Unsurprising Community Anarchists
Often visiting students, media and family of members are surprised to find so many anarchist-identified people living in these communes. This is perhaps because of the common misperception that anarchists are all about chaos. Turns out this is fake news. Anarchists dislike government, especially non-representative governments. Which means they are especially fond of dual power.
Dual power is where you replace government functions by doing them yourself and then push the long arms of the state out of your life. Twin Oaks is pretty good at dual power; we build and repair our own buildings, educate our own kids, run our own sewage treatment plant, fix our own cars, bikes and tractors, grow much of our own food, cook our own meals, generate a (tiny fraction) of our own electrical power and run our own 7 businesses.
And anarchists have had a serious influence on the development of Twin Oaks’s own bureaucracies. This is especially true for the Twin Oaks Process Team. The Process Team has an important mission: to facilitate, mediate and negotiate communication between members of the community. If you have a problem with another member, it is the Process Team which you would go to first to seek mediators, advocates, and internal diplomats.
But the Oaker anarchists crippled the Process Team when it was being developed. To make sure this new group did not have too much power it was limited to intervening only when invited. This means if i am in an animated on-going argument with another communard, named Fulano, the Process Team can only mediate for us if we both agree to it. This means if i am being a total jerk and i don’t want to have to defend my terrible treatment of Fulano, i just decline the Process Teams request to mediate. It is worth pointing out, no other income sharing commune in the US permits disagreements to fester in this way.
In sharp contrast, when Twin Oaks created its Mental Health Team (MHT), we had just had a tragic suicide which many felt the community could have done much more to prevent. So instead of looking to limit this bureaucracy’s power, we wanted to make sure it could do whatever it needed to do its job and protect the community and its individual members. Thus, if you are having a manic episode, MHT can take you off the labor system until you’re better, and you have no labor obligation. MHT can give you money for travel and organize external care for you if needed. MHT (in conjunction with the planners) can force someone to leave the community if that is deemed necessary, to take care of someone they are in conflict with.
We don’t know all the answers to how to live together well. But when we observe that the events which sparked the creation of our bureaucracies we can see where we can create dual power successfully, and where we need to do more work.
It’s time to get arrested
The Supreme Court is the triumph of the Trump administrations authoritarian desires. Rights are being stripped by religious zealots who lied during their confirmation hearings and should be impeached, but wont be. You are frustrated, you are angry, you want to do something, but you are not quite sure what to do. Please note new information about bail from Angie at the bottom of this post.
It’s time to get arrested.
For many folks, this will seem counter intuitive. How can getting myself thrown in jail help anyone or anything? It just seems like a waste of time, money and a hassle.
It turns out it is one of the most effective tools mass movements have to change the political tide. It has been used effectively around the world, even in some of the most repressive regimes. In the US, the end of the Vietnam war, the death of new nuclear construction and getting the right to vote for both women (1920) and POCs (1965) in the US relied on civil disobedience to win.
If you want to dig into the logic and practice of civil disobedience, I encourage the excellent Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, which goes deep into both how and why.
From the Boston Tea Party to Mahatma Gandhi’s Salt March, and from suffragists’ illegally casting their ballots to whites-only lunch counter sit-ins, civil disobedience has often played a crucial role in bending the proverbial arc of the moral universe toward justice.Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
But if you are willing to consider this option, i want to encourage you to go to this Saturdays action defending abortion rights in DC. Here is some of the more practical advise, i shared with Oakers who are organizing this action.
Who you get arrested with matters. The Women’s March organizers have an arrest training and orientation on July 8th at 6 pm in DC. Folks interested in this should fill out the form of the principal organizers. and plan on being there in person. If you get arrested with or near the black bloc who are breaking Starbucks windows, your police experience will likely be much more headachy and physically difficult. Try to stay with other protesters the night before (avoid the temptation of hanging with DC friends not involved with the action).
The key piece of information, especially for people who have not been arrested before is the overwhelming experience of this choice is boredom and some confusion. You will spend lots of time after you are arrested waiting to be processed, sometimes in a hot police vehicle. You will spend a lot of time in holding cells. You will be told to wait often with no indication how long. Your cell phone will be taken from you (typically) once you have been processed and usually (but not always) any reading material you have. Often you can smuggle a zine or some other pocket sized reading in. This is recommended to help cut the boredom. And of course make friends with other arrestees.
Bail is complex. If you do need it, it is designed to insure you come back for your court hearings. When you do, you get typically get your bail money back (or 90% of it if you use a bail bond person). Angie is the queen of bail, she is copied on this message, supportive of this action and will have useful contacts on bail bonds services and how not to get stung by them.
For 90% of non-violent actions in DC there will not be a need for bail money, assuming arrestees are willing to identify themselves to get released and go thru the legal system. DC mostly has a “catch and release” policy around non-violent protesters – usually you are released with a summons to appear before the court. There is a high chance you will get a fine or community service at your court hearing, because you will almost certainly be found guilty – but this is not bail. And thus not needed at the time of arrest.
Separately, the organizing groups will likely have lawyer services available to folks risking arrest. You should get their legal contact info and write it in marker on peoples arms. Also you should have a TO support person who is not getting arrested and is in DC and their number should also be put on peoples arms, with instructions to call when folks are released.
While it is pretty easy to get arrested (block any intersection and refuse to move when the police arrive). After some hours of processing and being held, they will quite likely release people (who have identified themselves with id) on their own recognizance without a fine. Remember holding people is expensive for the city, they don’t want to feed you and also they don’t want the jails overwhelmed by protesters. They also don’t want you once released to go back and immediately get arrested again, so they will often hold folks until most of the actions are over.
They will hold you and not release you if you refuse to identify yourself. People wishing to do this type of action (refusing ID) should talk with action organizers to see what support and advice they offer. I discourage people from carrying full wallets into arrest actions – instead ID, a metro card plus $20 or so, recognizing this will be taken from you at the time after you are processed (as will your wallet if you bring one). 90% of things confiscated from arrestees will be returned by the police.
People who require daily medication need to know they will be separated from their meds for at least hours, possibly an entire day if there are many arrests and lots of on going actions that the police/the city don’t want you to return to. People should not assume the police are going to be either reasonable or accommodating around getting your meds to you once you have been arrested and separated from them.
Wear comfortable clothes and while the action will likely be hot, your holding cell experience will be air conditioned (often set very low) and folks should dress accordingly (typically using layers). Skip jewelry.
I personally discourage people from resisting arrest, especially on their first arrest action. Mostly because it is frustrating (you can’t do it for long without serious hardware) and the DC police are experts in compliance holds and you will feel disempowered by how quickly they are able to stop you from resisting and are likely to face more serious charges.
If people want to “hit harder” then instead of arrest and release I recommend hit and run actions (this is not civil disobedience). And if people are interested in this I have other contacts to offer.
Organizers have to make sure you have sufficient support people (not risking arrest) to accommodate how ever many people are getting arrested. The most important thing here is getting folks after they have been released. Especially for people who are getting arrested for the first time, the terrible part of the experience is not over until there is a friendly known face checking in with them after release. This means some support people must be willing to stay until everyone is released, this could easily be 2 AM on Sunday. [Here again I am assuming people want to ID and return for trial or pay the fine, refusing to ID can leave you in jail for days] assuming you have multiple vehicles in the city, a 3 arrestees to 1 support person is a good ratio. Several of the DC detention facilities are not near the metro, so getting people back can be slow or frustrating, every arrestee should have a metro card (which works on the buses) with over $5 on it.
It is wise if support people have something nice to give people when they get out – candy or some other appropriate treat. Getting arrested for the first time often changes peoples lives, in slightly unpredictable ways. Some will never do it again. Some will realize it is their calling. Nearly universally it will result in detainees disliking and not trusting the police more.
Support people need to realize there is an important emotional part of their job. Even short stints in jail can mess people up. Mass actions arrests usually do not have you in solitary- so you might end up in gender segregated general population. If gender is unsure to the police, they will generally use the gender listed on your ID to determine where you are detained. Police will not respect your selected pronouns.
It is important to remember that these are very popular actions. This means if you don’t bring a phone – every other person in DC will lend you theirs if you say “Hey I just got arrested defending abortion rights and I was hoping to borrow your phone to call my support people to tell them I have been released”.
As an organizer people are going to want to know that you are going to take care of them in their on going legal hassles. This means getting rides back to DC for court stuff (typically two trips) and labor credits for that work. Here I would assume you will be able to accommodate folks, we have in the past.
And while getting arrested is a fine, desirable and noble thing. People should take the decision seriously and not be shamed in anyway if they chose not to do it and attend the protest or do support work instead. Especially people in fragile or compromised mental health circumstances or who are likely to be traumatized by physical boundaries being disrespected by the police should consider support roles instead of arrests. There will be many more options for getting arrested in the future – this is a long haul campaign.
If you are getting arrested for the first time for a protest, try to stick near someone you know and like who is also getting arrested – for the same crimes as you. Generally this will mean you have company and someone to talk with. This does not always work, you can be separated for all kinds of reasons.
People need to be ready for police to completely change their behavior on short notice. They can be friendly and accommodating one minute and the next they can be pushing you around or using unnecessary force for no apparent reason. The police are not your friends in this situation- even if they mostly have been in your life before. That said, DC police are better than most in dealing with NV protesters, because they have so much experience.
A note from Angie:
Two big things- first, whenever possible (especially if you’re working
with low bail amounts), it’s better to post cash bail than to use a
bail bondsman. Bail bonds usually cost 10% of the bail cost, and you
do not get that back- even if you’re found not guilty, even if the
charges are dropped, that money is a set cost that the bail bondsman
receives. OTOH, cash bail is also a risk, especially if someone other
than the arrestee is paying- if the person doesn’t show up to court
dates then the bail may be forfeited. Think about who is paying the
bail ahead of time, have a plan for how you’ll deal with $50 bail vs
$500 bail vs $5,000 bail. And obviously, a 10 person bail of $50 is a
different burden than a 2 person bail of $500.
Second- there may be other, more violent protests going on in and
around DC this week. That kind of thing can impact how smoothly (or
not) your nonviolent arrest action goes. Cops are people, they get
tired and worn out and stressed (1312 tho, don’t get me wrong). If DC
cops are dealing with violent protestors on Wednesday, Thursday, and
Friday, the might be harsher on nonviolent protestors on Saturday.
The big one I’m watching is the trucker convoy, now called the “1776
Restoration Movement”. they have been in DC on the national mall since
the morning of the 6th, are violent, some are registered sex offenders
(including one who pleaded guilty to child molestation of a kid under
14), and they’re all facist religious bigots. A few have been
arrested. The situation is fluid and changing fast.
A few of the 1776RMers know about the Saturday action, some many
attend, most are instigators and shit stirrers. If the action is near
the mall then it’s a major concern, if not it’s probably not as big a
deal. If you want more info let me know.
Best of luck with your action, and if I can help or support let me know!
Balloons is Popping
The pandemic disrupted my life a bunch. I was on leave from Twin Oaks and when the commune locked down, i had the choice to be in or out. Because Jade, who was not an Oaker, could not join me, we decided to leave Virginia and by summer of 2020 we were settled in Springfield Missouri hosted by the lovely and talented Bliss and her tennis prodigy son, Solace.
Besides running the comic and poignant novelty textile company Lewd Linens, Bliss manages the Farmers Market of the Ozarks (FMO). As part of her management of this large market she needs to chat with vendors, collect fees, repulse anti-mask idiots and generally make sure things are running smoothly. This leaves her little time to monitor her own Lewd Linens booth at the market, so Jade and i stepped in and watched her booth on Saturday mornings.
Booth watching gave us time to practice balloon animal making, something Jade had been teaching herself by watching youtube videos. We gave balloons to kids at the market for donations. It was quite a hit and over the course of a Saturday morning we would often make $50 to $75 in donations from parents who were happy to have some small joy inducing present to give to their kids and because it was “pay what you like” everyone was a winner.
Fast forward to the 2020 elections, Jade and I joined the Flip team and worked in Maine to try to save Democracy from the Trump madness. Balloon making followed us and was incorporated into a number of political actions and our repertoire of balloon animals expanded. Jade taught the whole Flip Maine crew how to make balloon animals.
But it was really not until we got to New Jersey that the balloon animal business took off. The Collinswood farmers market was initially very reluctant to have us be part of it or even near it. It was pre-vaccine covid and the organizers were under tremendous pressure to do what ever they could to minimize risk. A couple of folks drawing crowds of kids at no gain to the market felt like a losing proposition.
So we located ourselves a bit far from the entrance to the market, around the corner towards the parking lot and connected to kids as they were heading towards or away from their parents cars. Business was good and by the end of the summer of 2021, we had moved ourselves to across the street from the entrance and owner Dave had warmed up to us, because we were bringing in kids who were excited about getting this week’s balloon. And in my version of the story, because we were donations, no one felt pressured to pay anything in particular making it accessible to all participants and we actually give away a fair few balloons for free.
Enter Filbert. Just before Thanksgiving 2021, we met Josh who “used to be in the balloon game”. He had held onto his large specialty pump for reasons which were a bit mysterious to him, but he sold it to us quite inexpensively. This changed everything. We call the pump Filbert (because that is the company that makes it, because it is a funny name and because it actually fills the balloon extremely effectively, with a single push, as contrasted with 14 pumps of our previous hand pump). For a team that prides itself on quick turn around (otherwise you end up with a line of impatient kids and frustrated parents) this was a breakthrough.
Spot often comes and juggles and sells buttons with us. The juggling draws onlookers, especially kids and the coat tree holds the colorful balloons making us easy to find. As business grew we started to bring inventory to Collinswood, typically making 40 units (mostly swords and flowers) the night before we arrived, always selling out within the first couple of hours, despite replacing it often as fast as we can pump and tie. As we had bigger crowds to handle, Jade’s mom, Maureen joined us. Maureen worked the line, got orders from kids who were waiting (what color balloon, what type of animal), she counted and sorted money in our donations basket and would bring water and cookies she made for us.
We have a collection of pitches we give to the parents “So if part of your balloon sword pops while you are still here at the market come back to us, we have the only free, while you wait, balloon repair service in New Jersey”. Alternatively, i say “If the balloon pops you might be tempted to explain Zen non-attachment to your 5 year old, or describe the ephemeral nature of all things. Don’t do that. Come get another balloon. We have a bunch of data on this, trust us, everyone is going to be happier this way”. We explain that we have the only warranted balloons in the state (likely the world) and if they pop we will replace or repair it for free and parents often laugh at this, but the kids always remember and we get perhaps half a dozen repairs most Saturday mornings.
And in our effort to reframe kids scary experience of balloons bursting we often say “When a balloon pops we tell people you should make a wish, but you should wish for something nicer than a balloon”
We do have quite an array of balloon colors and types. Typically we use 160 and 260 balloons (which are one and two inches in diameter and 60 inches long, respectively) and get a number of fancy colors including reflex gold and silver, which are popular blade colors for swords and neon pink which is often requested as flower pedals. In quantity, balloon prices vary from 7 to 10 cents. They are all biodegradable latex.
This last Saturday there was a street fair in Collingswood, which we walked to from the farmers market. We had lots of attention at both venues, we burned thru over 60 inventory items and spent much of the afternoon with no inventory and Filbert going full blast. Jade is modest about our take, but let me just say i have not been paid this well since is was a software development consultant 30 years ago. We’ve come a long way from the Ozarks.
Quink Books – Open your mind
Good festivals build on people’s excitement, this is why so many events are designed around performers and their personalities. But there are lots of other excitements which are available.
As we have been talking about quinks more, people keep asking for examples – and especially what are common quinks? Things that don’t require the heroics of breaking a toxic relationship or the mastery of enlightenment.
Wolf suggested Quink books. Almost everyone has read a book that has changed their life in a way which they look back on positively now. These books hold a power and story for you and as organizers we want to bring that to our event.
On Friday Oct 1st at dinner we will have the participants of QuinkFair bring copies of their favorite books to dinner with the intention of discussing them, why they changed their lives and seeing if that is a message someone else in the group needs to hear.
We ask that people consider bringing a copy to give away. [If that’s not doable (financial challenges, difficulty finding a copy, etc) then you could also print the title and author on one side of a 3×5 index card and write why it was so important to you on the other side. We’ll take photos of these cards and share them on the QuinkFair blog, as well as on Facebook. ]
These are the three clear quink books for me and a sentence about what i took away from them:
That anarchist societies don’t make problems go away, they just shift how they are discussed and decided.
Was a compelling smack in the head about how my blindness to gender and racial inequity did not exempt me from at least learning about them and hopefully doing something about them.
This book taught me that a good author can have me crying by page 4. It showed exhausted heroes who looked a lot like people i loved. And it showed our type of consensus decision making in impossible situations sparking effective non-violent resistance.
What are the books that changed your life and why? Can you provide copies for others to learn the things you did and perhaps other important lessons?
QuinkFair is a transformation celebration borrowing from several festival cultures and striving to spark positive and healing experiences. It takes place on beautiful private land in rural Virginia in the town of Mineral on Oct 1 thru 4. Tickets are still available.
For some event participants this has been a lovely exercise, they get to go to their favorite used book store, shop for the books which help them become who they are and then bring them to the event and press them into the hands of someone who you hope has a similar strong resonance with the book.
An Action Everyday
This blog post originally appeared on the Flip 2020 website
We have been in Maine for just three days and we have done a different type of action each day. The plan has always been to do at least one action a day, plus social media, networking to local groups, and fundraising to make the whole project work. And after months of planning, it was very satisfying for this plan to actually be working.
After getting negative results on our covid tests, the starting Flip 2020 team moved from Vermont to Maine on Friday, Sept 18, 2020. We had found out about a Black Lives Matter march and rally in Ellsworth, which is a town of just 8,000 people. We did not expect much of a crowd in this small town in a state which is 95% white. We were wrong.
Over 100 people showed up to an action which was principally organized by two talented high school seniors. This spirited march and engaging rally shows that racial justice is not something to just talk about in Maine; people are taking it quite seriously, which is great news in our efforts to flip the Senate away from the Republicans.
The nature of the Flip 2020 project is that we are always looking for how we can add our content to events that other people have organized. In this case we simply asked the young organizers if Tew could speak to the crowd, to which they quickly agreed with the following results:
I had never seen Tew speak in public before, and I was nervous as he jumped up the small hill to address the almost all white crowd. Within seconds my emotions shifted. He was personable, he was raw and authentic, he talked briefly but forcefully about his experience being a black man in Donald Trump’s America. But he did not let the crowd down. He ended up beat about the hope that these types of actions gave him for really the first time in his life and called on the assembled group to realize that this was the very beginning of the tide turning in this troubled country.
After the action we went to dinner with the organizers. We learned that weekly rallies, (and starting this week marches), have been happening in this small town since the execution by police of George Floyd on Memorial Day. We heard stories of their harassment by pro-Trump hecklers and of their plans to do more, despite the opposition.
Saturday is the big Farmers Market day in Maine and on Sept 19 we worked tabling with the Lisa Savage campaign in Cumberland, Maine (in the Portland area). This was where we learned first hand about how friendly and reasonable Maine is. Typically, when you hang out in the parking lot of a farmers market doing political work you spend the day hearing different excuses as to why people can’t possibly talk with you. Cumberland was not this way at all. Generally, people were happy to take our small fliers.
A surprising number of people stopped and engaged with us, often for long conversations. We had several conversations in which we felt like we really landed and people said they were changing their voting strategy because of our conversation. Maine has a slightly complex, but extremely fair ranked-choice voting system, which is the subject of an upcoming blog post. In essence, ranked choice voting prevents the type of third party spoiler situation which so often plagues independent party runs for office.
We got to work with Kelly, who is the field director for the Savage campaign. If you are ever going to run for office, you need someone very much like Kelly. Campaigns have a tremendous number of moving parts, including a slew of hard-working volunteers with a wide variety of skills, preferences, and availability staff need to take into account. Kelly’s spreadsheets have spreadsheets and her upbeat personality and quick wit make her the perfect person to model how to approach people at a Farmers Market. Kelly plans to move to Washington after the November election and continue to work for Senator Savage.
On the way back from the Ellsworth rally on Friday we learned of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s passing. It was a body blow to all of us in the car, who had just come off a very hopeful action. Everyone understood that the already high stakes of this election had just gone up again.
This informed our actions on Sunday morning. When our team met we discussed how we were going to show up at the vigil planned for downtown Portland that night. Facebook said 400 people had RSVPed to this event, which would make it one of the largest crowds we were likely to see in our time here.
But vigils are tricky in terms of doing political work. You need to be very careful to not run over the spirit of what is happening. You don’t want the event organizers or the participants feeling like you are disrespecting what they came there for. We went through lots of different ideas: should we create an event after the vigil, do a piece of street theater, order a bunch of pizzas and try to strike a conversation with participants as they left? In the end we decided all of this was too intrusive and went with a more subtle approach.
We would hand out a postcard, something commemorative of the great justice’s passing. We ultimately decided we would do an original piece of artwork depicting RBG on one side and a description of our group and Ranked Choice Voting on the other. We did not have that much time and we had a bunch of things to do, so we split up our task. Spencer would do the original artwork, I would write the text for the back of the postcard. Tew and Charles would scout the city of Portland, for where we could be in Monument Square to be effective but not intrusive. We needed a banner that we could use not just at this event but at others as well. Tew and Charles considered a dozen options before converging on the one we chose.
Cars went out, keyboards hummed and pens made quick work of what turned out to be a pretty impressive piece of original artwork, especially given that there was only 30 minutes to do it and basically no room for mistakes. The Staples staff was surprised when Charles took over their offices to complete our banner, but as is our way, we were gone before anyone kicked up a fuss.
We made it to the rally and read the mood of the crowd. Several speakers talked about how RBG would want us to follow her lead and fight tirelessly for democracy in the face of rising authoritarianism. We started offering folks the small postcards. Some people were clearly bothered by anything being given out at a vigil, but because the artwork was respectful, compelling and timely, the vast majority of people we silently approached were happy to take this piece of memorabilia and Tew quipped we would be up on refrigerators throughout the Portland area. In 40 minutes over 300 postcards had moved to the hands of happy recipients, including all of the event’s speakers.
In the car home, we did our regular micro evaluation. What worked, what didn’t and what we would do differently next time. What worked was this group which barely knew each other, pulled together as a team, had folks with strengths doing what they were good at and we easily rejected dozens of bad ideas with no one’s ego being hurt for suggesting something we did not agree on. What did not work, was that my text on the back of the postcard was a bit long and thus the font to get it printed was smaller than we would have liked. What we would do differently next time would be to get to the event earlier and build more of a connection with the organizers.
But what was clear, was that after actions everyday for our first three days, we were on a serious roll. Tonight we’re off to prepare for another BLM action in Bucksport, another small settlement which is showing up in a big way for racial justice. If you are looking for a ray of hope in these troubled times, it might just be in these surprisingly active tiny towns in the North of Maine.
June is the Floyd Uprising
Perhaps my first critical lesson in the politics of language was the difference between a riot and an uprising. Riots happen all the time, crowds get violent when their team wins or loses, groups destroy property for a bevy of reasons, righteous, impulsive or perhaps simply drunk.
Uprisings are potentially going somewhere. Uprisings are the building blocks for revolutions and other kinds of political change, small or large. Uprisings are when injustice hits a flash point and people say “no more” in a way that might put a police car or a city into flames.
The best piece on the complexity of this situation was summarized by Will Stenberg and includes this thinking on judgement of the protests:
I am uncomfortable saying, as some of my fellow leftists do, that a situation this complicated is GOOD, and I refuse to say, with centrists, that it is bad or wrong. The only thing I know is that it is INEVITABLE. And it’s not new. American cities burn every couple of generations because America has not learned to respect its black citizens.
It is no longer true that only winners write history, now anyone can. Part of writing it is to give it names and i am calling the month of June 2020 the George Floyd Uprising, because that is what it looks like today and that is what i want. Of course, i want it to go on longer than this month, but a month of sustained political protest could transform the national political process.
Tonight there are more peaceful protests than altercations nationally, but the president is threatening to deploy the army within the country.
The Gargoyle Foundry
There is a gargoyle foundry in District 7 of New Orleans, but you won’t find it on google maps. You need to know someone to get in. A couple handfuls of vagabond communards are doing impressive work, flying below the radar of the local media. These are the folks who could direct you to this fanciful craftsperson village. My favorite work is storytelling, and i am flattered i got asked to tell you this one.
Gargoyle making is a special art and there are prerequisites which can’t be skipped. First you must build walls that hold your resource sharing community at a small but safe distance from the tsunami of disaster capitalism just outside.
This gargoyle foundry molded the impressive fixtures for these nearly impregnable walls. Adorned with blacksmith spikes at the top, these sturdy swinging doors separate this world of gritty makers from the profusion of AirBNBs which litter New Orleans and exacerbate the city’s acute housing shortage.
Within these tall walls there are shacks, tree houses, beached boats, buses and all manner of makeshift housing fashioned from salvaged materials in an area that sustained heavy damage by Hurricane Katrina. Many of these homes were demolished eventually by the city after its occupants couldn’t afford to move back right away after the hurricane. These mostly queer/POC/trans/indigenous craftspeople have salvaged and cobbled together this punk makers ecovillage, sometimes called the “Worst Steel Workers of America.”
After housing you need an income engine, an enterprise of some sort that covers the costs beyond what you can dumpster dive, salvage and barter (which is an impressive amount in this situation). Before making gargoyles, the blacksmith forges are crafting replacement parts for the beautiful balconies of the French Quarter. Aligned with long time local metal workers, the gargoyle foundry is the only place which can seamlessly mend broken balcony components in the state. Most of this work was sent overseas, until the virus struck. Business is brisk now.
Wolvie and their comrades have woven together disparate communities: metal working punks with Christian land owners, conventional business interests with anarchist communitarians, and long term locals with transient counter culture folks. And there are much more than just metal forges in this operation; there are wood working shops, ceramic kilns and artist studios. When asked about the difference between working in Baltimore where they helped starting the Free Farm, and the gargoyle foundry in New Orleans, Wolvie shared that the south was slower culturally, you have to work with locals for quite some time before they trust you. But a lot has happened in the few years since i last visited them.
It is hard to start an intentional community. It is nearly impossible to spark an income sharing community with a cottage industry. Yet this gargoyle foundry is treading this unlikely path. This requires navigating legalities and building neighbor relationships. The center of their neighbor relations policy is high prioritizing the needs of the neighbors. The Worst Steel Workers provide advice, tools, and muscle power along with a hefty dose of barter, lending, and gifting to serve their neighbors. These good neighbor policies have resulted in several free or inexpensive sites and buildings which feed their expansionist plans.
Wolvie’s message is clear: “Seize land”. They put their own chains and cell phone number on a nearby warehouse and waited for the owner to call. When the initially upset owner finally did call, they were able to strike a deal, where in exchange for repair and security for the warehouse they could legally use the formerly abandoned facility without taking ownership, but also without rent.
When i asked if people could join the Worst Steel Worker union, Wolvie laughed and said “Sure, if they want to come to a pandemic hotspot, we are open for more hard working folks who want to live collectively like this. It might not work out of course, but they are welcome to come and try.”
They have yet to forge their first gargoyle, but have made great progress with the many other prerequisites including cannons, brass knuckles, impregnable doors and guillotines as well as all manner of custom metal craft pieces. They have already sparked an inspiring, gritty community of talented mostly young people who have the solid foundation needed to craft both the good life and impressive gargoyles.
Rainbow versus Burning Man
[Update May 2023: This years QuinkFair will be held at the Twin Oaks Conference Site July 20 thru 24. You can buy tickets here.]
The idea was compelling, study the really exciting festivals and celebrations, take the best pieces of these cultures and combine them into a beautiful Frankensteinian creation. The tricky part is establishing which are the finest parts and figuring out if (and how) they fit together.
Central rituals are a major difference between Burning Man and the Rainbow Gathering. At Rainbow thousands of participants hold hands in silence in a giant ring on the 4th of July. When the moment feels complete the children run into the center, break the trance, and thus commences wild dancing. At Burning Man there are two central rituals, the effigy burn and the temple burn, both of which revolve around fire but have very different flavors. The former is a pyrotechnic exhibition of tremendous scale, with fire dancers and a giant man which blazes for hours leading into a bacchanalian celebration of wild dancing in the desert.
Burning Man Fire Breathers
Photo Credit: rosehalady0 from Pixabay
The temple burn is a more somber and self reflective ritual which is powerful like a brilliant funeral can be. It is all about letting go of things, your sadness at a deceased friend or relative, your addiction to online games or a dysfunctional relationship, or realize it really is finally time to quit the job which is not working for you.
We decided to embrace the Burning Man central rituals. There were several reasons for this, the first is an effort to bring people who are familiar with or excited by Burning Man culture to the event. It feels like especially the temple burn is potentially quink inducing, and a bacchanalian celebration is practically guaranteed to be a good time. While the rainbow ritual is elegant, accessible and unifying, it did not feel powerful enough for us to embrace for Quink Fair. One of the key ideas of Quink Fair! Is to introduce creative people from mainstream cultures to the intentional communities (and especially income sharing) movement.
Free is nice, but quite limiting
Tickets are another important cultural aspect, and major cultural difference. Part of the brilliance of the regional and national Rainbow Gatherings is that they are free to attend and no one is “controlling” a gate that keeps some people out. Despite it’s inclusion principle, Burning Man is a privileged event. The low income tickets are $240 and literally thousands of people pay over $1,000 to be assured to get in. This is before you pay for a camp and gear, and transportation to this remote site- it’s quite normal to spend $1,000 or more on these expenses, especially if you’re traveling from far away. The advantage of the paid ticket model is organizers can pay for porta potties and event insurance and art grants, and what ever else is important.
Burning Man preaches “radical self-reliance” which means a number of things, but near the top of the list is “bring everything you will need” and packing for attending this harsh desert event is a complex and expensive affair. Rainbow Gather’s unofficial motto is “Welcome Home” and true to this tagline is the idea that when you go home you need to bring the fewest things of any journey, since your stuff or your support network is already there. From a festival organizers perspective, when you have well stocked and equipped participants you reduce costs and you share the provisioning burden for the event. But if you can welcome almost anyone, including people who have little gear or money, then you are a more diverse and inclusive crowd and you provide a more full service experience.
This is where the Fair part of the name comes from
The Quink Fair! “disorganizers” made the choice to have ticket prices, but make them fairly low ($90 for three days) and include work exchange options. And of course we hope we have the money we need for porta potties, insurance and art grants and more.
Photo Credit: Karolina Grabowska from Pixabay
Kitchens and food are another major cultural difference. At the Rainbow Gatherings perhaps 1/3 of the camps are free kitchens serving to anyone who comes to them. At Burning Man people are responsible for bringing their own food to this difficult environment and preparing it. There is some food being given away at BM (clever DC friends are doing a pizza delivery service this year), but it would be an odd diet and an organizing struggle to attend this event without food or a camp which provides it for you.
For Quink Fair we’ve gone with a hybrid model around food. Haven House theme camp (run by one of the disorganizers who threw a temper tantrum upon hearing food wouldn’t be provided) will provide 3 meals a day, plus drinks and snacks between meals. This is free and available to all who want or need food, or who just enjoy sharing meals with a group. But some (perhaps most) attendees will still bring some of their own food and/or cooking equipment, either for their own use or to share. It’s a combination of Burning Man’s freedom with Rainbow’s safety net, which we hope will bring the best of both systems;
And Rainbow was a huge influence. We want to make food accessible, we want to decentralize organizing as much as we can, we want anyone who really wants to attend to be able to come.
Image found at https://www.pinterest.com/pin/481181541408416340/
Rainbow, Burning Man and the Communities Conference (which we draw inspiration from) all have workshops offered by participants. The communities conference curates them by selecting headliners and scheduling open space separately. We did not want to go this way. There is a large collection of workshops, some given by event disorganizers, most by participants and there is no distinction between which are organized by who.
There is a lot of experience in the group of disorganizers who are trying to pull this event together, but we can’t be certain that we have made the right choices. We’ve likely made wrong choices but that’s part of the adventure of a new event. We have been talking a lot about our own quink experiences and how they can be replicated at this event. Almost everyone we talk with is enthusiastic about the idea.
Lots more information to be found at www.quink.org where you can also buy tickets. If you are excited or intrigues you, go to the facebook Quink Fair! 2019 event and click “interested” or “going” and we will send you more information. If you have questions, suggestions, or want to lend a hand, drop us a line at email@example.com.
Other blog posts about Quink Fair!
- 4 Events that inspired QuinkFair
- Temple of Oracles
- Quink Fair! Forming
- Getting the Band back together
- Fail Soft
- Words you don’t know might help you
- Paths to Ignition
May is Quink Fair! Forming
Maud and i were arguing. She wants a centralized kitchen cooking for this event. I was drawing from the Burning Man culture and wanted every camp and participant to be self reliant. This energetic and fiery organizer from Montreal is helping the international effort to build a relatively small celebration in central Virginia. Maud was upset with me because the kitchen in a festival is something deeply important to her; it sets the mood on the type of sharing that is going to occur; and I hadn’t manage to find a time to talk with her about it.
The event is called Quink Fair!
The formulating idea is that we know a lot about festivals, and if we try to take the best parts of several of them, we might be onto something. Which of course invites all manner of comparisons between these quite different events.
Maud hails from Velo Quebec, the giant Quebecois bicycle tour company, where one of her jobs was to scout ahead and prepare these tiny towns for a temporary invasion of as many as 2000 cyclists. Housing, sanitation, food, medical and more all need to be on hand for these exhausted cyclists who will have even longer days.
For Quink Fair! the centralized kitchen versus everyone cooks for themselves question is ultimately a cultural one. When we are comparing Burning Man with the Rainbow Gathering, we see that food is a central and slightly exclusive part of a burner’s experience. Rainbow has a rule that every campfire is a public fire and for many of the camps, the principal activity is cooking for people who will not be paying for this service.
Maud is challenging that we want to be more like Rainbow than Burning Man. Part of the issue is about money. While Burning Man has a decommodification ethic, the treacherous nature of the venue requires serious preparation. The culture demands preparation, which makes the event expensive (Rainbow is free) and pushes participants to expensive and exclusionary meal plans. And Maud is a realist. Sophia House has a high functioning institutional kitchen, and groups of volunteers can sharing the cooking, with donated food, insuring that everyone gets fed. This will reduce the time spent cooking by most of the participants and camps, giving them more time to have a positively tranformational experience.
Which is what a quink actually is.
Turns out Maud is right. Rainbow’s hippie roots of sharing and dynamic group cooperation are more in line with the world we are trying to create than Burning Man’s radical self reliance. And clearly i should call her more.