21st Century Intentioneering—The Tecumseh Commonwealth

The School of Intentioneering • A. Allen Butcher • Intentioneers.net • Denver, CO • Dec. 23, 2018

The intentional communities movement has been growing since at least the Great Recession of 2008. The last time that there was such growth in alternative lifestyles in America and around the world was the late 1960s through the late ‘70s.

The 1980s saw the “Big Chill” when the Baby Boom generation returned to main-stream culture and the communities movement quieted down. A regrouping began in the 1990s with the reorganizing of the Fellowship for Intentional Community (FIC or Fellowship; see: http://www.IC.org), while other earlier community networking organizations passed their energies to a new generation of organizers. The steady building progressing ever since has provided a foundation for the resurgence begun since 2008.

Today we see not only the Baby Boomers organizing “senior cohousing,” yet the subsequent generations are also jumping into various other forms of intentional community. Youth always embraces alternatives to the dominant culture, which then influences the lifestyle choices of future generations, ever expanding the methods people use for building cultures outside of the mainstream, and for survival within the confines of the dominant culture.

Generations of Intentioneers:

• Baby Boomers: Born 1946–’64, coming of age when cooperatives and communes were resurging;

• Generation X: Born 1965–’76, coming of age when cohousing and ecovillages were beginning;

• Millennials or Gen Y: Born 1977–’95, coming of age with coliving and transition town organizing;

• Gen Z, iGen, or Centennials: Born 1996–TBD, coming of age as cofamilies and class-harmony community is ascending, while authoritarian Catholic monasticism is shrinking and other decentralized religious and spiritual communities are expanding.

With a continually growing number of intentional communities adding to the listings in the Fellowship’s “Directory of Intentional Communities,” the tendency moving into the 2020s is for the clustering of either similar intentional communities, or of various different forms of community, in specific regions or local areas.

The Fellowship provides a map showing where the hundreds of intentional communities listed in its directory are located, and from that one can see that most of those clusters are in and around urban centers, with some rural areas also showing countercultural clusters.

Communitarian clusters are found at: The Big Island, HI; Seattle, WA; Portland, and Eugene, OR; Nevada City, Occidental, Davis, SF Bay Area, Los Angeles, and San Diego, CA; Tucson, AZ; Boulder/Denver, CO; Austin, TX; Black Mountain, NC; Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN; Madison, WI; Chicago, IL; Ann Arbor, MI; Louisa, VA; Washington, D.C.; Amherst, and Boston, MA. New York City should also be in this list because of its many old-wave housing co-ops, yet not many communities appear there in the FIC map.

There are also areas where worker-owned, cooperative businesses are noticeably growing, including: Jackson, MS; Cleveland and Cincinnati, OH; NYC and SF Bay Area; and on some Indian reservations, particularly those of the Sioux.

And there are many other areas with smaller clusters of sometimes similar and sometimes different forms of intentional community, although these are hard to see unless one lives in the area long enough to learn of them.

Often these small community networks form and grow around a single large, successful intentional community. In fact, this model of a single large community inspiring the development of a cluster of satellite communities around it is an ages-old pattern, possibly begun around the time of the Ancient Greek philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras’ community called Homakoeion in what is now Italy in the 6th century B.C. , and later during the rise of Catholic monasticism through the Dark Ages of Europe. A similar pattern of a successful intentional community inspiring others nearby is developing today as we move into a potential 21st Century Dark Age.

While it is not always the case, there is a pattern of youth seeking a different lifestyle than how they grew up. People growing up in the country are often drawn to live in the excitement of the city, while those growing up in the city idealize and romanticize living in the country. Generational oscillations between rural and urban lifestyles are also reflected in oscillations of the generations between mainstream and alternative lifestyles. The primary point being that people, especially youth, need and want options from which to choose how they are to live. What intentional community movements provide is choices, not only for changes of scenery yet also for changes in lifestyle, particularly from that of competitive, wasteful alienation to that of cooperative, sustainable, righteous living.

A particular rural area that I believe has great potential through the future for the development of a cluster of alternative communities is the Ozark Mountains of southern Missouri. In the 1970s the Ozarks experienced an in-migration during the back-to-the-land movement of that era. It was here in Tecumseh Township of Ozark County that a “Walden Two” community was landed in 1974, inspired by the first successful Walden Two community called Twin Oaks in Louisa County Virginia, the two communities sharing the inspiration of Henry David Thoreau’s book “Walden: Life in the Woods” and B. F. Skinner’s utopian novel “Walden Two.” Today, nearly half-a-century later, another back-to-the-land movement is arising and while the existing community clusters are benefiting from it, new clusters may also develop, with the Ozarks being a likely location.

Through the 1980s and ‘90s most of the other back-to-the-land communities of the Ozarks dissolved, while the Walden Two community in Tecumseh named “East Wind” survived and slowly grew, thanks largely to the success of its communal design being transplanted to the Ozarks from its sister community Twin Oaks in Virginia. A few years after its founding East Wind initiated, along with Twin Oaks and a few smaller communities, an association called the Federation of Egalitarian Communities (not to be confused with the Fellowship). After the founding of the Federation the communities dropped the term “Walden Two Communities” in favor of the term “Egalitarian Communities.”

I was twenty when I joined East Wind in 1975. At the time I was hitch-hiking around the country looking for the most promising communitarian society to join. I was thinking that I would go anywhere that I found a group of people developing what I felt was the most likely community to succeed and grow, and at the time East Wind expressed the goal of growing to 750 people. Some 43 years later East Wind is only at about a tenth of that goal, and may never decide to grow over 100 people, yet the idea of a large communitarian project of hundreds of people remains a good idea, and Tecumseh Township, Ozark County, Missouri remains a good place to do it! Just not as one large communal society, instead as a network of a variety of different forms of intentional community, all to be in close proximity.

There are several things that suggest that the Ozarks is a good place to build a close network of intentional, cooperative communities, historically called a “communitarian commonwealth.”

First, however; I think that the term “commonwealth” is a good one to use as it means simply the common wellbeing of a region with no specific economic design implied, although the political design would be “democratic decentralism,” as the Kurdish people in Rojava, Syria call it. Rojava in Syria and Catalonia in Spain are two places where the concept of democratic decentralism is currently being developed.

A diversity of economic designs includes not only communal societies sharing commonly-owned property, yet also various forms of collective communities sharing privately-owned property, like land cooperatives or real estate investment co-ops (REICs). A third form of intentional community is the community land trust in which the land (and maybe some buildings and/or equipment) is owned in common via a nonprofit organization while everything else is private property.

Each local community network or commonwealth may in some way adopt the organizing framework of the “transition town” concept started in England. I think of each of the community clusters listed in the paragraph above as being a “regional commonwealth,” and so the goal is to create the “Tecumseh Commonwealth.”

Tecumseh, Missouri is a good place to build a commonwealth for the same reasons today as it was in the mid 1970s. As then, Tecumseh Township is still very rural and very remote. So remote that there are essentially no or few jobs in the area, so to help assure good public relations with the local people the transplants need to create their own businesses and jobs. East Wind has done very well with that, to where it is the largest “employer” in Ozark County. Of course, in a communal society there are no employees and no bosses, instead all members are worker-owners. This creates considerable respect and good will among the local people since usually the only time they see East Wind members is when we go to town to spend money in their stores. Candidates for county sheriff even visit East Wind since the members tend to vote as a block. (Full disclosure: the author lived eight years as a member of East Wind Community.)

Ozark County is friendly toward intentional community since it has no building codes, and while land is not cheap it is less expensive than most places. There is a good amount of water with creeks and rivers flowing through the rolling hills, with dams and reservoirs creating recreational areas. The Ozarks is largely wooded with a great diversity of wildlife as it borders on several different ecosystems, including Kansas grasslands to the west, deciduous forest to the north and east, Mississippi wet lands to the southeast, Oklahoma desert to the southwest, and the Boston Mountains (up to about 2,500 feet above sea level) to the south in Arkansas.

While the wooded hills provide wood and stone for building, there is very little level ground for agriculture. The most common agricultural commodity in the Ozarks, besides timber is beef. Fortunately, with hemp now legal it can be used to make another building material, hempcrete. The roots of the hemp plant can help stabilize the soil on hillsides, and it often grows well in poor soil.

I can think of two possible drawbacks of living in the Ozarks, besides the lack of jobs. First is that since the entire region is largely wooded, the potential for devastating fires like those recently in California will become more of a problem as climate change advances. Fire breaks and other fire safety precautions, like water systems planned for fire-fighting, are necessities.

Another concern is that the region is largely Republican, although as mentioned above the ability to make money in the Ozarks can ameliorate potential problems coming from that cultural difference to some degree. The Ozarks is part of the Bible Belt, and Christian survivalists and other “preppers,” or those preparing for the 21st Century Dark Age, are also flocking to the Ozarks. So it would be wise to avoid proclaiming the Tecumseh Commonwealth from the roof-tops, and instead to quietly buy land and start building.

An important positive aspect of Ozarks culture is that for at least a century people have relocated to the Ozarks to get away from the dominant culture. For this reason the locals tend to live by the ideal of “leave me alone and I’ll leave you alone.” So in some ways Ozark hillbillies are, although not particularly welcoming, at least tolerant of their neighbors. Therefore, to be accepted it is necessary that new folks take care of themselves, bring ways to make money with them, don’t take jobs from the locals, don’t try to live on welfare, and most of all don’t try to influence the children of the locals. As long as communities create and enjoy their own culture on their own land, and for God sakes clean up before going into town to spend money, the local folks will be mostly friendly.

Since I did my time pioneering a community at East Wind during my 20s, I personally do not feel the need to relive that experience, yet when I have the money I intend to invest it in Tecumseh real estate. There may come a time when I will be able to leave the city, and since East Wind is my home I think of living at least near the community again someday. Pioneering a homestead or a community is a job for young people, and as always, the Ozarks is a good place to do it! There are other ways for older folks like me to help besides chopping wood and carrying water, although I always will need the exercise!

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