Art Kopecky  author of New Buffalo:  Journals from a Taos Commune
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Art Kopecky -Essays

Zero Population Growth
continued Spring, 2017

     We hear a lot of talk of revolution, well here is a revolution, ban together with some like minded people and create a family of unrelated people. At Green Valley Village my friend Kai introduced me to the phrase, "conscious kinship". This concept is central to the communities movement.
      I was touched witnessing on one N. Cal. community how Jennifer, a mature teenager, helped Alia with her children, exhibiting such warmth, you could just see the strength of her maternal instinct; but she was able to express it without having to get pregnant. 

Taos Creek with sheep at New Buffalo.
Virtually every issue of Communities pictures circles of friends who are creating families who are helping each other in every aspect.
      The Morningstar family was dispersed by the Sonoma County California authorities back in 1970 but remarkably they still stay connected in a virtual community through a Yahoo group. They discuss births and "reassignments", pets and poems and children. One member recently wrote about Patty; "She was the earth mother goddess and oh how I loved her and that baby Eden so very much. Whenever I think of Eden as a baby, I still get that pang in my heart. I truly loved that baby." The ties of these families can be as tight as the conventional. Morningstar has endured for 45 years with the help of cyberspace, and recently, in Sebastopol Ca., they had a live reunion>
      If we could achieve "0" population growth, we could stop building cities. When I travel now I am horrified to see the vast traffic jams, the immense parking lots and the hundreds of fast food joints in their tastelessly designed boxes. There is such a desperate need to create jobs, an almost hysterical fear of slow down. Indeed, from what I read, the leading cause of the rise of Donald Trump is the fear of unemployment. But if our history is to go on for hundreds of years we will have to slow development down. The only relief I see is the promise of the IC movement. It is a seed now, an example, a model being developed by those creating a new culture. At the communities I participated with, New Buffalo and Green Valley Village, for the most part, people made a life in place. They got up in the morning and stayed right there. Some went to work outside and this is actually important to maintain a balance with society. But most worked the land, preserved food, milked and processed the milk, maintained machinery and worked on the buildings: a family farm, in the modern version of people who have found each other. Together they are creating an ark for survival, an ark that can be shared. Rather than fine cars, they have fine friendships. Rather than demanding a job, they are creating a job, at home.
      And why is this so ecologically important? Important because these pioneers are not desperately demanding more "development", but show a way to share and slow down.
In addition they help with the "debt crisis". In the long run both the government and the medical bureaucracies have to shed jobs. The cost is just too high. This cannot be imagined unless some pioneers offer a way for some millions of unemployed to survive without these jobs.
      For most of history, most people lived, "on the land", then humanity had a phase of building cities, but that phase must end; for the environment, the sooner the better. Only a return of people "on the land", this time in unrelated families, can some millions find a way to survive.
"On the land", there is always a great deal to do. It doesn't pay hundreds of thousands of dollars. But it can give a perfectly wonderful life; a place with food, shelter, and companionship. And you don't have to get stuck in a traffic jam to get there.
      Each local has its different chores. For us, in New Mexico, one of the biggest chores was flood irrigation. We would open a wooden gate at the main ditch and let a cascade of water run along the convoluted ditch system which led down to the fields. I would repair the ditch sides and weed as water found its way to the fields. There the water must be spread and spread some more. The soil erodes easily because there are only the tiny sprouts of the new crop to hold the soil. I go to the left, then to the right using the tip of the shovel to make numerous pathways, always trying to stay on the dry ground as the water advances. Kim stepped in an area where the water had been for a while and he sank. He could not pull his feet up so had to abandon the boots in the soil and step out barefoot. In my mind's eye I can still see those boots standing up in the middle of the field. In a few weeks there would be a bright green carpet of the new crop to admire. Kim eventually retrieved the boots.
      In our culture we have the terms 'transformation", and "new paradigm" floating around. The IC's certainly offer an alternative. This is not a matter of either or; ICs add an element, create a relief valve for our society. Like the image of irrigation, they take off from the mainstream and lead in some new directions. Be it followers of Trump or Bernie Sanders, these people say they want change. The only way they're going to get it is if they create the better world themselves. Yelling and blaming is hardly the creativity we need.
      While we are speculating on ICs contributions to righting the ship, there is a third, equally important contribution: instilling, promoting, nourishing, a cultural change from greed to sharing. The chasm between the 1% and the 99% is vast. The best way to bridge this gulf is through sharing. Other equally titanic cultural shifts have occurred in human history. Once slavery was the norm, now that is a bygone era. Once women had few rights and were a subjugated class. Now that is mostly changed. Once the aristocracy ruled absolutely, now the era of democracy and universal education is dominant. Once the Soviet Union was deemed a menace, then the people of Russia miraculously changed the system without a war.
      And if the human race is to have a long future, I think, the current extreme uneven distribution of wealth will have to end, so prosperity can be more universal. The greatest wealth – land – is a great vehicle for sharing.
The land for New Buffalo in NM was a gift as was Morningstar in California. At NB, without a master plan, we farmed together and shared the chores; the same with the cooking. Amazing as it sounds, for over fourteen years, the NB community served anybody who came up the road. I loved that spirit which, somehow, was in the people. I hope it comes back. There was no master text or guru. The idea was "in the air", in the people, a reverberation of some cosmic enlightenment. And these people understood and participated in an extreme non greed mind set, one very involved with sharing. We weren't charging, and no one was getting paid. A group of people, that kept changing, kept things going and some tried to make progress. In the popular movie "Easy Rider", Dennis Hopper, who was an occasional visitor, portrayed NB. The scene at the "commune" was very true to life: before the evening meal we "circled", held hands, and some might be moved to say a blessing. The first time I saw the movie, the camera panning across the faces, shocked me with its realism. Then seeing us spread seeds by hand as we planted a field also brought me right back to a pioneering moment. We shared the harvest. We grew wheat, harvested it as a group, found a way to thresh it, and stored it in our milk room in a big wooden bin where we could check on the dryness. In the kitchen we had an electric grinder which Larry would repair occasionally. More people, grind more flour, make more tortillas. That seems to me a far better ethic than the constant complaining we hear about employment and everything else. And it's well within reach if enough people will make common cause.
    "Back to the Land in Cooperative Culture" is the slogan. Saving the environment and the people is the cause. This movement takes a positive, optimistic, thankful attitude; ii spreads generosity, a love of nature, and friendship. In a nutshell it is just what America, what the world, needs. Getting along is not easy. It's the greatest challenge. All kinds of people want to go to Mars. Here's a challenge right here on earth and it would do humanity far more good. It is appropriate to close with John Lennon's words of wisdom, "You may say that I'm the dreamer, but I'm not the only one."


Community Essentials
continued Spring, 2016

found them and then spent 100's of hours working to help them. New Buffalo and GVV shared a number of common features though they came from different eras. They both involved a lot of people, hundreds anyhow. They were what I call "welcoming communities", that is they had a lot of flow, many guests, friends, visitors, and new members as well as a hard core who lived there for years. And they were accepting of all. They weren't intentionally Buddhist or Christian or centered around a leader either: very democratic. They did circle at meals and were thankful and did have a home-made spiritual life with chants and prayers. And they were both on what was a former farm with fabulous vistas and with the possibility to be a very productive farm.
      Now to the crux of the matter. NB was started with a gift of money to purchase the land, and a corporation was formed to own the land. This is essential; to create an LLC or some organization to own, or be purchasing, the property. GVV was started by Chris and Kai with the funds supplied by Michael Paine (Chris' dad). Sadly they never got beyond this personal ownership of the land, which is one of the prime no-nos of community formation. It was hoped that, in time, this would be rectified, but there never was a "land fund" and not until the last year or so was a serious effort made to transfer title to an LLC, but by then Michael had put the property on the open market, never having become infatuated with the group that had gathered. I never could transfer to him my love of the group, though I tried.
BUT GVV did become a marvelous example of democratic governance through a frequently meeting village council, an elected board of directors called the "nitty gritty", and some very skilled moderators and mediators. I would marvel at the love and commitment of the people as they continually refined the tiers of membership and dealt with all issues. They would be gathered around on old couches and stuffed chairs or on carpets on the barn floor, or the Vic floor, or the school room. Often a projection screen was used with a lap top. To reconvene they sometimes sang a song, "we are circling, we are community, we are sacred".
      They were doing what New Buffalo failed to do. In the anarchistic ethic of the day, similar to the fabled Morningstar Ranch (circa 1968), the NB group was all embracing, had the idea of including "everyone", thus they failed to seriously establish a defined group with membership rules. We used what Diana Christian called "a kind of amorphous vibe grok among folks there at the time". This is another of the prime no-nos of the communities' movement.
GVV had an eight year run, NB a fifteen year run. But the NB is still there! It's in a toned down version and is actually up for a new governance and ownership. Hundreds of people used these places, made them work, pioneered this essential cause and gave thousands of hours of volunteer service. I thank you, thank you, thank you. And thousands of people will follow in service to each other in community, in love of the land, and in turning greed to non greed, a most revolutionary endeavor.
      New Buffalo got the ownership right. GVV got the membership right. If they had each gotten both things right, perhaps they'd still be contributing to this revolution today.
Since we are discussing essentials of ICs let me add a few more, now that I am reaching elder status and heading for the end of my road. Pepe, I, and friends had a communal scene in Bolinas California starting in 1969. Woody Ransom of Rock Bottom, a community in Vermont, donated use of a charming West Coast house. I've had a lot of experience since then, some of which is recorded in my two books about the New Buffalo Commune published by UNM Press. Now I am 71 years old, just as enthusiastic about communities as when I was twenty three. I thank Communities Magazine for this opportunity to share some of my thoughts.
      To ownership by a democratically run entity and a membership process add, 3) need for one or more community businesses, 4) a friendly, open to society, non paranoid attitude and 5) love, caring and commitment.
The communards, for the most part, are a loving people and want society to calm down and stop chasing the almighty buck all the time. I am sympathetic with this view, but, nevertheless I have always been keenly aware that IC's need to pay their way and establish successful businesses, not an easy thing to do. Occidental Arts and Ecology Center (OAEC), in Sonoma County Ca., has a thriving plant and seed sale business. In the last few years they have added two very professional propagation green houses and a charming nursery display area convenient to the upper parking lot. They have a series of display notice boards that they put up on some of the major thoroughfares which gets the word to almost everyone. At New Buffalo we were establishing a cow dairy and so was a group at GVV running a dairy. I want to see a network of IC run farms, with the Amish style love of farming. At the Farm in Tenn. is the organization called "Plenty" and plenty should be one of our goals. Get good at this: Food production. Of course those who are not farmers find other ways to contribute. But let me dwell on this love of land. When I have doubt of our cause and when I am slightly depressed, a dose of gardening or irrigating, smelling the air and thinking of working the land with friends, brings me back to hope and confidence.
      At New Buffalo we had a fallow farm, and not much equipment. The tractor had been sold because no one was using it. It kept getting lent out and when I arrived it was abandoned with a flat tire down by the river not far from the commune. We badly needed a flat bed truck for wood hauling so Daddy Dave and Max Finstein decided to make the trade. But now we had a farm without a tractor. What to do. Well shovels are good for gardening and combined with the twelve foot flat bed truck we could do "manure runs"! So we did that. Many of the neighboring ranchos had corals for sheep and cattle that hadn't been cleaned out in a lot of years and many were happy to be helping these novice farmers. The denuded land cried out for amendment; this we could do. We'd get permission, then announce at diner and we'd get four or five willing folks to take a little neighborhood trip and throw this primo earth into the flatbed until the springs sagged. One time, when at Carlos Trujillo's place, we had gotten a really full load. But, on the way out, the truck sank on a cause way in the farm yard. We then had to unload the mass over the sides so we could jack up the truck, build some road with boards and rock under the rear duels, and drive out. Then when the earth froze over night, we reloaded in the early morning. But we loved working that fertility into the land. This was done out of a love of the land, and of the commune idea. No one was paid, but we had a home, food, hospitality and a sense we were doing good works. This is one of the approaches to community, as I understand it, and it is a radically different economy.
In time we got another tractor, an Alice Chalmers, with a crank for starting. We bought old horse drawn farm equipment like a two bottom plow, a mower, and a dump rake, all with seats and handles. Seeding by hand, irrigating by shovel and hoe, we established lush alfalfa hay fields as well as wheat and garden crops. We added milk cows, one by one, and even bought an old refrigerated truck that the Dairy Inspector told us about. There was no limit to how much we could have grown; the milk was super popular. But the lack of commitment, and the absence of a membership process, allowed some nasty people to take over and dash the dream.
      Commitment. Many people had a lot; but still not enough. We are a movement. We have the potential to add an essential feature to the evolving human and national culture. We help the cause of harmony, generosity, and cooperation. Intentional Communities provide a backup, a safe haven, a safety net, for a society deathly afraid of unemployment, but needing to slow down, and in sectors like healthcare administration, government and construction, to employ less people.
      Larry McInteer at NB was committed to our welfare. He was a quiet man, I never heard him expound on these themes. I think his devotion came from a love of people. He could get the tractor to run and he could build cabinets. He could get the wobble out of the refer truck steering with new bearings. He'd take the kids out to cut a Christmas tree. Larry made a great invention for us. The kitchen room was our center and in the center of the kitchen was a giant flat cast iron wood burning stove. In the winter it might be going all day. So Larry added a jacket around the exhaust pipe and inside that ran water pipes to heat the wash water. He could fix the grinder and he helped plant and dry the wheat. We'd make our tortillas and heat them on that hot stove top. With a big pot of pinto beans and a pan of meat scraps, a lot of people got fed. It took quite a few people to make that happen.
      At GVV, one of my fond memories is of Kurt Graybeard washing an immense stack of dishes at one of our events at the barn when there was well over one hundred people. This was just after we had added the six foot outdoor balcony and the curving stairway making the barn a much better place to hold events. Pouring concrete for the Vic foundation, or canning tomatoes, setting up or taking down the giant event tent, Kurt was always willing to help. I actually never heard him expound on harmony either, but like many others he was committed to keeping our life going. Again rack that up to love of the people I guess. Still I think a movement needs purpose and a sense of making the world better. I know it's important to me. I hear it from Ma'ikwe Schaub at Dancing Rabbit also.
      This is a peaceful revolution. We are lucky. There is not a powerful Fascist army to defeat. There is not a fanatic Confederate army to meet in battle. But there is a vital cause. It has to do with generosity, sharing wealth: not through laws but through a change of heart, through example. It has to do with conscious kinship, where you have a family without needing to propagate one and so is compatible with zero population growth, a great necessity for humankind. IC's are a unifying force. They are a type of free enterprise at a time when government has to shrink; its debt soaring beyond comprehension. ICs address social needs without inventing government programs. In that it is a new direction. Both Left and Right need it. We called it the dawning of the Age of Aquarius. I still like that concept. I am really hoping it will catch on more. Like Mandy and Ryan in the movie Within Reach, you will be able to travel from community to community, but there will be many more of them. That title is prophetic; "Within Reach".
Now why doesn't every campus have a Back to the Land club? Why don't more of these people stuck in traffic, paying huge sums for a little box, mired in a life with little meaning, see this future? Show it to them.
      Make it shine friends, make it work. It is not easy this getting along, but it can be done. A lot of you are ready, a lot are now pioneering. It can be joyous. As Pete Seeger says in his song "Rainbow Race", "now's our last chance to learn to share what's been given to me and you." Good luck dear people. You may say that I'm the dreamer, but you know, "I'm not the only one". With love from Arty AnSwei Kopecky


• Peace and Justice
continued May 2013

Peace and Justice essay 2-2013
      The December-January issue of Peace Press included an article about the Monan's Ril Intentional Community (IC), and the theme of creating community. I'd like to continue those thoughts and expand on what the IC movement offers. Besides Monan's Ril, Sonoma County boasts the OAEC one of the world's leading communities, and there is the Green Valley Village (GVV) an extraordinary model of community involving over 50 people on a beautiful ranch near Sebastopol. And there are others: La Tierra, Bodega Pastures, Ocean Song, as well as many Co-housing endeavors.

     1) One could say that the leading issue of our time is greed and the inequality of wealth. ICs demonstrate, and give a theatre of action for, "non-greed". An expression on the left is "common dreams". What better dream than groups of friendly people living and working together, sharing properties, growing lots of food, and offering hospitality. These communities foster cooperation, consideration, andand generosity, developing the idea of a "sharing economy". These are values that can't be legislated but are created in the culture, and are needed for the future. The motto at Twin Oaks community is "sharing is the key to the future". ICs are cultural centers developing the ethics of "connection instead of accumulation". And they develop the democratic tools for governing the sharing of wealth and property.
      Now there are a few hundred of these experiments. Raise that number to 10,000, involve 2 million people and you are making a contribution to history; that's a worthy goal. That's a way, to my mind, the only way, to change our present trajectory.
      2) Besides the power of greed, another issue of our time is the degradation of nature because of "our" insistence on growth. ICs do assist the economy, but they grow a joint venture not individual accumulation. By housing many on existing farms instead of creating suburbs, they can help us come to the end of growing cities. They are compatible with 0 population growth, creating families of unrelated people in the spirit of conscious kinship. In a sense, the wealthy promote growth as the way to bring the poor up, so as to negate the need for them to share. But in the long run, for humanity, there is no way around the need to learn to share. It should not be legislated; it has to come from a change in the culture. "Learn to share", that's a line from the song "Rainbow Race" by Pete Seeger, "Now's our last chance to learn to share what's been given to me and you".
      3) Another aspect of the IC idea, is it allows "us" to be positive about America. I don't see how "we" can galvanize a sizeable group and shift the balance in America, without being positive about some of the important aspects of the U.S. ICs are built on our freedom and prosperity. They continue the democratic revolution learning the process of reaching consensus in governing a property. One saw this in the Occupy encampments and I see it at the IC councils. And the ICs are a form of free enterprise, in the great tradition of American ingenuity. We can join those concerned with the size of the immense national debt, by basing our solutions on individual, private, contributions. The ICs do not call for new government programs. We appreciate the progressive era that Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt helped create. But this era has run its course. The ICs are the seeds of a new progressive movement that builds on the private prosperity that many of "the people" have achieved.
      4) Here is a movement that calls for dedication and offers life time fulfilling work. If soldiers can give life and limb, then a cadre of people can take the risk of doing volunteer or low paid work, to make these estates prosper. Here is a movement that is positive and joyous in a time a stress. Here is a movement that places love of people over love of accumulation. This movement counters the growth of factory farms. It helps us conceive of a society that is done creating congestion and bigger cities yet, and can "slow down".
      After 5 years, a small group around 2 bicyclists, Ryan and Mandy, have produced a movie promoting ICs, called "Within Reach", and it is a tool which potentially gives the movement a giant boost. At some point, similar to the 60's, hopefully, another burst of community mindedness reignites the back to the land movement. This time the sophistication of the modern IC scene should create enclaves that will last and help us move history. The film's title is so a pros pos; with-in reach. Now to grasp it.
      Art Kopecky works as a carpenter out of Sebastopol and is author of 2 books about the New Buffalo commune published by the UNM Press

Summer of Love stage close up
Summer of love crowd close up

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