The right way to expel someone

Throwing someone out of their income sharing intentional community is not like asking them to leave a club, or even firing them from their job.  You are stripping them of their social network, work opportunities, health insurance, housing, childcare system, vehicle access, personal accounting services and more.  If we throw you out of the commune, you need to start over again from scratch.  This is why we try to be very careful about it.

you must go

you must go

Acorn uses a consensus-based system, which gets especially tricky around throwing people out of a group.  Ideally, you can do “consensus minus one”, which really means everyone in the group except the focus of the expulsion process (and any romantic intimates or dependents).  It has never proven to be the case that anyone who has been in the community for more than a few months has no friends who will stand with them to block an expulsion process and thus few have started.

it is not paradise, but sometime it seems like the whole universe.

It is not paradise, but sometimes it seems like the whole universe.

Acorn is now looking again at its expulsion policy.  Irena’s proposal is we link this to the regular clearness process and if some group of people feel like their concerns are not adequately addressed in the clearness process they can request another clearness in less than 3 months to make sure it can be completed.  Presumably, this will get around the problem of controversial members dragging their feet in these processes.  If the concerns continue unaddressed, then the membership will vote on whether the person can stay, and if over 50% of the full members say they can, then the controversial member can stay and their clearness process is complete.

The problem with this plan is that it moves power disproportionally away from the person being expelled to someone who might want them thrown out.  If unmodified this policy will occasionally have the opposite of its desired affect, where we have given the tool for removing someone to a single member who is not thinking very clear about the person in question.

For someone outside of community it is easy to think “Well, this single person complaining will not overwhelm the 50% vote so things should turn out fine.”  This would be true if you could eliminate the “process fatigue” aspect of the proposal.  The problem is when a person’s membership status is on the line, even when there is virtually no chance they will get expelled, they freak out about it a least a bit and often more.  They just want it to go away.

arcane circle for ursa major banishment - really

arcane circle for Ursa major banishment – really

In the worst case, a single person who is upset with another member, could drag out their clearness process, say that they were not satisfied with the focus person’s response to their concerns.  This can have an acidic effect on the person whose process is incomplete.  They feel badly treated by the community in general, rather than the specific individual, because the community’s process is creating the problem.

And as is our way at Acorn, Irena’s proposal is going to get tweaked to avoid this problem, before we make it policy. Stay tuned.

[Edited by Judy Youngquest]

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About paxus

a funologist, memeticist and revolutionary. Can be found in the vanity bin of Wikipedia and in locations of imminent calamity. buckle up, there is going to be some rough sledding.

7 responses to “The right way to expel someone”

  1. North Star says :

    When someone is fired from a job they’ve worked at for a long time, he or she often gets severance pay on the way out. Do your communities have anything like that, particularly for those who have been in for a decade or more and are being kicked out involuntarily?

    How often does this happen anyway – out of 100 people, how many are kicked out at TO each year?

    • paxus says :

      Dearest North Star:

      Good questions. In the 15 years i have been at Twin Oaks we have not expelled anyone, formally. We have started the expulsion process on i believe four or perhaps fice people in that time. They all left before the process was completed. So if we assume the high number it is one very 3 or perhaps 4 years.

      Twin Oaks gives peoples hammocks, and leaving loans in some circumstances of up to a couple thousand dollars. Some of these are never paid back and the community does not freat about it too much. But there is no severance pay.

      There has been some talk about instituting it. It would need a champion or three to move forward.

  2. Tree Bressen says :

    The context of this is a bit unclear. Since you are calling it expulsion i’m assuming that everything you are talking about at Acorn (not TO) is after someone has already been there a year as a provisional member, completed a clearness process, and been accepted by consensus as a full member–is that right?

    I don’t know what the current culture is . . . when i lived at Acorn any one full member could block an incoming member, whereas once the provisional year was completed and one was accepted, the power switched from “it only takes one person blocking to make you leave” to “it only takes one ally to keep you there”–that’s why being accepted as a full member was such a big deal. Interestingly, switching from Full to Associate status also required full consensus, so (in my biased opinion) that request moment was sometimes used inappropriately as a way for an existing member to grind an ax against someone they were unhappy with–concerns that should have gone into some kind of clearness process got expressed in this power-over way instead.

    Your comment that TO has never completed an expulsion process during your time there goes in tandem with the part of the post about people facing the threat of expulsion freaking out and leaving–basically, when people feel pushed out from a group, they almost always pick up and go. Your observation matches my own experience: in 7 years at Walnut St., we only once started considering expelling someone, and they saw the writing on the wall and chose to pull out, which was a relief since that meant they were out sooner than if the whole thing had dragged on. I do know of one community that essentially bribed a long-time trouble-maker to leave–it was worth it.

  3. dbmamaz says :

    Pretty sure Acorn kicked out my ex? about 10-11 years ago? He definitely deserved it, though. I also remember EW kicking someone out . . . horribly stressful community meetings. Her membership vote had succeeded by one vote, and one particular member bemoaned voting for her as a member, realizing that if he had voted against her (he’d been waffling), we could have avoided that horrible process.

    I dont remember the process, it was one of those percents games, I think.

    • paxus says :

      People do get thrown out, absolutely. And some people just get swooped up and taken away, without the complex process. Like the guy who was looking at child pornography.

  4. In Sacramento says :

    The renting intentional community living around my home has no idea what to do for allowing burglary in non-members houses by members. I write to the landlord, show the agent the video from my security system (I was burglarized, my pets killed, and regularly cursed), and have had good results starting with the house next door. From my point of view, the instant question is how to not be so liberal that all persons are acceptable, yet making allowances for personality. What is needed, I think, is a bit of practice at saying “you cannot stay here.” for persons whose behavior is uncontrollably unacceptable. Clearly a group individual must speak for the the whole in applying this sanction in person, and must be prepared for “So? What are you going to do about it?” Then the seconds to this person must reach out to the larger society for the agencies available in police and legal actions. You must all realize the limits of “We’ll take care of this ourselves.” In my case, I am too scared of you to ask you to take care of it yourselves, so my methods are harsh and unfair to those who had no idea that burglars were among them, but it doesn’t trouble me much that all suffer because I escape your effective oppression..

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