Communities Directory: A Guide to Intentional Communities and Cooperative Living 2000 Edition
Fellowship for Intentional Community
Reviewed by Mike Mosher
Monday, March 19 2001, 2:56 PM
In a wintertime of corporate-marketed conformity, of a dominant and domineering social conservatism chilling the land like a persistent cold front, plus the fraud of the U.S. Presidential election leaving many with the feeling their votes meant little and they were out in the cold, this book brings the reader warmth. The Directory of Intentional Communities demonstrates that people can shape their lives and their immediate surroundings with like-minded others.
The Fellowship for International Community has assembled a voluminous, cheerful volume of communities in the United States and around the world. This U.S.-based nonprofit is the publisher of Communities magazine and keepers of the independent bookstore Community Bookshelf that distributes resources on organizing, networks, relevant services and books.
Over thirty essays precede the community listings on topics like starting communites and day-to-day managerial issues, advice for visitors' etiquette, provide a clear definition of cults vs. communities, the etiquette of visiting, the distinctions between ecovillages, cohousing, student co-ops, and income sharing project. One analyzes the conditions necessary for true consensus, a process often claimed but rarely truly practiced in political organizations. Others explore spiritual, resistance, permaculture, sexuality-defined communities, old age, children, mental illness and ethnic diversity. The communities listed are overwhelmingly white though, and that issue is examined with concern though not in depth. There are essays on gay and lesbian communities, one piece advocating that gays and lesbians seek queer-friendly communities that include heterosexuals, rather than segregating themselves.
Intentional communities span the world and the United States, sometimes occurring in curious clusters. There are many in Virginia, North Carolina, New Mexico. There are 71 in Northern Ireland. They are found from Nova Scotia to Hilo, Hawaii. Sweden, Canada, Germany, Australia, Belgium, Netherlands. In Kamchatka, Russia, aboriginal group hosted the International Assembly of Aboriginals of the World. There are urban communities in San Mateo and Palo Alto, California, and one is situated in expensive Palo Alto, the cerebral capital of Silicon Valley. Someone could easily spend two or three years visiting these various enclaves.
I hadn't realized that the system of cooperative houses surrounding the University of Michigan campus, remembered as the site of such good parties in the 1970s, comprised one of the oldest such systems in the country. Its spirit is still strong. For Example, in November 2000 the Fellowship for Intentional Community contributed thirteen courses on cooperative living at the 23rd Annual NASCO (North American Students of Cooperation) Institute held in Ann Arbor. Incorporating college co-ops at the University of Michigan, Michigan State, University of California Berkeley and the University of Florida, NASCO calls itself "the organized voice of the campus movement since 1968," and it's nice to see something lasting on campuses born of that year. Yet the Communities Directory reveals that intentional communities are more than just sixties stereotypes.
There are plenty of religious and monastic communities, Native Americans in Nevada, Orthodox Jews, the Bruderhof, Hutterite communities, Christian-like Children of God (fundamentalist but sex-positive,) Agape Catholic, Ananda Yoga, five Kibbutzim, based on the Urantia Book of Aquarian Order or carrying out the work of the preacher Father Divine. There are numerous communities of the Twelve Tribes Network, each ones with 22 to 115 members but averaging about 70. I was somewhat surpised at how many communities listed have a fundamentalist Christian foundation, yet there's much to be said for those who desire more rigidity to voluntarily withdraw from larger, secular society, rather than remain in it to shrilly endeavor to restrict the hard-won rights of others. Could the secular agnostic or atheist traveler enjoy hospitality and convivial philosophical discussion at these groups' dinnertables? Never know till you try.
Following the informative essays are the community listings and cross-referenc chart. Some groups are large and long-standing, while others reflect ambitious plans and a current population of 2 or 4. These make fascinating reading, for each description triggers the imagination and is the material for a high-concept movie pitch: 24 Walden Two behavioralists in Sonora, Mexico. Sixty souls in the Love Israel Family in rural Washington state whose organization is based on "visions, dreams, revelation". A land co-op of 279 acres 163 miles east of Tallahassee, Florida. A "cosynegal" in northern Michigan, and the Michigan Socialist Co-op House of Ann Arbor. Eight thousand women of the Michigan Womyns Music Festival. Radical Faeries in Wolf Creek, Oregon. The Shin Gum Do Zen Sword Center in Boston. A "Buddhafield" of fifty in the Tuscan countryside of Italy. The Prowokulta's twenty-seven members age 20 to 32 in Frankfurt, Germany. The Berlin UFA-Fabrik community begun in 1979 by squatters in the old German film studios. The Rainbow Caravan situated "somewhere in South America." The three-person "upscale urban Colorado group marriage of two women aged 46 and 59--"non-smokers, highly heterosexual"--and one man of 58.
The Directory of Intentional Communities is a fun book to browse when your life seems most externally determined, when you feel your choices are few and the important issues of survival seem most out of your control. There's no mention of significant persecution of any of the groups listed--their clashes seem to have mostly been with zoning boards when building and enlarging their properties--and that's good. From the burning of the Mormons' Nauvoo temple in the 1840s through the 1980s incineration of the MOVE community in Philadelphia and David Koresh's 1990s group in Waco, intentional communities in the United States have at times come under fire. May all of these listed in the Directory of Intentional Communities continue to give off their various warm beacons of their alternative versions of utopia.
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