30 years of community building

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the formation of the Fellowship for Intentional Community. A lot has changed in 30 years.

For one, in 1987 the internet wasn’t commercially available. No websites, no email. As a child of the digital age it’s hard for me to fathom how people found communities before the internet, and how communities found each other. And yet, the network existed well before the FIC came

Communities magazine started in 1972 as an amalgamation of several newsletters about communal living, which was a result of meetings at that year’s Twin Oaks Communities Conference. The first issue of Communities included the first Communities Directory. It also mentioned the North American Students of Cooperation, which focuses on student housing cooperatives, and was formed in 1968. But like the FIC, it is a successor to an organization that goes back to the 1940s. We are growing this movement in very rich soil that’s been cultivated for generations by people all over the country who somehow had the passion, dedication, and faith to build their communities and build a movement.

The social and political landscape has also changed dramatically. The counterculture and back-to-the- land movements of the ’60s and ’70s birthed many of the communities prominent in 1987, yet the schism with mainstream society they represented was only widening and intentional communities were becoming increasingly obscure and marginalized. It was an important time for the FIC to come together to help keep the momentum going.

Before long, in the early ’90s, cohousing and ecovillages would join the mix and help begin the
process of bringing intentional communities back to a more mainstream audience. Progressive
movements and organizations in general were recovering from the Reagan era, and with the
explosion of the internet, organizing for peace and justice only became easier. Things like the
Zapatista uprising in Mexico, MoveOn.org, and the WTO protests in Seattle in ’99 started
showing us what was possible.

The 2000s were about the world finally coming to recognize that there are global problems
facing humanity as a whole. And as we progress through the 2010s, it’s clear that more and more
people are looking for solutions. Intentional communities have always been models of integrated
solutions, merging social, economic, and ecological concerns. But while the stalwarts of previous
generations struggled to get this across to society, it seems younger people understand this
intuitively. A number of news outlets have contacted us about the surging interest amongst
millennials in intentional community; the interest major news outlets have been showing in
intentional communities clearly represents a growing recognition in society that there must be a
better way to do things.

There is so much wisdom embedded in the last 30 years of this movement and beyond. Sometimes wheels
do need to be reinvented, and sometimes people just need to learn from their own mistakes, but
sometimes knowledge can be shared and utilized and we can move beyond the challenges that
vexed previous generations.

In some ways, the world belongs to the youngest generation. They are the ones who will have to
deal with the mess we’ve made. The social, economic, and ecological problems intentional
communities have long sought to address are only compounding. Old ways of doing things might
simply no longer be relevant. But history does repeat, and the collected experience of decades of
community builders is invaluable. The commitment and perseverance that people brought to
their efforts to create the amazing intentional communities we see today cannot be
underestimated. Let’s carry forward the best of the past as we create a better future.