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, HippieChickDiaries.com, 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, curiocoast@comcast.net, 410-458-2310 or C.T. Butler, ctbutler@together.net, 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

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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!

Hippie Birthday to Me…

Wren on March 1st, 2010

My dear C.T. Butler just visited, climbing my snowy, slippery slope without falling once. It was our first chance to see each other since my birthday. He presented me with a topical, sweet and very useful gift: The Hippie Dictionary, by John Bassett McCleary.

This gift is topical because, wha duh, I’m Hippie Chick Diaries, and because I love hearing C.T.’s many elaborate stories about protests, organizing and general Food Not Bombs hi-jinx.

It’s a sweet gift because I’ve toiled so many years to downplay gift-giving in my life and train those around me not to gift me or expect material things from me on the holidays. So when I do receive a gift, it’s from the heart and, aww, touching!

And this gift is oh, so useful because when C.T. tells me his stories, with names, locations and acronyms I’d know if I’d only been paying attention the last forty years,  I can whip around, check my handy dandy Hippie Dictionary, and know half of what he’s talking about, instead of my usual thirty-five percent!

It’s already come in handy: C.T. mentioned some controversy around the spellings—hippie vs. hippy. He said he’d run into Stephen Gaskin, founder of The Farm, an Intentional Community in Tennessee. The Farm was established in 1968 when a caravan of fifty hippie-with-a-y school buses, led by Gaskin, parked there and the group began a Community that’s still going strong (a mecca for midwifery education and a bioregional center for Gaia University). According to C.T., Stephen claims to have coined the term hippy and insists that the proper spelling is with a y. Apparently the topic came up because Stephen is working on his autobiography, to be entitled Hippy.

My birthday gift came in handy because, even though I’ve visited The Farm, I didn’t recognize Stephen Gaskin by name. I made all the connections above when I happened across him on page 166 of my dictionary!!!

C.T. has his own story about the origin of the word, without claiming to have coined it. And of course, he disagrees with The Hippie Dictionary on this. “You see? They have all the elements, the Haight, the Diggers, commerce, but they got the story wrong…” C.T.’s version includes monied Hippie shopkeepers who formed their own business association, Haight Independent Proprietors. Chicken/egg; Cart/horse, armpit/deodorant. I believe everybody on this. Next week, I’ll post a story revealing that I invented the word, and how I managed this, not being born yet.

So why, you may or may not be wondering, do we at HCD spell ourselves with an ie? It’s because we researched it and ie is more common, which is way boring when you’re a counter culture, but desirable when you’re a website. We also bought the domain name spelled with a y and rerouted it to our site. In twenty years, it might be fashionable to spell it with just an i alone on the end, topped by a cute little heart. These things are culturally owned, collectively decided, not the creations of their creators, but of their perpetuators. Now I’m off to finish my organic sunflower butter sandwich, before I get these keys completely gooey.

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Depression–Reach in from the Outside

Wren on February 28th, 2010

I just read online that the death of singer Marie Osmond’s son Michael Blosil was a suicide. This comes on the heels of the suicide of Andrew Koenig, son of Star Trek actor Walter Koenig. Andrew’s body was found in a Vancouver park on February 25, 2010. He’d been missing since Valentine’s Day. I find myself wondering if Blosil was inspired to act on his depression because another celebrity’s offspring did–a copycat.

Heathcote Community, where I live, recently endured a traumatic event, in which a person living here made a half-hearted suicide attempt. Clearly in this case, we could all tell it was a cry for help, not a serious try. And we directed the person into counseling. I was inspired to start a discussion with long-time members of several Communities about how we support each other through tough times and mental illness, and how much an Intentional Community can handle.

Suicide in Community is rare, but it does happen. Depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues in Community probably parallel the general public. Intentional Community is not Utopia, and although we form close relationships, Community can also be isolating, especially in rural settings. And when we arrive in Community, we bring our chemical makeup and all our baggage with us.

Sadly, I’ve met many seekers of Community who believe living in a tribal, cooperative setting will somehow change this for them, and it won’t. Mental health is personal growth work that must be done by each of us, whether we live in Community or not. In our IC’s, we can ask for support. And each IC has to determine whether it can be a container for what a member needs.

As that ongoing discussion evolves, I find myself realizing that, although I may not be able to dissuade a friend from suicide, if s/he is determined, I can reach out and check in regularly with the people in my life, let them hear from me that I care about them, encourage them to avail themselves of professional help and offer the support I can handle.

This is a little personal. If you search back over the HCD posts, you’ll see a period from September 19, 2009 to January 3, 2010 when I didn’t post. I was in a deep depression. My tendency was to isolate but my friends intervened, inviting me out, getting me traveling and working, telling me how they felt about me, and of course, listening to me whine. If you read posts from January, as I started to write again, you can get a sense that I was pulling myself out. I have also tended to give a clue that I’m down on my Facebook profile. When I replace the profile picture of me with the one of the lonely folding chair in the woods, it’s bad.

But not everyone sends signals. I don’t want to set myself up to believe that I’m going to cure every friend of depression by engaging them. The person who seriously wants to die will succeed, I imagine. But if I reach out, I might learn a friend’s folding-chair-in-the-woods signals.

Celebrity suicides are often followed by a rash of copycats. As these headlines crest and fade, who do you know who’s dealing with depression, anxiety or other stress? I invite you to reach out and make yourself available. Know your limits, of course, and urge her/him to get more experienced help if you’re in over your head. I feel like this post is so Pollyanna, and doesn’t take into account the subtleties of every situation. But I don’t care. Pick up the phone and check in.

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From Wren: I’m already way overbooked the weekend of this event, otherwise I’d love to attend this. Heathcote Community has been discussing issues like this as our membership ages. I know of friends at Common Ground Community in Virginia who have buried loved ones in a green way on their land. I forward this information from an email in the hope this post makes it to people who can attend.—WT

Learn how to care for your departed loved ones without the services of a funeral director.

  • how a home vigil can bring meaning, dignity, and healing at the time of a loved one’s passing
  • legal rights and responsibilities at the time of death
  • how to wash, prepare, and “lay out” the body for up to a 3-day vigil at home
  • how to work with a funeral director to get only the services you need
  • how to transport the body to a gravesite or crematorium
  • “green” burial options
  • integrating home funeral care with your religious or spiritual beliefs

This workshop will be taught by Elizabeth Knox, founder of Crossings: Caring for Our Own at Death, a home funeral and green burial resource center in Washington, D.C.

Crossings is dedicated to renewing simplicity and sanctity to death care, and teaching those who wish to know, that home funeral care is completely legal and neither dangerous nor difficult.  Death is inevitable and, like birth, is a passage to be honored. There is a movement nationwide to support people in coming to terms with the death of a loved one and finding meaningful ways to honor the person and the community. In many ways, it is a return to an age-old tradition when death care was a family and community event.


March 19th – 7pm – 9pm

March 20th – full day, 8:45am – 5pm

Where: 420 Dodon Rd. Davidsonville, Maryland 21035


$150, or $100 for students –

$75 deposit payable to “Crossings” due at time of registration

Cost includes workshop, Crossings resource guide, lunch, and snacks


Romey Pittman, romeypittman@verizon.net or 410-798-6759



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While I’m enduring the snow and expecting more to arrive, I am warming myself by looking at camera pictures from the past year–lots of greens and browns, and people in short sleeves!

I’ve been struck by how productive we’ve remained, as individuals and as Heathcote, during the snow. So I want to belatedly post about an event we had here. I posted an announcement/invitation, but I never showed you how fabulous we all looked during our Community Work Action Week!

Facilitator Teryani Riggs led Heathcote members and friends, such as Erika, above, through an intensive week of work projects, ZEGG-Forums, excercizes to build up trust, fun and connection, and, for our non-members, learning about Heathcote Community, our systems, structures and group process.

Work projects included gardening, restoring Mill siding, renovating our bunkroom, and filling a giant dumpster with debris from Polaris construction and random Heathcote trash. Although I plugged in on the dumpster and the bunkroom, my back limited my hard labor. All the better for snapping a few shots!



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His initials spell WAR. A wonderful “online magazine in the reality-based community” called Pam’s House Blend posted about Alaska Governor Sarah Palin’s new Attorney General pick. Besides his other right wing credentials, he’s publicly used the words “immoral,” “perversion” and “degenerates” in reference to the queer community. Scary thing is, I’ll bet his mother really is proud. Unless she’s a dyke…

wren-constance-talmadgeAs a “degenerate” on so many different levels, I’m often dismayed at the gulf that seems to divide the left and the right. But it seems that different playbooks, different assumptions drive each. Cultural liberals want to let folks be, we’re comfortable with a range of behaviors, as long as our own personal choice is intact. We can allow that contradictory ideas can both be true and that the different ways our neighbors live are enriching for our children. Cultural conservatives like structure and having things defined in absolutes. I guess then you don’t have to wonder if you’re right or if ideas need updating. They’re absolute. The Bible is a favorite source for absolutes. Strangely, my liberal Christian friends have the same book with the same words in the same order. But their book says very different things…

rainbow-colors-very-appealing-use-one-its-okayOn facebook, fundamentalists and liberal activists play this out. After the Pope’s remarks that condom distribution only makes the AIDS epidemic in Africa worse, one woman wrote about handing out condoms on her campus. A “friend” shot back that, if everyone would just follow God’s law there would be no homosexuality. After a few exchanges it turns out that his logic was this: Homosexuality may or may not be hardwired for some people. But since “God’s law” is no sex before marriage, and gays can’t marry, well then no homosexuality…

Problem with his plan is, I follow “the goddess’ law.” Sex is sacred…and our gulf remains.

As long as we keep talking past each other over the gulf, every political battle just feels like another in a constant barrage of skirmishes, some lost, some won on a battlefield where the majority rules. I support that fight, but I feel empty that virtually everybody goes home with the same ideas they came with.

My mom, Peg FinnieMy mother, left (literally), is a political science major, a political animal. I have always been called to activism, but as a marcher, not a lobbyist or pundit. I am not a political animal, probably because I’m too emotional. Someone starts arguing me down and I just want to hug them or defect to a warmer climate. My vehicle for change has always been personal action, living by example, networking to transmit my ideas and culture, witnessing for justice and my beliefs as situations arise.

To me, not going shopping is a radical act of social justice.

So is there a way to bring the country closer together? (Note to the Invisible Forces of the Universe: I’m not asking for another 9/11 or Katrina here. I’m asking people what people can do. Butt out. We’ll handle this.)

A friend who’s a sex therapist brought SAR to my attention: Sexual Attitude Reassessment. I’m interested in this sort of thing on a grassroots or cultural level. But I’ll probably start by trying it within Intentional Communities, those wonderful laboratories of cultural change. Play, play, play!

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