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
I have written here about Shooting Stars, members of community who come through for a while on their way to other adventures. The trick with shooting stars, is that you need to appreciate them when you have them close, and let them go gracefully, because you never really could hold them anywhere.
It was just this last winter that Thumbs joined Cambia and updated our notions of astrophysics. Thumbs is a peripatetic communard. A person with a mission (in his case the promotion and construction of yurts) who travels from place to place educating and demonstrating. When i told him he was a shooting star, he corrected me and said he was more like a comet, swinging back to the places he loves.
And he is coming back. To do two workshops for the Twin Oaks Communities Conference and the Cambia Labor Day workshops. At the Twin Oaks event, he is presenting on being a traveling communard and the sacred economics of it. Here is a description of that workshop:
I live a vibrant life of travel, adventure, and spend copious amounts of time working on my invigorating passions, yet I make almost no money and am figuring ways to move money out of my bank account. I would like to host a workshop educating others on how to use the unorthodox wealth of communities to liberate themselves from the drain of personal expenses and dedicate more of their time to their passion projects. Communities are a unique place to explore gift economics, MOU’s that don’t entail USD exchange, and alternate currencies. In doing this people will not only benefit themselves but may serve the communities movement by connecting communities and finding out in what ways each of them are abundantly wealthy and how they are in need. Movement Games, heart shares, and intellectual discussion will be involved.
At Cambia on Labor Day he will be doing his yurt thing, which is describe as such:
Forget everything you know about conventional western architecture, and prepare to learn the genius of ancient nomadic design. The lifestyle of traditional peripatetic cultures demanded the invention of structures that could endure the harshest climates in the world, both barren deserts and -40 degree winters, yet still be packed up on livestock and transported thousands of miles! The Mongol Empire, the world’s most prolific nomad culture once spanning the largest land empire in the world, designed the ingenious collapsible home known in the west as a Yurt.
This workshop is a comprehensive and experiential study of yurt building that you will walk away from with the skills needed to build beautiful yurts for any climate and out of any materials you have access to. The skills you’ll be learning to build these artistic structures like wood bending, mortise and tenon, dynamic knotwork, and textile pattern design will also unlock new creative potential in your other building projects. We will also be talking about how these structures are part of modern culture, from the current state of nomadic Mongolians, to how you can avoid building codes with small, collapsible yurts.
For many people in the West, who value sedentary homes that sit in place for hundreds of years and private ownership of small plots of land, the lifestyle and architecture of nomadic people is an invigorating new perspective on what it means to call a place “home”.
There is still time to register for both of these events. We may have lost some shooting stars, but this comet is coming back and shining bright.
I want you to come to this years Twin Oaks Communities Conference. Not just because I am one of the organizers and we would love for attendance to be high, but because there is some excellent content at this years event and I would love more people to get exposure to it.
One of the threads I am most excited about is communities creating worker co-ops. The nature of community changes dramatically when you have your own income engines. You become more flexible. When members of your community have to work outside jobs they are pulled away from community life everyday, their work issues are separated from the collective life. When you build a collective business, you are working with the people you live with, your bonds deepen, your flexibility increases, your motivation for work improves.
But starting businesses are fraught with mishaps and hazards, which is why we have brought in experts to help guide those who wish to attempt this noble quest and increase your chances of success. Below is the description of one piece of this thread.
Communities building Cooperatives – C2C
3 interlocking workshops for the Twin Oaks Communities Conference
And the Cambia Labor Day program
Intentional Communities and Worker Owned Cooperatives are sister initiatives, which can certainly cooperate more. The 2018 Twin Oaks Communities Conference (Aug 31 thru Sept 2) will have a theme of how intentional communities can initiate and expand worker coops and how collectively controlled businesses can spark and support residential communities. The Cambia Labor Day program (Sept 3) will focus on reviewing co-op business plans with an eye towards revising or polishing them.
These different collective ventures both require building trust between members and effective group decision making and visioning. Intentional Communities which embrace starting cooperative work environments strengthen their financial foundation and expand the options for their members.
This three day program will develop new ideas into proposals and then format them as draft business plans. Some of the different workshops in this theme are described below:
Sept 1: Visioning a co-op inside your community. You already live together, what would it take to work together? Is it possible for your collective to agree on a shared income generating venture and what are the deal makers and breakers for your members? What type of time frame makes sense for this venture? Who are the in house champions that are going to prioritize this venture, including shepherding it thru community process and hopefully consensus.
Sept 2: Drafting a Business Plan. Worker co-ops are businesses. For them to succeed they need to be economically viable and serving a real need. Real startups require business plans and new co-ops have some special extra considerations when crafting their business plans. This workshop uses the Business Model Canvas technique to represent the key elements in developing a new venture and directing further research. It will also use PEST Analysis: Political, Economic, Socio/cultural and Technological considerations in refining the draft business plan.
Sept 3 (Cambia Labor Day program) Worker Co-op Business Plan Review & Clinic.
Business plans will either be submitted in advance or developed over the previous two days at the Twin Oaks event. This workshop will review briefly each of the business plans which are being worked on both by the facilitator/experts leading the workshop and by the other start up designers. Based on this input a collection of recommendations will be made for how to improve the business plan, what kinds of support possibilities (financial and technical) exist and how to connect with them and what the best next steps might be.
- Register for the Twin Oaks Communities Conference
- Register for the Cambia Labor Day Program
- RSVP on Facebook, either going or interested to get regular updates.
I am one of the moderators on an interesting Facebook group called the “Intentional Community Discussion Group“. A very typical posting is “I just bought X beautiful acres, and I want to start an intentional community. What should I do next?”
My answer is “Find a time machine and unbuy the land.”
This feels deeply counter intuitive to many. If you want to start a community and you have the capacity to buy land for your potential group, won’t it help the process along if you start by acquiring the land and then offer it to the group?
Sometimes it does, mostly it does not. The deal with starting a community, lots of people think they want to do it, but they don’t have all the friends and allies they want to do it with, so the accessible starting place looks like buying land. But as soon as you buy the land it stops being “We are starting community” and it becomes for everyone else “Should we join this existing project?”
Starting community is a fragile time. Some huge fraction (perhaps over 90%) of new communities fail. Most forming communities never get passed the “We are talking about it” stage. People want different things from community. And many people have huge hopes that community will solve a myriad of problems for them. “I will find my tribe.” “I won’t have to cook every meal myself.” “I will be able to live off the grid.” “I’ll have less stress.” “I’ll live with people who care for me.” “I will reduce my carbon footprint.” And dozens more. Starting community is an anti-gravity project.
The process of harmonizing the different needs and desires of prospective communards is the most important conversation you will have in your forming community. If one of the desires of a member you love is ” I want to reduce my time commuting”, then you have almost certainly chosen the wrong place if you have already purchased land. If their need/desire is “I want swim everyday” then your lack of stream or pond in your land purchase might be a deal breaker. If someone needs for their cat to roam free outside and you have chosen a beautiful piece of land near a coyote refuge, then you have already scuttled their participation.
The key point here is when you are starting up a community the most important thing is to build the group. And one of the most important decision for the group is which piece of land/buildings should you start with. If you make this decision for the group, the forming community loses one of it’s most important identity forming choices.