Organizing some old writings, I came upon this from eighteen or twenty years ago. Heathcote Community, Maryland:
A walk will clear my mind, align my north and south poles with some psychic axis. Just to lay foot to gravel is to become a child walking safely down the hallway in my mother’s house. As I watch my dog soaking in stimulations, her day speeds up as mine winds down.
I fold down, despite my back, to the various nuts and acorns on the gravel road. I begin a pocketful for the goat. She likes the acorns, before their hats call off. But it’s late in their season and most lie bald, fallen soldiers in random clusters, sleeping silent and just among a roughly equal number of empty acorn hats. Car tires have cracked the bulk of them.
But here in the gravel, among the ones splintered like baby beer barrels, are the survivors, full with the audacity of a late October warm spell. Here, in the road, dozens of acorns are sprouting. Haven’t they heard the one about the seeds in the road versus the seeds in fertile ground? Are they fooled, or am I, into believing a human account? They sprout in might twists, the colors of lime rinds and Thanksgiving cranberries. They lie there, swimming in magical Maryland mica, The gorgeous glitter that penetrates the soil, the stones and my shoes. As I stoop in the road wearing Dorothy’s ruby slippers, how could I doubt that this is a place of endless possibilities?
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I’m often taken aback when someone asks me why I have goats. My usual response is to ask why they don’t. This doesn’t get them any closer to understanding the attraction, but do they ask parents why they have children? Children are lots of work, they’re loud and messy, they destroy things, disobey, they eat their weight in stuff that does them little good, they scoff at your authority. Yep. Goats are children and children are goats. Now do you see why it’s a silly question? When you love your children, every challenge and trauma is worth it. You’re in it for the long haul, and even though you have moments of questioning your place in this universe, you wouldn’t trade your kids, human or caprine, for anything.
And so, in these tough times, I am an expectant mother again. I have put a deposit down on a little buckling, Levi, who will come to his forever home in about a month. He will be companion to Ponder, my young doe who has been an only goat all winter.
This is not the greatest time to add another hungry mouth to our household, which makes it a great time for some baby goat therapy! As we grow our eco-friendly cleaning business, my partner C.T. and I are stressed about money to the point of bleeding out of our hair follicles. The business is growing wonderfully, but not fast enough for our parade of bills. Knowing that we needed to get a companion for Ponder (goats are herd animals and don’t thrive in isolation) I scoured my DVD collection and sold a bagfull to the local thrift store. I put some of my collectibles on Craigslist and started to fundraise to pay bills and to fund a baby goat.
The baby goat therapy began when we visited a herd where some newly weaned bucklings were available for adoption. C.T. had recently had minor surgery and we were visiting these goats on our way to a follow up doctor’s appointment. The available bucklings were nice but I fell in love with twin bottle babies, a male and female, whose mother had died a week after birth. The male was available for adoption after weaning. So a week later I returned and put down a deposit. He is half Pygmy and half Nigerian Dwarf, with interesting Nigerian coloring. Since the gray agouti coloring on the front half of his body makes it look like he’s wearing a denim jacket, I decided to name him Levi.
I am also waiting for a medical procedure so I arranged that the breeder would continue to bottle feed Levi with his twin sister until after my recovery, in a month or so. In the meantime, the baby goat therapy continues as the breeder sends us camera phone pictures of our little Levi.
But aren’t we crazy to spend money on yet another animal when we’re behind? Yes. And…Our existing herd members, solo goat Ponder and two Livestock Guard Dogs Dana and Tonka, are restless and acting out because there are no other goats. Their diminished quality of life is stressing them and adding to our stress. It’s always an option to decide not to have the herd anymore, to rehome everyone. But goats are children, as are dogs, for that matter. So today is not the day for that choice. Therefore, baby goat.
The actual purchase of a goat is not much. They range from free to $50 to $500. Since Levi was bought with traded DVD’s, well, that’s kind of free. Goats can cost a few dollars a month in feed and hay. They eat much less than a horse or a cow, being smaller. But like a horse or cow, a goat can also eat the nature all around your property, and that can lessen feed costs. When I lived in Maryland, I only fed my goats when snow was on the ground. Otherwise, they ate the woods where we lived.
Vet bills can run high. But like most livestock owners, we have a shelf of medical texts and have learned to do much medical care ourselves. We also have a certain medical credit card (I won’t give them free advertising here) and in emergencies we can charge a vet bill and have a year or more to pay, interest free.
So now I’m planning how to introduce a tiny goat to our very large animals. I’ll have a nursery pen inside the larger pen, letting everyone smell and explore each other through a fence. Then one animal at a time will visit with Levi in the nursery–Ponder, Dana, Tonka and Cricket our inside dog. During the first few nights, I might have Levi in a play pen inside the house. He’s quite a McNugget for the local predators, and I want to be secure in his relationship with all herd members before I leave him out at night.
His breeder keeps Levi and his sister in a small pen with some pregnant does. So he’s already getting used to be hazed and butted by larger goats. But They’re all dwarf breeds. Ponder is larger and very keen on hierarchy. When we had her with other goats before, she was the smallest and was bullied mercilessly. She’s ready to dominate someone! Hence the slow introductions…
I know all the animals are going to be excited about a new herd member. And C.T. and I will get to enjoy a bouncing, dancing baby goat. Despite the nominal cost and financial risk, everyone’s lives will be better.
He arrived home after a flood to find me, a stranger, on hands and knees in his garden. I was a visitor to Heathcote Community and I had been assigned work exchange: the task of picking up gravel that had washed into the main garden from the parking pad. Charles had been traveling and we hadn’t yet met. He was one of the community gardeners and he stood, taking in the damaged plantings with shock. I tried to imagine the love and effort and hours he had given to this garden, now washed away. But as I observed him being unable to speak for some time, I also wondered if he was just one of those intense, dramatic people who always played moments like this. I would have the next two decades to learn that he was not. We lived together in drama and boredom, work and play, love and loss. Today I learned that Charles is gone.
Charles had been a professional musician, a drummer, in a band that had a record contract but didn’t get far. He’d studied at Berklee but left before finishing in his version of the typical rebellion/not fitting in story. In community, he made his music a gift to all by teaching World Music Drumming classes and accompanying our singalongs with his guitar.
Leaving the rock & roll life for a career in Montessori seemed to have given Charles a sense of balance and span. He cultivated his identity as a “Sensitive New Age Guy,” reading and discussing the latest pop philosophy book and stretching to acknowledge his privilege with humor and humility.
He often talked to me about Lisa, the child who had been in his life and gone. She was a partner’s daughter, and when that relationship ended, it was the loss of Lisa he mourned most.
Since we both wanted to have a child, we briefly did a dance, imagining having one together. But that is not a relationship we would have.
One thing he shared with Lisa, and then used as therapy when she was gone, was his obsession with trains, real and toy. He had constructed a model train set that ate up most of his apartment and discretionary income, once upon a time. Since my dad also built a sprawling train universe in my childhood basement, I understood train therapy and enjoyed Charles’ stories. To this day, when I see a train, I think of him.
But his time at Heathcote was filled with other therapies: gardening, cooking, ever-flowing meetings. Charles was a pilgrim on a search and he thrilled at including visitors, friends, kids and community mates in his explorations and gentle curiosity of what it means to be human, gendered, ethical, accountable, alive. He took to wearing the same simple clothing most of the time. It added to his persona that one ex-Heathcoter had labeled his “icky priest.” Even as he smiled at the characterization and repeated it in jest, he also worked to temper the ego that gets fed by the pilgrimage itself.
Charles was anti-shack. Our guerilla structures were energy inefficient and he felt we should comply with all local codes. The individual hippie shacks exposed the community to potential trouble. I personally didn’t want to live in a group house. When he decided to move into one of Heathcote’s empty shacks so he’d have room for his music studio, he was the first one to make jokes about his hyprocracy. But eventually the zoning trouble did come, and I did leave the community rather than live in a group house. I can’t say I believe he saw into our future, but I believe he wanted the community to be more secure.
His sense of security was fed by a strongly independent, “bootstraps” streak. He didn’t want to burden his friends or the community. So, as he lived with Parkinson’s and his life shrank into the Farmhouse, decisions about what he could and couldn’t do, and what help he would ask for, were difficult for him. He was always clear with us that he would leave to be with his family in the end.
It was Charles, in his confrontational honesty, who helped me understand that my community and my friends there had turned in a direction I couldn’t follow, or, even if I had done the turning, it was time to part.
As I page through our years at Heathcote in my mind, I light on our interactions, his judgements of me, his struggling with his judgements of me, my pulling back from our friendship when he got sick with Parkinson’s because I felt it was all I could do to badly take care of myself. And, because I have been a Heathcoter, I notice how much of my memories of us appear in a frame about me. Now I want to take the time to look at Charles—always setting aside funds for his next car; taking time to draw out a visitor’s life story; attending every monthly work day; mediating countless checkins with presence and gravity; taking constant public account of his life lessons and failings. He was a pilgrim for our times.
P.S. Charles appeared by name at least twice in my poetry. I like that these show the pilgrim I knew:
Charles’ mother is dying.
He has planed
Now he sweeps
Back home this is his
He sweeps the hall,
2 seconds per stroke
by the mantle clock.
“Get the stairs while
You’re at it,”
his father says.
He sweeps the living room
and the porch.
He sweeps the lawn.
His mother is awake.
She asks of his plans.
He talks of job changes.
She takes out 3 papers
and crunches numbers
on the first.
on the second.
And Charles waltzes the broom.
He spreads out the pages–
her handwriting, his;
the choreography of cursive.
And one more…
He takes the unused page,
with a pause for
all symphonies in the ether,
and drags his dustpile
onto the page
with his mother’s broom.
the walking meditation class is poised
watching pumpkins swell
watching crow’s feet creep
or charles remembering that
if you walk slowly enough
you need only stand still
How “safe” are your groups for diverse people, operational styles and opinions? How safe do you feel in groups? How about right now? The concept and importance of safety in group dynamics can be elusive. We might be looking for a definition we can all depend on, but in fact, safety is defined by the person who doesn’t have it. It’s individual, subjective and momentary.
It’s also seated in the gut. So much so that we’re often not intellectually aware of our safety or lack of it. We’ve all felt those hairs on the back of the neck sound an alarm. Safety can be as physical as a fight-or-flight situation. But for some people, often people who lack privilege, the absence of safety is a low grade static state. It might be marked by what the person doesn’t say, what the person doesn’t do.
Some people are eminently safe in groups. They’re often the first to speak and often have the “great idea” to solve a problem. But even these individuals can fall out of safety in moments.
Many people don’t think of themselves as “out of safety,” but during meetings they speak very little because “it’s just not worth it,” or “someone else will say it,” Or, maybe as a woman or person of color, or anyone who’s seen repeated group dysfunction, they view a group as “nothing new/same-old-same-old” in which others are oblivious to what life is like for her/him.
In the groups you belong to, do newcomers check out the group but leave after a few meetings? In meetings, do the same 3 or 4 people do most of the talking, with 3 or 4 others speaking once, and the rest just listening, as if watching a TV program? Does it seem like a tiny core group do 80-90% of the work of your group, with a large membership who are just “tourists” or “consumers,” enjoying the fruits?
Most people say that these dynamics are just the nature of groups, that this is to be expected. But are you sure? Have you ever interviewed a new member who left your group? Would that person tell you the truth? Is there a way to increase participation? How significant is the question of safety?
Fiopa Consensus Collective
I wrote the handout above as a conversation starter for small groups at the beginning of a workshop we held at the library in Chico, California. I’m not really blogging these days but I have been cleaning up my computer files and thought I’d share some writings here. You’re welcome to share the above, only if you credit Wren Tuatha & Fiopa Consensus Collective, and do not alter the content.
C.T. and I have been in our log kit home in the Sierra Nevadas for just over a year now. Reflecting on nearly two decades of cooperative living at Heathcote, I still long to be back in an Intentional Community.
Has it happened organically around us here? ”We have eleven mouths to feed every day,” C.T. just observed this morning. Let me count that out:
Floyd, the landlords’ horse
Shiloh, a puppy we’re petsitting
Leeloo, our cat
Cricket, our Sheltie
Tonka, our male Akbash
Dana, our female Akbash
Ponder, our bottle baby goat
Guru, our big horned wether
Story, our middle sized goat
Yep, eleven. We smiled to think of our rag tag group being the community we wish we had. Of course, it’s not “Intentional Community” in two core ways: It’s heavily hierarchical and no one but the humans and the cat can be said to have chosen it. All the others were. shall we say, kidnapped, or at least recruited without their input. Neither did existing members get to weigh in on new arrivals, just us humans. So structurally, it’s more like a family, with parents choosing to add children.
Goats and dogs are considered to rely heavily on hierarchy in social groups. Although that’s not their whole story, it’s not untrue. And in our big family, hierarchy plays out every hour.
At the bottom of the goat ladder is Ponder, our bottle baby Alpine. She had rough beginnings, and is the smallest. She’s also very Mama-focused, which creates jealousy and also inspires her to do ungoatlike things. Guru constantly bullies her, like a drill sergeant trying to build a better soldier.
Ponder was the first arrival and Tonka was the second. When he got of of the car and saw the little baby goat he was brought to protect, he fell in love. Ponder is closer to the dogs than the other goats as a result.
So she’s always been curious to make friends with our little Sheltie, Cricket. Let’s list the ways this has not gone well:
1) Cricket broke her hip as a pup and fears being pushed or knocked down, which can be painful
2) Ponder, like Guru and Story, has horns
3) Goats gently butt heads/horns to say hello
4) When Ponder gets close to Cricket, intending to butt hello, she realizes she’s bigger than the dog and has an opportunity to dominate someone else. She can’t resist, and the hello becomes a die, demon scum!
I’m mama to both so when I sit with the herd, Cricket and Ponder both want to sit in my lap or at my feet. Die, demon scum plays out, over and over. When Cricket sees the various goats head butting or just chasing after each other as they leapfrog from one pile of hay to another, she barks an alarm. To her, horns equal violence and goats must be stopped. But she’s just eleven months old. She has a long time to learn to appreciate goat subtlety.
The combined goat and dog group has an overall hierarchy, apart from the goat and dog specific lists. They respect that dogs are just goats that have their horns in their mouths (innies) or that goats are just dogs with their fangs on top of their heads (outies), depending on perspective.
The ladder goes something like this:
Tonka–Normally livestock guard dogs should be below their goats or sheep, serving them while not being aggressive toward them. But after some early issues with food aggression and some bad moods overnight in the barn stall, The others give way to Tonka, who is gentle and patient with his charges. Now.
Guru–Not a lovable brute like Tonka, Guru is more like that curled mustache/dressed in black bad guy from the Old West, tying damsels to train tracks while speaking in a strangely out of place British accent. He’s strong as a pony but his dominance comes from endless micro aggressions. Being much larger and older than the does, he has several responsibilities: watching for danger, teaching the others what to eat and what to avoid, punishing bad goat behavior and advocating for the group to the humans.
Story–We often call her the little serial killer. She’s constantly looking for ways to bully ponder and anyone else down the line. But it’s not random. She has the most to lose. Being only slightly heaver than Ponder, she could actually lose her place as second goat.
Ponder–In two separate bullying events, Guru broke the tips off both of Ponder’s horns. This had an interesting effect: She now has sharp, knife tipped weapons which she loves to use on:
Dana–Dana is happy to occupy the traditional livestock guard dog place under the goats. Other than play fights with Tonka and barking at deer and jackrabbits who dare to threaten her charges, she is never aggressive. But just when she falls off to sleep or gets a comfortable spot under a tree, here comes Ponder to poke the one herd member she can.
Cricket–Don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me. Goats are just wrong. Dana, let me stand on your head. I’m big! Whee, I’m fast! Don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me. Goats are just wrong. Mama…Whee, I’m fast!
C.T. Butler Launches New Eco-Friendly Cleaning Business
If the economy is recovering, the wave hasn’t hit our house. As C.T. pursues work as a personal assistant, I have wondered how I could contribute. Since my health prevents me from working, I can pass my skills on to others. Enter The Green Butler!
Early in my time at Heathcote Community in Maryland, I attended film school and supported myself as Walden Tribe Cleaning. I cleaned homes and offices using vinegar, baking soda, vegetable-based detergent, hot water and elbow grease! I used cotton rags instead of paper towels and other disposables. Eventually, I had several cleaners working for me and over a hundred clients. When health problems interfered with my cleaning, I moved on to other projects. But now I am sharing my knowledge with C.T. so he can launch The Green Butler, an eco-friendly cleaning company serving our new home, the Chico/Paradise/Magalia area of Northern California!
Of course, his business name is both a play on C.T.’s surname, Butler, and also his career as a personal assistant (a kind of modern day butler) to high net worth individuals. In his role as personal assistant, he supervises household staff, including housekeepers. He’s usually a conduit between client and household staff, and handles hiring, payroll and other employment issues. He’ll continue to perform these tasks for The Green Butler.
Until we have a staff for C.T. to supervise, he will clean the growing schedule of houses and businesses himself. I have been sharing my knowledge and experience with natural cleaners and the standard tasks and flow of the job. He’s a great student. It’s a fun role reversal for us, as I came into our partnership as his consensus student. Now I get to go along behind him and give the thumbs up or say, “You missed a spot!”
Tabling at Chico Natural
In the old days of Walden Tribe, I only needed to post my pull-tab flyers at Baltimore’s Whole Foods and a few other grocery stores. Between that and word of mouth, I never lacked for clients. Since bulletin boards are no longer ubiquitous, C.T. pulled an old strategy from his activist days, an information table. In Chico, the place to be is Chico Natural, the local food coop. He’s had great success meeting interested people and setting up bid appointments. And the coop has great snacks…
Conventional thinking might hold that, in a tight economy and a challenged area like Butte County, few Chicoans would be in the market for a luxury service like house cleaning. In fact, it’s more recession proof than you’d think. As people may be paid less, they often work longer hours. Many people, especially parents, decide to hire a house cleaner so their shrinking free time can be used for other pursuits–time for relaxation, time with children or pets; hobbies or activism.
As with Walden Tribe, new Green Butler clients cover much of the economic spectrum. They’re telling us they’re relieved to have help because these days it’s almost impossible to keep up with everything.
In the Walden Tribe days, about half of my clients preferred my natural methods and half didn’t choose me for my environmental angle, they just appreciated that Walden Tribe did an excellent job. In Chico, people are consistently excited to have an alternative to conventional services and their mainstream chemical products. It looks like we’re filling a valuable niche!
In addition, most have been pleasantly surprised at our affordable bids.
C.T. has been cleaning professionally for about two weeks now. He’s motivated to grow the schedule quickly. So friends and neighbors in
Chico, Paradise and Magalia:
SIGN UP FOR WEEKLY OR BI-WEEKLY CLEANING AND GET YOUR THIRD CLEAN FOR FREE!
Call me, Wren, for a bid appointment: 410-458-2310. Offer good through April 30, 2015.
Hello, TRIBErs! The following is the text of Fiopa Consensus Collective’s brochure on our facilitated process to help groups identify, define and use their commonly held values in a Values-Based Consensus process.–Wren Tuatha
The Initial Values Process
How a Group Identifies and Defines Values Held in Common for Values-Based Consensus
You are beginning a journey, an experiment. No one in your group has been through this before. Wren Tuatha and C.T. Butler (aka Fiopa Consensus Collective) want to take this time to outline the entire process of how a Values-Based group identifies and defines the common values that will become the basis of its decisionmaking process. You’re receiving this pamphlet at the beginning of a multi-meeting, ongoing process. The initial journey of coming up with a working list of values will take several weeks, and involve individual reflection, one-on-one checkins, small group discussion and large group consensus decision-making.
Individual Want/Need Values Exercise
You’ll be given a list of “value words” to prompt your imagination. It is in no way a complete list, just examples of the “meta” words that represent values. Unless you arrived late, you will be given at least 20 minutes for the following process, which is done individually, in a quiet environment.
You’ll hear how values differ from goals, strategies and outcomes. “Green Building,” is a strategy for practicing the value of “sustainability,” for example. We’re only looking for the values underneath our goals, strategies and outcomes right now. You’ll get to that other content later.
Make two columns on a piece of paper. Label one “NEED” and the other “WANT.”
In thinking about the group you’re forming, what values do you personally hold that you need to be group values, they’re your non-negotiables; without them, you might not be able to be in this group. List them under “NEED.”
Which of your values would you like to be common, but if they’re not, you’ll be able to adjust. You won’t have to leave the group, but you think they’re important. List them under “WANT.”
[Note: C.T. Lawrence Butler’s book, On Conflict and Consensus, lists and defines these eleven values as being inherent and embedded in the structure of consensus: Trust, Respect, Unity of Purpose, Nonviolence, Self Empowerment, Cooperation, Conflict Resolution, Commitment to the Group, Active Participation, Equal Access to Power, and Patience.
If you don’t resonate with one or more of these values, consider referring to the book for C.T.’s definition. If you’re still uncomfortable after discussing it with group members, it is likely the consensus process is not for you. You’re not out of the game, though. Consider form- ing your own group that uses voting, Sociocracy or some other method of decisionmaking, and form a coalition for actions in conjunction with this group.]
Form a Committee to Collate Values onto a “Values Wall”
This committee will collect everyone’s Need/Want lists.
- Every value that is on every paper, whether a Want or a Need, is automatically common.
- Next, values that members put on their Need list, if not already identified as common, will be collected and the committee will ask the group, at a subsequent meeting, if any of these could be common values. If everyone who had not already identified this value would add it to his/her own list, then it is common.
- If anyone declines to include this value, discuss it’s meaning to the people who listed it and to the people who reject it. No movement? Maybe it’s not a common value, and the person who needs it may not be a candidate for membership in this group. Or maybe it is a common value and the person who rejects it is not a candidate for membership in this group.
- Next, the remaining values that are on anyone’s Want list which are also on most but not all papers are brought to the group. Are they common values?
Individuals Define Values on Wall
The committee will take the list of common values, which will probably number between 12 and 50, and write them on giant paper on a large wall space to which all members have regular access. The value words will have ample space for each member to write their own definitions. Every member need not define each value, but should define all that are important to the member, as inspired. The definition can take the form of dictionary language, examples, poetry, rap lyrics, pictures or whatever gets the ideas out. Important: Each member must put her/his name to his/her definition. If another member wants to ask a question, she/he needs to be able to find you. This is a slow motion dialog.
Committee Wordsmiths Definitions
After a predetermined and announced period of time, the values wall is closed. The committee takes what was written on the values wall for each value word and wordsmiths them into a definition for each value, contacting members with questions on their offerings, as needed. Like all VBC meetings, the committee announces to the whole group when and where it will meet, and their meetings are open to all members.
Group Reaches Consensus on Definitions
The committee brings their wordsmithed definitions to the group in small batches, 2 or 3 values per meeting. If the whole group consents to the wording of the definition, the committee’s work is completed for that value for now. If the definition fails to reach consensus, the committee continues to wordsmith the definition using the feedback from the whole group. This process continues until the whole group reaches consensus on each of the definitions. It is important for the group to appreciate that this is hard work and give it’s committee much love, not attacks, for their efforts.
- • Your group will likely need to make decisions before your initial values work is done. You can use the 11 val- ues defined in the book, On Conflict and Consensus, as a temporary common values base until your initial val- ue process is complete. Trust the process and everyone’s good intent using the VBC model. (Never skip Levels 1, 2 or 3.)
- Your group will indentify additional common values from time to time.
- More often, your group will need to adjust and add to its definitions of existing common values as situations bring new aspects to light and priorities shift within the individual members and as a whole group.
- Do make a large, readable poster with your common values (just the words) in a “cloud” or non-linear list. Use different colors of ink. Hang this in your meeting space for every meeting.
- Do have your values and their definitions in a binder that is in the room at every meeting. Make updates promptly as your definitions and values list evolves.
Fiopa Consensus Collective
Thanks to Pablito of Reclaiming Quarterly for this positive review of C.T. Lawrence Butler’s Consensus for Cities! This is a pre-Occupy Wall Street review, of the proof edition C.T. circulated. He had planned to further edit it before the final print. But when we got involved with Occupy, we sold out of/gave away the five hundred proof editions and printed another run of five hundred. I just noticed this write up today. —Wren Tuatha
Consensus for Cities
A forthcoming book by C.T. Butler
Reclaiming-tradition groups often make decisions by consensus, and may be familiar with C.T. Butler’s pamphlet: On Conflict and Consensus.
His upcoming Consensus for Cities both deepens and broadens participatory decision making — to cities, community groups, and families.
Don’t let the title mislead you — consensus for cities is only one of several valuable ideas and discussions therein.
Cities lays out a detailed structure for consensus decision making for up to 100,000 people. If you want to know how many hours per week you’d spend and in what type of meetings, it provides a thorough and surprisingly tolerable estimate. The book also descibes a parallel mediation structure for disputes which are not easily resolved through the decision-making structure.
Cities’ discussion of and design for healthy volunteer-oriented community groups feels immediately relevant, useful, and democratically respectful. Other nonprofit management literature often focuses on hierarchical management and boards to the detriment of volunteer power, intelligence, and energy. If you have or are starting a community group, this book is worth reading.
Is the “family of the future” structured like an affinity group? Why might adopting consensus actually increase conflict? What is the psychology behind each formal consensus step?
Butler deepens his earlier consensus work by addressing these and other questions. Charts, definitions, and facilitation techniques are clear and useful for consensus practitioners.
Consensus for Cities is soon to be available from Food Not Bombs publishing, where you can also find a downloadable version of On Conflict and Consensus. Visit www.consensus.net.
— Reviewed by Pablito / Reclaiming Quarterly Issue #100, p. 7
Notes from Wren: The website, www.consensus.net, is offline for renovations. Watch for its return in 2016! Also, you might be wondering how to acquire Consensus for Cities. Just contact C.T. Butler at firstname.lastname@example.org or 301-586-2560. Just found this interesting assessment on a youtube discussion thread:
“This problem is why consensus is being increasingly adopted. It holds all the stakeholders accountable to the group and provides a level structure for negotiating right and need to access. C.T. Lawrence Butler’s “Consensus for Cities” provides good models for scaling the process up, so that accountability and responsibility are not restricted to the immediate group. This way, an isolated group can be held accountable to worldwide stakeholders, i.e. no one could overconsume at others’ expense.”
I’ve been working with my partner, Food Not Bombs cofounder and consensus author C.T. Butler, on writing about his life. We’ve been mapping the overlaps of activism and personal life. Of course for C.T., the personal is always political and the political is immediate and personal. He tells stories of the first Food Not Bombs collective, a group of activists who had met while occupying the construction of Seabrook Nuclear Power Station.
Forged in the crucible of early punk, the collective was youthfully recreating the sex, drugs and rock & roll meme on their own terms. They practiced polyamory, although that word had not been coined yet. And they brought a feminist form of consensus to their collective. In her 2010 book, Polyamory in the 21st Century: Love and Intimacy with Multiple Partners, Deborah Anapol records some of C.T.’s stories, intersecting sex and politics:
C. T. Butler, who is now in his fifties, has lived polyamorously and been actively engaged in working for social change for his entire adult life. In 1981, he cofounded the Food Not Bombs collective, which is still going strong around the world as a grassroots organization to provide free vegetarian meals for the hungry and raise awareness about homelessness as well as protesting war and military spending.
C.T. reports that for two years in the early days of Food Not Bombs, the collective was run by three men and three women who shared a large house and whose relationships included sexual involvement with each other in one way or another. They went so far in challenging the status quo that they had the experiment of not having their own personal bedrooms in the house. C.T. recalls, “Downstairs, we had the kitchen, dining room, living room, and study; upstairs, we had the sleeping room, the sex room, the library/meditation room, and the music room. We all slept together in one big bed in the sleeping room, and sometimes, some would sleep in the sex room or music room. There were others moving in or moving out of the collective all the time.”
While many of the young people who formed the Food Not Bombs collective were already lovers, they were “seasoned activists” who viewed their sexually radical lifestyle as a precaution against infiltration. C.T. re- calls that “we were quite concerned about infiltration at the time and felt that the willingness to be sexual and deeply intimate with everyone else in the collective was a way to prevent infiltration. Obviously, we did not think it was absolutely foolproof; we just thought it was helpful. However, that does not mean we required everyone to have sex with everyone else in the collective; it was that we were interested in experimenting with sexual relations in an outside-the-box way, and we saw the usefulness of this ex- perimenting in strengthening our bonds and our effectiveness as political activists. Therefore, in practice, if someone was unwilling to experiment, they were not suitable collective members. If they were comfortable with open relationships and had a willingness to experiment sexually, as dem- onstrated by their behavior, then we assumed they were very unlikely to be an agent of the state.”
In keeping with their anarchist politics, the collective were strong adherents of consensus decision making. Any member could call a meeting called a group-group, where everyone would engage in a discussion that could not end until everyone agreed on a resolution, which might mean two or three days with breaks only for eating and sleeping. C.T. reports that these group-groups were called only maybe five times in two years to address things like “dealing with a sexual predator, kicking a member out, and sexism.”
C.T. says that jealousy was never much of a problem for him because of his “political analysis of life.” He explains that, “from early adulthood, I realized that possessive behaviors and the idea that one person could control the behavior of another because of the concept of marriage was really just another form of slavery, one person owning another. I have never wanted to control or have another person all for myself. With regard to the jealousy my partners would feel, I was very patient and clear that jealousy is primarily based on fear. I would take the time to help my partner uncover her fear and manage it so that it would either go away or, at least, not destroy our relationship. Generally, that worked pretty well.” During the 1980s and 1990s, he helped start polyamory discussion groups throughout New England, lived in a series of polyamorous families, and fathered several children. For C.T., polyamory was as much a tool for political activism as a means of personal gratification.
One factual correction: Although C.T. “parented” several children, as in helping to raise them, he only fathered one child.
Interestingly, we discovered that C.T. is listed among famous poly people in the German Wikipedia article on polyamory. He pops up on lists here and there, often on lists of notable vegans or vegetarians.
As I post this, we are helping Cricket, our puppy, negotiate her play relationship with Leeloo, our cat. Cricket stands over her, trying to swallow the cat in slow motion, head first. Leeloo objects by biting and clawing Cricket’s leg.
“You have to check in with your partner, Cricket. Leeloo’s not having fun. Learn the signals,” I say.
“Yeah, you can’t just chew on ‘em,” C.T. concludes.
Great relationship advice from a poly activist…Decades of experience that you can take to bed…Meanwhile, Leeloo needs a safe word.
Life lessons, sigh. I had never moved across the country before. C.T. and I made the decision to lessen our work and stress by hiring professional movers, even though our money was beyond tight. In my Internet searches I got lists of moving companies and reviews, most of which I now realize are fake, written by employees of the movers. I wish I had searched on the keywords, “interstate moving scam,” before the move. That’s when I learned that what happened to us is a manipulation run by many moving companies and that they operate in the sweet spot of overcharging just enough that legal action isn’t worth it, and the governments don’t come after them because they play states and federal jurisdictions against each other. Sweet spot, indeed. The scam in summary: Your moving company gets you to sign a contract that estimates your weight but they somehow get a weight ticket showing that your household weighs much more than it does, and you must pay thousands more or they will not release your belongings to you. Our story, in general details: After inquiring by email with several companies, C.T. got a call from Colonial Van Lines. The expeditor on the phone said all the right things, that our household goods as described by C.T. probably weighed X amount, and that the company would move us for X dollars, just barely within our budget. Colonial present themselves as brokers, who then hire actual carriers to move your belongings. This was an indulgence for us, but we wanted our move to go well and we felt that having professionals load and drive our possessions was the way to have a smooth move! Soon other employees of Colonial started to call us with issues that would add costs to our bill. First, they decided our stuff weighed more. Then they called to say they couldn’t get the large truck on our street and we would have to pay extra for a shuttle truck. We rejected both these claims. Unfortunately, our contract said that we would not get our deposit back if we cancelled within, I believe, five days of the move and here we were, within five days. Interesting that they suddenly had these concerns then! Then we started getting similar calls from the middle men, the carrier Relo, who would actually move our goods. Our move was going to weigh more, plain and simple. We got scared that the move would cost money we didn’t have. We had to stay on budget. So we opened up boxes, gave away more things, threw things out. We consolidated small boxes into big boxes because, at one point, the callers stressed that it was the number of boxes, not the weight. Then we did something the movers probably didn’t expect: We actually bought a scale and weighed just about every single thing that we own. We stayed up until two in the morning the night before the movers came. We knew we were right at our target, give or take a couple hundred pounds. We knew what our belongings weighed. The Relo crew brought the shuttle truck at no cost to us. We were impressed to watch the crew of movers work. They were skilled, strong and seemed to be taking great care wrapping our furniture, at least while we were present. The crew chief seemed nice and showed us a ticket from a weigh station, showing what the truck weighed before our household was loaded. It seemed like things would work out fine. A day or two later, we got a call from that crew chief telling us that our belongings weighed three thousand pounds more than the contract. Having gone to great trouble to weigh our load, we contested this immediately. We asked for a reweigh, with us witnessing, but we were told the truck was already on the road. We had our own journey to manage, taking a dog and a cat from Maryland to California in a sedan, getting delayed by snow in the mountains. During our five day drive we tried to reach people at Relo and Colonial by phone but we got nowhere on the reweigh request. Once we arrive at our empty rental house in California, we began a period of endless days of phoning, arguing and pleading with people from Colonial and a third company called Atlantic Van Lines, who claimed to have been hired by Relo or Colonial somewhere enroute. This is where the good cop/bad cop play comes in. As far as I can tell, all three companies are the same company. Colonial, the brokers, played good cop, being on our side and trying to represent our interests in getting a reweigh. Atlantic, or Relo or whoever, they were the bad cop, threatening to keep our possessions, threatening to sue us, telling us what a bad company Colonial is and pressuring us hard for thousands more dollars. Just to clarify, the customer is always entitled to a reweigh, at any point on the journey. It’s against the law for a mover to deny you this. Finally the two sides pretended to no longer be working together. Atlantic said they didn’t need to honor any contract signed with Colonial. Colonial played the high road and assured us that Colonial would refund and overcharges themselves and that we should pay the overage. As a matter of fact, A Colonial vice president advised us to rent a different truck, pay the overage, load our things onto the new truck and go immediately to an independent weigh station. We did exactly that, incurring all the related additional charges. Our household belongings weighed exactly what we said they did. Our weigh station weight was in line with the total we got when we weighed each box and piece of furniture on a scale back in Maryland. Here the smoke and mirrors continued. Colonial had us send them all documentation, claiming that they were pursuing legal action against Atlantic on the behalf’s of us and several other clients. We were assured a refund. And the weeks and months rolled by. We had needed that money to live on once we landed here, while we looked for work. Life was hard financially without the money we’d been swindled of, and all of Colonial’s answers to our calls were vague. We are still being told our money will be refunded very soon. Why not just sue them, you’re asking now, right? Yeah. Colonial claims to be based in Florida, and our contract states that any legal action has to be brought against them there. After consulting with lawyers and government officials in California, Maryland and Florida, we found that we would indeed have to sue them there. We are actually willing, but the fees for filing small claims in Florida are higher than the other states, by several times. It’s an ongoing process, as is pursuing criminal action in Maryland. Long story long, the three companies are one group that does this regularly to folks completing interstate moves. Their Florida location and the good cop/bad cop routine protect them well. And who would sue when the cost of doing so roughly equals what they’re stealing? Aparently, these loopholes are the result of deregulation of the trucking industry. A few movers get caught. I did see one article about a moving company owner doing serious jail time. A person or persons in this organization has committed serious fraud with a regulated scale. But I have found that my state of origin and my state of arrival are slow to pick up this banner. Fortunately I have time on my hands to be a squeaky wheel. Lesson learned? Move yourself? Well, buyer beware, at least. Perhaps avoid so called brokers. Definitely drive to the weigh station and witness the before and after weighs of your truck. And read the Moving Rights and Responsibilities handbook carefully before signing a contract with anyone. It’s long, but it’s trying to tell you something. If your contract requires you to pursue legal action in a certain state, research the ease of that. Personally, now that I’ve picked up some moving techniques watching pro’s wrap and pack my furniture, I plan to rent a truck and hire friends in the future. I will travel with my truck. And I will pray for swift karma all around. That people can get away with this says very pathetic things about humanity and our culture.