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Surprising Discoveries – Riot Bayit

Just when you think you know all about your “area of expertise” something new surprises you.

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Riot Bayit at dinner circa 2017

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.

riot bayit socks

handknit hanukkah socks! 15 socks for 14 feet

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.

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Portraits of members on the wall

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 reclaim the commons poster

Building the new commons in Somerville

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

Unity in the Communities Movement

This post is one in a series on workshops being offered at this years Twin Oaks Communities Conference. Nicole Bienfang of The Transition will be presenting a workshop entitled Where’s the UNITY in the Communities Movement?

Nicole head shot

Nicole Bienfang – Presenter

When you look at the writings of many founders who started ICs their intentions were to create a concept that grew to global proportions, but how does that happen when there is no unity of vision on how to grow the communities movement? How can we build a global system that supports our growth on a grassroots and global level when each IC acts as an isolated silo? Nicole’s workshop intends to dig deep into these questions and many more like them. Through group participation attendees will find out what other participants are currently struggling with, what is working for them, how neighboring communities can better support each other, and what overlapping issues resonate with everyone  present.

Through the workshop you will find practical advice and resources with opportunities for self-reflection using group participation to illustrate workable examples and determine the focus the workshop takes.

Things that will be covered:

  • How each individual can contribute to the global growth of the IC movement
  • How to prevent founder burnout
  • How to create partnerships between individuals and ICs that are mutually beneficial
  • How to tap into an IC mutual aid network for tangible items and skills

Nicole’s  workshop is right for you if you are:

  • Struggling finding IC members that meet your ICs needs or criteria
  • Need resources or funding to get your IC off the ground
  • Would like to reduce your stress in founding your IC
  • Could use some sage wisdom from people who have “been there done that”.

Are you yearning for community?   The Transition serves social change makers (including ones wanting to form intentional communities) and provides them with support, space, and resources they need to succeed in the work they do, through an Action Plan, personal development, training and and most importantly an online and offline mutual aid network. Through their research The Transition knows when you can connect and share assets, people and ideas, everything changes for the better. You can help them create the world’s largest database of assets and resources, owned and cultivated by social change makers from all over the world, by registering on their website www.thetransition.org. When you join The Transition and become active and engaged with their online and offline community many resources are made available to you as well, by taking part in their global family. The more registered users that are enroll on the site the more assets and resources become communally available to all who are part of their mutual aid network. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • Food
  • Shelter
  • Land
  • Free WiFi
  • Spaces to assemble
  • Work space for projects
  • Household goods
  • Tools
  • Training
  • Education
  • Volunteers
  • “Blueprints” and Case Studies (crafted from input from individuals who learned the hard way and  what not to do)
  • Funding to support projects or get new ones off the ground

Map with registered The Transition website users spanning multiple countries.

members worldwide map

Living in Community?

The Transition website is useful to people in many different situations-those who live communally, those trying to create social change groups, alternative living situations or those already involved in growing networks of activists.The Transition can help your community by:

  • Matchmaking (matching communities with specific needs, with prospective communards, interns, or volunteers who have those skillsets)
  • Screening prospective community members to make sure they are qualified leads with aligned values
  • Training (Non-Violent Communication, Conflict Resolution, Meeting Facilitation, Community Governance etc)
  • Cross-Promotion, PR, Outreach  for your community and your community’s cottage industries
  • Syndication for blogs, podcasts, video, music created by your community and individual communards
  • Providing access to mutual aid (tangibles,skill-sets, travel accommodation)
  • Updating our “Community Brain” with the newest and latest information to benefit your community’s longevity
  • Promoting your events (Open Houses, Work Parties, Parties, Speaking Engagements, Conferences etc.)

A page from their member’s skills searchable inventory which includes expertise rank, and expandable details for more specifics

member skills

Objects page on The Transition website showcasing objects available to website users.

member list

Some things they have in the pipeline in various stages of development are:

  • A radio show that can help elevate and create a positive image for the IC movement in Babylon.
  • A benefits program (life Insurance, legal counsel, exclusive discounts and sign-up incentives for everyday and monthly expenditures online and in local communities etc)
  • A “People’s Bailout Program” to help get individuals out of financial debt (so they can invest in creating communities and positive social change projects)
  • A crowd-funding platform called The Cooking Pot built within their website, that will offer a match contribution for all funds raised
  • Alternative Spring Break programs for Teens & College Students
  • Alternative Scouts program for youth
  • Emergency/Relief Fund

Their organization and website is co-created and 100% volunteer run meaning that every registered user is part of the transitional process from our current zeitgeist to the a more idealized version of what we want the future to be. By relaying their newly acquired resources and findings from their social change work made “in the trenches” every individual using the site is strengthened and can eliminate pitfalls other activists and organizers made before the dawn of the internet.

You can listen to a podcast overview about the organization @ https://tinyurl.com/yc3h7pj4

If you are interested in volunteering or getting involved in any capacity start Your Action Plan.

transition logo
Nicole Bienfang: As a co-founder of The Transition, she has dedicated her life to increasing the positive impact social change makers have on society. She is a research driven, lifelong learner, who uses that knowledge to build stronger relationships among communities with individuals from around the world.

Nomadic Communitarians

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.

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Thumbs is a person you can stand on

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.

thumbs bending bamboo on head

Yurt Construction in Process

 

 

Love Letters to Strangers

One of the most pressing questions facing event organizers these days is “How important is Facebook in bringing people to events?”

social media is changing everything

But how and how much?

I asked an experienced promoter “If you have 100 people saying they are ‘interested’ in my event (as opposed to ‘going’) how many can I expect will actually come?” They replied “Zero”.  Which begs the question “Why bother working with Facebook at all?”

The answer for the team working on the Twin Oaks Communities Conference is that we can reach out to people who say they are considering the event and encourage them to come.  Or in other words, we are writing a bunch of encouraging letters to strangers.

love letters bundle

For this event which is happening over the Labor Day weekend, it is still possible for many people to make plans to attend.   Rather than crossing our fingers and hoping those who are interested might come, we are using all the information which we have from Facebook to try to engage and encourage unsure possible attendees to come.

Even if we are not friends, the public information about you on your Facebook profile will help me assure you that this might be a good event for you to attend.  If there is a picture of you with your children on your wall, we can point out we have a great childcare program at this years event

child care at comm conf

Child Care at the Communities Conference

If your Facebook timeline shows you are interested in inclusion and racial justice, then we can alert you to the thread (sequential related workshops) on this topic, including the workshop by returning presenter Crystal Farmer

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Crystal explores implicit bias & how to build diverse communities

If it is clear you are interested in renewable energy or electricity independence, then we are happy to announce that Alexis Ziegler of Living Energy Farm is presenting on “How to make your community 100% energy self sufficient

LEF rainbows

Rainbows over Living Energy Farm

Turns out even strangers like love letters.  People are writing back. We are coordinating transportation for organic farmers with families in Michigan.  Racial Justice activists from Baltimore are asking us questions about work exchange to make it be possible to attend.  Folks from various egalitarian communities are saying they are interested in our panel discussion on the advantages of income sharing and the Federation.

What about you?  Is your community looking for new members?  Are you looking to change your life and join an intentional community? If so, then this might be the right event for you to be at over the labor day weekend.

If so come visit www.communitiesconference.org or show up at our Facebook event.

Communities building Co-ops

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.

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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.

solidarity
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.

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Coffee will be provided, pie charts will not

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.

 

Don’t Buy Land First

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.”

Time-Machine

Generic Time Machine – Available on EBay

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?”

building sustainable cities.png

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.

when-she-finds-out-you-are-not-a-pokemon-master

beware the deal breakers

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.

 

An Empire of Vacant Lots

“All the trash comes here” Wolvie replied when i asked why they wanted to be in New Orleans. As a scavenger and builder from free materials, this is the carpenters equivalent of having a free lumber yard. But they went on to explain the much richer and complex relationship between the punks of this town and material wealth. It caught my ear because it centered around sharing.

wet chairs

Wet chairs in a stylish vacant lot

The informal collection of people living in conventional housing and shacks and vehicles functions in many ways like the intentional communities i am more used to. Cars are lent for long periods, instead of buying or renting tools a distributed informal library provides for these needs, and friends are invited to move in. Wolvie comments that it provides access to the culture and services of intentional community, but they can still retreat to their own private space at the end of the day.

anarchist wall art

The art and propaganda above Ruby’s desk

I visit a collection of punk homesteads where different “rent” models comfortably co-exist. Some folks are squatting, others renting, some residents are paying back taxes on abandoned properties in hopes of securing ownership of them eventually, still others have succeeded in owning places. The people i am introduced to flow between these housing options as luck, circumstance and employment permit. Work seems often to be gig based, to fit in with peoples needs for traveling or activism.

The names of collective properties make me smile: Kitty Meow Town, Liability Park and Squatopotomus. This flat rainy city is ideal for bikes and i have several offers for bikes to borrow in my first couple of hours in town.

alter

Over a decade after hurricane Katrina, the effects of the disaster are often visible. “We have moved from shock capitalism to disaster tourism” Catrina tells me, referring to Naomi Klein’s brilliant book Shock Doctrine. Construction is everywhere.
“I am becoming a boat punk.” Wolvie confesses. And within an hour of this confession we are off rescuing abandoned barges of the St John’s bayou.  Credit goes to Ruby for convincing the nay-saying boys that we could get these barges out of the water and loaded onto the truck.

barge on land

Ruby surveys our success.

With the help of a passing runner we landed this barge which had been built for a recent raft race and left behind. We are particularly excited by the US american flag paint job and make shift paddles.

Wolvie and Ruby on barge

“It is battery powered” jokes Wolvie.

NOLA is a party town. We stop at a Melba’s a laundromat/restaurant/bar which serves inexpensive frozen daiquiris and i find myself slightly smashed in the late afternoon. Mardi Gras is not just for tourists, the whole city celebrates for weeks with parades and musical performances and pub crawls. The colorful fabric of this place is woven by mixing diverse cultures and taking it to the streets.

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The piano has been drinking, and it is on fire.

All this begs the question, “Can we mimic the benefits of intentional residential community in scattered punk microvillages?” The New Orleans punk scene with its generous material cooperation, low cost and no cost housing, binding festivals and cultural events, and inexpensive social lubricants makes a compelling case.