She had me from “Batman”.
It is intriguing to observe the cultural differences between the communes and New York City. On the last Point A trip, Acorn’s newest intern (who back then was called Batman) introduced herself a few dozen times over the trip. No one blinked.
It was as though they had had dozens of people call themselves Batman before. Knowing there must be some revealing or at least interesting story, none of them thought it would be appropriate to ask for it. While on the communes, this introduction reliably drives the next part of the conversation.
But the origin of Batman was problematic, it hailed from a romantic partner who was no longer in the picture. So I suggested a naming party, and she embraced the possibility. She wanted a dual purpose new name. One which could embrace the exotic strangeness and quirky freedom which the communes could offer, while also having a more mundane nickname version which she could answer the business phones with. Nickelodeon could become Nick, for example. Prof Pocket could become Po. She, having a traditionally feminine given name, also wanted something which sounded masculine.
But Batman was a cool name and some communards were reluctant to give it up. Strandbeest in particular wanted to contribute by keeping the old name with a new origin story. When Batman challenged “What will I say when people ask about my name?” Strandbeest (who is now called Jayne – along with a half dozen other things – after the Firefly character, who is apparently both stupid and mean) countered “Because I am the hero Gotham deserves”. Which in the early moments of last night’s naming party was pretty compelling and almost derailed the entire event.
There were a few other attempts at new origin stories to rescue the old cool name from the ash bin of history, but it was not to be. Our vivacious new intern had fully embraced the idea that a new name was an opportunity and was compelled by the daring prospect of having a group of friends rename her from the very long list of possibilities.
She did of course whittle down this list. She was not going to be called Styrofoam, or Lasersnake or Ronald Raygun. Though to her credit she was willing to consider Styrofoam if there was a clever Babylon acceptable nickname which was spawned. But despite our best efforts none was revealed.
Acorn does not do naming parties like Twin Oaks does. We don’t name our cars or our buildings generally. Names appear comically or organically or mysteriously without explanation. The event was well attended, perhaps because of it’s novelty but more likely because she is an unusually well-liked new addition to our colorful hyper-family.
Besides the attempted new origin story, we also tried some new things at the naming party. It is not uncommon for us to reduce the list of names thru a number of binding polls. The first is usually that you have 5 up votes and 3 down votes. As an experiment after we had done a couple of elimination rounds, we did a non-binding round with three negative votes and single positive one – just to see what people were grumpy about. The least favorites were the more bland options, such as Dylan and Neil.
In the end, we choose “Triple Threat Tony”, in part because this was a name that she herself quite liked. It satisfied the male identification aspect with Tony. It has the option of endless entertaining sub-names (I am calling her Triple Threat, others have compressed to just “Trip” or “Tone”). She will still answer to Batman, which some Acorners are unwilling to part with (perhaps this will lead to her name drifting into free fall).
And despite the name change, for me she will always be hero that Gotham needs.
Yesterday Nick Secret was sentenced by a jury to 23 years in prison for setting Acorn Community on fire back in October of 2013. This is the minimum recommended sentence by the state of Virginia for 9 counts of attempted murder in the first degree (2 years each) and 5 years for felony arson. It is possible judge Sander (who sentenced me to 5 days in jail for trespassing at the North Anna nuclear plant information center in 2010) to reduce this sentence, but he likely will not.
i don’t believe that jail works to rehabilitate prisoners (most just get better criminal training), it is a minimally effective deterrent, and for most of the people at Acorn this does not look like justice.
Fortunately, the defense attorney did not try to put Acorn on trial. Though we were warned by both the police and the commonwealth attorney that they likely would. The reason this strategy might have worked in Nick Secret’s favor was that if the defense attorney could make Acorn look like a bad place, that we were harboring dangerous people (like Nick), has a bizarre culture and behavior then he might win sympathy from the jury for a lesser penalty.
He did foolishly try to make us look bad by trying to point out the peculiar names used in the community. But he did not do his research thoroughly enough.
Defense Attorney: “What do you call Jacqueline?”
Member under Oath: “Jac”
DA: “and what do you call Virginia?”
M: We call her “Ginger”
DA “and what do you call Jason?”
Had he selected more carefully he would have gotten members who we call after Tolkien characters, ancient celestial gods and rainbows. And just because you have an odd name, does not make it right for someone to burn your house down, while you are sleeping in it.
The most fun part of the trial for me personally was when the jury and i were temporarily removed from the court room and i was in the hall by myself with an elderly police officer. He had retired from police work and moved down to Louisa and then decided to take it up again. When i came into the hall with just him he said “I know you”
i was surprised and said “Really?”
“Yes” he replied. “i was working security at the North Anna nuclear power plant when the head of the reactor was talking with the head of the Vermont Yankee reactor. They were both complaining about you getting arrested at their plants.”
I was hugely flattered, for i did not think they were even paying attention. It is worth pointing out that we have successfully shut down Vermont Yankee.
Several people have asked me how i feel about the verdict. My feelings are mixed. I don’t think this punishment will do much other than trash Nick Secret’s life and if i could reduce or eliminate it i would. And it is still unclear Nick is well connected to the pain and suffering his actions caused. I am glad it is over (there will be an appeal, but it likely wont be approved). I am glad it was not damaging to Acorn.
“Who is this ‘We’ you keep referring to?” One Facebook commenter wrote recently. It is a great question actually.
In this particular case, i was referring to the intentional communities movement. “We” are consuming dramatically fewer resources than our mainstream counter parts, because we are sharing.
But i also use it identify Twin Oaks and Acorn specifically, as large, established, successful, income sharing communities.
i regularly refer to the anti-nuclear movement as “we”.
Sometimes “We” is the infamous Star Family
Often i use the word “We” to denote the entire set of people who want to change the world for the better.
Occasionally, it is the term i use to describe polyamory activists.
But of course the most simple approach is the just do the simple translation in your head. When i say “We”, it is always safe to compress it down to simple mean “i”
We had the second Point A meeting at the Keep, which was a bit smaller yet felt stronger. We spent a fair amount of time describing some of the more important income sharing models which are being used in the intentional communities movement. It felt desirable to describe them here.
Twin Oaks intentionally has the simplest of income sharing models with regard to membership. You are either a member, and thus part of the income sharing group or you are not part of it. There are some minor (but important) differences between provisional members (who have not yet been in the community for 6 months) and full members (who have been thru their full member poll, have been in the community for over 6 months and basically have tenure), the most significant of these is health insurance and dental care.
What Twin Oaks is trying (and largely succeeding) in doing is creating a classless (internally) society, where no one has greater access to the collective resources once they become a member. All the income from the businesses is pooled and the group collectively decides how to distribute it. Almost everything the community provides is distributed freely to the members and there is not a seniority or merit based preference for resources. [Open rooms are filled on a seniority basis, based on when you first moved into that residence, not when you first moved into the community.]
Acorn is less worried about creating a single classless group and more interested in the flexibility of longer term “guest workers” which we call interns. Interns are not members, they are not co-owners of all the property and resources of the community and they have a specific period of time which they have been approved to live and work in the community, typically 6 months of less.
To the untrained eye, there is little difference in the day to day life of interns at Acorn when contrasted with members. They have to have their own health insurance and they dont get to go to the member portion of the community meetings. But they do get the monthly stipend of $75 like regular members and they have the same labor obligations, housing situation, and general access to resources that members have.
Acorn complicates the situation further by having Associate Members who need to spend at least 2 but no more than 6 months of the year at Acorn. Associates do not have health insurance or a voice in the member-only portion of the community meetings. Regular members must do clearnesses with associate members if they are around during their time when they are doing clearnesses, but need not with interns.
Again, with the exception of seniority based room selection, everything is distributed without preference to seniority or work performance. [While described separately, i consider the Twin Oaks and Acorn Income sharing systems to be basically the same and thus only counted as one distinct model.]
Our sister community on Staten Island uses yet another model. The core members of Ganas own the community and all it’s assets. This is occasionally described as a group marriage, because unlike Twin Oaks and Acorn, this part of the community is both income sharing and asset sharing (TO/Acorn are only income sharing).
The next ring of membership at Ganas is workers, there are members who are actively part of the several businesses the community own, including the book store/cafe, the recycled clothing store and the used furniture store. They get room and board and several hundred dollars per month.
Renters at Ganas do not work in the collective businesses but are still part of the meal plan for the community. They pay a few hundred dollars a month for their rooms and can attend community meetings if they like (these are actually open to everyone including non-members) though they usually do not.
The Gizmo and The 3 Tiers of Income: EGFS uses a piece of software they wrote called The Gizmo to balance the community labor+money desires (expressed by the annual budget) with the labor desires of each member. The community inputs the community budget in money and house labor (meal prep, cleaning, maintenance, etc). Then each member tells the Gizmo if they have income generating labor and if so what their hourly wage is and then what mix of house and income labor they’d like to do. The Gizmo takes the budget, the wages, and the preferences of everyone, chews on it, and then spits out schedules for everyone in both income producing and house labor. Everyone then owes those hours and that money to the house. A person can work over quote for their job or for the house (overquote house work pays an agreed upon wage) and keep that money for themselves. There is a cap to these private earnings, though.
In the story i tell, at it’s inception Twin Oaks wanted a decision model which was better than simple democratic voting. The founders thought that communards could make better decisions than what came from the “50% plus one” model which dominated elections and government process. In the search for the elusive super majority, they did not want to set a threshold percentage, perhaps because they wanted something more subtle and dynamic than vote counting at the core of our process. They wanted to leave open the possibility that a small group with strongly held beliefs might be able to shift the groups outcome by carefully reasoned arguments and compelling logic.
Twin Oaks started in 1967, before the feminists had borrowed and adapted the consensus process from Quakers – creating a decision tool which could be used in a secular environment. And since simple majority rule had created so many dysfunctional system it seemed wise to try for something which was more representative, even if it was slower. Now over 45 years later we often wish we could go back to the founders and say “hey, the problem with this system is that we often can not tell when we are done. We don’t know when to run over a vocal minority in favor of the super majority. We don’t know how to interpret silence from most members on most issues. It would appear that decision making power is tilted towards those who write on the O&I board.”
Six years later, in 1973, East Wind was founded in the Ozarks. This was another income sharing community, which used the same base concept that members would each work a quota of some number of hours each week (currently 35 at East Wind and 42 at Twin Oaks) which would satisfy their obligation to the community. In exchange, the community would cover all the costs associated with their living. In many ways, East Wind was a close sister community of Twin Oaks. But most of the founders had come from Twin Oaks and they were ready for a new decision making model.
East Wind would embrace a voting model for many of its decisions. And in a significant deviation from Twin Oaks, it would elect it’s managers every year. [At Twin Oaks typically managers stay until they decide to leave the job or the community.] But the frontier culture of the Ozarks would influence the East Wind decision method and anarchism would creep in. People unfamiliar with commune decision making systems often laugh when they hear the East Wind technique characterized as anarcho-democratic, having a hard time imagining how that might work. But in what might be some libertarian’s wet dream, East Wind uses a dynamic mix of respecting (or tolerating) a high level of personal initiative (often without any formal group making decision process) with voting based group decision making.
Enter Acorn. Born a mere 21 years ago Acorn had a number of tools available to is which it’s older sisters did not have or choose to use. Specifically, it had consensus decision making. For those unfamiliar with the process here is a quick flow chart of how it works:
But you can look at it more simply. We sit around and talk, someone facilitates, but we agree to keep working the problem until everyone is okay with the solution. There are some technicalities (like blocking and standing aside) but it is a lovely elegant decision system for groups our size (about 30). Can consensus work with these larger communities (Twin Oaks is currently 93 adults, East Wind is at 73 adults – both communities are at their population capacity and have waiting lists)? The answer is certainly yes, i have worked in much larger groups that use consensus. Neither of these communities is likely to change their culture so dramatically as to embrace this newer decision system, despite there being (i believe) general belief that it produces better results.
And Acorn does not have managers. This is an interesting configuration, it works surprisingly well. The community is committed to anarchist organizing techniques. Instead of formal managers various members will in a flexible and decentralized way pay attention to certain aspects of the community. We don’t have a kitchen manager but we do have one person and sometimes more who is most involved with the kitchen and who generally takes care of the area, manages its needs, and who you should probably check in with before doing something in that area so that you don’t duplicate or frustrate other folks’ efforts. It is, we like to say, a system emphasizing personal initiative and responsibility. And without bureaucrats it’s hard to have bureaucracy. There are no forms, no legalistic process, no committees. If you want to know or do or change something you have to find the people who care and talk to them about it.