The First Policy – Expulsion

One of the most exciting about working on the Point A project is that we get to work with lots of different communities.  Several of these communities are young, so unlike the places i live (Twin Oaks and Acorn), they don’t have a long history and well established culture of how to handle tricky situations.  Also, a number of these places are anarchist identified, so they often think that they don’t need policies or pre-existing agreements.  They think they will just figure out what they need to do when it comes up. This is naive. Trick_or_Treaty There are a handful of completely predictable community crises in which a relatively small amount of work in advance can save you tremendous heartache and damage.  And, in the case of how to manage the expulsion of a member, if you don’t design the policy/agreements before you need it, your entire community can fail the first time you have to decide if you are going to throw someone out.

Why?  Communities are not like jobs where you can relatively easily fire someone or lay them off (and even this is often not easy). Communities generally start with friends who have come together because they want to live together.  It is hard enough to create community so that these friends have to be fairly heavily invested in each other to be able to get the community off the ground in the first place.  Strong friendships and trust are the thing good communities are made of.  And when these break they don’t break evenly.

It never said

It never said, “Don’t eat the apples.”

Almost always, if something goes terribly wrong in a community and there is a need for some type of expulsion process, there are some people in the community who don’t want to lose their friend by throwing them out.  If the person that could be expelled has no friends or has done something so bad that no one wants them to stay, then that person generally recognizes that they have poisoned their relationship with the collective and no process is needed because often they just up and leave, before a process could start.

Even Acorn, which tries to avoid fixed policies as much as possible, takes on this problem with the ironically named “Peace and Love Accords“.  If you look at this anarchist policy (yes, this is not an oxymoron), you will find a lot of it has to do with protecting the rights of the focus person and making transitions smooth, even if there have been serious problems.  And as with all good anarchist policy, it gives the group the right to bail on the policy and do something different, if everyone agrees. The advantage of having this type of policy is that in the trickiest expulsion cases often not everyone agrees and then, rather than fight about what you should do, the policy creates an agreed upon fall back position which can keep the group from descending into chaos. When you are designing an expulsion process often you will want to figure out what appropriate grounds are for expulsion.

Can't we all just get along? Sometimes no.

Can’t we all just get along? Sometimes no.

Here is what Twin Oaks has decided are valid ground to consider expulsion: [Twin Oaks uses “co” as a gender neutral pronoun to replace “she or he”.]

Expulsion of a full member may, but need not, take place for any of the following reasons:

1. Co openly repudiates the principles of the Community and works against their implementation.

2. Co is found guilty by local, state, or federal authorities of some crime or misdemeanor and the Community therefore feels it is no longer appropriate for co to remain a member.

3. Co consistently does less than cos share of the Community work.

4. Co absents coself from the Community for more than three weeks beyond the point of legitimate vacation according to current Community policy or without having made satisfactory arrangements with the Community with regard to cos absence.

5. Co physically, sexually and/or mentally abuses another member or guest of the Community, or any child, by any aggressive action and/or words which the Community interprets as sufficiently serious and/or likely to be repeated to warrant expulsion. The application of the foregoing provision to abusive words is not intended to inhibit the free expression of information, opinion, belief or emotion. It is intended to apply when oral or written language is presented in a threatening, harassing, or violent manner such that it would be reasonably expected to cause physical, sexual or mental harm. Guidelines for Applying the Mental Abuse Provision of the Bylaws

6. Co repeatedly and/or flagrantly violates the equality principle by appropriating to cos use items (including but not limited to cash) intended for the use of the Community as a whole or property designated for other use; or co repeatedly or flagrantly steals property belonging to someone else;

7. Co is discovered to have made bad faith declarations of the extent or disposition of cos property when entering the Community or subsequently, or co grossly violates the Community Property Code (Article IV below) with regard to the disposition of said property or the disposition of any income co received while a member.

8. Co deliberately and overtly attempts to destroy or disband the Community by any legal, extralegal, or financial means or in any other manner, provided that this shall not be broadly interpreted to refer to the holding of disapproved opinions or to behavior which from time to time might be considered dangerous. It is intended to refer specifically to deliberately making trouble between the Community and civil authorities, involving the Community in a lawsuit, involving the Community in unauthorized financial obligations, and such similar hostile acts or attempted hostile acts. The above provisions shall not be taken as requiring the Community to expel a member, even for these reasons. The Community may, but need not, expel a member for any of the above reasons. The Community also has the option of substituting other remedies or sanctions.

Expulsion Mechanism. The procedure for expulsion shall be as follows: Expulsion may be proposed by any voting member. The Planners and/or such other body of members as the Planner may authorize either ad hoc or as a matter of policy, shall hold a public meeting or meetings on the proposed expulsion — provided, however, that at one meeting or another the member in question shall be given full opportunity to answer any accusations or to explain cos conduct or view and express cos desires concerning cos membership, if possible. If, after the member in question has been heard, the Community desires cos expulsion, if possible co shall be so informed, at which time co will normally be allowed at least three days before co is required to leave the Community premises. Extensions of this period may be made at the discretion of the Community.

So, if you have a new community, and you don’t have time to design your own expulsion policy, you could look at these, hack them up to make them fit your circumstances, and then make them yours until you have time to do it right.

The ass you save may be your own.

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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.

12 responses to “The First Policy – Expulsion”

  1. Tree Bressen says :

    I fully support what Paxus has written here. It’s important and reasonably put.

    I checked out the link to Acorn’s “peace & love accords” doc and want to comment on a key section. The basic approach is that if you have concerns or conflict, you should first approach the person directly, then if that doesn’t work recruit a facilitator, then if that doesn’t work bring it to the full group. I see this sequence all the time in community policies, and in my experience it’s significantly lacking. Here’s why.

    If two people get stuck with each other, it’s often the case that both are reluctant to approach each other. They might never do it, and meanwhile their discord affects everyone else around them. So the first step in some conflicts is for someone who is not either of the parties to approach one or both of them in an attempt to help. Similarly, if A is sufficiently uncomfortable with B, A might need to lower the threshold for requesting assistance, going straight to someone who can help if needed. If you force A to try by themselves first, they might never act, and that’s bad–it’s in the group’s interest for conflicts to get resolved.

    Obviously it makes a difference who the help is and what their relationship is with both parties. The ideal person is level-headed, trusted by both, and able to offer wise and compassionate support rather than further inflaming anyone. I would really like to see us shift the culture so that assistance and support is something we invite in order to help things go well, instead of waiting until it’s a crisis.

    • leavergirl says :

      I agree. I believe that Dancing Rabbit has a similar policy, but says that if the discord affects the community, the mediation (or whatever they call it) committee takes it up regardless whether or not the two members in question have taken other steps. And I do believe the mediation committee can require the said members to do certain things (say, a restorative circle) to remedy the situation.

      • leavergirl says :

        I would like to add that more careful admission policy is the ounce of prevention so you don’t need a pound of cure.

      • paxus says :

        Yeah, here we perhaps disagree. My experience at Twin Oaks is people can pass for 3 weeks of the visitor program, get accepted as members, have huge problems which bite us during their provisional membership period (including things which they neglected to mention during their visitor period despite having been directly asked about them) and then because we love them and are friends with them and think (naively) that we can handle these problems we accept them as full members.

        There is no admissions process careful enough to get around this type of behavior. But with smaller communities it is less of a problem.

      • leavergirl says :

        Paxus, three weeks is not enough to get to know a person, underbelly and all. Dancing Rabbit has (last I checked) a provisional membership of 8 months before full membership. It seemed to be working well.

      • paxus says :

        So provisional memberships are extremely culturally influenced. At Twin Oaks we have only rejected 3 people from provisional to full membership in the 18 years i have been there (some more have been rejected, but then over turned). This is hardly a screening process.

      • leavergirl says :

        Right. I did not read carefully enough. Are you saying that you do have a provisional period, and even though you get to know about some serious problems which had possibly been lied about, you still take them in as full members? Wow. That’s not a policy failure, that is the failure of recognition (IMO), and failure of healthy boundaries.

      • paxus says :

        It has come out recently that someone misrepresented themselves in the mental health interview and their condition was much worse than they had represented. When the membership was asked if we wanted to keep this person, we overwhelmingly decided to do so.

      • leavergirl says :

        “have huge problems which bite us during their provisional membership period (including things which they neglected to mention during their visitor period despite having been directly asked about them)”

        The other thing that comes to mind is… do you have a policy about lying? (And I mean serious lies that cause harm, as in the above.) I like the rule of three… the first lie may be a panic reaction, the second lie a misunderstanding, but when you get a third one, you are dealing with a chronic liar. Does that warrant an expulsion?

  2. leavergirl says :

    Chronic serious lying is abuse, and can be added to the abuse clause specifically. Ok, I am done. 🙂

  3. dbmamaz says :

    Haha i was thinking about your posts and community policy when a conflict came up in a small group at my UU church this week, so this (obviously being read late) is perfect for me!

    I know at least one person was kicked out while I was at EW – and I arrived there right around when PM became a full year. This person had barely been voted in, and after the long and painful expulsion process, one of the people who had voted for her against his better judgement spent a lot of time blaming himself for the mess.

    it was a mess. She was an alcoholic who didnt work, stole peoples stuff (wasnt caught, but the stuff stopped going missing when she left) and also violent. But she had some good friends.

    I really liked being in places where I was pushed to do the hard work of communicating with people. thats not much in my world any more. the real world doesnt seem to value deep honesty

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