I was panicking. I was thinking i had again taken on something larger than i could pull off. I had believed optimistic promises of support and had over estimated my own capacity to plug volunteers into useful work.
I even considered canceling the Quink Fair! event because i could not see how it would come together. Then i realized there was another way. And if you will excuse the martial overtones. I decided it was time to call in the cavalry.
I’ve described Angie before as a plug and play organizer. Someone with the capacity to walk into almost any circumstance and make it be better. It is a rare mix of self confidence, common sense and the capacity to not get stuck in other peoples mistakes. Angie has these in spades.
She is also quite busy. She has been the driving force behind birthing the Karass Inn in Chester Vermont which was started by ex-communards. Which now in it’s third year is well established and profitable.
“Can we agree we need a website within 48 hours?” I thought we needed one last month. But by adding Angie to the mix, our additional capacity to do things spikes. What she is really saying is “if you can’t get your people to pull this together in 2 days, i will do it myself. ” And she can, she is not a pro at it, but fully capable. As she is fully capable for running registration, or coordinating workshops, or doing outreach or staying within budget, to getting more training. And most importantly, she can play an anarchist chief of staff. This is where you ask volunteers what they are excited about working on and when they think they will have measurable progress, she will nudge things along.
She is a perfect nag that does not need training. She knows how to ask people to show up, she knows how much and what types of pressure motivate people and knows how to stop short of pushing too hard. The website was up in 48 hours and more serious promotion for the event has already started.
She is also good at untangling organizational messes i get myself into around events. Sometimes you need the cavalry.
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.
If you are a good parent, you are open to be learning as much as you might be teaching. So it has been with Willow from early on.
Willow had been home schooled almost all of his life. Some of his commune kid friends had gone to conventional school. They did not speak well of it. It would come up with some regularity, that their were people (like his grandmother) who really thought he should go to conventional schools. Willow was not having it.
A couple of years back my mother thought it would be fun for us to go to Cuba together. Willow thought it would be good to learn some Spanish before he went. There being no one at Twin Oaks Community who was willing to teach him, he decided to take a class at the local community college.
I was stunned. After over a decade of intransigence around the possibility of going to school he just suddenly switched. I asked him about it.
“Willow why did you decide to go to school?” I asked
“Do you know the difference between community college administrators and high school principals?” He challenged.
I knew I would not be able to guess, so i just caved. “No i don’t know, would you tell me?”
“Sure” Willow offered. “The principal is trying to keep everyone in high school. The community college administrators are trying to keep the customers satisfied. The difference is the principals are trying to keep the bullies in class. The administrators are trying to thrown them out. I don’t want to go to any institution that is trying to keep the bullies in.”
I had never considered such a thing, but clearly this made sense.
Willow is in his third semester of community college, pulling straight A’s, finishing his fancy Clonlara online high school curriculum early and thinking about summer school in video game design. I am pretty excited and feel proud he made his own decisions to get here.
[As with all posts significantly about him, Willow has signed off on this one. Thanks to Kelpie for proof reading]
First things first, we are running a crowdfunding campaign for Rustling Roots, which is the sustainability education project of my favorite small community and part time home Cambia Community. Please donate generously if you can. And so we know it came from this source please donate a dollar amount with a single penny added (so $35.01 and the like). Here is the link.
This is the lovely promotional video for the project which was made with some of my favorite kids (From Twin Oaks, Cambia and Mimosa communities).
These communities are all different and important models of sustainability. They have tiny carbon footprints, home schooling programs and a vision of a better world. In an often insane world, these places and projects are a ray of hope.
Please support us if you are able.
A couple of months back I learned of the shadowy plan in which the Louisa county supervisors had purchased options for several large tracks of land within the county for a proposed mega development.
Local citizens from across the county (not just the ones from the affected areas) started organizing, specifically bringing people to the supervisors meeting and demanding public input on this proposed plan. It was clear that the supervisors were expecting this proposal to not get much public attention and that they could simply pass it while no one was paying much attention. The supervisors, who normally have little public interest in their work, were surprised to find over 100 locals at their meeting upset about their proposal and decision making.
When pressed about why they were advancing this proposal, the answers the supervisors gave were contradictory and thin. They promised jobs, they promised the $50 million city funded water and sewage system would not raise taxes, they promised this would not be like the several other Louisa industrial park development projects.
These contradictory promises hurt the case for this development and the locals continued to organize and opposition to the development grew. At the same time the supervisor position on it seemed to harden. At the first vote on the project, 3 of the 7 supervisors voted in favor of the development and 3 against, and one was not in attendance that evening, but appeared to be in favor of the plan.
Cambia and some of the other local communities got involved. Cambia set up the Facebook page and made calls to the supervisors. One supervisor got 347 different people calling them and only 7 were in favor of the project.
This time, despite the odds, the good guys won. The county supervisors hearing for the fourth straight meeting how locals were furious about this proposal reversed themselves and voted unanimously to kill their own project. Now it is time to get locals together to talk about what type of development we do want, to help the supervisors do the right thing.
Bringing 10 people, all from out of state to Florida, to work on an ambitious political campaign for 3 weeks is a rich logistical tapestry. On the day after the election, GPaul (who was the flawless finance minster for the team) reminded me by text that I needed to send thank-you letters to our donors.
Shortly after this my cell phone started buzzing like crazy. “We are heading for a recount. We need to contact all the people who submitted votes by mail or provisional ballots and confirm these were received,” was the message we got from Organize Florida, the organization for which we had been volunteering.
Now it was not just Senator Nelson facing a close election needing a recount, but the Gillum/DeSantes governor’s race as well. And we were back to phone-banking. Our team, now spread across the country, were phone-banking from airports in California and collectives in Oregon, and folks at the Virginia communes also started calling. We helped burn through two lists of over 7,000 people in a few hours.
Normally, one would not know who had voted by mail, because one would not have their phone numbers. Hard Knocks was the group we canvassed with and it was set up by the very politically active labor-union SEIU. In the Tampa Bay area our canvass knocked on over 1.5 million doors. We helped thousands of people get their vote by mail ballots. We brought people to the polls for early voting and educated them on a number of down-ballot items, including those for the State Senator Janet Cruz and the initiative to restore felon voting rights. In the end our 10 volunteers, mostly from income sharing intentional communities, hit more than 7000 doors.
At each door that answered, we gathered information about whom they were planning to vote for, including what method they would use. When the recall became imminent that same database gathered in the months leading up to the midterms could now be employed to reach back to those voters and see if they were actually being counted.
At this writing both the Senate and Governor elections are being recounted. There is some chance that either of these Democrats will win, and if either does it will be further proof that we made the right choice to go to Florida to work on these elections. A couple of my anarchist comrades have written long essays about how it is wrong to be involved in these or any elections. Most of the crew in Florida self identifies as anarchists and is doing this work because the threat of staying on the sidelines is too large.
What of course would be grand would be for us to be the titanium feather which tips the balance. But even if we don’t I certainly feel good about trying.
There is something especially reckless about making forecasts on close elections.
Florida has better than average voter suppression techniques. Current Governor Rick Scott has been an effective advocate of blocking poor people and especially people of color from being able to vote.
Thus betting that a charismatic young black first term mayor of the seventh largest city in the state would become Governor instead of the Trump protégé is especially dicey. But if Tampa is any indication the enthusiasm with Andrew Gillum is impressive. Every neighborhood I visit has Gillum signs up. Suspicious faces break into smiles when I mention I am campaigning door to door for him. And then I ask “And Democrats all the way down?”
And they often concur, democrats all the way down. And this maybe the most important legacy of the Gillum run. Bill Nelson is the current effective three term (that is 18 years) Democratic Senator from Florida. Why have you never heard of him (unless you are one of the wonk/political hack readers of this blog)? Because he is deathly boring.
Due to term limits, current Governor Rick Scott is making a bid for Bill Nelson’s Senate seat and it is quite close (FiveThirtyEight.Com predicts shows Nelson up 51.3% to 48.7). If Nelson prevails quite some credit should go to Gillum who has helped breaking early voting turn out records, overwhelming both the states racist history and powerful voter suppression techniques.
When I lived in Czechoslovakia I learned of the Slavic month naming convention that is different from the English language one. This has been hybridized by a number of people I know into a personalized month naming convention, either on a regular basis, or where an extraordinary event determines the month name.
“You live in a bubble, I could never do it. I need to be more connected to the real world.” People visiting the communes often say things like this. Often with praise for what they perceive as our prosaic and even idyllic life style. It is a completely understandable criticism and it still rubs me the wrong way.
But communards are often quite connected to the “real world” and some are working actively to influence local and national politics. I am proud to say many more communards have stepped up during the time of Trump.
I am happy to be traveling with a group of capable organizers all of who hail from intentional communities from across the country which are supporting this campaign to restore ex-con voting rights in Florida, to help maintain the Democratic Senate seat and elect the states first black Governor. Here is some of the key information:
If Florida Amendment 4 passes, it will restore voting rights to 1.5 million Florida residents. This represents over 10% of the states total population and over 20% of the African American voters. As a voting group, ex-cons are most commonly Democratic, African American voters are overwhelmingly Democratic voters. If this amendment passes it becomes extremely difficult for Trump to take Florida in the 2020 election. Without Florida, it is extremely difficult for the Republicans to win the Electoral College. Florida is one of only 4 states which basically permanently restricts ex-cons from voting.
If you want to support such an effort, please visit our GoFundMe page and donate to help cover our travel and living costs. Stay tuned to this blog for regular reports from Tampa and Orlando.
Just when you think you know all about your “area of expertise” something new surprises you.
During a recent visit to Crafts House at Tufts someone said, “You should go visit Riot Bayit; they are an income sharing community, right here in Somerville.” I was surprised to hear of an income sharing community we did not know about in an urban region in the North East. What a surprise!
As it turns out, this ambitious group of former Tufts students created a collective house a couple of years back. And after living together that way, they decided they could practice their anti-capitalist politics and support each other better through income sharing. What a reasonable thing to do, which very few folks do in the US.
We spent a lovely evening chatting with them, listening to their origin story and what they were working on as a group. Like most start up income sharing communities, they are not currently participating in a cottage industry. Instead, like Compersia in DC, they all have day jobs and pool their income to cover their expenses and give each member some personal savings each month.
The word Bayit in their name comes from the Hebrew word for “home” and they like the rhyme that Riot Bayit creates. Most of the members identify themselves as Jewish but it is not a requirement. There is a desire to observe Jewish practices such as shabat, and the holidays and celebrations which are not observed in the mainstream are much more actively a part of the life and discussions here. Some members more actively study Jewish history and philosophy and bring their discoveries back the the larger group. As with the name of the house, some Hebrew words are part of the regular vocabulary.
They are activists, organizers, fundraisers, and public advocates. Their politics are on both sides of the front door: at home and in their workplaces. Posters on the stair well wall invite refugees, while conversations recognize their relative privilege. It is also clear that they are already doing things about this unfairness and have intention and momentum to do more.
One of the core values of the collective is addressing income inequality with redistribution. To this end, they give 1/10th of the collective income to organizations who are doing political and cultural work they support. This tithing money is not going to religious organizations; it goes to political non-profit organizations which align with their greater values.
Riot Bayit enjoyed the Point A propaganda and stories and when they encouraged us to return to do workshops with them in the future. My surprise quickly shifted to joy.
Photo Credits: Riot_Bayit@instagram