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.
Almost all jobs at Twin Oaks are voluntary. Members can pick the work they want to do, with the idea being if we value a job enough, it will get done. If no one is willing to do a job, by this theory, then we don’t value it. The only exception to this rule is our kitchen cleaning shifts (K shifts). Everyone is required to do one K shift per week, unless they are physically unable. The shifts last for one to two hours right after lunch and dinner.
The idea is that K shifts are the least desirable job in the community and that everyone must do it for the sake of fairness. In reality, not everyone does K shifts. There are two K shifts per day with three people per shift, meaning that we only require 42 (out of 92) people to clean the kitchen during any given week. According to some labor assigners, several people in the community systematically mark of their labor sheets such that it is impossible to assign them a K shift.
Despite the perceived undesirability of K shifts, many people self-assign a regular weekly shift. The advantage to this is that you can choose a time you like and perhaps team up with friends. People on regular shifts often split the tasks the same way every week, with everyone doing their favorite jobs.
There used to be the sense in the community that K3s (the after dinner shift) were especially unpleasant (as many people don’t want to do any work after dinner), but currently every evening has a regular crew. Brittany and I do a K shift most Fridays, for example. Because we allow out loud music during K shifts, many of the regular K3s are based on common musical interests. On Sunday there is a “heavy metal K3″ and on Monday there is a “classical music K3.” Brittany and I usually listen to show tunes. On Thursday, there is a shift that is doesn’t have out loud music. Some people schedule regular K3s with their friends as a way to have a regular hangout with those friends immediately following the shift.
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.]
One thing that is especially satisfying for me is to bump into an organizer who has complimentary skill sets with another organizer. So it is with Irena at Acorn. She is good at staying on task, which is definitely one of my weaknesses. We work together on several things: the Communities Conference, the mechanics of the Seed business and most recently on the UVa dumpster dive.
Irena kept pushing me to work with the gal who runs the sustainability program for UVa, and thus got us pre-qualified for Chuck It for Charity, which is UVa’s answer to the growing dumpster diving “problem” that they face at the end of the academic year. But to understand this “problem” you need some back ground.
UVa is a large affluent school in Charlottesville, the nearest “big city” to Twin Oaks and Acorn. The academic calendar is designed so that the last day of exams is the day before all the students need to be out of their dorm rooms. So of course all of the students carefully manage their time so that they get their studying done for their exams early enough so they can pack all their stuff in time for the move-out deadline. And if you believe this, you apparently never went to college.
Instead the students study non-stop right up until their final exam, take the test and then try to pack up everything in their dorm room in less than 24 hours. This results in them simply throwing out a tremendous number of valuable things, from furniture to food to computers to (my big find a couple years back) an entire unopened case of beer. And with all of this wealth going straight into the dumpsters, it attracts a significant number of dumpster divers trying to salvage this stuff before it goes to the landfill.
For a few years (say 5 years back and earlier) things were pretty okay. Students threw stuff out, dumpster divers rescued huge quantities of stuff and it was still wasteful, but on some level it worked. For many years Twin Oaks would send several vans and a dozen or so members into town to scavenge and rescue for the entire day. We would then display them up at Emerald City in the warehouse (our “industrial park”) and dozens of members, many whom would not be comfortable jumping into a dumpster, would come and free shop the rescued treasure.
But then things shifted. My story, which i have no evidence for, is that someone in the legal department at UVa decided that some dumpster diver was going to get hurt and then sue the University, and the campus housing division and campus safety should be stopping dumpster divers from getting stuff in order to protect the university from this liability. As far as i know, no dumpster diver has ever sued a corporation, and certainly no judge has ever ruled in favor of a dumpster diver over the corporation which owned the dumpster. But reality and logic are not driving forces in liability issues.
As a result, a few years back Twin Oaks basically stopped doing the UVa dumpster dive. Their crews got stopped in the act too many times. I was banned for UVa for a year at one point as part of one of the last runs. But not to be scared off, Acorn (in large part because of Irena’s persistence and initiative) went this year as part of the Chuck it for Charity initiative.
It was fun and slightly surreal. We went and signed up, and were told that what they did not want was for people sorting through bags of clothes and cherry picking what they wanted and leaving the rest behind. Of course this is exactly what we wanted to do. So we had part of our group working behind the building sorting the clothes we wanted to keep (which was a surprisingly large fraction) and then re-bundling them. Then we returned the clothes we did not want to one of the approved Chuck it for Charity sites, with markings on the bags so we would not pick them again.
Turns out no one wants rugs, so we got a lot of them for the rave. And micro wave ovens and full length mirrors and cubbies and lots of clothes. It seemed to me like we were more interested in the stuff than any of the other charities, but perhaps they came after we left.
And some from our party were not going to be satisfied without getting into a real dumpster, so we went to one of the large dorm complexes. We were immediately told we could not be in the dumpsters by someone from student housing, but lingered around more discreetly (much of our group looks like college students, especially after they have donned the clothes the students were leaving behind) and got lots of food, including a number of cans of corn, which i was excited about.
In the end, it was a long, exhausting and quite rewarding day.