i am waiting for Chiam (age 3) to get sleepy. i am visiting his mom, Chanita in Manhattan. This is the first time we have ever met face to face, tho we have been talking about communities that are kid friendly for a while. She housed the group of Oakers and Cville locals who came up for the Occupy Wall Street protests last year, in her tiny apartment.
She cant make it to the first Chubby Squirrels meeting at the communities conference, which i am sad about. So we are going to take advantage of my brief time in the NYC metro area and talk about building communities which support families. What is clear to me is how her dedication to her son translates into his joyfulness and confidence.
There are some unusual parenting similarities. When Willow was younger he wanted control over his own name, which we parents granted, he went through a bunch of them including Tiger and Rocket and various Captain somethings. Currently Chiam is fond of calling himself Bouncy Firetruck. Chiam’s current favorite outfit is a dress, Willow, more in his earlier years, did not care about the gender identification of the clothes he wore.
Hopefully, one of the differences between Chubby Squirrels and Twin Oaks will be the acceptance and celebration of families. As a recruiter, i know the company line. We (Twin Oaks) want to have a very generous child program, lots of care hours for young children, supportive budgets for pregnancy and home schooling. We want to minimize the stress most parents feel in the mainstream about trade offs and attention for their kids. But because of this generous program, we have to limit the number of children we support to a 5 Adult to 1 child ratio. This means there are often not enough age peers for our kids. It also makes families a structural minority and creates some weird segregations.
If Chubby Squirrels is going to succeed, it is going to need a different model. i am not sure exactly what that model is, but i am confident that we will figure it out.
As i was driving around today the news was full of various stories on the Republican party’s war on women. Akin’s continued bumbling on rape. The RNC platform seeking a no-exceptions constitutional amendment banning abortion. Mitt Romney’s flip flopping on the topic for electability purposes. Ryan’s repeated co-sponsoring anti-women legislation with Akins.
And it seems strangely appropriate that on this day filled with national disrespect for women’s rights and threats to cut aid to especially single mom’s, that my political work is much smaller and focused and with luck and some brilliance it will be helpful.
I would like to eliminate labor budgets. My community budgets over 200 areas from welding, to path maintenance, to bees, to fixing the phones and computers, to taking care of the kids distinct from educating the same kids, to tofu making, to going to the doctor, to political activism, to managing and organizing commie clothes, to fixing our bikes and cars, to doing performances for the community, to room assigning, to doing software development and many many more. We play a giant trade off game each year in hopes of getting these numbers right and balanced with our expected labor for the year.
The perennial question is “Would we get all this work covered if we did not use this budgeting system and the sister quota requirement?” Many in the community are clear labor budgets are necessary. That without the labor budgets and our quota system which check and balance each other many think we will not get our work done.
I want something else to be true. And i am willing to overlay any number of additional systems to take out this oppressive piece. What i was proposing on the morning of this charged conversation was various different flavor of work area labor collectives. Not to be confused with member group labor collectives like Bolo and Jack Vanzetti.
In my mythical structure, you might need to be in three or more labor collectives. Labor collectives would represent work areas in the community, like food, or community infrastructure or any of the cottage industries. So if Twin Oaks were modeled this way, you might need to be in one of our income areas:
- conference/workshop organizing
- outside work (construction and demolition, house cleaning, raising the JPJ floor, elder care, software development, customer support for accounting, etc – exterior contract work the community gets paid for).
Then you would be on one of the domestic collectives that dealt with any of a number of household and family issues. There could be an outreach council, which promoted the community and the communities movement (like our TOAST program does now), that does local community support, like the superhero bike riders do out at the Possibility Alliance, that writes articles about the community for publication and so on.
The idea is if you were in multiple councils which were meeting to satisfy their general and specific tasks on a regular basis. Collectives could distribute their work to where it was needed and the councils would track whether your work scene was sufficient for the needs and agreements of the community.
In this model, the social pressure of the group would be used to help ensure that there is a fairer (not to be confused with fair) distribution of work obligations to the community.
But the even larger heresy i want to commit, in this new community i am talking about starting, is eliminating the idea that you have a labor obligation to the community while you are gone and thus over an extended vacation, you get further in debt. I am looking to create a place that is thus likely more transient and flexible. More on this hot topic soon.
[Background: A group of 3 or 4 planners serve staggered 18 month terms and are my communities highest executive decision making body. They are also the policy/political trash collection entity, in that many small and annoying issues role up to them. The current group of planners have initiated a long term planning survey, these are my answers to their questions.]
- Develop a 5 year plan to get the community off the grid
- Increase population to 110 adult members by 2015 (it is currently 93 Adults)
- Initiate process for new residence or expansion of existing one
- Fix the TCLR and Tupelo roofs
- Make it easier for members to make money thru Outside Work
- Expand TOAST and recruit for the communities movement
- Recommit and actually do something about mold problems in residences
Do i think i will be here in 5 years? Possibly, it depends a bit on how the community chooses to grow and deal with some of the issues touched on in the survey. I love Twin Oaks, i have been here for a while, perhaps i should move on. I am interested in starting new FEC communities in the area – beyond LEF.
Population: We have been at pop cap for 3 years now and the community has not had any serious discussion about either building additional housing or starting a new community (as we did with Acorn when we were in this place 19 years ago). While it would be impossible to break ground on a new building now, we are (as we often do) ignoring that it would take at least a year of process to build a new building. The planners could initiate this process or direct the Pop Gang to poll community sentiment. In 2004 Recruiting did a survey in which 41 of 45 members wanted the community to increase its population with time.
Alternatively, Twin Oaks (possibly in conjunction with Acorn) could work on building a new community in the area. This does not need to be done in the expensive and slow manner that Acorn was started ($250K and a big new building construction project). This could be done by simply helping provide cottage industry opportunity (Satellite hammocks, Seed business support, or other more exotic solutions) along with providing labor credits to interested members to explore this option. Approving Pioneer PALs could go a long way towards making this happen.
Allowance/Money: The community allowance linked into profitability is an adequate fix from my perspective. I think the community should prioritize making income generating work be available to members who need more personal money than is generally available. This could be done thru Outside Work (which is currently largely dormant because of the communities labor shortage) and by changing the OW/VE ratio back to 50/50 as it was for years.
Standard of Living: This is perhaps addressed on a more specific way in other answers. We could do more to deal with our deferred maintenance projects. Specifically TCLR roof, Tupelo Roof and mold in many community buildings.
Sustainability: The community should develop a plan to get us off the power grid by expanding our renewable energy resources, especially solar PV and thru the micro hydro at the mill. The CPs should ask Keenan to report on the possibilities of mill micro hydro as he is already working with George Payne on the restoration of this building. We should be putting resources aside to expand our renewable energy solutions. The community has consistently wanted to go this way, but has lagged in our performance. And energy prices are quite likely to increase significantly with time.
Community Growth: It is unclear to me how this differs from population in the above question. I think the community should grow by expanding the existing housing stock or increasing the number of SLGs. I think we should look to being about 110 members by 2015.
Outreach: During periods of high population community outreach efforts (usually coordinated by recruiting – which Valerie and i manage) are oriented towards promoting the communities movement in general, rather than Twin Oaks specifically. We could be doing more in terms or writing articles for magazine or newspapers, encouraging magazines or websites to do articles on us and putting energy into a Twin Oaks members community blog. TOAST could be expanded as an income area method for increasing outreach. We could also do more to recruit for a more racially and culturally diverse population of the community.
Infrastructure: We have several deferred maintenance problems which we are not addressing. Specifically, TCLR roof and Tupelo roof, both of which are leaking or badly in need of repair. The planners have promised to work on the campus wide mold problem but have so far been stymied in this effort (or perhaps not reported back yet).
Social/Cultural: The commune has a rich and uneven social and cultural experience. The planners could take a more active role in finding out what types of social and cultural activities are desired by the members. This is not often a planner initiative, but it could be.
These photos were all taken by ex-member Aaron Cohen and can be viewed and purchased at his website.