The Problem with Urban Communes

by Raven

Three months ago, in July, there were three urban communities in the FEC. As of now (October, 2019), there are none. Zero.

The reasons for their demises were different.

The Mothership in Portland, Oregon, fell apart because of major financial problems, plus the resulting interpersonal conflict.

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Door at the Mothership

Cotyledon, in Queens, NY, ended when we felt it was no longer working for any of us. (For me, the problem was that more than four years ago, gil, DNA, and I began talking about creating community and, after two and a half years of discussion and almost two years of living together, it was still only the three of us interested in doing it.)

There were major interpersonal and other problems at Compersia, in Washington, DC, last spring leading to a situation where they went from eight adult members to three. As far as I know, they are still continuing as a group, but they recently announced that they were leaving the FEC because they felt that the FEC was insufficiently interested in pursuing racial and social justice.

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One of houses Compersia was in

 

This is true but I think that it’s somewhat difficult for rural communities to deal with racial problems.  I was in a meeting not long ago where people were talking about how safe communities are for people of color and an African American woman said she would never feel safe at Twin Oaks, if only because of its location. She said that she had heard that that area of Virginia wasn’t safe for people with darker skin.

In the 1990s I helped create a commune in Cambridge, MA.  I remember that the FEC (which also had two communes in Seattle which were getting involved) was then struggling with how to deal with urban communes.  Since then the FEC has had communes apply from Baltimore, Richmond, VA, and Columbus, OH.  All are gone.

I am still in New York City as I write this but by the time it is published, I will be at East Brook Community Farm, in rural New York. I love the people that I will be living with, but I am going to miss the opportunities that come with living in the city.  I think that Point A had a point.  More people live in the city and we need to build urban communes. It’s just very hard to do.

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The duplex that housed Cotyledon

It’s not that you can’t do community in the city. I know from experience that the Boston area has a lovely network of co-op houses, plus two cohousing communities in Cambridge and one in Jamaica Plain, and Brooklyn, in NYC,  is filled with collective houses.   I’m sure that most cities across the US have co-ops, collectives, and cohousing.  But it’s doing income-sharing that seems impossible in urban settings. (Ganas, in NYC,  seems a major exception to this, but they have a small income-sharing group with a larger non-income-sharing community built around it.)

I don’t know the answer to how to make urban communes work.  If I did, I would be living in one now.  But I have a few ideas.

The first is something gil, who I lived with in Cotyledon, has been talking about. Instead of starting by creating a commune, begin by building a cooperative business.  Once that is going, it is easier to create a community around it.  It would be much easier to do income-sharing in the city if there was already work for people to do.  (If you join Acorn or East Wind, they already have a business they can plug you into, and Twin Oaks has several.)

Another thing I have thought about is starting communities in large towns or small cities. Rent or property ownership is likely to be less expensive and it might be easier to network with rural communities. Maybe with a network of communes in towns it would be easier to build up to the cities.

Again, I don’t have the answer as to how to make lasting urban communes. I just know that it’s an important question to consider for those of us who care about the future of egalitarian income-sharing communities.

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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
  • 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! 

 

 

 

The Problem with Urban Communes

Food at Twin Oaks

from the Commune Life Instagram account:

View this post on Instagram

@jacquelinelasry and I pulled all this food out of 2 dumpsters on Saturday. These little dumpster monsters helped me process and eat it all. From left to right we have 16 cans of coffee, a big bowl of citrus, a hotel pan full of fruit, a hotel pan full of veggies, cakes & pastries, juice and tea, 28 loaves of bread, several pounds of hummus, fruit cups, snack packs, cheese, 16 ham steaks, bacon, chicken, smoked salmon, a 3 pack of razors, command hooks, an ethernet cable, and a bag of chia seeds. Thank DumpRa that I have a community to feed. -Julia . . . #dumpsterdiving #dumpster #dumpsterdivinghaul #realfoodrevolution #groceryindustrialcomplex #foodsystem #communelife #intentionalcommunity

A post shared by Commune Life (@communelifelife) on

 

Food at Twin Oaks

Join the Next Generation of Ecovillage Builders

by Thumbs

EP2020 LOGO 2

“You’re real, and you’re bigger than my laptop screen!”

We’ve converted a bedroom at East Brook Community into our retreat center headquarters. The walls are covered with butcher paper and the faint scent of colored markers permeates the room as we graffiti the walls with flow charts and picture notes manifesting from our brainstorm. This year we’ve been meeting weekly through virtual conference calls, but that can’t compare to the thrill of collaborating in person.

The Global Ecovillage Network (GEN), and its youth oriented sub circle of North America (NextGENNA) are currently buzzing with growth and opportunities.  This weekend 5 members of our team came together to use this potential energy to update our organizational structure and create strategies for our shared projects.  We did this with the goal of creating clear new ways for people like yourself to plug into our network and feed your community passion.

emergent octopus photo

Following the unconventional passion of community building on your own is difficult and ironic, so our team shared the value of trusting their own insights more when part of a like minded team.

Before expanding our team we need to understand what each of us are doing this for, because like all mostly volunteer non-profits time is limited so the work must nourish our higher selves.  A series of memes we drew capture what part of our heart song this work helps play.

A focus of this retreat was also planning Ecovillage Pathways, an intimate annual event which combines ecovillage education with a community experience.  Ecovillage Pathways 2020 will center around “Healing in Community” and how it shows up in the four pillars of community: social, culture, economy, and ecology.  We will introduce various community tools which ecovillages can use to address these four pillars. With a balance of intellectual discussion, heartfelt connections, and hands on practice this will be an experience of community from the very start.

The experience of designing, organizing and facilitating workshops at this event is in and of itself an incredible learning experience for young people interested in applying professional skills to their ecovillage passion.  However, we’re also ready to serve a broader audience by fostering an online community of ecovillage enthusiasts. We’re lucky to be friends and partners with the already vibrant virtual community network, but are discovering the unique niche we can serve as well.  For example, would you be interested in a monthly virtual discussion group on ecovillage life, opportunities and challenges?

ecovillage skills draw

A unique gift of NextGEN is to expand ones ecovillage education through immersive experiences, and also to invest in trainings which will help you fuse community passion and career.

There are many ways for you to become part of the NextGENNA team, and the best way to learn more about all of them is to join our Welcoming Meeting in November.  It’ll be an opportunity for us to get to know you, and for you to learn about how to plug into the rich global network of ecovillage builders. Please email us at NextGenNorthAmerica@gmail.com to receive an invitation for the Welcoming Meeting.  This event will also appear on our Facebook Page, and sign up on our website to receive infrequent but exciting email updates!

 Watch our Welcome to Ecovillage Pathways 2020 Video

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Author 

Team Photo

Next GENNA team

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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
  • 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! 

 

 

Join the Next Generation of Ecovillage Builders

Policy and Compassion

Posted 27th February 2014 by keenan from Keenan’s Twin Oaks Blog

How to be a bureaucrat and also a decent human

What Twin Oaks is is contained in our policies.  What Twin Oaks is not is also contained in our policies.  What Twin Oaks is likely to become in the future is contained in our policies. As individuals we are protected by our policies.  Our entire alternative income-sharing, non-violent, ecological and cooperative culture relies on the clear communication and effective enforcement of our policies.   Having policy is vital; understanding policy is vital; adhering to policy is vital.

However, given all that, I also believe that it is wrong and dangerous to then conclude that everything written in Twin Oaks’ policy notebooks is flawless. The vicissitudes of fate and the vast range of human behavior guarantee that policies will inevitably need interpretation and alteration.

Most people believe that unless they are on some decision-making committee, they don’t need to understand the arcane issues about the application of policy, but even two people in a relationship discussing whether it’s OK to have sex with someone else are “drafting policy.”   I think understanding concepts and issues around application of policy makes the world a healthier place.

Because there are so many ways we affect each other at Twin Oaks, we often have to interpret policy here.  An example:  It’s important that Twin Oaks drivers drive safely.  Periodically, the issue comes up of some people feeling unsafe with a tripper’s driving.   The policy is that an unsafe driver loses that job.  OK then. How unsafe is too unsafe?   Is one complaining passenger enough?   How many warnings is enough?  The policy is clear, but the implementation of that policy requires interpretation.  Really, the implementation of every policy requires interpretation.

The “check-down” analysis required in using policy is something like this: do we have a policy that covers this situation? Yes?  Great!   If this situation is unusual and no policy covers it, is it a truly unique situation that requires an exception to policy?  Or is this new situation something that is likely to recur and so this new decision isn’t an exception but, rather, a new precedent? Is the policy totally outdated?  Does it need to be ignored in this situation and then eventually rewritten?

Throughout all of these steps, the first and foremost thought should be, “Does this decision make sense?” and “Is this what a majority of the community would want to have happen?”

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         Errors in policy interpretation:

To me, one of the least compelling arguments is that we should assume that the judgment of earlier bureaucrats is always better than the judgment of current bureaucrats. Another error is trying to re-draft a policy to cover an extremely unusual situation that will, in all likelihood, never occur again. If a unique situation arises, a unique decision needs to be made.  It’s best to announce that we don’t have policy for this situation and make a decision based on common sense—and let the policy alone.

The third error, and I think the most common, is mindlessly applying policy that is not relevant in this particular situation. For any decision-maker, the safest path is to hide behind policy and to not use independent judgment.   My take is that the mindless-adherence path is what most people mean when complaining about bureaucrats and bureaucracy.  If the gap between communal common sense and bureaucratic decision making becomes too wide, it leads to cruel outcomes,  mistrust and dysfunction.

        Enforcing policy

No one wants to be the bad guy, but there has to be an enforcer when someone violates policy.  But enforcing policy does not mean letting go of your basic humanity.  For most of us, enforcing policy is regrettable.  Communicating your personal regret, can take the some of the sting out of receiving bad news.  Also, telling someone the process they need to go through to change this outcome (even if it’s unlikely that the decision will change) goes a long way toward softening the blow of enduring sanctions, or being on the losing side of a policy debate. When the time comes to enforce policy, be sure you have the support of the community.  Don’t make it a dyadic power dynamic between the two of you If you think you are representing the community, be sure that you are representing the community and then include others in your enforcement campaign.

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Errors in applying policy: secrecy

The whole design of our egalitarian community ensures that there are going to be amateurs in most positions, including decision-making positions. The temptation is to keep troublesome decisions quiet. Whether we make decisions that make someone unhappy, or we screw up the proper process, the right thing to do is to 1) make the decision public and 2) to make the thinking about the decision public.  By making information public, people understand how a manager or committee came to a decision. This serves several salubrious functions. The main function is that it helps everyone understand why and how a decision was come to and, usually, that it was a difficult decision.  This contributes to the second function which is increasing trust.  Trust is the foundation upon which our entire alternative culture rests.  Secret decisions erode trust and weaken the community; clearly explained publicly-announced decisions—even unpopular ones—even about a process mistake the group made–builds trust and strengthens the community.

An important additional function of explaining the thinking around a decision is that it helps educate everyone about the process of making decisions.   Decisions that are explained increases the overall competence of the community in making decisions. And, if you are making a decision and you can’t publicly justify that decision, or you don’t want to, then maybe you should go back and revisit the decision and make a decision that you do feel comfortable explaining publicly.

It is understandable that bureaucrats don’t want to explain their thinking in making decisions, because they(we) are going to get flak and—worst case scenario—the decision-maker might be wrong, that is, they may not represent the majority of the community, they may have misapplied policy, they may have done the process wrong.  And this is all the more reason to share decisions publicly—specifically to correct erroneous decisions.  Bad decisions that don’t represent the wishes of the community  erode trust. So, as awful as it can be to post a decision and have people rise up in outrage and then overturn the decision, that’s actually a good thing.  That means that people have the ability to correct poor decisions by well-meaning (we can assume) but misguided decision-makers.

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         Errors in applying policy: ignoring your own conscience

Being in a decision-making role usually means not making up your own mind, but, rather, following policy and representing other’s interests.  Inevitably, there will be times when these can conflict with your own sense of what is right.  What to do?  Sometimes people recuse themselves; I think that they shouldn’t. The main reason for recusal is when there is a conflict of interests, that is, the decision facing you will affect your personal interests.  That is a good reason to recuse yourself  from a decision.  But the world is not made better if people of conscience recuse themselves from decision-making.  I ask you, who is left to make decisions then?  So, caring about the outcome of a decision is not the same as benefiting from that decision personally.  Because you have an ethical compass is no reason to recuse yourself from a decision.

But if a policy mandates that you make a decision that is at odds with your own conscience, what is the right thing to do?  In the world I want to live in, don’t follow policy if the outcome is ethically wrong! This is exactly the place where you should make the decision according to what you think is right, and then you publicly state your reasons for doing so.  Let those who disagree with you then attempt to overturn your decision—and make them explain why.

I believe that it is essential that we not lose our compassion, kindness, or essential humanity in coming to decisions.  It can be challenging to make a decision that is not backed up by policy, but I believe that is the essence of being not only a good bureaucrat, but a good human.  I believe that all of us want decisions that are guided by, not just proper process, but also by people who have a heart and are trying to make ethical decisions; in a community, I think that we should demand nothing less of our decision-makers. I believe that it is not only possible to be a bureaucrat and a decent human being; I think it is crucial.

 

 

[All photos from Twin Oaks archives–not in original article]

 

 

Policy and Compassion