Saturday, January 31, 2015

Point A

Down here in Louisa County, Virginia (which is where I'm currently staying) a plot was hatched last year.

There are four functioning communes in the county, starting with Twin Oaks (where I was when I originally wrote this post and which was begun in 1967), and then Acorn (where I am now and which was started in 1993), and then Living Energy Farm (started in 2010), and now Sapling (started in 2013).  (Someone posted a note on a board at Twin Oaks about doing the SALT circuit--from the first letters of the first words in each commune--starting with Sapling and ending with Twin Oaks.)  Then there's also the communities in northeast Missouri (which I visited in May and June of 2013) and East Wind in southern Missouri.  As I said in my post on Building Urban Communities (12/1/14), there's a lot of rural communes.

The plot began with a discussion about this between Paxus and GPaul, both of whom were living at Acorn.  One thing that they realized is that, while rural communes were growing in Virginia and Missouri, more and more people are living in the cities.  They decided that this was where they should put their community building efforts.  Although there are two urban communities in the Federation of Egalitarian Communities (the Emma Goldman Finishing School in Seattle and the Midden in Columbus, Ohio) there isn't any urban egalitarian communes on the east coast of the US and hasn't been since the community that I helped build (Common Threads) folded in the year 2000.  (For more about some of this, see my post on Issues in Community: Urban and/or Rural, 9/29/13.)  They decided to try to grow communes in various east coast cities, starting with Washington, DC, and New York City.

They started off secretly  with a few collaborators.  Paxus, who a couple of years ago was working to create another rural commune in Virginia, decided to abandon it to work on urban communes.  (I've written about Chubby Squirrels and the Louisa County and northeast Missouri communities several time in this blog--most notably in my post on Communities of Communities, 6/9/12.)  They began working on a mission statement which culminated in a proposal.  Then the hard work began.

They connected with The Keep  in Washington and began holding workshops in New York.  What they found out was that DC wasn't that difficult (although GPaul and folks from the Keep are still working on the final stages).  On the other hand, NYC is proving to be quite difficult.

So why am I writing about all this and what am I doing back in Virginia (bouncing "back and forth between Twin Oaks and Acorn" as Paxus put it to me in an early email before I came here)?  As I wrote in my post on Building Urban Communities (12/1/14), I'm down here 'to be part of the Point A project'.  I've already been part of one whirlwind tour that stop briefly at The Keep in DC, before going on to spending a few days at Ganas in NYC and then a few more days at the Baltimore Free Farm which, of course, is in Baltimore (Maryland).  Even now I'm planning our next trip up to New York.

And I'm on the waiting list to get into Ganas--which will allow me to do Point A work on NYC, from NYC.  Eventually, if we can succeed in starting a commune in New York, I hope we can work on creating a Point A urban commune in the Boston area--which is my home area.  As I said to people when I left Boston, I was going to Virginia to get to New York so I could come back to Boston.  It's certainly the long way around, but given how long I've struggled in the Boston area to build something like the community that I loved disappeared in 2000, the long way may be the only way to go.  It feels like with Point A, at least I've got support in building community.

Quote of the Day:  " ...the rural commune is a model that is pretty thoroughly explored and proven.  ... We're taking on a big project not only in training ourselves to cooperate well and in maintaining this protective bubble, but in transforming all of society to more cooperative, democratic, egalitarian forms." - from the Point A website

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Addiction and Connection

I've just read a pretty interesting article online. I'll admit that I'm skeptical about it, but the premise is intriguing.  It's all about the question of what causes addiction.  The basic idea (and the author backs it up with a bunch of studies) is rather than chemical dependency being involved, he claims that the cause of addiction is isolation and disconnection. 

Johann Hari makes at least two major points from this.  The first is that the war on drugs doesn't stop drug addiction.  He thinks, and uses the example of what's been done successfully in Portugal, that drugs should be decriminalized and addicts should be given social supports.  This is not only more humane but works a lot better. 

More important to my thinking is his second point.  We also need to deal with the social isolation and lack of connection that this society fosters.  As he put it, "We need now to talk about social recovery -- how we all recover, together, from the sickness of isolation that is sinking on us like a thick fog."

I think (no surprise to anyone who reads this blog) that community is one of the main antidotes to isolation and that we need to rebuild this society so that it's based on human connection (as well as our connections to the earth and the ecosystem) rather than selling products and controlling people.  This is real social alchemy.

Quote of the Day: "...the opposite of addiction is not sobriety. It is human connection. ...
"Human beings are bonding animals. We need to connect and love." - Johann Hari

Friday, January 9, 2015

Technological Lemonade

Here's another example of what to do when life hands you a mess, this time done by a whole society.

I've heard some of this before.  The movie The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil features a lot of examples of Cubans finding ways of achieving energy independence after the Soviet Union fell and stopped giving them oil and economic support.  The Cubans were dependent on that support because the US has a trade embargo on the country--only letting up now.  They embraced gardening and organic agriculture and even permaculture.

Further, when I saw the film it became apparent that, although in the end the government wanted to take credit for the creative plantings, most of the growing of food and the repurposing of things were done by citizens often in spite of discouragement by various officials.  The people needed food and they found ways of growing it.  The lack of oil meant there was little in the way of fertilizers or pesticides, so they were forced to embrace organic gardening.  I was very impressed with how communities rose to the occasion after seeing the film.

But apparently it goes deeper than this.  The embargo and collapse of the Soviet Union forced all kinds of creativity on Cubans.  People learned to figure out ingenious ways to make things that they wanted, often by repurposing techno trash.  They made dozens of wonderful inventions. Again, I'm not glorifying their pain or romanticizing their situation. I'm sure it was quite nasty.  But it's clear that the Cuban people found ways of turning all these problems into amazing solutions.  And there was even a name for this process: 'technological disobedience', rethinking what a particular device could be.

As the name of the film indicates, more advanced countries may be facing similar situations soon.  I hope that we can be as creative.

Quote of the Day: "Musicians, medical doctors, workers, homemakers, athletes and architects all had to dedicate themselves to making their own things and meeting the emerging needs of the family... The Cuban home became a laboratory for inventions and survival... Cubans dissected the
industrial culture, opening everything up, repairing and altering every type of object." - Ernesto Oroza

Monday, January 5, 2015

When Life Hands You a Mess...

In a time when there is much uproar in the world and much changes in my personal life, I was touched by this story I found on the news several days ago.

As I wrote in my last post, All Lives Matter.  There's a lot of tragedies in the world right now and I wrote about some of the ones really getting to me in that post, about the deaths and the violence.  I'm not sure what any of us can do about it except to be very clear that these lives matter.

Sometimes people come up with creative ways of dealing with some of these tragedies.   There was the hug between the police officer and the African-American boy at the Ferguson protest in Portland, Oregon.   That picture went viral on the internet. 

I'm sure it helped a lot of people feel better about the situation, but it really didn't do much to change things.  Few people are saying that all police are racist.  (I saw a situation on Staten Island when I was working at the bookstore there that had a similar feel.  Two cops wandered in as a woman was unloading her anger at the police in a back room.  The policemen asked me if that was a private room and when I said it wasn't they went in and had a very productive conversation with the woman.  It sounded like they agreed with a lot of her points.)

But sometimes people take the tragedies of life and try to make something useful out of them.

A woman being left by the man she was planning to marry five days before the wedding is not as tragic as the deaths I outlined in my last post, but it is both sad and common enough to not usually be a news item.  But one woman decided to make her private drama into something different.

She canceled the wedding but she wasn't able to return the dress.  So she decided to make a party of it.  She said she wanted to have a party, but not a 'pity-party'.  So she decided to have a 'trash the dress' party.    She and her family and friends (who also got dressed for the occasion) went all out with paint and turned the dress into an art project.   It's now on display at a local bridal shop which is using it to raise funds for a  non-profit that helps develop sustainable economic growth in Kenya and Uganda.

Notice that she trashed the dress, and not her ex-fiancĂ©.  It's a little thing but she could have wallowed in her misery or spent her time planning revenge.  Instead, she tried to figure out how she could make something useful out of the situation.  It's something we can learn from.

Quote of the Day:  "We all face adversity in our lives, but what really defines us is how we decide to overcome that adversity.     I decided that I will not let this tragedy and heartbreak consume me, and bring me down in life."  - Shelby Swink

Friday, January 2, 2015

All Lives Matter

It's important to say at the beginning of this post that this is not a negation or replacement of the phrase Black Lives Matter.  Black men are killed with appalling regularity.  These days I go through the horrible litany: Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin, Alex Nieto, Ezell Ford, Michael Brown, Tamil Rice, Eric Garner--and it goes on and on. The church across the street has a big bold banner saying Black Lives Matter on the steeple.  It's a very necessary reminder.

Cops Lives Matter as well.  It's not just Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.  Police officers are killed with alarming regularity as well.  And their deaths and the deaths of young men of color are intertwined.  The likelihood of a police officer being attacked or killed means they are less likely to take chances.  Unfortunately there is an ugly truth to the phrase "Shoot first and ask questions later".  You have scared young men out there with guns--and many of them are police officers.

And the lives of queer folk matter, too.  The suicide of Leelah Alcorn, splashed all over the news yesterday, is just the latest in a long list of deaths of transgendered people.  There is a Transgender Day of Remembrance held every year on November 20th to mark their deaths, often at the hands of others.  Just because there's same sex marriage in many states now, doesn't mean that young GLBTQ folks aren't still committing suicide out of despair, not to mention being killed by homophobic people, sometimes in their own family.

I could go on and on.  We are all hurting.  When people affirm the 99%, the 1% get scared.  They may have all the power and privilege, but it doesn't stop them from fear.  Everyone gets worried about being left behind.

How can we say to each person that their life matters as well?  This isn't some kind of new age platitude 'everyone's life is important'.  That's true but it doesn't address specifics.  It doesn't address oppression and hierarchy and the way that suffering is intensified in some communities.

When Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos were killed in New York, the family of Michael Brown spoke out, 'condemning' the murder.  "We must work together to bring peace to our communities. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the officers’ families during this incredibly difficult time..." their statement read in part.  The Ferguson Action Coalition also released a statement saying "We mourned with the families of Eric Garner and Mike Brown who experienced unspeakable loss, and similarly our hearts go out to the families of these officers who are now experiencing that same grief."

It is the same grief, the same horrendous loss.  We need to approach each loss, each point of pain and suffering as unique, requiring a unique response.  Sometimes we need to go out there and demonstrate, or write strong demands on what we must do, and sometimes we need to come together and grieve quietly.

We also need to approach each person in our lives, everyone we come in contact with, in the most gentle, loving way that we can, acknowledging the uniqueness of their situation.  On January 1, 2010, I posted Leo Tolstoy's story, Three Questions, which ends with the statement "The most important person is always the person with whom you are, who is right before you..."  We need to approach each person and each tragedy by looking at what is important for them.  In the same way, I believe we need to love each person that we come in contact with in the way that most affirms who they are, while giving only what we truly can.

If we could only bring real love and compassion to everyone we meet, especially all who are suffering, we would make a difference in the world.  We need to care about each other and we need to care for each other.  Because, truly, all lives matter.

Quote of the Day: "Until the killing of black men, black mothers' sons, becomes as important to the rest of the country as the killing of a white mother's sons, we who believe in freedom cannot rest until this happens." - Ella Baker