Tag Archive | Acorn

Acorn Kids Double in One Day

On Wednesday of this week the number of kid members at Acorn doubled from two to four.  Stephanie and Sean’s two kids, Elan and Adira, were joined by newborn, Tullulah, and Sappho.

Fox, Talula and Oden on the floor.

Fox, Tullulah and Odin on the floor.

Sappho in a dress she sewed for herself just before arriving

Sappho in a dress she sewed for herself just before arriving

It is a big deal to go from one family with two kids a couple years apart to three families with kids ranging from newborn to eight years old.  It shows an interesting stability in Acorn, which has long been a culture dominated by more transient young people.

To my optimistic eye it harks the beginning of a golden age, in which Acorn uses its considerable resources to make all manner of enviable things happen here.  I’m game.

The other way to avoid the last shuttle

Fortunately for our insurance rates, a disproportionate number of adult communards choose not to drive.  This does put pressure on those of us who do drive, to ferry our comrades around.  My dual member status allows me access to both the Acorn and Twin Oaks vehicle fleets, so i am often asked to drive, and i am generally happy to to oblige.

Sporadically, Twin Oaks throws a “No Party, Just Dance” event.  Typically what this means is that the organizers don’t want to have to prepare treats or decorate the space and instead want to focus on just having a DJ who provides music and people can rock out.  The other slightly curious aspect of these events is that they have very minimal internal promotion.  Usually this is limited to a single card posted at the main dining hall.  But this micro-promotion does not prevent these events from being well attended.

just_dance_kids_01

Last night i drove the shuttle for one these events.  Half a dozen Acorners and LEFers (plus one dog) hopped into the minivan and we arrived moments before the party was really hoping.  A couple of hours into this event i decided it was time to ask the going home question:

If there were a shuttle in 20 minute and another in an hour and 20 minutes, which one would you likely be on?

I went around to the folks who i had brought and asked them all this question.  After two hours of rigorous dancing, they were all ready to go home in the early shuttle.  This is exactly what the shuttle driver wants to hear.  Assuming you can’t get the last shuttle cancelled, because everyone wants to stay all night, the second best way to cancel the last shuttle is to get everyone to come home on the second to last shuttle.

Acorn Arson Update

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.

The most expensive lawyer in town could not keep him from jail.

The most expensive lawyer in town could not keep him from jail.

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?”

M: “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.

celebrity-parents-weird-names-sympathy-ecards-someecards

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.

How to get me to pay attention

[Update:  Rolling Stone has issues a lame apology for it’s poor reporting.  And people seem to think this changes much – it does not.  There are lots of reasons why, and the best summary i have found so far is here.  Thanks Abigail for the link.]

i tend to miss introverts who visit the community.  And so it was with Charlotte.  Acorn had a big visitor group and i had only heard her say a few words in the first couple weeks of her visitor period.

i had noticed that she was hovering around the edge of a number of the better conversations which pop up regularly at Acorn in the kitchen, or various living rooms or the smoke shack. And while she did not say anything, it was clear that she was listening.

Charlotte

Nine of us went to the anti-rape action at UVa which resulted in 4 communards getting arrested.

The way it is supposed to happen at an arrest action is the people who are risking arrest are trained.  They do a non-violence direct action workshop in which they roll play getting arrested including how to deal with different levels of threatening and physically assertive police.  You are given a lawyers number, often written in marker on your arm.  You are insured there will be people waiting for you.  If you end up stuck in jail, your plants will get watered and someone outside will be monitoring the system to make sure you don’t get forgotten.  And the reason we do all this is so activists will be prepared for getting arrested, so they wont have to worry.

Charlotte skipped all that.  No training, no prep, no reassurances, it was not actually even supposed to be an arrest action.  Instead of these things she just showed up with the conviction that rape is wrong and injustice should not be tolerated.  She also did not want her new friends to be arrested alone.  She stepped out of her comfort zone and into the arms of the begrudging police who kept telling us the action did not matter.

Except that it did.  I’ve never been in such a small remote arrest action which got so much press.  The New York Times, the LA Times,  The Washington Post, the International Business Times, Rolling Stone Magazine, Slate, NBC, The NY Daily News, Washington DC news, and a host of other media.  And the University is feeling the pressure.  They are talking zero tolerance, which of course means nothing if the system is broken badly enough.  But if the current pressure persists, it will quite likely break the institutionalized rape culture which has flourished inside the fraternity system.  And truth told, if there is anyway this broken system is going to get better, it is by people being willing to step way out of their comfort zones to express rage about it.

People are talking and protesting about rape on campus for the same reason they are talking and protesting about cops killing unarmed black kids.  It is a huge on-going problem and the system in place was relatively comfortable ignoring it, until now.

Charlotte saw this was wrong and stepped up to do something.  Now she has my attention.

Charlotte was active before she arrived at Acorn

Charlotte was active before she arrived at Acorn

Charlotte was recently accepted as a member at Acorn.  i am happy she will be around more.

Building Consent Culture Acorn

“… i will personally escort you off the property”  Belladonna is serious about consent. And if you don’t embrace how it is done at Acorn, your visit might be cut short.

She created this workshop (one of the very few visitor orientations) in response to a real need in community.  Perhaps one quarter of the visitors rejected for membership by Acorn over the last two years are due to failures to understand our consent culture.

Typically, these were not gross sexual assaults, but rather were mistakes by basically fine people who were not familiar with or paying attention to our culture.  Sometimes they were intoxicated, sometimes part of the problem is they come from a culture where people don’t ask others before they touch, sometimes guests misinterpret non-verbal signals,  sometimes they were fooled by parties where the consent rules appeared to be relaxed.

It looks simple, but there is a lot going on.

It looks simple at first, but there is a lot going on.

Don’t be fooled, the rules are never relaxed. The purpose of the workshop is to insure that the community is a safe place for members and guests alike and that these recent mistakes become a thing of the past.

While the topic is heavy, the form of the workshop is accessible.  Belladonna and Rejoice do short skits to demonstrate both problems and proper approaches.  There is more laughing than lecturing.

New concepts are introduced to many of the participants.  You can’t ask for Green Light Consent, it has to be offered.  Green Light means you have a prior agreement with someone about permissible physical or sexual interactions and it is delineated. “You can always hug me” someone offers.

clear messages - these might not work in the dark

clear messages – these might not work in the dark

A visitor asks about how shaking hands as an introduction fits into the culture, but then quickly figures out themselves that there is an effective non-verbal communication built into this ritual.  You would never grab a hand which was not offered back.

Sometimes failures are well meaning.  At the communities conference there was a blind participant who was occasionally asking for help in her process of mentally mapping the site.  A helpful person lightly turned her in the right direction, this was not what she wanted at all, because the “helpful” contact was not explicitly requested nor approved.

There is an introduction to toplessness.  Acorn tries to be a liberated zone and when it is hot, both men and women can choose to go without shirts.  This is novel to many visitors and rather than being surprised by it, this workshop both warns of it’s likelihood and encourages people to not stare nor presume there is a sexual message where there is not one.

And there is compassion for the stranger to our culture.  If you are uneasy conversing with someone who is topless, better to say something and take space than to act strangely pretending that nothing is wrong when you are uncomfortable.

i walk away from this gathering proud of us, knowing that this is the way things get better and we are building the place we want to live.

Careful language,

Careful language when understanding the state. Don’t consent to search.

The Case Against Personal Shelters

[Update:  Please read the comments at the end of this post for the proper history of what has happened at East Wind Community in Missouri regarding Personal Shelters. They are the ones who have pioneered it, and the story i have in this post is slightly wrong.  I will fix it in the coming days. Paxus]

Egalitarianism is tricky.  It starts out tricky because we don’t even have a common definition of it in the income sharing communities where I spend most of my time.  The relevant parts of the principals from the Federation of Egalitarian Communities which describe it are:

  • Hold land, labor, income and other resources in common.
  • Assumes responsibility for the needs of its members, receiving the products of their labor and distributing these and all other goods equally, or according to need.
  • Uses decision making which gives members an equal opportunity to participate, either through consensus, direct vote, or right of appeal or overrule.
  • Works to establish the equality of all people and does not permit discrimination on the basis of race, class, creed, ethnic origin, age, sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

[There are other FEC principals, like non-violence and sustainability, but these are not the core of egalitarianism.]

Should we try to be equal?

Should we try to be equal?

So what is missing from this important list?  For starters the idea that all work is evaluated as equally worthy.  An hour of my time spent writing a blog about communities is worth the same as an hour spent making a hammock or cooking a meal for many members.

One aspect of egalitarianism (that is touched upon in the second point above, but some FEC communities take much further than others) is that we are trying to avoid envy.  We do this in part by avoiding the uneven distribution of our collective resources, except in agreed cases of need (for example golf carts for people with mobility problems at Twin Oaks is a needs based intentional unequal distribution).

Which brings me to the controversial idea of personal shelters.  The FEC communities provide housing for our members. In several cases these communities are located on pieces of land large enough for members to build their own housing separate from typical dorm-based housing.  We call these usually small buildings “personal shelters”.

The Love Shack "tree house" at Acorn - not quite a personal shelter

The Love Shack “tree house” at Acorn – not quite a personal shelter

Quite some years ago East Wind community (on over 1,000 acres in the Ozarks) decided to permit their members to build personal shelters.  This resulted in some handy/artistic folks building some really beautiful places.  The problem is that these structures created envy.  The bigger problem was when the original builder/owners left, they created a fairness problem.  Members who had not been involved in the work of creating these shelters could potentially end up in housing that felt much nicer than what most people living in the community had access to.

The problem this created ultimately lead to East Wind banning the creation of more new personal shelters.  Twin Oaks has never permitted them, largely because of East Winds’ experience.  Acorn wrestles with permitting them and so far has not allowed them. Some Acorners who were really excited about the idea left to form new communities where such things are possible.

The arguments against personal shelters which GPaul outlined to me, late one night while we were driving back from a Point A gathering in NYC are:

  1. Energy Use/Carbon Footprint
  2. Fairness
  3. Psychic Space

One of the things income sharing communities do especially well is minimize their ecological impact.  The dormitory style buildings we have share kitchens, bathrooms, living space and meals.  This low impact living is very hard to achieve without a lot of people under the same roof.  Personal shelters are usually just one or two persons under a roof.

Where can we cut back?

Where can we cut back?

The fairness issue is covered.

The issue I had never heard before was one of psychic space.  In a regular community residence dorm, you know you can stand in the hall in front of someone’s room and not worry that you are infringing on their space.  The same is not true of personal shelters.  The space they take up is much larger than the physical footprint of their construction.  Peoples don’t know how to behave around them and this can cause discomfort and confusion.

Do you think the benefits outweigh the costs?

[Edited by Judy Youngquest]

Hold these rocks and look out for the Piranha

Contrasting communities can be useful, because observing the differences helps us to see into the social and cultural implications of the alternative choices.  Until quite recently, one of the stark contrasts between Twin Oaks and Acorn was the number of orientations given to visitors who are considering membership.  Twin Oaks has around 19 over the three week visitor period, Acorn had just one.

Recently, Acorn realized that we needed a second one and Belladonna facilitated the first one this week.  It was on consent.  “Why do you need a whole orientation around consent?”  You might ask.  “Isn’t it enough to just tell people they need to ask before they can touch anyone?”  It turns out it is not.

No i dont want to kiss you

No, i don’t want to kiss you

For a recent visitor group at Acorn i gave our only orientation, which is mostly a tour of the community to one visitor, let’s call him Rod.  At the end of the tour i gave my rant on consent (see the official rant below).  I stressed that this appears to be one of the most tricky areas for visitors to get right.  That we have lost otherwise lovely visitors, because they messed this up and made an inappropriate pass at someone or were simply too physical without checking in.  I explained that part of what can be confusing is parties where it seems like members who have never been intimate before are kissing and cuddling with no sight that they have had these perhaps awkward and buzz killing consent discussions.  “Things just seem to be flowing, without words, can’t i flow too?”

No is the answer.  Just because you can’t see or hear the consent conversation, does not mean it is safe to assume it is not happening.  Rod indicated that he understood.  I felt good about our communication.  I felt like i had been clear about the nuances and the problem.  I patted myself on the back for advancing our healthy culture.  And as is frequently the case when i am self congratulatory, i was wrong.  Rod would later go to an Acorn party, get a little drunk and try to kiss someone who did not want him to kiss them.  His membership plans then unraveled.

So as good anarchist do, we change our internal culture around communicating consent.  And while Acorn still largely maintains a “you need to figure this place out yourself” attitude towards most aspects of community life (an approach one frustrated visitor describe to me as “The way Acorn orients people is you throw them into the deep end of the pool and say “Hold these rocks and look out for those piranha”) with consent stuff we are definitely stepping it up.

I did not make it to the workshop, but i heard great things about it and a bunch of Acorners as well as visitors went.  Belladonna Took and Strandbeest did an amusing role play of poor consent practices, intoxication, party etiquette and direct communication were all stressed.  Afterward i told the visitors who attended. “This is what we want you to export to the world.”

Aster suggested oven mits

Aster suggested oven mitts

Acorn’s Official Advice on Relationships and Consent Culture

We would like to cultivate a responsible sex positive culture, where sexual expression and engagement is not repressed or discriminated. That being said, idiosyncrasies and complexities of relationships here are not always readily apparent to newcomers, with premature involvement often yielding messy or unexpected outcomes. Being self-governed, we try to avoid strict policy statements that often oversimplify or fail to fully represent various member viewpoints; as such, we encourage relational choices of those involved to be made with thoughtful discretion, through an emphasis on interactive communication, personal responsibility, and clear boundaries.

If at any time you’re uncomfortable with surrounding situations or interactions, please feel empowered to communicate your needs and concerns. If you’re uncomfortable conveying your concerns face-to-face, please talk to any of your orientation cos (or anyone else you feel comfortable approaching) and we will make sure you have an advocate to support you and help you resolve discuss your concerns with.

Your involvement with current members may produce power imbalances. It is each person’s responsibility to go about relationships in a respectful, consensual manner. Your membership decision will not be influenced by romantic/sexual encounters during your membership visit.