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Subject: Re: Vision Council
From: butterflyb...@hotmail.com (Butterfly Bill)
Date: 14 Dec 1997 10:05:03 -0800
I was a member for one year and a hanger-on for three more at Shannon Farm Community, near Charlottesville in central Virginia. It was 30 or so houses on 400 or so acres of land that had previously been a real farm owned by a guy named Mr. Shannon (hence its name). The community didn't do any more agriculture other than individual's gardens - they had a wood kiln and cabinet shop on one side of the land where maybe a quarter of the membership worked, but most of the community commuted to jobs in Charlottesville or Nelson County. It was like a suburban development with some very strong building covenants, with a lot of de facto tho not official communal child rearing among the many members who had kids, lots of mutually traded help with building each other's houses, and regular social events where everyone in the community came. It had gone the whole evolution from early '70's radical hippie free love commune to village of hippies who had kids and were now going to bed before midnight, tho still not voting Republican. It was a place where I got to know a lot of people very fast, that I still carry many warm memories of.
They made decisions affecting the whole community at a gathering they called Monthly Meeting, which was on the first Saturday of every month in a large 2-story building they had added around the original farmhouse. It had a big living room with a ceiling as high as the roof rafters, with the second floor ending around it at railings. As you approached this room, you went thru a foyer with mailboxes to your back, and a huge bulletin board covering a whole wall facing you. Both of these physical placements played a part in the process.
Nothing could be discussed officially at a meeting unless it had been put on the agenda during the previous month. One person had to state it in writing, and put it up on the bulletin board. Then at least four other members had to sign it in support. If something came up orally at a meeting, it could be discussed - but not acted upon until the next meeting, after the whole proposal process had been begun again.
The bulletin board was where proposals started, and there were often extended discussions of meeting issues before they ever came to oral discussion. The board was very much like a Usenet newsgroup, people sometimes talked about off the wall things, put up funny jokes they had found, put up propaganda for their peculiar causes, announced some good thing that had happened. It was considered perfectly proper to add graffiti to other people's postings, and sometimes there were outright flame wars. I remember a vehement argument I had with another member that took place entirely on the board in writing - when we were talking neither of us mentioned it out of a desire to preserve politeness. An amazing amount of conversation goes on in writing in intentional communities, especially ones with lots of computers.
The mail all came to a single rural route mailbox at the entrance to the farm, and it was brought in and distributed - by whoever that day wanted their mail the baddest - to individual cubbyholes in the same room as the bulletin board. Everyone had to come to that room to get their mail, and the building was the first one you passed on the road coming in. As a result everybody stopped there at least once a day, talked to whomever else was there, and walked over to the bulletin board to catch up on the latest installment in the soap opera.
They had a probationary period of at least six months where a newbie was a provisional member, before that person became a full member. You had to get one third of the full membership to sign your petition to become a provisional member, then two thirds to become a full one. Only full members could block consensus, but prov's were allowed to speak in discussions and take part in straw votes.
The meeting was started at 1:00 Shannon time by one of the chairpersons. They had two chairpeople at every meeting, each of whom was an ordinary full member of the community. This duty was passed on to others regularly. No one was allowed to chair two meetings in succession, and - I can't remember exactly - there was a minimum of a few months between turns. Who were to be the next chairs was a regular item on the agenda, and they asked for volunteers. There often weren't exactly people fighting each other off for the privilege and the power - sometimes the sitting chairpeople had to plead and pander to get people to come forth.
One of the chairpersons was the M.C. for the meeting - who called it to order, brought up agenda items, called for straw votes, and sometimes finally called for consensus. The other person was called the "vibes chair" - that person's regular duty was to respond to people wanting to be put on the list to speak, put them on it, inform the other chairperson who was next on it - and all the time while doing this to watch people's faces and body language, and perhaps interrupt the planned order of the meeting to ask someone who appeared to be having a real hard time to speak. This chairperson was also the first to be the hardass if things started to get out of order.
When an issue was first raised, there was usually a period where anyone who wanted to express something talked, resembling very much a heartsong council, but with no wandering from the subject. You didn't have to talk if you didn't want to, and the order of speaking was determined by a list that the vibes chair kept. If you want to get on it, you put up your hand and waited for the chairperson to acknowledge you by a nod, a pointing of the finger, or other noiseless gesture. Someone talking too long would start to get polite suggestions from both of the chairthings to start wrapping things up. If that person didn't stop soon enough, the chair could order that person to stop. After a while the conducting chair would try to state some proposals based upon what was said, and ask for a straw vote. This was a simple raising of the hands by those in favor. If few raised their hands, the chair would suggest either tabling the discussion until next month, or propose having more discussion. The chair might even ask for another vote on that.
If only a few were against, the chair would ask each of the dissenters to state to the meeting their particular objections. After this round, there would be another straw vote, and if the dissenters were down to only one or two, the chair would call for consensus. Usually, by this time, few of the dissenters would block - but sometimes they did, and if that happened, the issue was tabled, and the proposal would have to be put up on the board etc. all over again. When someone did block, that person could usually expect some informal chastisement (sometimes called "getting all over one's case") at the potluck dinner that evening and for days after. There had grown a tradition of feeling that a block was something you did only when you absolutely couldn't live with something, like you might have to even leave the community.
There were some meetings where some strong emotions were expressed, but there was never any fight picking or people walking out in disgust. The meetings seldom lasted for more than five hours, and they were often over in less than three. Often action could be taken on as many as four or five proposals. There would be be a potluck supper that evening, with lots of good food and gemütlichheit. Anybody from Shannon Farm reading this is probably wondering with gaping mouth how their mouthly meetings with their pouting process could possibly be a shining example, but they would really know how good they've got it if they ever went to just one Rainbow Vision Council.
There are some disanalogies between Shannon Farm and Rainbow. They've got about 60 people, we've got ten thousand. They live with each other year in and year out, and don't want be living next door to ill will - we come together for two weeks and maybe never see each other until next year. They certainly don't let in anybody with a bellybutton, you have to win the good will of many people with your behavior before you can become a full member and join in with all the powers. But there are some things we could emulate, like the written part of the processes, the use of chairpeople, the placing of things on agendas, the use of straw voting, and the attitude of respect that comes from everyone feeling they can really play an effective part.
– Butterfly Bill
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