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Occupy and Shift: What Communities Must Do To Survive

April 25, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 181

Instead of Occupying Wall Street, in the 1970s we homesteaded, got off the grid, and grew our own vegetables. We created intentional communities with new economies, cottage industries, shared bank accounts, and an ability to employ our own people. Probably we were more closely related to the Transition Movement than to Occupy, though the special beauty and genius of today's Transition Movement is to create community from present towns and neighborhoods, with the variety of folks already there, as much as building anew and attracting members.

What can we learn from the dreams, accomplishments, and failures of yesterday's intentional communities? I'll use The Farm as an example I know well from having lived there for almost a decade. The dream was to separate ourselves from a failing economy and culture, to build our own village and power it with solar, wind, and other alternative energies. As part of that dream, we envisioned a village free of the slant of main stream culture, one where our children could grow up knowing themselves and their personal strengths. Our vision was aware and spiritual, not co-opted by the status quo that dominated the religions of our childhood.

After forty years, The Farm is thriving, in a somewhat modified version of the original dream. We succeeded in raising our awareness of, and insight into, modern economies that have strangled nations, our awareness of ourselves as creative persons who could, together, change the way folks lived toward a lifestyle that really was for and by the people. Our failures, as I see it, are these:

1) We did not resolve how to interface with modern medical technology. During our collective years we accrued large medical bills saving babies and sick and injured adults who would not have made it days past. (Our group was too big to buy medical insurance.) Yet how can any people choose not to save lives?

2) We allowed our village to be overwhelmed by incoming numbers who had more needs than resources. The plaque on the Statue of Liberty, which was given to the US by the French, reads in part, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free...." But no one can help those who do not take an active and dedicated responsibility for themselves. We did not identify and limit from membership those who came looking for more help than they were willing to give. We grew too fast, faster than we could improve our housing, faster than we could manage a money surplus with which to build solar power and so on. We stayed poor too long-and abject poverty does nothing for any people. My husband and I left The Farm because our children were outgrowing the kid rooms where we had them stacked in two three-tiered bunk beds, growing up without sufficient fruit and vegetables in a diet heavy on wheat and soy. (The diet was better than the processed and fast foods many children get today.)

3) We depended on local second-hand stores for our clothing and upon relatives for some things we couldn't get second-hand such as socks and underwear. We used the blankets and towels we brought, and we had no means of replacing these when they wore out.

4) We believed so strongly in the good in everyone that we did not identify and handle those whose current intentions toward the community were not good. It is true that everyone is basically good -- but, as we learned to our sorrow, a very few are terrified that others will get the best of them and so set about getting the best of all others. It only takes a couple such "members" to make a community fail financially and otherwise. My friend Roan was involved in an incident where someone on the inside had to have known his schedule and to have told the CIA. Further, some came to The Farm with personal issues that would negatively impact our children when we were not alert, especially sexual abuse shocking to discover from our now grown children even if it touched a minority. One child sexually abused is too many. How did it happen that we failed to protect one innocent child? It has been said that "the price of freedom is eternal vigilance." There were areas where our vigilance lapsed.

The Occupy Movement and the Transition Movement will do better than we did. They have our example, our successes and our failures. Young people today are in a position to keep an awareness more alert than at any time in history. May The Farm's many stories be of help to our common future.

Article by Patricia Lapidus, author of the memoir Sweet Potato Suppers: A Yankee Woman Finds Salvation in a Hippie Village, now available in a second edition with pictures from The Farm in the 1970s. Other books include SWAMP WALKING WOMAN, a mythic fairy tale, GIDEON'S RIVER, a novel dedicated to all who live with a temper, their own or someone else's. Sweet Potato Suppers is a personal journey story told within a political framework.


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