Children in Egalitarian Communal Society: An Evaluation for Twin Oaks’ 50th Anniversary

A. Allen Butcher · The School of Intentioneering · Denver, Colorado · April 28, 2017 · Revised Sept 15, 2017 · http://www.Intentioneers.net · 4thWorld@consultant.com

Upon the occasion of Twin Oaks Community’s (TO’s) auspicious anniversary, this is a good time to evaluate what we have learned about children in communal society. There are many other aspects of egalitarian communalism to be considered at this point-in-time as well, yet in this article I will only mention two others, work and outreach, while my focus is upon children.

As most people who have read my material probably know by now, East Wind Community (EW) has for decades terminated the membership of most women members who become pregnant. Many of them leave EW destitute and must seek assistance from family, friends, and welfare, whether or not their child’s father leaves with them. According to the community’s legislation on this matter written some years ago (sponsored by a woman member), every woman member who becomes pregnant must be subjected to a community vote as to whether she can stay or will be given the Pregnancy Ultimatum, which is to get an abortion or leave. This policy has resulted in a child-adult ratio at East Wind of one child for every ten adults. The community’s policy was changed about 2010 from telling those who fail the community vote to leave or get an abortion to now that the community simply will not contribute any money to the pregnancy or child if it is born in the community, which although this is a somewhat less onerous policy it still results in pregnant women having to choose between abortion or leaving East Wind Community.

A few women who announce their pregnancy do get permission to stay, maintaining a token child presence at EW, however, the community does not provide much for the children, requiring the parents to do much of the child care and education. Most then leave by the time they need to focus on their child’s education.  To be fair, most couples that form at EW, TO, and maybe other FEC groups as well, leave before getting pregnant or leave quietly once they are pregnant, avoiding having to deal with child issues in communal society.

What is to be concluded from our experience of children in communal society?

I think we tend to ignore or down-play this learned truth, that essentially, children and communal society do not mix well. There are reasons why Catholic Monasticism requires men and women to be celibate, and it is not just so that they can focus upon worshiping the Judeo-Christian God, it is more so that the Church does not have to support the children of their clergy and monastics. What we have re-learned in the Federation of Egalitarian Communities is what Catholic Monasticism learned more than a thousand years ago!

Twin Oaks seems to get by with their limit of 2 children for every 5 adults, and it is important to look at the level of support the community offers to its children. Acorn and the other groups around TO seem to all manage children okay, although probably not to the level of communal childcare as attempted by TO and EW in their early years. Perhaps part of the reason for those community’s success with children is because in the U.S. about a quarter of the population is under 18, so 2/5 is not that different. However, I believe that it must be concluded that TO’s change from communal to collective childcare is a critical element in their current success with children in communal society.

I have written much about this in the past and will certainly be writing and publishing more. I have described how this anti-child orientation started at EW. It began with the intention of Kat Kinkade (cofounder of both TO and EW) and most other long-term members during EW’s early years, to wait to have children until the community could build and staff a communal child care building like Twin Oaks’ Degania (which has been used for various other things since TO gave up their communal child care program).

East Wind forced out the first woman to announce her pregnancy in early 1976. She went on welfare in Fayetteville, Arkansas. This was what established the precedent at EW that it is okay to kick out pregnant women, no matter their circumstances. This could not have happened if the women of EW did not want it to. Men at EW could not do this to women if the women objected. I conclude that it was the women who were at fault, led by Kat, for being willing to sacrifice other women to the ideal of communal child care, while the men were complicit in this error, or like myself, powerless to change the direction of the community.

By at least the mid-1980s it was known (to various degrees) by those who championed communal childcare in our communities that the kibbutz movement in Israel was beginning to give up its communal childcare programs (I knew it, and I know that others talked about it), and that Twin Oaks had already failed in creating its ideal communal childcare system, yet Kat and others at EW wanted to try again, regardless of the suffering it caused perfectly good members. And if the communal childcare advocates did not know of this failure then they were negligent in not seeking out the experience of other large communal societies regarding such an important matter in communal culture.

This experience at East Wind is an example of ideology eclipsing human compassion, creating for many a Federation of Egalitarian Communities dystopia.

I and my pregnant partner were forced out of East Wind Community in 1983, after my 8 years of membership. It basically felt like being in that short story by Shirly Jackson called “The Lottery.” It is like a dream that turns into a nightmare. Recently I have been informed that it is still happening. Pregnant women are still being forced out of EW to this day.

Upon the occasion of Twin Oaks’ 50th Anniversary this June, I believe this is a good time to assess the successes and failures of our communal movement. There are a lot of things that can be said under that topic, yet I will focus upon just three issues: work, children, and outreach. These are three of the most important aspects of communal society.

First about work. Maybe not everyone sees this, yet I say that Kat made the most significant contribution to communalism since the Rule of Benedict when she created what I call the “vacation-credit labor-sharing system.” Kat and everyone else just called or calls it the “labor system,” yet that obscures Kat’s brilliant innovation, the earned-vacation part. Why does not the rest of the world know this and see this? Reporters and academicians come and go, write articles, make movies, and if they mention the labor credit system at all they fail to give it the credit it deserves. Like Mala Twin Oaks said to a reporter, “The labor credit system is the glue that keeps this community together.”

I attended a conference about “the commons” and they were asking how can society make domestic labor valued as much as income labor? They did not know about our Federation communities’ success with this thanks to our labor system. I was able to make the point and it got into the conference proceedings, so that was good, yet for the most part, nobody knows. Essentially, I think we are keeping our light on this matter under a bushel basket. It is my goal to make our success in egalitarian culture better known.

At the same time, I also want to share with the world what we have learned about children in communal society. I have some knowledge and background with TO and EW, although none with Acorn. So I would like to find out about Acorn’s success. They even invited several single parents to join Acorn with their children, in contrast with East Wind. So it is important to find out Acorn’s child program progress. Most likely they have developed systems similar to TO’s.

I have what I need to write about child care programs at TO and EW in the past, and probably the present. What I want to focus upon here is the future.

I believe that it is incumbent upon all of us members and ex-members, and the Federation in particular, to respond to the drama, travesty, and personal tragedy of the institution of East Wind Community’s “Pregnancy Ultimatum.” Collectively we have been too silent about this, and I personally want to affirm what we have learned in the Federation’s experience with regard to children in communal society, so that the world will know what we now know.

Like Catholic Monasticism, however, EW has the right to create whatever culture it likes. Some may think that it is no business of non-members what the community does, yet I do not agree with this. What EW has become is at least indirectly the result of what hundreds of people did in the past, at TO as well as at EW. It is rightly a concern of all  members and ex-members, and I think that we are all remiss at least, and negligent in any objective evaluation, to continue to ignore and remain silent in the face of the trepidations and plights of those women and men who are forced out of their home at East Wind for simply having a child.

When I became a member of EW, I agreed to uphold EW’s bylaws, in which it says that the community provides for the needs of its members, and that it strives to be a cultural model accessible to all people. If those two provisions are still in the EW Bylaws then I charge the community with having child policies that contradict both its founding and probably its current statement of ideals. This is hypocrisy. Are not children a basic need for people? How can a society that treats children as does EW call itself in any positive way a “model society?” I reject any argument that justifies some people persecuting others for having children, even if the community has or does remove those statements from the EW Bylaws. East Wind’s child policies makes the community a dystopia for many of us. And as long as we continue to say and do nothing we are all complicit.

So, what is to be done?

Communal society without children is not only a model like Catholic Monasticism, it is also the model of the ancient Jewish Essenes in Palestine, and probably also of the Pythagoreans both before them and contemporary with the Essenes. They developed a movement model that involved two “orders” of Essenes, or two levels of membership. One was communal and celibate, with the main Essene center being at Qumran, and the other was of householder families in small collective communities around the country. Also, around Catholic monasteries in Europe and elsewhere there tended to arise villages comprised in part of family members of the monastics. We see this communitarian model today, of two closely related community systems revolving around each other, one communal and one collective, the latter having children and the former not. Examples are Yogaville, near Buckingham Virginia, on the James River above Richmond, and at Ananda Village in California, and likely in the case of other communities elsewhere as well. Twin Oaks spawned several collective communities nearby, usually resulting from its Communities Conferences, although not very close nearby, two of them called Springtree and Shannon Farm. I think that Baker Branch started from TO inspiration, becoming a branch of The Farm for a while, now having former TO members for most of its residents.

This is my suggestion for a response by the Federation of Egalitarian Communities (FEC) to EW’s institution of the Pregnancy Ultimatum: create collective community close by EW for people with children to join when they have to leave EW. Helping to support such a community is the least that EW could do in order to honor its stated principle of taking care of the needs of its members, with regard to children.

Yes, East Wind Refugees (Susan Minyard was the first ex-Ewer to use that term as far as I know, when she returned for an annual Land Day celebration) have settled at Sweetwater 50 miles away, and others at Terra Nova 200 miles away, and at other communities, yet I am talking about being in the EW neighborhood, like within walking, bicycling, canoeing, or horseback riding distance.
If East Wind is at all sensitive to the problems caused by its Pregnancy Ultimatum, I say that the community can redeem its reputation and its “soul” by donating some portion of its (roughly) 1,000 acres to a collective community, to be structured as a community land trust (CLT). I believe that Sweetwater is part of the Ozark Regional Land Trust (ORLT), and another community 20 or 30 miles away from EW called Hawk Hill also, so help is easily available in establishing a CLT. The proposed community could join ORLT, or create its own CLT, with EW having some seats on the board, like maybe a third, since it would be donating the land. Then EW could offer this community as a home for its “pregnancy refugees.”

I would want to enable the collective community to have as close a relationship with EW as possible, in order to maintain friendships and mutual aid between the communities. Therefore I suggest that EW donate to a collective community some of its land up the gravel road, where the road Ys. Down the west fork would be the communal group, and down the east fork would be the collective group.

Also, a community has to have a business to survive in the Ozarks, as East Wind has found, in order to not be seen as a threat by the locals who may otherwise be concerned about big groups of people taking the few jobs that exist in Ozark County, and EW and the FEC could help with that.

I also recommend a close proximity and relationship between EW and its satellite community or communities, because EW is simply a very nice community! It’s 1,000 acres is beautiful land, and its culture (besides the child issue) is a wonderful manifestation of egalitarianism! The goal is to not facilitate people leaving their home, rather to preserve some relationship of the refugees to the mother-ship community.

I like to point out that not having many children, East Wind is essentially the Federation’s “party commune!” Much like the fictional Star Trek planet, Risa, called the United Federation of Planets’ “pleasure planet,” East Wind is one of the closest things to utopia most of us will ever find in this life, partly because of its remoteness!

A couple thoughts about this come to mind. First of all, from my experience, I suspect that EW has had for a while what we called a “labor crunch.” There is much more that EW could do if it had more labor. When I was there around 1980 we ended our dairy and other agricultural programs for a while (not sure of the dates) in order to start having children, which was labor intensive with a communal childcare system. Now EW does not have a communal childcare system or very many children, yet it has put lots of resources into agricultural programs. That is a great thing, yet that plus the businesses take a lot of labor, which means that they have not a lot of labor to devote to the construction of housing and other domestic needs. A closely related, collective community nearby could share the work: business, agricultural, and construction. In the past EW did hire labor help from Edge City, the community that donated to EW the Dome (they moved it on a flatbed truck along the narrow, winding Route 160!), so EW could hire labor from a daughter community as well.

Twin Oaks does this also, hiring construction and maintenance people from its satellite communities.

Another thing I think about is that some year soon Missouri could legalize hemp. EW could easily then grow lots of hemp on its government flood plain (or if not there then on its own land), and use it in hempcrete for building housing. Also, EW has lots of Ozark rock that it could build with, plus most of those 1,000 acres are wooded. EW has a saw mill and makes some of its own lumber. So with inexpensive lumber, rock, and hempcrete, it could build lots of housing and other structures, as could a daughter collective community. Just add labor!

So rather than continue to kick out perfectly good members, EW could adopt the collective community design and help it get established and thrive. Not only with regard to housing, yet also with business sharing. How hard would it be for a new community to purchase roasted nuts from EW, add chocolate, and sell it? Start small and build up the business. Just need money for investment.

Okay, what is the chance that EW would donate land to a collective child-friendly CLT within walking distance? Probably, not very good.

The next best idea is then for interested and caring people to invest in purchasing land close to EW for the EW pregnancy refugees. For that the Community Land Co-operative (CLC) might be best. This uses the Real Estate Investment Co-operative (REIC), which could involve people investing while not being residents. Exactly how that would be set up requires research, as a CLC is different from a CLT with regard to real estate equity. I am thinking of using some of either the equity or rent profit from my real estate in Denver to help buy land or otherwise help establish a collective EW satellite. I kind of would like to get back-to-the-land, once I get more books published.

Finding land for sale next to or even close to EW may be difficult. Might take a long time, or the land might be some distance from EW. Still, the idea is worth working with. One possibility is that the Ozark Regional Land Trust has acquired a tract of land bordering Bryant Creek just upstream from Techumseh, the closest village to EW. Purchasing land contiguous with this land trust would put a new collective community within canoeing distance and bicycling distance from EW.

I would say that the “EW satellite refugee land co-op” idea would be good for the Federation (FEC) to consider supporting. Why? Because as I wrote earlier in this article, “it is incumbent upon all of us, and the Federation in particular, to respond to the drama, travesty, and personal tragedy of the institution of East Wind Community’s ‘Pregnancy Ultimatum’.”

As a communities movement, I believe that the FEC needs to make some pronouncement with regard to EW’s Pregnancy Ultimatum. Silence in this matter is tacit acceptance, and at least indirect complicity. This article is actually my suggestion for how the FEC can best respond to the EW child policies dystopia.

The Federation would have to make some changes in order to advocate and support collective community for its displaced parent refugees, since its current reason-for-being is to support communalism, yet this is part of what I mean about assessing and stating what we have learned about communalism at this 50-year anniversary of the egalitarian communities movement.

At this point in time, with people looking more toward cultural alternatives, the FEC cannot ignore the onerous child policies of the birthplace-community of the Federation of Egalitarian Communities.  Responding to this problem now on the occasion of Twin Oaks’ 50th Anniversary is essential to any kind of review or promulgation of communal culture, based upon our experiences in our counterculture.

What have we learned about children in communal society? What can we say about it? I am offering here to the FEC and everyone else my perspective. Please work with it as you like.

There is one more thing to be said. I mentioned above that I would also talk about outreach. I wrote above about how very few people outside of our communities know about our success with our labor systems, let alone what we know about children in communal society. I have a personal campaign for teaching people about alternative culture in general, and about our egalitarian culture in particular, through the initiative I am calling the “School of Intentioneering.” And in that effort I have found another issue to be discussed.

In most of the progressive or liberal culture, TO, EW, the FEC and all the rest are essentially invisible. This is not just because of the bias against communalism on the part of most people, yet also because the term “communalism” does not always mean what we think it means.

I only discovered this recently. It had been a point of confusion for me for many years. Do you know that in the dictionary the first definition for the term “communalism” is the political model of decentralized city governance? I thought it only referred to economic systems of common ownership, yet that is the second definition. Evidently “communalism” as an economic term comes from England, while “communalism” as a political term comes from France.

It actually goes back to the Paris Commune of 1871. I will not write that history here. I’ve already posted one blog and Facebook item explaining this, so I’ll just say now that it was Murray Bookchin of the Institute for Social Ecology who began writing articles and books using “communalism” to refer to what he had earlier called “confederal municipalism,” and that others call “democratic confederalism.” These are all the same thing, basically just a decentralized polity enabling more local self-governance, applied to the political structure of towns and cities, which usually have nothing like “communal” economics as we live it in Federation communities.

For my writing I’ve used the term “regional commonwealth” to mean about the same thing that Bookchin and friends mean by “communalism.” I affirm that a number of intentional communities in a given area essentially create what Bookchin and others mean by “confederalism,” and I tried to present this to Murray Bookchin and others when I attended a summer Social Ecology institute in Vermont. They did not seem to care. Soon after, Bookchin started using “communalism” in place of his earlier term “confederal municipalism.”

Now, more and more the term “communalism” is being used for its political definition rather than its economic definition. Some of the Kurdish people are using the theory and the term in their efforts at self-determination in their non-state culture.

Essentially, the Federation communities are invisible, with the economic term for what we are being usurped by other countercultural movements. Even Naomi Klein uses the term “communalism” in its political definition in her recent book, “This Changes Everything” (find the term in her index). Does anyone besides me care about this and want to do something about it?

Yes, I think that before we, or I, or the Federation, can be really very public about our applications of communalism in our lives, past, present, or future, we need to have something to say about our experiences with children in community. We cannot ignore this issue and have much credibility with any other issue. How much do we have to sacrifice our desire to have children on the altar of the ideal of economic communalism?

Federation communities have a great story as regards our labor systems which enable the equality of women and men. Yet we cannot go far talking about that if we cannot or do not know how to talk about children in communal society.

I believe that it is essential to get our stories straight with regard to what we have learned about children in communal society. I have outlined here much of what I have to say about the subject, and I am publishing and speaking about my views as much as I can through the School of Intentioneering.

***

For anyone interested in the background, I have written much about the history of communalism in my book, “The Intentioneers’ Bible.” Find it for sale on Amazon. While I discuss the EW Pregnancy Ultimatum in that writing, I included much more about TO and EW in that book than I have written here.

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