the Communities Conference as a network

the Communities Conference as a network: an interview

by Paige Carlson

I sat down to talk with Sky, who has been helping organize the Communities Conference in varying degrees for 18 years, he is currently serving as the executive director for the Fellowship for Intentional Community (FIC), and is actively working on growing a flourishing lawn at the conference site at Twin Oaks Community, which is also where he lives. I was interested to know his thoughts and feelings about what goes on there. Following is my synthesis of what he had to say:

But first, i want to define intentional communities and the communities movement, in this writing, intentional communities is used to refer to “groups of people who live together or share common facilities and who regularly associate with each other on the basis of explicit common values,” (definition from the FIC values page) these often look like housing co-ops and communes. The communities movement is the social and economic movement towards co-operation in the stewardship of resources guided by explicit common values. These phrases are used to refer to communities that self identify as Communities as such and usually have some knowledge about the larger communities movement, though there are many other communities that do not formally identify as a part of the communities movement but have kindred structures, Wildseed community in New York is an example.

what is the Communities Conference? (or, the communities conference as a door)

First and foremost the Communities Conference is an opportunity for people living in, or interested in living in, communities to come together to meet, co-educate, and for the people who already know each other to gather in reunion. People camp, or stay at a neighboring facility, and all meals are provided. There are workshops which are relevant and useful to intentional communities. Last year the theme was inclusivity and diversity, and we had 8 workshops on the theme, most led or co-led by POC and folks from other marginalized groups. This year we’re carrying that theme forward, as well as bringing in content on cooperative business and sustainable building. 

In a segment in the program called Meet the Communities, the communities who are present share about themselves to the group, creating space for them to learn about one another. Sky says, “knowing each other and knowing what’s out there helps to strengthening our movement, especially when we rely so much on word of mouth and there is little to no frame of reference for what living in community is like for huge swaths of the population.” Sky also reflects that there are more and more people coming into communities and the conference these days by doing things like internet searching for “are there any more 60s communes?” and after discovering the conference attend without previous experience, or discover only one community on the internet and move directly to it. In this way the Communities Conference is a place in which people who know of only one community can come into knowing the larger networks.

who is best served by this event?

Sky says, “People from new and struggling communities can benefit from what they can learn from other ‘veteran’ communities, and have fun. If they’re new and struggling things are probably stressful at home for them, and there is opportunity to have fun with people who you know get the struggles you are having and are coming from a similar experience.” He gives me a knowing look here.

There is also a contingent of people who come year after year and have been coming for a long time, the conference is like a family reunion for them, and Sky, and he believes that from a movement building perspective that shouldn’t be underestimated.

Best served are also the people who just did an internet search or heard a whisper of community on the wind of communities. Sky says, “We do a good job of offering an introductory experience into the world of communities. Also, Twin Oaks is part of a sort of neighborhood of communities and part of the conference is a tour of the five neighborhood communities: Twin Oaks, Acorn, Living Energy Farm (LEF), Cambia, and Mimosa. You can come, maybe expecting to learn about just one community, and get a tour of four more all of different sized, with different focuses, and at different stages of development.”

what is the culture like at the conference?

There are structured group times, workshops and meals. Friday evening there is an opening circle, as wells as Saturday afternoon circle, and Sunday morning closing circle. Sky says. “These are spaces where we get people talking to each other and create space for them to get to know each other. We have more emphasis on that than other conferences do. We also discuss the norms of the conference, stuff like: taking photos, consent, peeing outside, quiet hours and smoking, which helps provide an experience of being in community intentionally. We make a lot announcements throughout the weekend and that’s an opportunity to create group cohesion. We have a work exchange as a payment option and we also have everyone who comes to the conference expect to work 2-3 hours as a way of sustaining the conference and building a sense of community amongst the participants.”

what about social justice? (or, the communities conference as a window)

Sky reflects and says “What does a future look like where all of these social and economic movements are successful? is a question that intentional communities attempt to answer,” or extrapolate on.

“The lived experience of being a part of communities is hard to quantify in terms of its ‘activism’ or ‘social change’ because they are often composed by and contain segments of broader social movements and the beginnings of expressing a holistic vision that we can work toward and hopefully live inside of.”

“Intentional communities ally with movements that are working for more explicit structural change within the current governing systems. This creates a strength via a two way street of resources and knowledge. For example the larger intentional communities organization, the FIC, is a member of the New Economy Coalition which is an organization fostering relationships between groups, organizations, and communities who are working to build more just, sustainable, and cooperative economies.”

“It is true that the communities movement is disproportionately white.” Sky says, “though, i think it’s less white than we think it is, because the communities movement is essentially a network of groups and white people have been at the center of it, who know each other in varying degrees. We tend to associate with people of the same race, leaders tend to be white tend and tend to have white friends, this directs who we know and who we know about especially. There are more people of color led intentional communities out there that are not within the “mainstream” of the communities movement.”

“In regards to the makeup of our communities, part of privilege is being about be able to avoid the conversation about it, and if nothing else I intend to keep bringing it up. The theme of last year was Inclusivity and Social Justice, and I hope that that becomes not just a theme but a regular part of the programming.”

Intentional communities put themselves in a position of stewarding resources. Sky wonders, “How can we get support to groups who are working on the ground by leveraging, funneling, and directing resources and knowledge?”

“Communities exist as models for collectivizing. As more and more people start to need to do it out of necessity models for doing it well will be more and more important.”

how does the communities conference effect twin oaks?

Sky says, “I think in all communities, especially rural communities, there’s a danger of becoming insular. It’s helpful for Twin Oaks to remember other people, other communities, and the broader communities movement. Sometimes people who live at Twin Oaks have never been to another community, so it’s a good chance to meet and see others.”

what’s your favorite part of the communities conference?

Sky smiles, “the dance party for sure! Also any time, when i look around and everyone looks really absorbed in each other and what they are doing. I’ve started doing this from time to time during the conference to see how we’re doing. If everyone seems positively, highly engaged, I feel like we’re doing something important. They almost always do.”

the beginnings of a communities conference national event

There are 3 committees conference around the country at similar times. The same weekend as Communities Conference, is the Southwest Inter-Community retreat at Llama foundation, and soon after is the West Coast Communities Conference. Sky shares, “It is a hope of mine for the communities conference to become a national event.”

in conclusion

From what i gathered talking with Sky it seems as though there are opportunities to learn more about communities currently in existence, meet people who may have similar interests and desired living paths, and camp in the woods in Virginia with people working towards more interpersonal and infrastructural organizational harmony and joy.  




Speak Your Mind