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.
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.
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.
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 Eaters
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!
- Temple of Oracles
- Quink Fair! Forming
- Getting the Band back together
- Fail Soft
- Words you don’t know might help you
- Paths to Ignition
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.
There was a time before the internet. Many of my younger friends have some difficulty believing this is true or at least understanding how it might work. There is a story i often tell about a particularly dramatic job offer i got and then arriving at work before i got my job offer by crossing the international dateline. To buy that airplane ticket, because there was no internet and because i was in a hurry, I went to the Sydney airport and walked around the ticket offices until i found the next flight out.
While it is inconceivable to consider how we would run small business these days without computers, but early in the life of Twin Oaks, the decision to computerize our businesses was internally quite contentious. These days we are regularly looking for ways to use software and hardware to reduce or simplify our human labor.
This year Twin Oaks Validation Day made the jump to automate the six creatures game. If you are unwilling to click through to these links, let me summarize these cultural constructs you are possibly unfamiliar with. One of the best parts of big complex full service communities like Twin Oaks is we get to completely redesign holidays. Valentines day is a horrifically flawed event, so we redesigned it. Specifically, we made it principally about affirmation (which can be given to everyone) and secondarily about romance. This helps make the event inter-generational and accessible to all. We create validation day cards, which are like love letters from many people sharing the same collage container.
While it hardly seems daring in the age of Tinder, the 6 creatures game is a way people who are attracted to each other to find each other without indicating their attractions. The way it used to work is the players would fill out ballots for which of 6 different types of dates you are looking for with the people on the ballots. The creatures/date types are:
1 ) Ants – work dates
2) Puppies – play dates
3) Kittens – cuddle dates
4) Fish – kiss at the party
5) Rabbits – Sex date
6) Doves – Long term relationship
After the ballots are all gathered a trusted member (named iron lips) finds all the matches and lets people know of only their matches. Iron Lips is selected because they are very good at keeping keeping secrets. This game has sparked quite a few new romantic relationships.
This year the person of Iron Lips was replaced by an app. The six creature ballots were never seen by anyone other than the people who wrote them, their shared matches were spit out and given to members who were excited to see what shared possibilities exist.
The morning after the super bowl more than half of Twin Oaks woke up without knowing who won the big game. You might correctly assume that since these people live in this egalitarian, rural, income sharing ecovillage commune they might not prioritize this national event. But this is not the whole story. Quite a number of these members who don’t know the result are actually very excited about the game and are looking forward to watching it. Let me explain further.
Twin Oaks has a long-standing “no live television” norm. There is no place in the community that you can just flick a switch and suddenly view broadcast television (or even live cable television). There is, however, a whole subculture of television and cable watching members, who draw from our huge archive instead of watching things live.
But sports are somehow different. People mostly want to watch sporting events as they are actually happening. I’ve never completely understood this. I will leave it to some sports enthusiast to enlighten me as to why this is important. And Oakers want to watch the Super Bowl; they want to watch it in their home, they want to watch it with a bunch of other Oakers. So to get all of these things a few years back we stumbled onto a solution. Watch the Super Bowl a day later.
This clever fix has its own problems and at the top of the list is that there are a couple of dozen Oakers who do not want to wait. They visit outside friends or nearby communes which don’t have such restrictive norms around the television. And basically, the whole rest of the community agrees that they have to keep the game a secret for one day and especially not say who wins.
Back in 2004, we were less into sports. I remember walking into the Morningstar kitchen and asking the dozen assembled people “If I were to say ‘Janet Jackson’s left breast‘ how many of you would know what I was talking about?” No one did. Perhaps I got lucky that morning, perhaps the commune has become more accepting of major sports events.