Come to our Gaia University Open House!

March 5, 2011, 7:30 – 9:00 PM at Heathcote Community

Come learn about Gaia University, an institution for higher learning with a unique approach. The students (called associates) are able to earn accredited Bachelors & Masters degrees and Graduate Diplomas whilst being actively engaged in self and planetary transformation and ecosocial regeneration. The Open House will provide an overview of Gaia University’s action learning methodology and our programs in Integrative EcoSocial Design with concentrations in Applied Permaculture Design, Regenerative Entrepreneurship, Participatory Community Design, and Open Topic.

Heathcote is partnering with Gaia Southeast to host a Gaia Gather-In March 23-30, 2011. Prospective applicants may attend the whole gathering or audit individual days. Find out more at the Open House!!

Please RSVP by Mar. 4 by calling 410-357-9523 or email

From Wren:  I attended last Saturday’s Gaia U Open House. I continue to be amazed at the scope and effectiveness of Gaia U. It brings our alternative values into practice, while educating alternative-minded students in hands-on, exploratory, real world ways. It’s a great alternative to the conventional classroom! I hope you can make this Open House or connect with Gaia U through its website or other means! —WT

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A Global Open Space Geared Towards Action

Wren on February 15th, 2011

From Wren: The World Social Forum is a growing event that happens concurrently with The World Economic Forum. WSF intends to turn the tide of “neo-liberal globalization,” (free market capitalism, with slavery, child labor, imperialism and environmental injustice).

I just received this email reporting on the World Social Forum in Dakar, Senegal. Click here for extensive photo coverage.

C.T. Butler and I had planned to attend it and the preceding IndyMedia Convergence as consensus trainers, but our invitation was relatively last minute and funding didn’t happen in the short time. We’re expecting our friends to return in the next few days with exciting stories! Until then I share this, unedited:


From Sven Giegold—

Just like last year’s World Social Forum held in Belem (Brazil), the
Forum in Dakar took place under the impression of the deep crisis of
neoliberal globalization. Whereas the economy has recovered for some
time already in some regions of the world, it started to do so recently
in others. But all that cannot hide the existence of deep social,
economic and ecological problems. The WSF provided a meeting point for
a broad range of individuals originating in movements and civil society
who hope to overcome neoliberal globalization: Either by establishing
social and ecological regulations, for instance by implementing a
“Green New Deal”, or by breaking with capitalism in general. This range
of political alternatives characterized this WSF, just as the
alterglobalist movement in general. In the run up to Dakar, Gustave
Massiah (2011a & 2011b)* wrote a widely acknowledged book and published
12 theses on the alterglobalist movement.

Whereas the debate in Belem had been dominated by discussions over the
crisis of civilization and fundamental alternatives to globalized
capitalism, such as the concept of “buen vivir” (“good living”) this
was different in Dakar. This year, the agenda was dominated by the
peaceful revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia, and the particular African
context with its own topics. Already the impressive opening march made
clear that this would not be a forum of big overarching claims and
slogans. The organization committee succeeded in mobilizing a big
variety of social- and grassroots-movements from all over West Africa.
Caravans had been travelling across all neighbour countries, converging
to Dakar from different directions. On the one hand they provided cheap
transportation, on the other hand they called attention to the WSF. And
they did not come with red, green or any other banners, but with their
own concerns: land grabbing in order to fulfill the needs of the global
consuming class in times of increasing scarcity of arable land.
Protection of local seeds and local production from control of
multinational companies and agricultural subsidies. Sea grabbing by
industrial fishing on the cost of family-run fisheries.
Especially the strong African women’s movements were eye-catching,
regarding land use rights, fisheries as well as participation of women
in conflict resolution on the African continent. Finally, fortress
Europe with its inhuman “frontier protection” regime, was a big issue.
Senegalese students and others confronted European participants over
and over again: How is it possible that you are able to come here
without a visa, whereas we do not even have a chance of having one?
Global freedom of movement, as being part of global civil rights, was
claimed consistently. A Migration Forum adopted a “Charta of Migrants”
in the run up to the Forum (
migrants ).

In short: new and old forms of colonialism were the decisive topics of
the WSF. Fortunately, there was no arrogant western critique or bashing
of African grassroots movements this time, in contrast to the 2007 WSF
in Nairobi. This was partly favoured by the less obvious appearance of
religious groups – either Christian or Muslim -, so that religious
intolerance, popular in some left currents, was less provoked. However,
the engagement of Catholic and Protestant development organizations can
be seen as positive in enabling numerous of their partner organizations
from the global South to participate in the WSF. The “German Protestant
Development Service” presented its study on EU-West African fisheries
cooperation, which massively affects the right on food of local
fishermen and their families along the coast. Left parties and labour
unions were not as visible as at Forums in Latin America and 2003 in
Mumbai/India. The only German union participating in the WSF was the
GEW. Big NGOs were present numerously, but did still not dominate the
Forum. The participation of the global alterglobalist movement mirrored
its regional spread on different continents as well. Whereas Europeans
and Latin Americans were very visible, alongside the in numbers
dominating Africans, there was very few Asian participation apart from
India. North American NGOs were under-represented in terms of numbers
as well.

Unlike in Latin America, no African government relates politically to
the alterglobalist movement. The revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt
therefore became the point of reference concerning political power of
the Forum. A dozen of Social Forums held in the Maghreb region had
helped to prepare change. Nevertheless, it would be an exaggeration to
see the fall of the two antidemocratic regimes as a success of the
alterglobalist movement. But a lot of organizations associated with the
process of World Social Forum want to travel to Tunisia around the 20th
of March. The European network of Attac is preparing a delegation in
cooperation with Attac Tunisia.
The new methodology applied at WSF proved to be of value: One day of
events dealing with African topics was followed by two days of events
self-organized by participating organisations. Opening and final events
were the only big and centrally organized events. Just like in the
years before, there were numerous events dealing with the same topics
because the organizers did not know each other in advance.
During the last one and a half days, 38 action assemblies were taking
place. Each of them dealing with one relevant topic. They turned out to
be a big success throughout. Resolved common actions were frequently
based on preparatory work of global networks, that were initiated at
WSF some years ago. Those networks – often running a little secretary,
mailing lists and regular phone conferences – are one of the biggest
success of past World Social Forums. And one of the most overlooked
ones at the same time. The World Social Forum can therefore be seen as
a Global Open Space gearing towards action.

As there was no systematic documentation of the results of the 38
action assemblies, I will only mention some of the numerous results.
They are politically only binding the participants, not the World
Social Forum as a whole. During a big event with 300 participants
dealing with land grabbing, a whole clutch of activities was agreed
upon and a declaration was adopted
( ).
In doing so, it became obvious that the fight of traditional land use
rights, and with it the right to food, have to be won on a local level.
Whereas consumerism of the global rich, interests of multinational
companies, and powerful states are the cause of land grabbing in the
global South, local authorities and nation states from the global South
play a decisive role as well. They should defend peasant’s rights
instead of serving export agriculture in an often corrupt manner.
This was also demonstrated during the conference “land and sea
grabbing” which was organised by our Green group in the European
Parliament and took place at the edge of WSF. We have to take advantage
of the relevance of the very topic at WSF in order to impose pressure
upon illegitimate practices of western companies and EU trade policy,
which negatively affects small producers in the Global South. At the
same time, we have to strengthen fair trade and social movements
putting pressure on their governments.

The mobilization agenda for the upcoming months became obvious
throughout different meetings. G8 and G20 summits are going to take
place in France this year. Sarkozy wants to present himself as an
alterglobalist, failing with his agenda because of “other evil states”.
At the same time he is slowing down EU regulation processes regarding
the financial markets and the introduction of a European financial
transaction tax. It seems to be clear that French movements will not
let pass this obvious cheap strategy. The action assembly dealing with
G8/G20 adopted a corresponding resolution ( ). An
organization committee with networks all over Europe has been created
in France. A strong mobilization towards Deauville in March (21st-22nd)
and Cannes in autumn (31st October until 5th of November) can be
expected. And there will be another preparatory meeting, taking place
on the 26th and 27th of March in Paris. Withstanding strong existing
tensions between NGOs and social movements relating to the topic of
climate protection, seems to be possible.
Furthermore, a lot of movements are heading to South Africa where the
next World Climate Conference (COP-17) is going to take place from 28th
of November until 9th of December in Durban. Even more attention is
given to the Rio-+20-Earth Summit which is going to be held from 14th
until 16th of May 2012. Realisation of a “People’s summit” as parallel
event for civil society is planned in Rio. It is a politically
interesting coincidence that both conferences dealing with climate
protection and biodiversity are going to be held in booming countries.
Both governments emerged from social movements. At the same time they
did not cover themselves in glory regarding ecological policy. How to
fight against ecological and social crisis with a common economic
strategy is going to be the essential subject. All in all there will be
a chain of big mobilizations for the alterglobalist movement:
Deauville, Cannes, Durban, Rio.

Unfortunately, the Forum suffered a lot from organizational problems.
The presidency of the university had changed recently and the new
president did not see himself bound to former agreements. As a
consequence, the WSF had to be held in addition to the regular
university schedule, which led to double usages of rooms. It lasted
quite a long time until tents were built up. But even then, changes of
rooms were not announced sufficiently. As a result, many events, that
had been carefully planned in advance had to be cancelled. Small
organizations were affected in the first place.
Nevertheless, all those problems could still not destroy value and
success of the Forum. The International Council of the World Social
Forum, who met in the aftermath of the Forum, accordingly rated it as a
success. Globally successful networks and their activities demonstrate
the necessity and benefit of the WSF. Anyhow, the Forum is neither
running out of topics, nor repeating contents without progress, as
often claimed. World Social Forums are developing regionally as well as
thematically. Even if it is true that there is still no – and will not
be an – overarching, common theory of social movements and independent
civil society. The discourse of an alleged exhaustion is based on a
wrong desire of unity and one big, unifying “-ism”. But the lack of
such an ideology must not necessarily be seen as weakness – it rather
proves the democratic strength of the alterglobalist movement.

In the Council, it was rightly criticised that a state representative -
Bolivian President Evo Morales – was given the honour to open the
global Forum of civil society. This had not been agreed on with the
Council in advance. Furthermore, there are accusations that the
Moroccan and Algerian government co-financed the WSF in return for
political concession on the Western Sahara issue. These allegations
have to clarified fully. Finally, there were critical inquiries by
Indian and Brazilian participants regarding the process of European
Social Forum. As a matter of fact, the process of European Social Forum
is in trouble for years. In contrast to the World Social Forum, linking
up big NGOs, labour unions and radical social movements, failed so far.
Almost all big organisations have left the process, which is now led by
a small and insufficiently legitimised preparatory committee. It is a
good sign, that has now been noted and is criticized from the Global

* Gustave Massiah (2011a): Une stratégie alterglobaliste, Paris: La
Gustave Massiah (2011b): Les douze hypothèses d?une stratégie

You can find my 150 pictures taken at World Social Forum here.

Sven Giegold, MdEP * facebook/twitter: sven_giegold


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Come to our Gaia University’s Open House!
Feb. 19, 2011, 1-3 PM at Heathcote Community

Learn about Gaia University, an institution for higher learning with a unique approach. The students (called associates) are able to earn accredited Bachelors & Masters degrees and Graduate Diplomas whilst being actively engaged in self and planetary transformation and ecosocial regeneration.  The Open House will provide an overview of Gaia University’s action learning methodology and our programs in Integrative EcoSocial Design and Open Topic.  Heathcote is partnering with Gaia Southeast to host a Gaia Gather-In March 23-30, 2011.

Please RSVP by Feb. 16 by calling 410-357-9523

or email

Note from Wren:  Karen Stupski and I attended some of the first organizational gatherings of Gaia University at The Farm in Tennessee several years ago. I was electrified at the bold notion that our alternative culture could create higher education models that reflect our values and priorities. This is where I first encountered Spiral Dynamics and Action Learning. Gaia U founders Liora Adler and Andy Langford brought a clarity of vision that has propelled ideas into the realities of several learning pathways.

It’s been exciting to watch this university without walls attract more and more students and more sites each year. Whether or not you are planning to enroll, consider this Open House as a way to learn about alternatives you can promote to the next generation, or even people seeking a career change. Imagine majoring in Permaculture or Facilitation instead of Business…—WT

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From Wren:  I’m reproducing this article from several years ago, with C.T.’s permission. C.T. Butler and I, along with a forming collective of facilitators, have been putting new language to the many paradigm shifts that help practitioners of consensus decision-making succeed in conducting meetings that reflect the egalitarian, non-violent, post-privilege world in which we want to live. This article, nearly twenty years old, shows that, although we’re bringing clarity and new language to the subtle concepts that help consensus succeed, they’re not all new ideas. —WT

By C.T. Lawrence Butler

If you were asked to pick one thing that might bring about major social, political, and economic change in this country, what would you pick? Most people would pick their favorite issue; be it civil rights, demilitarization, environmental sustainability, or whatever. Some people would choose a system of values to replace the capitalism system such as socialism or the Ten Key Values of the Greens. But few people would even think of changing group dynamics (the way people treat each other when interacting with one another in a group); or specifically, the process they use when making decisions.

Process is the key to revolutionary change. This is not a new message. Visionaries have long pointed to this but it is a hard lesson to learn. As recently as the 70s, feminists clearly defined the lack of an alternative process for decisionmaking and group interaction as the single most important obstacle in the way of real change, both within progressive organizations and for society at large. Despite progress on many issues of concern to progressive-minded people, very little has changed in the way people treat each other, either locally or globally, and almost nothing has changed about who makes the decisions. The values of competition, which allow us to accept the idea that somebody has to lose; the structure of hierarchy, which, by definition, creates power elites; and the techniques of domination and control, which dehumanizes and alienates all parties affected by their use, are the standards of group interaction with which we were all conditioned. There are but a few models in our society which offer an alternative.

All groups, no matter what their mission or political philosophy, use some form of process to accomplish their work. Almost all groups, no matter where they fall on the social, political, and economic spectrum of society, have a hierarchical structure, accept competition as “natural”, acceptable, and even desirable, and put a good deal of effort into maintaining control of their members. It is telling that in our society, there are opposing groups, with very different perspectives and values, which have identical structures and techniques for interaction and decisionmaking. If you played a theater game in which both groups wore the same costumes and masks and spoke in gibberish rather than words, a spectator would not be able to tell them apart.

So what would an alternative revolutionary decisionmaking process look like, you ask? To begin with, a fundamental shift from competition to cooperation. This does not mean to do away with competition. Ask any team coach what the key to victory is and you will be told “cooperation within the team”. The fundamental shift is the use of competition not to win, which is just a polite way of saying to dominate, to beat, to destroy, to kill the opposition; but rather, to use competition to do or be the best. In addition, the cooperative spirit recognizes that it is not necessary to attack another’s efforts in order to do your best; in fact, the opposite is true. In most situations, helping others do their best actually increases your ability to do better. And in group interactions, the cooperative spirit actually allows the group’s best to be better than the sum of its parts.
Cooperation is more than “live and let live”. It is making an effort to understand another’s point of view. It is incorporating another’s perspective with your own so that a new perspective emerges. It is suspending disbelief, even if only temporarily, so you can see the gem of truth in ideas other than your own. It is a process of creativity, synthesis, and open-mindedness which leads to trust-building, better communication and understanding, and ultimately, a stronger, healthier, more successful group.

The next step is the development of an organization which is non-hierarchical or egalitarian. A corresponding structure would include: participatory democracy, routine universal skill-building and information sharing, rotation of leadership roles, frequent evaluations, and, perhaps most importantly, equal access to power. Hierarchical structures are not, in and of themselves, the problem. But their use concentrates power at the top and, invariably, the top becomes less and less accessible to the people at the bottom, who are usually most affected by the decisions made by those at the top. Within groups (and within society itself), there becomes a power elite. In an egalitarian structure, everyone has access to power and every position of power is accountable to everyone. This does not mean that there are no leaders. But the leaders actively share skills and information. They recognize that leadership is a role empowered by the entire group, not a personal characteristic. A group in which most or all of the members can fill any of the leadership roles cannot easily be dominated, internally or externally.

The last and most visible step towards revolutionary change in group process is the manner in which members of the group interact with each other. Dominating attitudes and controlling behavior would not be tolerated. People would show respect and expect to be shown respect. Everyone would be doing their personal best to help the group reach decisions which are in the best interest of the group. There would be no posturing and taking sides. Conflicts would be seen as an opportunity for growth, expanding people’s thinking, sharing new information, and developing new solutions which include everyone’s perspectives. The group would create an environment where everyone was encouraged to participate, conflict was freely expressed, and resolutions were in the best interest of everyone involved. Indubitably, this would be revolutionary.

You can contact C.T. Butler at:
Food Not Bombs Publishing
7304 Carroll Ave #136
Takoma Park, MD 20912
Telephone: 1-800-569-4054

Order copies of his books, On Conflict & Consensus and Consensus for Cities on the above site. His book, Food Not Bombs: How to Feed the Hungry and Build Community, is available on

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The opportunity of a lifetime is before me. I’m writing for support of a project to train members of media cooperatives and collectives around the world in consensus decision-making and community building.

Consensus author/trainer C.T. Lawrence Butler and I have been working with organizers to structure an event leading up to 2011’s World Social Forum in Dakar, Senegal. The event is called the Indy Media Convergence, a two-week period when members of Independent Media Center, aka Indymedia or IMC, gather to create consensus-based community and learn new skills in communication, media and journalism. Afterwards, the members remain in Dakar to cover the World Social Forum, from perspectives free of corporate interests.

Activist C.T. Lawrence Butler is co-founder of Food Not Bombs, the international network of local organizations feeding homeless and redistributing edible food that would otherwise go to waste. Local Food Not Bombs groups operate by consensus, and C.T. has led workshops in the US, Europe and Africa, showing thousands that horizontal structure is possible. He’s the author of the definitive On Conflict and Consensus, as well as Consensus for Cities and Food Not Bombs. He has been arrested over fifty times protesting war, nuclear power and exercising his right to give away food.

I, Wren Tuatha, am a writer/filmmaker/facilitator who has lived and practiced consensus decision-making at Heathcote Community for fifteen years. I’m Artist-in-Residence there, and am currently writing a book, Consensus for Kids, based on twenty-five years in alternative education and seven years designing and facilitating Heathcote’s Open Classroom. I am a facilitator/consultant to Intentional Communities, helping established and forming communities prioritize what I call “social technologies”—consensus, conflict resolution, ZEGG Forum, etc. My website,, is a first person account of life in Intentional Community, or, as I like  to put it, “Wren Tuatha’s complicated adventures in simple living….”

IMC is a network of collectives, established in 1999 around the anti-WTO protests in Seattle.  Going to Dakar, IMC will be covering the World Social Forum, a series of events in answer to the capitalist World Economic Forum. IMC organizers are committed to members learning interpersonal communication and inclusive decision-making, as well as practical media skills, such as building radios and transmitters.

To organizers, the point is really the process. “If we don’t have consensus training, then it’s just a technical workshop,” says Sphinx, a documentary filmmaker and IMC organizer from Cameroon, now living in exile in the US. Indymedia’s mission incorporates consensus principles but many of the over 200 chapters need training.

During the 2011 Convergence, over 100 Africans, as well as members from South America, the US and Europe will experience consensus, as well as Open Space Technology, and possibly ZEGG Forum, an often emotional group process in which communities and their members view and get past some blocks that may interfere with their common work. We will also facilitate cultural sensitivity work to help the diverse community come together through understanding.

Now that our organizing structure has been adopted by the group, we need funding to make the trip. We need to raise $11000 for our consensus work in Dakar.

WSF reg & on ground expenses, CT & WT    1000
airfare for CT & WT    5000
CT home expenses    1500
WT home expenses    1500
100 copies of On Conflict and Consensus 1500
emergencies & miscellaneous    500


I became acquainted with GEO’s Michael Johnson through several ZEGG Forum facilitator trainings at Ganas Community. And I’m excited that he and I are beginning to collaborate in helping worker-owned cooperatives continually develop their social technology skills, so that existing horizontal structures don’t have to revert to hierarchy, and so that all members can share power and be heard in decision-making. This breeds a profound sense of community, and streamlined energy to act on and realize our dreams.

IMC organizers like Sphinx want to use the consensus community at the Convergence to inspire participants to go home and create a handful of sustained, working models of consensus in Africa.

Through my site and networking, I’ve advanced my goals of putting Intentional Community on everyone’s list of “top ten ways to go green,” and helping communities, landed, work or affinity based, to realize that social technologies—the ability to make decisions that include every member’s buy-in, skills at arriving beyond conflict by listening and understanding the other, not just delivering one’s own point—are as important to a community’s success as having the greenest building idea or innovative Permaculture garden design.

An upcoming book C.T. and I are working on develops this idea. Often people tell us that they tried consensus or saw it in action somewhere and they decided that it was too slow or didn’t really work. We agree that consensus done poorly looks just like that, and it isn’t satisfying or effective. We observe that people try to apply the basic concepts of consensus but have problems if they are neglectful or unaware of what we are coming to call the body and the soul of consensus.

When I was in film school, instructors would admonish us to learn the rules first, then feel free to break them. In the same way, consensus has a specific structure, or “body,” that should be learned, not because rules are rules, but because getting them deeply will inform your choices when you go to improvise. We see well-meaning activists who are quick to shed the saddle but then don’t know how to ride the horse.

Also, horizontal structures such as consensus are true paradigm shifts, not just changing Robert’s Rules of Order for Butler’s. Over time practitioners shed old habits, assumptions and attachments  and form new curiosities, learning to trust the group. But in the meantime, consensus decision-making with members who are still trying to debate or practice old styles of leadership can be hard. We think of the paradigm shift individuals and groups go through as the “soul” of consensus.

So, as you might imagine, it is hugely important to the Dakar Indy Media Convergence that the architects of  the “body” be there to help community members discover the “soul” of their community’s process.

What can you or your organization contribute? We are asking for donations totaling $11,000 to fund our travel and facilitation efforts, as well as providing students with books. We plan to blog daily from the Convergence and the WSF, as connectivity allows.

If you should wish your contribution to be tax deductible, we can work through Indymedia’s finance committee, a non-profit.

Please contact Wren Tuatha,, 410-458-2310 or C.T. Butler,, 301-586-2560 for details.

Thank you so much for partnering with us in this work that can help all groups deepen the difference they’re trying to make in the world.

Wren, Heathcote Community, November 11, 2010

Hot Tub Tribe

Wren on September 26th, 2010

After weeks of working long hours at the fairs, I got to reconnect with my tribe in a sweet way at last night’s hot tub party!

Our wood fired cob hot tub, with two beaver profiles sculpted at the firing end, was made as part of a workshop. Gotta love education at Heathcote! I have other  workshop ideas, like How to Give Wren a Much-Deserved Massage, and Preparing and Serving All of Wren’s Favorite Comfort Foods for Maximum Consumption Before She Passes Out in Bliss… I strongly feel that education should be kept relevant.

Heathcote Community members have been engaged all weekend in a retreat lead by students in Laird Schaub and Ma’ikwe Ludwig’s two year facilitation course. We are tackling the question of how to support our education programs while also maintaining Heathcote as a relaxing, safe home for our residential members.

Our regular hot tub parties are a shiny way to pamper ourselves and deepen our shared quality of life. Last night, Paul tended the fire for several hours until the water temperature was just right. We arrived in waves and soaked five at a time, making jokes about the lobster not knowing it’s boiling alive. The kids were in and out, one teenage host served brownies, judging herself harshly on the results of her baking. Nick arrived with his guitar and the chords of The White Album started wafting up with the campfire smoke.

In the deep darkness, while the moon was still tangled in the trees, I could only see my tribe members in silhouette. I noticed that I wanted to take some photographs but I knew my cameraphone wouldn’t have done those silhouettes justice. While I was aside cooling off, I couldn’t quite hear what people were discussing. They could have been any community, at any time in history. A fire, a soak, some music, the woods, we were every tribe while we were being ourselves.

We chatted. We sweated. We hydrated. We rotated in and out of the hot tub and left in waves, as we had come.

And now, the next morning, it is time for me to return to the retreat meetings, the head space and this specific moment.

I woke up in the Heathcote Mill Conference Center, lying on a couch in a ring of couches, a beach sized towel over me. Sunshine and cool, post-rain air came in windows on three sides.

I was staring at the blackboard, with the previous night’s business meeting agenda on it, and a easel with a large pad on it, opened to a list of visitor weekend work day projects and the names of volunteer supervisors. I had been the facilitator last night and I briefly felt echoes of the dramas, connections and over-extendedness that strangers might or might not guess, looking at the chalk and marker words.

I moved my sleepy attention to the ceiling, pondering the plaster sun face sculpture there, with the hematite third eye. When Patty and the other volunteers had painted the Conference Center recently (oh, how it had needed it) they lovingly painted around the sculpture, great job.

I heard Charles and Patty talking downstairs in the Mill kitchen. I heard the intern Kat singing there. Someone came into the room and sat at the table behind my couch, eating an apple, booting up a computer. It was Kwame, an intern from Ghana.

Patty came to check on me, just as I was sitting up and drinking more mint tea. No, no stomach pain at all! I feel wiped out, but much better! She smiled widely and clasped her hands together. “I’ve been there, I know how that feels, that was a real emergency!” She let me know she’d be in the Farmhouse if I needed anything.

At Heathcote we’ve had several casual discussions about how each of us likes to be dealt with when we’re ill. It ranges from baby me to don’t even knock on my door. I’m nearer the baby me end of the spectrum, because I’m likely to shut down, fail to hydrate and pick crazy solutions, like that infamous epecac syrup caper years ago. And I find it comforting to know someone is there when I don’t feel well.

I had had a bad reaction to a cocktail of six medications, vitamins, mostly. When I get sick, I get stupid. The logic center of my brain (not a frequently visited location anyway, some would say) shuts down.

I had taken my cocktail with breakfast and prescription prilosec, given to head off stomach upset, and I continued with my day. I was weak but I arrived at the Carriage House and plodded through filling ten freezer bags with the dry ingredients of the vegetarian dog food we make. Before I loaded up on peanut butter and TVP, I needed to sit down.

I joined Betsy in the sitting area of the Mill kitchen and we chatted. I complained that I was starting to feel stomach upset and we commiserated about the limitations and Frankenstein mentality of mainstream Western healthcare. Bob came in for coffee. I asked him to put enough water in the teapot for me to get some mint tea for my stomach. Betsy suggested ginger, but I’d warded off the upset with mint the previous night, so I stuck with that.

But two sips into my tea, it was time to lie down. The gluten-free crackers I’d tried while scooping dog food hadn’t worked and the tea was coming too late. I was crashing.

I was having sweats and shakes, and severe stomach cramps. Betsy brought the cool rag I asked for and I tried to relax enough to sit up again and get more tea.

Nick happened through, making a phone call. He asked if I needed anything. I was beyond being able to relax. I had him call the doctor. The physician’s assistant on the phone said that I could come into the clinic and just live through it, because there isn’t much they could do for me, or I could just live through it at home. She didn’t think I needed to go to the emergency room.

Considering that Western medicine had gotten me where I was, I was ready to cut that cord and let my body work it out at home.

Do you want reiki? Patty asked from the quiet room. My yes overlapped her question and then her hands were above my abdomen. By this time, I was tensed with pain and my breathing was stressed, making my tensing worse. Kat was willing to breathe with me and hold my hand.

As I breathed in healing and groaned out pain and stress, my body got clear that we wanted to expel something, one way or another. So Patty and Kat helped me upstairs to the bathroom. By the time I got there, I was too tired to sit on the toilet, so I lied down on the cool concrete floor. It was summer at Heathcote, so the tie-dyed sundress was all that I was wearing. I didn’t care that it bunched up around my waist as I rocked on the floor. I was among women in a bathroom. I just worked on relaxing.

Then the healing purge came. I made it to the toilet and Patty held my locks back while I vomited. She had the cool rag on hand and I appreciated being able to wipe my face as soon as I was done.

All along the way, my community mates let me ask for what I needed and be in charge of my healing. I agreed with the suggestion that I lie on the couch and once I was there, my extremities were cool and tingly. They found an over-sized towel that was just enough, and brought me my tea from downstairs. Patty joked about our “checkin.” She and I were supposed to meet to process a delicate matter over lunch. Oh yeah, our big, dramatic checkin. I guess we had a different one, I answered. I drifted off to sleep for an hour or so, waking to the late afternoon sounds of Heathcote at work.

And the sunshiny room, and the chalkboard agenda, the circle of couches, and a cup of cold mint tea, sitting safely in the middle of a wooden folding chair, waiting for me. I woke up feeling weak but pain free, and loving my community that was willing to be a vehicle of my healing, and willing to let me drive.

No Intentional Community can be a substitute for trained healthcare practitioners, nor can an Intentional Community take on all illnesses. I regularly meet people who hope living in Community will magically heal their mental illness or provide them with the caregiving they need for some chronic condition or disability. Honestly, it’s case by case, and the seeker should be transparent and up front about what s/he is asking a Community to take on. The answer may be yes, and it may be no.

But being in Community, and falling ill, as we all do sometimes, I feel so blessed and held, not pampered or nursed in a passive way, but honored as the driver of my own body. My mates provided a safe container for me to operate.

As I sit today, weak but researching alternative solutions to my lingering health issue, I reflect that the support and empowerment I got are more reasons that Intentional Community is more sustainable than the isolated, Western lifestyle that surrounds me. If I lived there, I wouldn’t know my neighbors and I wouldn’t have been in common space when I got ill. I would have had to live through it, as the physician’s assistant said, alone.


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Something was missing. I felt a restlessness in The Force. I had heaps of work to do but no zen to go with it. So when I saw Lea Jones‘ post on Facebook advertising his performance at One World Coffee House in Columbia, it clicked: Life in a rural Intentional Community can be ironically isolating. I needed a musical distraction!

Lea Jones’ band, Swing States Road Show, had appeared at Heathcote Community as part of our house concert series. So I knew I was in for some great covers, originals and spot-on harmonies. It was fun to catch up with Lea, who has added  drummer Steve Raskin and horn player Seth Kibel to his band. Singers Judith Geller and Stuart Rodes and bassist John Seay, of Jones’ now defunct Swings States Road Show were aboard as well. The full sound was great, especially Seth Kibel’s passionate clarinet solos! “It’s great when the audience jumps in and claps for the solos, without a lot of prodding from the bandleader,” Lea quipped.

It was great to get out and discover this intimate venue, One World Coffee House, which is put on by the Unitarian-Universalist Congregation of Columbia, Maryland, and held at the Owen Brown Interfaith Center.

One of many highlights was the tight vocal harmonies on Holly Near’s Mountain Song. It took me back to my Kentucky roots, not fighting coal, but fighting for LGBT rights on Louisville’s Fairness Campaign. Our nationally known local band Yer Girlfriend also did a haunting, rousing version of Mountain Song, now seared into my own story.

Lea has a new CD, Contact Information, which is actually a remastered double album of his previous releases, Against the Wall and Feels Like Love to Me, the two being “an unintendedly orbital musical reflection on love, co-dependency, pop culture spirit and community.” Cheers for the cardboard cover, in addition to the tunes, which range from troubadour with guitar to polished studio tunes, catchy and ripe for radio.

At the intermission, Lea’s fourteen year-old son Will came around selling CD’s. Lea rightly refers to Will as his “business manager,” as he strategically priced his wares. Artist and business manager had a quick eye conversation over what I should pay.  My companion C.T. Butler and I had to laugh, because I play that role at C.T’s  consensus workshops, selling his books at full price. C.T. himself has a habit of slashing prices without being asked.

After a night of thoughtful, rocking musicality, C.T. and I managed to find a restaurant still open, Hunan Manor. The vegetarian options were many. I picked the sweet, C.T. got the savory and they were both excellent and twice as much as we could eat. We enjoyed them at lunch the next day as we whittled away at our business plan for Hippie Chick Diaries. Now it’s C.T.’s turn to be my business manager! Why is it so much easier to play that role for another than ourselves?

After a day of discussions, we joined the Heathcoters for community dinner. Then several community mates climbed the steep hill to my homestead, Hina Hanta, for more music, a sing along! We were hoping to have Heathcoters Paul Phillips and Nick Corso to bless us with guitar and banjo respectively. But life and motorcycle repairs got in the way. All good. Heathcoter Charles Curtiss, formerly a professional rock drummer, played guitar for us as we called out song after song from the Rise Up Singing Songbook, including some C.T. and I had heard Lea do the night before—Mountain Song (Holly Near), When I’m Gone (Phil Ochs), The L&N Don’t Stop Here Anymore (Than Hall via Jean Ritchie).  Some paged through, discovering a memory or two on the next page, others had a song or artist in mind and dove through the indexes. We crooned to

…and all the ones I can’t remember! What a night. But we weren’t done. John Fox had a very personal musical gift for me.

I love Carole King and James Taylor, both. I have all their albums. Yes, I said albums. I know every word, every solo. Carole, in particular, is just my goddess. I can’t say more.

But with my commitment to simplicity, also known as subsistence, I have never seen my goddess in concert. Ironic for the emcee of Heathcote’s house concert series. But it’s true. As a matter of fact, the only major name concert I’ve  been to since adolescence was the Indigo Girls, and I found myself there because the woman I was dating won tickets on the radio.

Any time Carole would tour, I would say to myself, maybe. But when Carole and James announced their Troubadour Reunion Tour, with Danny Kortchmar, Leland Sklar and Russ Kunkel from their original band I said, this time! I watched email updates and built a coalition of Heathcoters ready to go with me. The tour’s NYC dates overlapped with my ZEGG Forum training at Ganas Community in Staten Island! It was fate. Almost.

The email came offering advance tickets. I experienced some momentary disorientation. $175, is that for four tickets? No. Oh. Something must be done about this rampant inflation, really. This is what concert tickets cost?

I was the first of  the coalition to bail, then others. “I’ve got YouTube,” I’d explain. A few weeks later, while I still had my boo-boo lip taped down in a stoic position, John came to me and asked how I would feel if he went to the show on one of the DC dates. What could I say? Enjoy!

Since then, I’ve indulged in a little musical guilty pleasure, because the price was right and it came in closer-to-eco-friendly cardboard packaging. Between my community and Liberty Village Cohousing where C.T. is staying, there is a 7Eleven. And because I sometimes enter 7Elevens to check out the chips and chocolates I’m not eating, just to monitor the threat, I know that this particular 7Eleven has a rack of Beatles CD’s, all discount priced and in cardboard covers. I want to support cardboard covers whenever I can. And The Beatles never made the wormhole trip from my record collection to my CD collection. Now, after six months of visiting C.T., I have Abbey Road, Let It Be, Revolver, Rubber Soul and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band. I am so bad.

I often forgo things I don’t need. I like the expression, the best things in life aren’t things. But this left me uneasy. A concert is a community experience, not a trinket or dust collector. Between songs on Saturday night, Lea Jones remarked “You gotta get outta the house sometimes. That’s when things happen. You never get outta the house, nothing ever happens…” I was stunned to hear his simple thought. That’s what had gotten me out of the house and to a front row table that night. I should give myself the gift of more experiences like that.

So at my sing along, my buddy John pulled a thing out of his pocket, the Troubador Reunion CD, in a cardboard cover, no less! “Pop ‘er in!” He invited. And at the hour when most Heathcote sing alongs would be winding down, John, C.T. and I sang to the concert DVD!

  • Blossom
  • So Far Away
  • Machine Gun Kelly
  • Carolina in My Mind
  • It’s Too Late
  • Smackwater Jack
  • Something in the Way She Moves
  • Will You Love Me Tomorrow
  • Country Road
  • Fire & Rain
  • Sweet Baby James
  • I Feel the Earth Move
  • You’ve Got A Friend
  • Up on the Roof
  • You Can Close Your Eyes

C.T. was starting to turn into a pumpkin but then he was energized by Fire & Rain. I told the story of learning to waltz to Sweet Baby James so we waltzed and sang.

There were a few surprises that could only come from this double bill. I loved the band bouncing between Carole and James’ very different arrangements of Up on the Roof. It was like a medley with just one song. When I saw that You Can Close Your Eyes was the encore, I scoffed. I protested that they should rock out to Locomotion or something similar. But when Carole stood close to James and harmonized so intimately, it was the perfect close. I should know better that to second guess my goddess!


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Bambi of Skyline Drive

Wren on June 8th, 2010

Too-cute place holder! “Shot” this one on Skyline Drive in Virginia. Hippie Chick Diaries will be on break while I attend ZEGG Forum training at Ganas Community.


C.T. Butler makes me look good. It’s my turn to cook the Heathcote Community dinner again and the consensus trainer/vegetarian chef and co-founder of Food Not Bombs is my guest and helper! Or more accurately on this day, I’m his helper.

Nearly all of the adult members of Heathcote take turns cooking dinners, which we share six nights a week. It comes out to cooking about twice a month. The rest of the nights, we just show up and get fed. Since we rotate, folks tend to make their specialties. So not only does someone else cook my dinner, but I get their best.

I don’t profess to have a best.

I observe with bewilderment people who savor cooking as a hobby, a joy, a vocation or avocation. I didn’t get that gene or whatever. Me, I like to eat well so I cook. I get no special creative satisfaction out of the process. Even so, since I like to eat well, I do know how to get a sparkle from my spicings.

Cooking with C.T. is like taking a car ride with a war correspondent. We have consensed upon his traditional refried beans, a recipe that originated in El Salvador & Nicaragua.  As he casually chops onions and garlic, he tries to remember the recipe from his days of feeding homeless people and protesters with Food Not Bombs. As he slices proportions down to feed the twenty or so we’re expecting, he’s reminded of arrests and police beatings and stories start to flow.

Food Not Bombs just observed the thirtieth anniversary of the occupation of Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant (May 24, 1980). The six activists who would eventually rent a house together and establish the first Food Not Bombs collective, were all protesters at that event. When one of them, Brian Feigenbaum, was arrested, the others literally started holding bake sales for his defense! I’m reminded of the t-shirt/bumper sticker slogan, It will be a great day when the schools have all the money they need and the Air Force has to have a bake sale to buy a bomber.

Thus started a food/activism connection for the collective. “Most of us worked in restaurants at the time, cooks, waiters, etc., and we knew first hand the mountains of food that’s wasted,” C.T. explains. At first, the group collected the restaurant and grocery store leftovers hoping to feed themselves for free, liberating time and resources for their activism. But immediately they could see that they had discovered a resource far beyond their own needs. “Of course, we were activists, so our values were to see the food get used where it was needed,”

This took several forms. The collective gave food away in Harvard Square, which established the non-violent direct action template that eventually prompted clashes with police in cities around the world and arrests for serving food without a permit (although their home town of Cambridge, Massachusetts was supportive, negotiating with FNB and eventually naming C.T. Peace Commissioner). Food Not Bombs also catered demonstrations and direct actions, feeding participants so they could stay on site long hours, keeping the protests going.

Thirty years later, C.T. stands in the Heathcote Mill kitchen, mashing the pinto and black turtle beans in small batches, because we couldn’t find a masher with a long enough handle to reach the bottom of the pressure cooker. “I always say I’m mashing in the love, it looks violent but it’s made with love,” he smiles without stopping.

So many times, that sentiment has been spoken in this kitchen. I’ve heard many Heathcote members describe the act of feeding their community as one of nurturing and love. How broken and sad it seems to me that the FBI would eventually target Food Not Bombs as a “terrorist” organization. And that feeding the hungry would be viewed as a crime in dozens of cities over the globe, resulting in thousands of arrests of Food Not Bombs chapter volunteers the world over.

But right now, C.T. is feeding me and mine. As from that first Food Not Bombs collective house in Cambridge, Massachusetts, autonomous chapters operate by consensus. C.T. has written two books on consensus decision-making. And he’s had a long friendship with Heathcote through his consensus workshops. This community’s consensus on this meal is: forty thumbs up!