Intentional community is a concept that manifests itself in many different forms. Ecovillages are a form of intentional community that I write about a lot. Some others are co-housing, community houses, fenceless backyards in suburbia, and multi-dwelling farms or ranches. Even churches are intentional communities, though they are not generally places where the community members live. Not yet, anyway. Intentional community arises when people recognizing the value of cooperating with each other in a socially organized way live together or come together around principles or beliefs held in common.
Community houses are not necessarily communes, though they can be. My definition of a commune is the kind of community living where people share most of what they use, maintain a small number of possessions exclusively for themselves. In most community houses people still have their own stuff and their own lives; they simply share in the expense and work of maintaining a home.
So far on the East Coast Tour I have visited three different community houses. The first was the Peanut Butter Palace in Orlando, which is written about in a separate piece, pertaining more to permaculture. Some intentional communities practice permaculture, some do not. The two following community houses where I stayed were not focused on permaculture, though they understood the idea and were on board with the concepts.
The first was in Savannah, Georgia, called Savannah Tribe Intentional Community. I pulled in at about four. I was not to stay the night, but we had most of the afternoon to chat.
The house was large and old, on a main street leading into Savannah. It was on a small lot, with a picket gate and a little front yard leading up the steps and the big front porch. I knocked on the door and was received by Laurel, with whom I had already spoken on the phone many times. She was very kind and soft spoken, and she sat with me in the living room, telling me the story of their community.
Her intention when she got the house was to create a situation where many people could live together to share expenses, freeing up time for themselves to do other things, and having something of a tribe. Various members of her family have lived there, and two of her children were still there. The house, an old Victorian, was really two living spaces, one on top of the other. A total of nine people were living there. At times in the past this number was even greater.
They shared the bills and the rent, and for a time they shared meals, but it didn’t become a regular thing. They had some gardens in the back and they were working on setting up a chicken coop. I had a really good conversation with Laurel, who has been doing activism in the community for a long time. She also got involved with Standing Rock, spending some time out there last fall while the camp was still going strong.
At one point during our conversation, she suggested that we get Albert to join us. Albert lived upstairs, and he was also a very interesting character. He was a Vietnam War veteran, and he was also very involved up at Standing Rock, where he stayed for about six weeks.
Being someone who has fairly radical views on many things, I tend to lead into certain topics carefully, but it’s always nice when I’m in good company for the straight up dose. Albert and Laurel were both tuned into the voluntaryist philosophy. Albert identified as an anarcho-primitivist, and he and I found many points of agreement about the logical conclusion of anarchist thinking, which is a life more connected to nature. Laurel also held to a more natural, tribal concept of a stateless society. She was raised on a reservation near Klamath Falls, Oregon, of the Klamath Tribe, and she still had strong connections to her tribal roots.
She wasn’t familiar with the term, but her brand of voluntaryism was a kind of agorism, with local activism, community gardens, and networking with neighbors. She said that their house was, at one time, something of anarchist hub, back when there were more people living there. She was into things like fighting against pipelines and fracking, reducing consumption, and developing the gift economy.
We were all in agreement about a great many things, and Albert and Laurel liked the vision I have been working towards. Albert bought them each a copy of my book, which was quite generous of him. I was happy for them to read the book, knowing that it will be right up their alley.
It would have been great to stay for longer and have an in-depth conversation, but Savannah was not even my final stop for the day. I thanked Laurel and Albert for taking time to meet with me, and I got a picture of them with their flags before I headed out. I think that the kind of work they are doing, taking small, simple steps right there where they are in life, is really important.
It was still light when I left, though it was getting on toward evening. A nice time for a walk, after having been in the car most of the day. So it was off to downtown Savannah! Along with the book tour and the journalism, I’ve also been using this trip as a chance to explore downtown areas of all the major cities and towns I pass through. I have an ongoing photography project focused on cities and architecture, and I’ve been glad to visit quite a few new cities on this tour. It gives me an excuse to stop every few hours, get out of the car, and walk around. I spend usually only about an hour or two on these walks, though I would enjoy having even more time for each place I go. Perhaps on the next tour that will be possible.
The community house I was to visit in Atlanta would be quite different from Savannah Tribe, though it was founded on many of the same principles – activism, community involvement, and anarchist philosophy.
Anarchist Black Cross Atlanta was the name of the house, and I only learned about the Black Cross movement when I arrived. It's basically an organization dedicated to helping people who are most oppressed by the state, like the Red Cross is meant to help people in a medical capacity. As with intentional communities, anarchist groups come in many different forms. These folks were really in the trenches, living in a poor neighborhood of Atlanta where the locals, mostly blacks, are constantly being harassed by the police.
I could tell that this was the real deal when I pulled up. Hardcore revolution. The house was painted purple, with a large anarchy A, and some other things painted on the walls, advertising that this was a place of resistance to the oppression of the state. When I walked through the porch area to the front door, I found myself surrounded by food. Full boxes of produce mostly, though also some bread.
My contact for the house, Marlon, had told me that he would not be there when I showed up, but I was expected. I was greeted at the door by Earthworm, who welcomed me in. A few other people were over, and I found out that although it was only she and Marlon living there permanently, they often had guests for varying lengths of stay. The front room was also full of crates of food, and she told me that they collect food from various different companies that would otherwise be throwing it away, and they used their front porch as a free store, where people from the community could come to get food twice a week.
Another couple showed up briefly when I first got there with even more food, and I learned about how they had been crafting relationships with different places for a long time in order to arrange for such abundance. We’re not just talking a little bit of food. They had tons, more than the locals in the neighborhood could take off their hands even. They do lots of their own cooking at the house with this food, and I was blessed to be offered a wonderful meal, cooked by resident guest who was visiting from Germany.
When Marlon came home I talked with him a bit, but then it was meal time. After the meal, they broke out several games, telling me that I had come at a good time. It was game night. A few more people came over, and we had some good fun playing games that were new to me, but that were quite interesting.
The first was not easy for me to pick up on quickly, being a card deck game where you collect various coins, abilities, and estates. Dominion, it was called. The second game we played was called Pandemic, and I had much more fun with that one. This was a board game with a map of the world and several main cities. The players all work together to try to contain the disease before epidemics become outbreaks, which occur based on cards drawn. Actions taken by the players can reduce and even eradicate diseases, but it’s a logistical challenge to get all over the world (with only four actions per turn) to deal with all that pops up after new disease incident beads were added to the board on each turn.
I liked that we were all working together instead of in competition with each other, and it was quite the challenge trying to strategize what actions were best to do when. We played three times and lost every time. We almost had it on that last game, but then an unlucky draw caused a cascading outbreak and it was all over.
After the game I got a chance to talk with Marlon at greater length, and I learned all about the different work they do in Atlanta and all around the area. One cool project was a publication that they put out to be distributed in prisons, helping connect people who are locked up to the outside, and striving to bring solidarity to the imprisoned. They were also involved in Cop Watch, which is an organization dedicated to preventing police brutality by keeping a good eye on those who are supposedly tasked with protecting us.
They were also affiliated with Food Not Bombs, a really great organization that feeds people all over the country, while raising awareness about the criminality of the military industrial complex. They were a hardcore crew. Looking around the house at all the decorations and flyers and posters on the wall told me that. It’s very rarely that I meet people who are more radical than I, but I think Marlon and Earthworm were. Granted, they were further to the left of the spectrum than I, and there were certainly aspects of their approach that would trigger many of my friends further to the right in the anarchist scene, but I try to keep an open mind and not get caught up on words and labels. I see the two poles of the movement as being complimentary, and I think we all just need to focus on what we’re good at and what calls to us.
I learned a lot that evening, and Marlon gave me a long list of projects, people, and organizations to check out. He gave me some good feedback on my longer term vision for establishing a cottage industry business via a community land development project. He was knowledgeable in permaculture and the concept of ecovillages, but for him, living in a nice village and teaching middle class people about sustainable design wasn’t nearly radical enough, I venture to say. These guys were fighting oppression, helping people in prison, or helping to keep people out of prison. Feeding people in need, participating in protests, and distributing subversive publications. I was a little bit out of my normal climate in such company, but it was a great experience for me, and I had a wonderful time. Indeed we are all working towards the same basic goals, and we were all very passionate about bringing about change.
Although we’d made no prior arrangements, Earthworm and Marlon were kind enough to offer me a place to sleep that night, though little did I sleep, so immersed were we in conversation. I had to wake up at 5:30 the next day to drive to Asheville, but I didn’t let that stand in the way of making the connection and having a really good talk. We were up until one thirty, and I was up and off before the sun was even up the next day.
From Peanut Butter Palace, to Savannah Tribe, to the Black Cross Atlanta House, I saw some very different approaches to living in community and engaging in the community at large. Each has great value, focusing on different aspects of the larger problem. In general, I usually encourage people to live in some kind of community for a time, to learn about the dynamics of sharing space and good communication, and to get involved in efforts to better our world with compatible compatriots. Fortunately, there are many options, when it comes to what that might look like. I will continue to visit these kinds of places as the tour progresses, and I am doing my best to integrate all that I’m learning from following this alternative living, intentional community, permaculture, anarchist culture as it evolves.