Event: Avoiding Bern Out

If you’re in DC we’d love to see you at an event next week we’re organizing to turn away from the depressing disempowering morass that is electoral politics and talk and scheme about what it would look like to build democratic organizations that wield real material power. Organizations, like communes, that can directly improve the lives of their members. Will you join us? Do you know someone who should?

What: Avoiding Bern-out: A “Yes, and” to Electoral Politics
Where: Malcolm X Park, Washington, DC
When: Thur, Aug 25th 6-8pm

Wouldn’t a Sanders presidency have been cool? Totally. But let’s not kid ourselves, the system is rotten, the game is rigged. Without a far reaching democratic and socialist transformation of our society a Sanders presidency would be filled with disappointment, compromise, and stalemates. So what was the point of his campaign? Was it a failure? Of course not! His campaign radically expanded the bounds of what is considered “politically reasonable” in the US today. Millions of people willing to work for a better world were able to see each other and see that they could have incredible power if they worked together. And that work is by no means finished with the end of this primary contest. It is rather a new beginning for the movement for democracy and socialism.

To really transform society we need to be coming together in organizations that can wield actual material power. Political parties are one way people organize democratically to wield that power. Unions are another way. Political parties and unions are well covered, though. What are some other ways that we can organize democratically with each other to wield actual material power and start changing society? Demanding change from the powers that be is valuable and useful but it’s nothing compared to being powerful and being able to make those changes ourselves.

****************************Join us in Malcolm X Park (2400 15th St. NW, Washington, DC) for snacks and conversation. We’ll find a quiet spot near the Joan of Arc statue in the upper section of the park. If you have any trouble finding us, call 206 898 2832. There will be an alternative location in case of rain.

Spaceship versus Mission Control

There are several metaphors for community design and outreach. If you believe there are serious problems with industrial capitalist civilization and that anyone who decodes this should have a place in community outside of this system, then you see community as a lifeboat. If you believe that a specific community has a specific mission to complete and there only so many seats to be filled selectively (the number of which are often determined by the number of bedrooms in the community) then you see community as a spaceship.


Some Point A meetings in DC so far have left me the feeling that we are building a spaceship there. Not everyone in the group was going to be on the ship, but many were actively considering it. And that there was some recognized risk associated with being on this exploratory journey and there were people willing to take that risk.

In NYC we seem to be building out this metaphor and now we are building mission control. Mission control can be seen as a group on the ground, which helps the astronauts build and launch the spaceship. What this means as organizers is we are not looking for the select few people who will be next to us in the limited spaceship seats (rooms), but rather we are entering into conversation with anyone who is interested in the project and figuring out how they can help. So “the project” is much larger than just Point A chapter/building. The project is making highly resource sharing and potentially income sharing communities come into being, with our current focus being in the NYC greater metropolitan area.

During a visit to NYC with some mission control friends we discovered the need to recognize and support the other spaceships when we went to visit Teagan and Arrow just west of Manhattan. Teagan is a networking titan who has been pitching the need for ecovillage expansion for years. Arrow is a socially responsible industrialist who has a vertically integrate bio-diesel company.  Together they are starting the Catalyst Community eco-village project outside in NYC.  We also met Jon that evening from the Eastern Light Project, who is trying to save some beautiful land from development. We spoke about their projects and we ended up spending so much time on them, that we never made it to discussing Point A. This made us realize we have more of a mission control mandate.

The future might look like this - Hobbiton Revisited?

The future might look like this – Hobbiton Revisited?

There are lots of highly useful workshops and skill shares at the annual Twin Oaks communities conference and the vast majority of the people from the NYC area are never going to make it to this event. If most NYC folks can’t make it to events on Staten Island, there is no chance they are going to find themselves in central Virginia. So we should be doing at least parts of this multi-community introducing format in NYC. At a recent event we did a miniature version of “Meet the Communities” where each of the perhaps a dozen communities present gave a 90 second self descriptions and then went to different tables in the room to invite more direct communication. This seemed to work well and some important alliances seemed to form. Perhaps more spaceships are forming.

A Look Behind the Scenes in DC

[This post is also appearing on the new CommuneLife blog which gathers together stories and pictures from egalitarian income sharing communes across the country and around the world. Check it out!]

A little while ago, while the DC communards were still scattered between a few different houses, a fellow member of the as-yet-unnamed DC commune shot me this quick note:

Hey, I liked this article that you wrote: http://frompointa.org/blog/2016/02/15/a-busy-month-for-the-dc-crew/.

It occurred to me that a blog article that peeks behind-the-scenes at what policies we’re working on, why and how the discussion/consensus/writing process works, would be interesting. Especially for people who would consider starting a commune. And for people who are like, “So what are you DOING? What is the ‘work’ that you keep talking about?”


I thought about this because when one of your housemates and I were chatting in the car today, they were like “GPaul keeps talking about all the work people are doing for Point A, but I don’t get it. What is the work?” And they live with us.


A little embarrassing, certainly, but to be fair the work of starting a commune is varied and non-obvious. In fact, even people planning on starting communes or really almost any sort of intentional community, frequently underestimate how much work goes into organizing them. The general advice from the intentional communities world is that any group trying to organize an IC of any significant complexity should plan on putting in one full person-year of work on it. In theory this can be done equitably by all the future members of the community but most advisors recommend paying one or two people to focus all their time on it. The communes have another option open to them, of course, which is to gift the labor time of one or more of their own communards to the task of organizing a new commune. This is a big part of how Twin Oaks started East Wind and Acorn and how Acorn started Sapling and assisted in the founding of Living Energy Farm. And most recently it is how Acorn assisted us in the founding of the first Point A DC commune.

A little peek behind the curtain. What strange magic are these communards up to?

A little peek behind the curtain. What strange magic are these communards up to?

So what does all this work look like? What takes a person-year’s worth of focused attention and labor? Here’s a partial list patched together from what occupied my time for year or so of organizing that I put in before the commune launched and other members started taking over a lot of the work (which is, of course, the goal for a horizontal democratic commune).

Develop a pitch (or vision) for the commune that is both viable, inspiring, specific enough that people can imagine what it would be like but at the same time open ended enough that they can see room within it for their down dreams and schemes.
Identify and individually recruit the initial group.
Write, design, and produce fingerbooks, pamphlets, business cards, and a website to get the word out.
Plan agendas, draft agreements, organize events, bring in speakers, check in with initial group to work through concerns and make sure that the project is engaging for them and that they feel inspired and invited.
Keep doing that for a long time.
Talk about what sort of property you want and can afford, go looking for it, follow up on leads, research potential properties, talk to owners.
Research legal issues specific to your city.
Research legal options for your group to incorporate or organize.
Research tax implications for your legal organization.
Continue recruiting, organizing events, checking in with people, drafting agreements, organizing meetings, attending meetings.
Plan social events and trust building events between prospective members.
Then do them.
Get involved, under the banner of your commune, in groups and efforts and events that you want to be engaged with and that you want to be engaged with you.
Cook food for meetings and events.
Clean up after meetings and events.
Look after the kids.
Mediate conflicts between potential members.
Research financing and funding options and then pursue them, either by wooing individuals or institutions.
Don’t completely neglect your own needs.
Write blog posts.

Surprisingly complicated for such a simple goal: can't we all just get along?

Surprisingly complicated for such a simple goal: can’t we all just get along?

To Boldly Go… Where Many Have Dreamed Before

At this point a cultural icon around the world, Star Trek is known for it’s futuristic tech, it’s memorable lines and characters, the adventures of the crew, and its noble and optimistic opinion of humanity. But standing quietly in the background of all the Star Trek TV shows and movies is a very radical set of economic assumptions and propositions more relevant to the humanity of the present than futuristic tech like transparent aluminum or even tricorders. The radical economics of Star Trek were recently given thorough treatment in a new book, Trekonomics, by author and nerd Manu Saadia. In the book, Saadia makes a point and distinction of particular interest to those of us working to organize a deeply egalitarian and democratic economy and society.

Trekonomics from Inkshares on Vimeo.

The United Federation of Planets operates without money and without markets, a point referenced repeatedly by the crewmembers. The Federation is, in Saadia’s words, “post-economic”, his preferred way of characterizing their post-scarcity society. “Economics is the management of scarcity,” says Saadia. “With Star Trek, at least inside the Federation, you have basically overcome what [John Meynard] Keynes called, ‘The Economic Problem,’ … the allocation of scarce resources.” It’s easy to see how this is possible in a world with replicators capable of synthesizing anything that a Federation citizen might desire. What’s important to note, though, is that replicators were only introduced in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Even in the pre-replicator world of Star Trek (The Original Series) money and the market have been abandoned as barbaric relics from a less civilized and less humanistic era. In Star Trek, the movement beyond economics is presented not as the result of some cornucopia of technological automation but rather as a policy choice… and as a strongly moral policy choice, at that. The fact that the Federation’s movement beyond economics is a choice continues to be made throughout the various shows by the existence of technologically comparable societies (epitomized by the Ferengi) where money, the market, and scarcity still obviously exist.

Some people just really love money. (All screenshots by Eric Grundhauser)

Some people just really love money. (All screenshots by Eric Grundhauser via Atlas Obscura)

The flip side of scarcity is abundance, the state of having enough or more than enough of what everyone needs. It is a utopian material condition that many have dreamed of and sought throughout human history and across political traditions. What is described here in Star Trek are the two general methods of approaching abundance. We might call them demand side abundance and supply side abundance. Supply side abundance is the easier one to imagine and is embodied by the post-replicator Star Trek. The means of production have developed to the point that an infinitesimal amount of human labor is transformed into an infinitude of materials goods. It no longer makes sense to talk about prices when your costs are essentially zero. Without the need to manage scarcity the market fades away as product after product is decommodified. It is the communism described by Marx as the near inevitable result of Capitalism’s drive towards mechanization. Our friends, Las Indias, have done a lot of good work exploring the ways in which this form of abundance is beginning to breach into our world, the challenges it poses to the status quo, and the opportunities it presents to egalitarian communalists (see their by donation ebook The Book of Abundance and The Communard Manifesto).

You can't always get what you want... but sometimes you get what you need.

Picard is served a potted plant by a malfunctioning replicator. (All screenshots by Eric Grundhauser via Atlas Obscura)

However, as exciting as a dawning age of supply side abundance is, what I find even more exciting is demand side abundance. By this I mean the world of abundance that is already available to us and has been, pretty consistently, for a very long time. As the stone soup story suggests and as Bucky Fuller calculated, the existence of scarcity in the world is not a problem of production but a problem of distribution. But when we talk about distribution in this way we’re really talking about something bigger. We’re talking about Demand or how decisions are made and priorities are set not just around who gets the stuff that is produced but about what is produced in the first place and how it is distributed and made available. For instance, how we, as a species, decide how many Ferraris are produced versus how much malaria medicine. Or how we decide where we pile up food and when it gets thrown out. Or how much to spend on lawyers to fight health insurance claims versus how much to spend on health care. Any number of decisions, really. The idea hinted at by pre-replicator Star Trek, and the idea clearly explored by Ursula K. LeGuin in The Dispossessed, is how a society can choose to create abundance even in a situation with limited resources. That is to say, how a society can choose to make sure that everyone has enough of what they need. The path that LeGuin’s moon anarchists take is the same path taken by our very real and present day Federation of Egalitarian Communities. That path is one that both works to make distribution as efficient as possible (by extensive sharing, intensive cooperation and coordination, and the removal of barriers to access) while at the same time thinking critically about what is needed to live a good life and, as much as possible, finding non-materialist paths to satisfaction and enrichment. This is what makes LeGuin’s anarchists a peaceful and rich people despite living on an isolated desert planet with very scarce resources and it is what makes the communes of the Federation able to provide comfortable, secure, and satisfying lives (of an arguably middle or upper middle class quality) on sub-poverty level incomes. It is an abundance that is available to all of us right now if we can change the way that we relate to each other and to our economy.

We are living science fiction. May our message of peace and abundance one day reach the earth… and finally the stars.

The Federation is on it's way. (All screenshots by Eric Grundhauser)

The Federation is on its way. (All screenshots by Eric Grundhauser via Atlas Obscura)

A Busy Month for the DC Crew

The last month has been a busy time for the Point A DC crew as we’ve hurtled through the final stages of forming the first commune (of many) to be popped out by the project. At the end of January, we raced ahead of the blizzard to get ourselves snowed in for the weekend at a kindly donated and very cozy nearby vacation home. The eight of us who braved the snow (pictured below after freeing our cars from the driveway) spent the weekend poring over agreements, deepening our connections with each other, eating delicious food, and designing the tricky process of choosing the initial set of members (a process we’re calling the “membership bootstrapping”). We also tried to pick a name for the first commune but the naming party got bumped to sometime in the uncertain future.

After getting back we set ourselves an ambitious schedule in February, aiming to complete the membership bootstrapping by the end of the month so we can legally launch the commune, start sharing income, and move in together. Speaking of which, the commune is looking for a home (both a temporary home and a forever home). Maybe you can help? Our strength is in each other and in our network. Here’s a message our Space Scouts put together about what we’re looking for.

Point A DC Needs a Home
The PADC commune founding group is looking for a temporary rental house/apartment for 3-12 months, while we negotiate and close on a property.

If you have a personal connection to a good space and could get us a deal because you want to support the commune, that would be ideal. If you enjoy scouring rental listings, that could also be helpful… we have been checking Craigslist often.

Rental must haves:

3-8 bedrooms
Flexible lease term (6 months or less)
< $700/bedroom

Rental preferences:

In or near Petworth/Columbia Heights area
< 3/4 mile from metro
March 1 move-in
Event/meeting space for up to 20 people
Parking for 1-2 cars
Indoor bike storage space for several bikes
Space in kitchen for our commercial fridge and full-size freezer
A guest/flex space

We continue to search for spaces to purchase that are in the 5k-15k sq ft range, cheap and near the metro. Any leads on this are also great.

Thanks for your help!

-Anita, GPaul, Connor, Jenny, Barnaby, Julian, Maren and Steve

The Throw Away Society

The DC Chapter of Point A is moving rapidly towards the birth of the first commune. As we approach the moment of our launch we’re hammering out the foundational mechanics for our group. And arguably the most foundational, most essential policies are for membership and expulsion: how people are included and excluded. Thinking about expulsion is not a fun topic and many democratic and collective groups don’t really think about it. Some (like Kommune Niederkaufungen in Germany, apparently) seem to get on just fine for years. For other groups, not having thought much about expulsion eventually causes a conflict to blow up into an explosive crisis and, with an unfortunate frequency, destroy the group.

A community is a web of relationships, and a healthy community reinforces and weaves those relationships thicker and tighter. The complexity and strength of this web is the source of the value and power behind a vibrant community: it brings meaning to our lives, it enriches us socially, and it gives us access to support and assistance when we need it. It can include our closest allies, collaborators, audience, and friends. But it’s the very importance of our community that makes it that much more painful when an assault or serious breach of trust occurs within it. The bigger we are, as it were, the harder we fall.

When a member of our community hurts us or breaks our trust, it is common and reasonable to want them to leave and never come back. Maybe we fear that they’ll hurt us again, or maybe seeing them reminds us of the pain they’ve caused us, or maybe we feel like they’ve broken their side of the social compact and so don’t deserve membership any more. However, in a deep and vibrant community, and especially one with any history, ostracizing a member is messy because inevitably important relationships exist between other members and the perpetrator of the offense, relationships which are not destroyed by the offense. If the aftermath of a serious offense is not handled with sensitivity and care to all sides, it is all too easy for the community to divide into camps and begin to attack itself. If the perpetrator is ostracized and their remaining relationships are not honored, then damage can cascade through the web that is the community. That damage can cause other members to lose their faith in the community’s ability or desire to care for them and frequently results in an exodus of people from all sides of a conflict.

Additionally, although ostracism is sometimes appropriate, it often has the same problem as the throw away society that it resembles: it assumes that there’s an “away” where you can throw people where they won’t do harm (much like we assume there’s an “away” where we can throw trash where it won’t do harm). That’s not always true and if we don’t deal with the root cause of the offense and the perpetrator has not taken on the project of self-reflection and change we want them to then we might just be passing our problem on down the line to the next community they end up in. Similarly, this “throw away justice” assumes that the person who has committed the offense is no longer of value. They are trash and not worth saving.

napolean in exile

In light of all this serious thought about the process of expulsion is of obvious value. Especially knowing that often when an offense occurs emotions run high, people are in pain, and quick and skillful action is necessary to prevent harm from spiraling out of control. It can be difficult or even impossible to conceive of, design, and execute such a response if it has not been discussed by the community in advance. When we design such a process, then, there are a few deep questions we need to consider. If we choose to not just get rid of people whenever they harm someone, how do we respond to offenses in a way that takes care of the whole community and leaves us stronger and better people on the other side? When and why is the work to do that beyond our ability and how can we tell? If it is beyond our ability… what do we do then?

With Our Powers Combined…

One of the most challenging pieces of the commune idea for a lot of people is fully pooling our income. I recently had an exchange that typifies this reaction:

“So when you talk about sharing income… what if Steve is making $50,000 per year and you’re only making $20,000?”

“What you should really be asking about is what happens when Steve is making $50,000 a year and I’m staying home to clean and maintain the house, care for the children, cook the food, do the shopping, and keep on top of the accounting and not bringing in any money a year.”

Sharing income really isn’t that rare or radical an arrangement. It’s actually incredibly common. What’s not common is pooling income with people you’re not related to by blood or marriage. What’s radical about our proposal is to pool income with an open and expandable group of people we are not related to or romantically involved with and to do so in a radically equal way (this money belongs to all of us, no one is “giving” it to anyone). The pooling of income to provide resources that are equally available to all is also something we’re intimately familiar with in the form of government services, like the library, the park, or the roads. What’s radical about our proposal here is the scope of our common economy: nearly everything that can be shared is shared, and shared fully.


But why? Why are we so passionate about taking the idea of a common economy and running with it? There are many reasons:

Just like in a marriage, we’re not really sharing our money with each other we’re sharing our labor and we’re sharing responsibility and pledging to be there for each other in good times and bad, in sickness and in health, in richness and in poorness. When we do this we begin to be able to rely upon each other, call upon each other, and access each other’s abilities and resources in a deep and unfettered way. Things that we do for each other are no longer charity or gifts as our interests are bound together. This lets us all work to our strengths by specializing and really throwing ourselves wholly into opportunities and crises knowing that we’ve got a whole crew backing us up at home. The common economy means doing more of what we love and are good at and it means less times that we have to say “I’d really love to but I just don’t have the time.”

We’ve known since forever that cooperation and sharing is more efficient than isolated action and individual ownership. Even capitalism, famous for promoting competition and individualism, is just a way of using greed and self-interest to get people to cooperate and share. People get together in buying clubs and share housing and cars because it lowers their costs dramatically. We see this taken to an extreme at all the egalitarian communes we know of where members live comfortable modern lives at an arguably upper middle class level: organic healthy meals cooked for you from scratch twice a day, plenty of healthy food, housing, health care, transportation, internet access, computers, home theater, exercise room, sauna, hot tub, pond, personal shopper, professional party planners, as much sick leave as you need, generous vacation and extended leave policies, retirement and hospice care, child care, and a maternity and paternity leave system that puts the Scandinavians to shame. And the kicker: they do it all working fewer hours than national average and on an annual income around or well below the poverty line.

cooperative logo

In the status quo individualist economy the expectation is that everyone is responsible for taking care of their needs individually and that they need to go into the market and win money for themselves to do that. If you want to act collaboratively or purchase collectively or own cooperatively then every time you need to go to extra effort and make a special system in order to pool your resources. When you switch to a common economy where all the income is shared as a default then acting collaboratively, purchasing collectively, and owning cooperatively becomes the default and if you want to buy or own anything individually you need to go to extra effort and make a special system in order to shave off some of that collective income for your individual use. Switching to a unified holistic common economy saves a ton of overhead since you no longer need to attend separate meetings to manage your worker co-op, food co-op, car co-op, childcare co-op, housing co-op, buying club, etc. nor do you need to do all the separate accounting for them. Not only can you consolidate management tasks and allow specialization within your group, you can also forgo quite a lot of accounting since you don’t need to keep track of every individual member’s input and output to each particular coop. The difficulty of managing an a la carte cooperative economy is expressed well by Oscar Wilde’s purported quip “the problem with socialism is that there just aren’t enough evenings in the week”.

The savings from cooperation and from lowering the overhead of that cooperation not only allow the members of the commune to live better lives more easily on less, it allows them to more easily reach out into the wider world with a large impact. Collectively we can maintain larger facilities for the benefit of the wider community, donate more resources to causes we believe in, and make the time to organize, agitate, and support if we just put our heads together.

Visiting Your Vision

When I was last down at Twin Oaks Community I stopped by their O&I board (a board of proposals, reports, opinions, and information) and saw that a couple of members had proposed a calendar of continuous reflection and learning connected to the core values of the community. I was inspired, snapped a picture, and shared it with the Point A DC crew.

Pretty colors drawing us towards our glorious future.

The proposal as seen on the O&I board at Twin Oaks Community.

Our friend Beth Raps liked the idea so much she interviewed me and wrote about it at her blog Raising Clarity. You can see her post here.

I’ve copied our short exchange below:

Beth Raps: What caught your eye at first?

GPaul Blundell: Honestly, when confronted with a wall of clipboards covered in pages of type and written words a splash of color goes a long way to drawing the eye.

BR: What kept you reading it?

GPB: I, like everyone here, feel driven to live a value-based life yet, possibly because we agree on so much, there are not many conversations about those values. Any serious proposal to get us talking more about what inspires us and what world we are trying to create merits my attention.

BR: Why are you interested in that?

GPB: Vonnegut cynically wrote the epitaph of the human world: “The good Earth — we could have saved it, but we were too damn cheap and lazy.” I’m not so cynical but I do worry. It is easy and in fact completely reasonable to be caught up in the immediate concerns of life and want to be economical with our limited time and resources. Stepping out of our immediate situation into the world of ideals and values is an effective way to call ourselves to solve the big, slow, vague, complicated problems that afflict us: climate disruption, ecological catastrophe, economic inequality, racial injustice, patriarchy, etc. Continuously regrounding ourselves in a liberatory analysis and compassionate connection with the wider world helps us to prioritize actions and investments that don’t obviously and quickly pay off for us but are hugely important.

BR: How does it relate to what you’re up to in the world?

GPB: I’m one of the instigating organizers of Point A which is a project of the Federation of Egalitarian Communities to cultivate ambitious engaged egalitarian income sharing communes in the cities of the East Coast. As a project we take a lot of inspiration from the Movement for a New Society (MNS) and from Las Indias, both of which centered collective learning and analysis in their socially transformative work. For MNS, several veterans of the movement attributed the stalling and creeping irrelevance of the movement to their move away from constant learning and analysis. In Point A, if we want the communes we create to be catalysts and strongholds of liberatory and compassionate social transformation, we take the lessons of history to show that we need to be constantly engaging with the world, seeking to understand it, and sharing and developing that understanding with each other. If we ever stop we risk losing sight of the big picture that keeps us on the path to the more beautiful world that lives in our hearts or we risk sinking into irrelevance as the world changes underneath of us but our understanding of it does not.

My experience over the last decade at Acorn Community supports the importance of having these values conversations. When you’re operating a business, and a household, and a farm together it’s easy to end up just putting your head down and getting caught up in the day to day business of keeping it all running. Petty conflicts and practical concerns can begin to crowd your field of vision. But when we get together and talk about the values, the politics, and the grand goals that brought us together in the first place we can rise above the cloud of day to day concerns and see each other in a new and brighter light and begin to see the long outline of the path we have set out to tread. It’s a sure way to boost morale and the quality, creativity, and compassion of our thinking.

Point A DC’s Inaugural Open House

If you’re in the Washington, D.C. area, join us this Sunday to learn more about our egalitarian, income-sharing, ambitious and engaged commune in the capital city!

This is a great chance to learn about Point A and meet folks already involved in the project. Hear updates, ask questions, challenge your notions of what is possible, and strive with us to create a kinder, more beautiful, and more sustainable world. We’ll also be featuring guests from similar projects around the US: Amelia from Emma Goldman Finishing School (an egalitarian income sharing commune in Seattle) and Cole from The Midden (an egalitarian income sharing commune in Columbus, OH).
View full details and map and on the event page.


Income Sharing Across The Pond

This summer I traveled through Europe visiting urban and near-urban income sharing egalitarian communes as I went.  My goal was to find ideas and inspirations for the Point A project and to find stories of other people who have done the sort of thing we are proposing so that it seems more real and feasible.  In Denmark, Germany, and Spain I found a diverse collection of communes all of whom had lessons and stories to impart.  What happens when the wider culture takes on the project of your commune and surpasses it?  What would it look like to trust each other with our entire lives?  What exactly is a cyberpunk commune?

Give it a listen and think about what we could do here.