Perhaps you are thinking about what you should be doing over labor day weekend. You have decided it is too expensive and too much hassle to go to Burning Man. You could visit your relatives, but Thanksgiving is looming and that is really a much better holiday for that activity. You could stay home and watch some sporting spectacular on TV, with teams you don’t especially care about with perhaps too many advertisements between plays.
Or you could come to the Twin Oaks Communities Conference. It is reasonably priced, it has no commercials, you won’t get fine dust in everything you own, and unless they are pretty cool already you probably won’t see any of your relatives.
But rather than talk about what won’t be there, let’s explore some of what will be happening at this year’s conference.
The event is a mix of different types of content and social/cultural aspects. The content comes in three big forms.
There are scheduled workshops, the schedule for which is at the bottom of this post and the detailed descriptions can be read here. [You need to click the arrow by the workshop titles to open up the full descriptions.]
There is Open Space, which allows the participants to design their own workshops and present them. While the scheduled workshops are all on themes directly related to communities, the open space portion of the event can be on any topic about which participants are excited. In the past this has included permaculture, polyamory, anti-oppression work, a critique of Occupy, and how to dumpster dive.
The other formal piece of content the conference provides is the “meet the communities” gathering Saturday morning. Everyone who is in a community (including ones which are just forming) gets 60 seconds to introduce what they are doing. Then all the representatives distribute themselves in the main gathering area and put up little signs or other information on their place and answer questions presented by milling participants. There might be 30 or 40 communities represented. And you might just find the one which is a great choice for you.
There is lots of informal content. Experts and adventurers at meals talking about their experiences. Late night chats around the fire, about how happy we will be not to hear so much about Trump and concerns about Hillary. There will be new friends and romances. Smokers will chat comically or conspiratorially in their little area. New allies will bond over coffee and early morning rituals.
While the information provided would be sufficient reason to come to this event, it is the culture, fun, and personal connections which seal the deal. For many people the conference is about brushing up against the very different way of living at an income sharing, secular community which has deep sharing agreements. The communities conference dance on Saturday night is one of the best dances Twin Oaks has all year. The mud pit and the river beckon. The FIC auction is entertaining and often a bargain hunter’s dream.
The scheduled workshop program is as follows:
Saturday: 1:30 – 3:15 PM
Saturday: 3:45 – 5:30 PM
Sunday: 9:00 – 10:45 AM
With some regularity a young activist will come to me and ask
“What issue should i work on? There are so many important ones to choose from.”
Indeed there are. And some years back i would have found this question quite vexing. Clearly one should do some kind of analysis. Looking at the current state of political affairs, weighing all different possible effects of the various campaigning efforts, examining where the opportunities were, comparing your own skill set to what the various movements need.
Now i think differently. “Ignore the issues, look for the people who inspire you. Look for the group you want to be with and do what they do.” Issues matter, but it turns out that what inspires prospective activists matters more.
In a few hours we will start the communities conference. There has been tremendous work at the site, expanding and improving the kitchen facilities, fixing bridges, putting up domes all over the place. The place really looks great.
But it is not because of the physical plant upgrade, or even the killer program for this event that you should change your weekend plans. It’s because of the people coming. The colorful gang from the Baltimore Free Farm will be attending. Representatives from Ganas and Catalyst Communities in NYC will be here. Most of the income sharing egalitarian communities are sending ambassadors (East Wind, The Midden, Living Energy Farm, Sandhill Farm, Acorn and Sapling). Workshops will be done by folks from Red Earth Farms and Heathcote and The Farm and Dancing Rabbit.
Beyond existing communities there are compelling presenters coming from all manner of groups including Network for a New Culture, Hack RVA (the Richmond Maker Space), Charlottesville Time Bank, Health Care for All and Grassroots Economic Organizing (GEO).
If you need to be inspired, this group will do it. If you are trying to start a community, useful answers found here. If your idea is going to change the world, you should be presenting at the Open Space on Sunday.
Post Script: The Communities Conference Dance on Saturday night is reliably one of the best dances at Twin Oaks over the course of the year.
It is just a couple of weeks before the communities conference and we are putting the finishing touches on it. I believe this will be the best Communities Conference of the 10 I have helped organize. Some amazing presenters, many interesting participants and robust and relevant content. We have a number of options for the Monday program with is Communities Clinic. If you are planning on attending the Monday program on Sept 1st, we are hoping you’ll write us and give us an idea of what kind of issues your group is dealing with and what kind of help you’re looking for. There are 10 common topics described below with various questions to help you think about what might be useful to you.
Financing and development: Almost every community needs money. How can you secure funding for improving your community? What type of fundraising options have worked for other communities and are they exportable to you? Under what conditions can you borrow money from banks or run a successful crowd funding campaign?
Ownernship and legal structures: Well before you move in, you will need to figure out what type of community you are in a legal sense. Is it a land trust, a residential worker coop, a 501D community, LLC or other structure. Come discuss what these all mean and which models would work best for you and your forming group.
Recruiting and outreach: If you have the right members, you can do almost anything. But how do you find these people (if they are not already working with you)? Many communities reach other through FIC websites and publications, others write articles in periodicals which appeal to their value sets, some buy advertisements, others speak at colleges or festivals, still others blog or recruit thru social media. What is the right mix for the people you are trying to find? What is cost effective or no cost? What places should you avoid?
Relationships and conflict resolution (problematic people and expulsion): Many European communities have no expulsion process, almost all US ones do. How do you maintain personal and emotional relationships with your membership? What do you do when relationships inside the community sour to the point where it might be necessary for the group to split or someone to leave? What have long lived communities done to successfully deal with problematic or high negative impact members?
Decision-making: The US cohousing movement has widely adopted consensus (including sociocracy models) as the way they make decisions. Some communities use voting models including super majority models. Do you have what it takes to be a charismatic leader for your community (hint this includes tremendous patience and a willingness to listen)? Does your decision model change as your group gets larger? If you can’t agree to change something are you always stuck with the status quo? These and other questions will be addressed in this participant driven workshop.
Local relations/involvement: Does it matter if you shop in the town closest to your community? Does it make sense to invite the neighbors over for tea or will it just leave them more scared than they already are? What about political protest in your own town – will this distance you from your neighbors or bring you closer? Should members doing controversial things try to avoid the community being affiliated with their work to maintain local harmony? Is it considered community work to be part of the local volunteer fire department or volunteering to teach kids to read?
Cottage industries/Cooperative business: We have started calling them “income engines”. Choosing the right business is one of the most important decisions a community can make. If you rely too much on the skills of a minority of the membership (for example web development) the community economy can collapse if these people move on. Should you be looking for something that any new member can be trained in? Is the cottage industry open to all prospective members? Can the community hire people who are not members?
The range of membership statuses: Full member, provisional member, associate member, child member, intern, guest, ward of the state, lover of member – there are many different ways someone can be at a community for a while. Especially egalitarian communities try to limit the number of membership types to try to preserve fairness. Other communities have more flexible membership policies to try to be more inclusive or more versatile for members. In this workshop we’ll discuss how all these status’ have been used and which ones might be right for your community.
Different levels of sharing: Many student coops share a few meals a week, a clothes washer, and not much else. Their academic, economic and social experiences are largely independent. Some communities try to share everything from bank accounts to businesses to boyfriends. The more you share the more benefits you’ll see but the stronger your systems and communication needs to be. This workshop will look at some of these systems and how they combat internal hoarding and envy. It will also help forming communities decide what they want to share – are cars too big? are clothes to personal? Can we swing a public computer? Do we want to buy box seats for the games?
Culture Creation: Communities can create their own holidays and rituals. Often these cultural aspects are the most bonding aspect of the community members life. Should we buy instruments to help catalyze a more musical community? Should our parties be mostly us and our close friends or should we invite a wider audience? How does the community value and promote artistic expression? Do we strive for transparency in our feelings or privacy? There are dozens of aspects of cultural creation that communities can consider and often influence. What you choose to focus on will determine how most people perceive you and in many cases whether you will grow and thrive.
The Muslims have Mecca, Funologists have Burning Man. If you are serious about thinking that transformational festivals are important in building a better world, than this event is one of the most important ones to go to at least once in your life. [Though i would argue that the Rainbow Gathering is actually more important, for reasons i will get into in another post.]
So when Caroline was visiting the communes around her birthday in February, she reminded me that the BM tickets were going on sale and i bought one. I was already pretty sure i would not be going. In part because the dates conflict with the Twin Oaks Communities Conference which i am helping to organize. But more importantly, i knew i was not really ready to go back. i got burned by BM in 2009, part of it was i was overly ambitious certainly, i wanted something amazing to happen with the Villages in the Sky project and was working it quite the wrong way. A bigger part of it was the police entrapped some folks at our camp and our chaotically laid plans got trashed. i am still healing from this burn.
i will perhaps go back one day, with the right clan or camp. But for now, i am quite happy to do regional burns like Transformus, which are also much less far and expensive.
But the Burning Man tickets are hard to come by, so Caroline and i both bought them. And now it is time for some amazing person who wants to go to this event to contact me and offer the $395 that i paid for it. [This ticket is now sold, sorry.]
This post was written by Paxus and originally appeared at www.communitiesconference.org Sections in italics are additions to the original post.
1. Reconsider your living situation. If you let it, the Communities Conference can really shake you up. Daring people who are trying new or untested lifestyles are presenting or in attendance. Step outside your comfort zone a bit and start from the assumption that you could live somewhere else, or with other people and see what this event has to offer and demonstrate. Let go of the assumption that your next year has to look like your last year and go back to your own personal values. What do you really care about? How could this be better experienced in your daily living situation?
This is a call to be daring, which i think is the most under nurtured revolutionary trait.
2. Chat with a rock star. There are a bunch of inspiring personalities at the Communities Conference and they are more accessible in this relaxed 3 day event than they are at most times in their busy lives. Seek out the people who say something that excited you and ask to have lunch or a more private chat with them. If this is your first time attending, read the entire set of workshop descriptions upon arrival and find out which presenters sound like they are doing stuff you are excited about and then get any of the event organizers to point that person out to you. This conversation might just change your life.
This calls to core funological metrics. If you are doing something really important, it will be transformational.
3. Fall in love with someone new. I’m not just talking about romantic love. Most participants of the Communities Conference come with the intention of stepping out of their regular lives at least a little bit. We arrive open to new experiences and people who we might not consider dancing with in our more mundane day to day life. The conference also throws people together in various small groups in workshops, or child care shifts, or mealtime chats. Dare to be open to someone new, introduce yourself, dont be afraid to share your thoughts, show up.
Here we are combining principals – being daring and doing things that change your life positively.
4. Engage deeply in the workshops. There are too many good choices at this event, but dont let that stop you. Figure out which workshops are going to make the most sense to you and figure it out early. If you are unsure, go check in with the people who are presenting and figure out if they have things to offer you.
This is in part a pitch for coming to the event prepared to get the most out of it. We write up this program with all manner of info in it and too few people (i fear) dont really use it deeply as they could and would benefit from.
5. Give a workshop in open space. So you have never given a workshop before? Time to give up the idea that you can’t. Start by thinking about the thing you care most about in the world, then think about what it is that might make other people interested in it. One of the easiest ways to give a workshop is to recognize that it is not a lecture. The wisdom is in the room, not just in your head. So think of discussion questions, let other people offer their truth, often they will hit the most important points, then you can just bat clean up and add the details which make it a bit richer. Keep the conversation moving, watch for the attention of your participants. Ask questions of people who seem engaged and curious. It is time to share what you are passionate about.
Another life changers is for someone to get up and do a workshop on what they are passionate about for the first time. They almost always get inspired to continue on and they often find new allies.