would join with Negroes or Indians to overcome the small number of masters.

It was the potential combination of poor whites and blacks that caused the most fear among the wealthy white planters. If there had been the natural racial repugnance that some theorists have assumed, control would have been easier. But sexual attraction was powerful, across racial lines. In 1743, a grand jury in Charleston, South Carolina, denounced “The Too Common Practice of Criminal Conversation with Negro and other Slave Wenches in this Province.” Mixed offspring continued to be produced by white-black sex relations throughout the colonial period, in spite of laws prohibiting interracial marriage in Virginia, Massachusetts, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, the Carolinas, Georgia. By declaring the children illegitimate, they would keep them inside the black families, so that the white population could remain “pure” and in control.

Edmund Morgan, on the basis of his careful study of slavery in Virginia, sees racism not as “natural” to black-white difference, but something coming out of class scorn, a realistic device for control. “If freemen with disappointed hopes should make common cause with slaves of desperate hope, the results might be worse than anything Bacon had done. The answer to the problem, obvious if unspoken and only gradually recognized, was racism, to separate dangerous free whites from dangerous black slaves by a screen of racial contempt.”

In the 1720s, with fear of slave rebellion growing, white servants were allowed in Virginia to join the militia as substitutes for white freemen. At the same time, slave patrols were established in Virginia to deal with the “great dangers that may … happen by the insurrections of negroes….” Poor white men would make up the rank and file of these patrols, and get the monetary reward.

In other words, the 1% of the time feared the white indentured servants would realize they had common cause with the black slaves and together overthrow those taking advantage of them both. To prevent this, they created laws and policies to create division between poor whites and black slaves to keep them divided. They were obviously very effective.

The Police

Not too many people are aware, but the institution of American policing came directly from these slave patrols.

Gary Potter is a professor at Eastern Kentucky University’s School of Justice Studies and the author of  The History of Policing in the United States. He says public police forces began around the mid-1800s. They were born out of slave patrols in the south and industry policing in the north.

In the late 1800s, police were involved in union busting. After major corruption scandals during the prohibition era, Potter says there were “efforts to professionalize the police.” This led to more public funding and starting with the Nixon administration, federal funding for police forces. This is also when police departments started getting military-style equipment.

JULIAN HAYDA & JACK HURBANIS

Another thing most people aren’t aware of is that the Police have no legal responsibility to protect citizens.

“Neither the Constitution, nor state law, impose a general duty upon police officers or other governmental officials to protect individual persons from harm — even when they know the harm will occur,” said Darren L. Hutchinson, a professor and associate dean at the University of Florida School of Law. “Police can watch someone attack you, refuse to intervene and not violate the Constitution.”

The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that the government has only a duty to protect persons who are “in custody,” he pointed out.

RYAN MCMAKEN

Here’s a particularly egregious example:

Warren v. District of Columbia, in which two women heard their roommate being attacked downstairs by intruders called the police several times and were assured that officers were on the way. After their roommate’s screams stopped 30 minutes later they assumed the police were present and went downstairs, only to themselves be held captive, raped, robbed, beaten, forced to commit sexual acts upon each other, and made to submit to the sexual demands of their attackers, for the next 14-hours. The “officials” in legal land claimed that official police personnel and the government employing them owe no duty to victims of criminal acts and thus are not liable for a failure to provide adequate police protection.

PETE EYRE

So, who are the police really trying to protect?

Something true throughout the history of policing in America is the focus on property. “The police are primarily there to protect business property first, and residential property second, not human interactions. If that were the case, they would fail miserably,” says Potter.

JULIAN HAYDA & JACK HURBANIS

In reality, police are the domestic enforcement arm of capital (analogous to the military for external imperialist affairs), and the only force authorized by capitalists to use violence to protect capitalist property rights. The history of police crackdowns on unions, workers organizing for better conditions, and minority groups challenging the inequality of the capitalist order goes back to its inception. Cops are class traitors, serving the capitalists by inflicting violence on workers when necessary, and keeping capitalist property safe from the pesky plebs.

Class traitor is a term used mostly in socialist discourse to refer to a member of the proletarian class who works directly or indirectly against their class interest, or what is against their economic benefit as opposed to that of the bourgeoisie.

WIKIPEDIA

In other words, the police’s main function today is to maintain the current class structure, i.e. capitalism. Since racism strengthens classism, the police are encouraged to be racist. Here’s a fantastic look into the systemic issues of policing as recounted by an ex-cop: Confessions of a Former Bastard Cop

Economics and Control

Let us not forget that slavery was an economic enterprise. All of the horrors of American slavery were committed so that rich, white, elites could make money. It was profit seeking capitalism that created American slavery.

Michael Perelman’s incredible (yet dry) book The Invention of Capitalism details how that exact same profit seeking led the nascent capitalists to convert a self-sufficient European peasantry into wage slaves by force (emphasis mine):

Some of the forthright accumulationists, however, were sophisticated enough to have realized that once the work of primitive accumulation was complete, what Marx (1977, 899) called the ‘‘silent compulsion’’ of the market could be far more profitable than the brute force of primitive accumulation. Consider again the generous vision of Reverend Joseph Townsend (1786, 404, 407):

[Direct] legal constraint [to labor][i.e. slavery] . . . is attended with too much trouble, violence, and noise, . . . whereas hunger is not only a peaceable, silent, unremitted pressure, but as the most natural motive to industry, it calls forth the most powerful exertions. . . . Hunger will tame the fiercest animals, it will teach decency and civility, obedience and subjugation to the most brutish, the most obstinate, and the most perverse.

Similarly, Rodbertus, a German socialist and government minister rather than an outright primitive accumulationist, asserted:


Originally this compulsion was exercised by the institution of slavery, which came into existence at the same time as tillage of the soil and private ownership of land. . . . When all the land in a country is privately owned, and when the same title to all land has passed into private ownership of land and capital exerts the same compulsion on liberated or free workers. . . . Only now the command of the slave owner has been replaced by the contract between worker and employer, a contract which is free only in form but not really in substanceHunger makes almost a perfect substitute for the whip, and what was formerly called fodder is now called wages. (cited in BöhmBawerk 1959, 253)

In other words, early capitalists realized that the market functioned as a better means of control than outright slavery.

Economics and Racism

Nor is the connection between racism and economics only in the distant past. Modern racism and xenophobia are fueled primarily by economic concerns. The motivation behind Trump’s wall is of course to keep Hispanic immigrants out of this country lest they “steal our jobs.” This of course was the same motivation behind anti-Irish and anti-Italian sentiment in the late 1800’s.

For the poor and working classes, immigrants willing to do their low-skilled jobs for less are a real threat to their livelihood. As long as capitalism-created scarcity has the many fighting to stay out of poverty, there will be the necessary and sufficient conditions for racist sentiment to form.

Whether pitting laborers of different races against each other, stoking racial fears through a sensationalistic and profit-driven media, or politically scapegoating entire ethnic groups, America’s white elite have successfully modernized age-old strategies of using racism to prevent the formation of a broad coalition of people along class lines — and across racial lines.

KERI LEIGH MERRITT

The truth, of course, is that it is the capitalists, not their fellow laborers, who are the enemies of the poor and working class whites.

“You are kept apart that you may be separately fleeced of your earnings,” the famous Georgia populist leader Tom Watson told a crowd of black and white laborers in 1892. “You are made to hate each other because upon that hatred is rested the keystone of the arch of financial despotism which enslaves you both.”

KERI LEIGH MERRITT

Listen to the King

Again, in no way am I trying to co-opt, distract, or detract from the BLM movement. I support it wholeheartedly.

I’ve tried to demonstrate what I believe to be a clear line of causality from capitalism to racism to police brutality. It is my belief that racism derives largely from economic motives and economic inequality. I further believe that because racial injustice stems from economic injustice, to truly address racial injustice we must address economic injustice.

In this, I am beat to the punch by none other than Martin Luther King, Jr. himself.

And one day we must ask the question, ‘Why are there forty million poor people in America?’ And when you begin to ask that question, you are raising questions about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth.

FROM KING’S LAST SPEECH TO THE SOUTHERN CHRISTIAN LEADERSHIP CONFERENCE, DELIVERED IN 1967

The problems of racial injustice and economic injustice cannot be solved without a radical redistribution of political and economic power.

FROM A SPEECH TITLED “THE THREE EVILS OF SOCIETY,” DELIVERED TO THE NATIONAL CONFERENCE FOR NEW POLITICS IN 1967

King thought that if you could pull together the poor blacks of the inner cities, the poor American Indians of the reservations, the poor Latinos of the barrios and the poor whites of Appalachia, if you could get them to put aside their differences and unite around the meagerness and exploitation they all had in common, you’d have the makings of a movement that would break the old paradigms.

King had in mind nothing less than radical transformation, musing about “a democratic socialism” and arguing for a guaranteed income [UBI much?] and a “Bill of Rights for the Disadvantaged.” “True compassion,” he wrote, “is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it understands that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”

LEONARD PITTS, JR.

Expand the Protests

While I wholeheartedly support protesting, looting, and rioting, I do not believe them to be effective nor sufficient methods of creating meaningful change.

I do not think the current protests are asking for enough. Changing a few laws around the institution of policing is not enough. It does not address the gross economic inequality that lies at the root of not just American police brutality but also mass injustice and unnecessary human suffering worldwide. What we need is the “radical redistribution of political and economic power” that King called for more than 50 years ago. What we need is the overthrow of capitalism.

Capitalism Must Go

Capitalism and the classism it creates and depends on lies at the root of racism and police brutality. If you want to address these issues, you must address Capitalism

But those are not the only evils of Capitalism. It is also the force that is driving ecological destruction and climate change. Capitalism, if left unchecked, will literally kill us all. Furthermore, in the pursuit of profit capitalism inflicts gross iniquity upon millions upon millions of people in the Third World.

What is Capitalism? In America, it’s all of us. Our entire society, our entire way of life, is built on the exploitation of the natural and human worlds. So I want to expand Black Lives Matter. Because really, that means American Black Lives. What about African Black Lives? What about the 9 million people who starve to death every year? Do their lives Matter? What about the sweat shops that employ 80% women? Do their lives matter?

Let’s expand the fight and make that radical change King spoke about a reality. As he said, it’s not just about black people, it’s about all oppressed people, everywhere.

I know I’m a privileged white male. And again, in no way am I trying to diminish or take from the BLM movement. I’m inspired by it. But if you support BLM, then you should support oppressed people of all stripes and colors.

Oppressed Lives Matter, Worldwide.

Just as there is White Privilege, there is First World Privilege. Our comfort and affluence comes at the cost of the exploitation of hundreds of millions in the “Global South.”

Ending police brutality and systemic targeting of black people is crucial and mandatory, but it’s not enough. I believe that the radical redistribution of political and economic power that King called for is the same revolution that Marx called for a hundred years before him.

I put forth that the modern American lifestyle is fundamentally immoral due to its utter dependence on exploitative capitalism. To all those who support BLM and consider themselves an ally to oppressed people, I encourage you to examine how your lifestyle contributes to the very oppression you speak out against.

We are all one people. Capitalism serves the few at the great expense of the many. Capitalism. Must. Go.

How?

As I said earlier, I don’t think protesting, etc. is enough. So what is? I have two practical actions to suggest.

  1. Don’t pay your taxes. The rich and powerful care about only one thing: money. So hit them where it hurts – their pocketbook. A general tax strike would absolutely bring them to the negotiating table. They live off of us. Their biggest fear is us realizing this, just as it was in the American South in the 1700’s.
  2. Meet as many of your own needs as possible. Grow your own food. Learn to sew your own clothes, work on your own car, etc. Until we the people are once again self-sufficient, the elites have us in the chains of the “silent compulsion” of the market.

We are in a class war. The rich are winning. It’s time for that to change.

RACISM, CAPITALISM, AND THE POLICE

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 at Twin Oaks (and Beyond), Part Two

Although Julia’s Instagram post, that was the subject of yesterday’s post, was published on Facebook quickly at their request, we already had a post ready to go up, republishing a post from the Twin Oaks Facebook page, with commentary from us. (Mostly Theresa, although I provided the outline for it.) It was published the next day. Here is the original Twin Oaks post:

As the Facebook caption says, there were 57 comments on the Twin Oaks site. I am not going to put most of them on here–among other things, the comments reached a level of ignorance and acrimony that was truly awful–but I will put the first three, because they were telling:

Here is the commentary that we wrote when we reposted it on the Commune Life Facebook page:

We only got two comments to this post on our site, and they were from the same person:

Julia requested that we keep our Twin Oaks reposts and other material on the same subject, and although we did publish a few unrelated things that were in the queue about Acorn and East Wind, we kept a focus on diversity and dealing with racism. We publicized two workshops related to the subject, both (coincidentally?) on June 23:

And (another Instagram repost from Julia):

There is and will be a lot more on this subject, but much of it is still going on. I am going to take a couple of days to look at other things and then return with Part Three, which will contain current Facebook posts.

Diversity at Twin Oaks (and Beyond), Part Two