Starting point: ‘70s flourishing of intentional, mostly rural communities
Organizing strategy: Present the common themes of cooperation and an organic approach to life; establish a common vocabulary of practice among widely variant communities
Tools: A magazine as the outreach and internal learning device
Outcomes: 40 years of integrity and added coherence to a movement which stubbornly resists going out of business
Primary Resources: http://www.ic.org/communities-magazine-home; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Communities_(magazine)
Magazines that provide connection to specific communities of interest have been largely replaced by websites, on-line publications and blogs. Yet where there are strong affinities, the attachment and utility persists. “Communities” has had a small, but loyal readership for 4 decades, published by the Fellowship of Intentional Communities as the flagship of its movement.
“We believe that intentional communities are pioneers in sustainable living, personal and cultural transformation, and peaceful social evolution. “Intentional communities” include ecovillages, cohousing, residential land trusts, income-sharing communes, student co-ops, spiritual communities, and other projects where people live together on the basis of explicit common values. We go about our work in a number of ways, including the Communities Directory, Communities magazine, Community Bookstore, community-focused Events, Classifieds, theBlog, and more.”
from an article in Communities about the magazine as expression of several movements:
Where have we been, and where are we going?
The history of the FIC goes back to its predecessor organization, the Fellowship of Intentional Communities, which was an association of a specific group of communities for mutual aid, created in 1940. But we come from a legacy that goes further back, to the Cooperative Communities of the mid-1800s, which were inspired by communities and societies going further back in North America and abroad. It also runs parallel the cooperative housing movement, which also dates back to the 1800s and is currently expressed by the North American Students of Cooperation (formed 1968) and the National Association of Housing Cooperatives (formed 1952). The FIC represents far more than ’60s communes or the communities they inspired; however, for the vast majority of people I talk to, that’s the predominant association in their minds. (The recent piece by ABC Nightline on Twin Oaks used the words hippie or commune a total of eight times, even though Twin Oaks wasn’t started by hippies; the segment failed to mention Behaviorism and the book Walden II as the inspiration for the community.)
And the landscape of intentional communities has evolved considerably since the FIC started 28 years ago. Cohousing was imported from Europe, with the first community finished and occupied in 1991. The Ecovillage movement started in the mid-’90s, with the Ecovillage Network of the Americas, a region of the Global Ecovillage Network, forming around 1996. Urban community-building has become prominent, with formal and informal collective households popping up frequently, often in conjunction with urban agriculture projects, and coliving and coworking models have become a recent trend.
The worker co-op movement is also on the rise, with the formation of the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives in 2004, playing a more active role in the cooperative business world. The movement is somewhat stratified between more mainstream institutions like credit unions and rural agricultural and electric co-ops, and the more radical food co-ops and worker co-ops. Where intentional communities have focused on the residential aspects of shared resources, worker co-ops in particular focus on the financial. It’s easy to see them as two sides of the same coin, especially when you look at intentional communities that incorporate cottage industries. But significant differences both culturally and in their affiliations have kept them siloed.
Other important players in the mix now include the Transition Town and Permaculture movements, the New Economy Coalition, the various Solidarity Economic networks, Maker Spaces, and online sharing platforms like Shareable.net and Kindista.org. People within all of these different groups increasingly seem to recognize that social, ecological, and economic concerns are all inextricably intertwined, and that community—manifested in the daily, personal relationships between people and the concerns they share—is at the center of it all. The FIC is one player in this very large movement towards a just and sustainable human society. We have a lot to offer and a lot to learn.
Closer to home, as new, innovative models of intentional community pop up, we need to make sure we’re staying connected to what’s going on and responding to the evolving needs and aspirations of different groups. Many new groups form spontaneously without knowledge of the larger movement and history of intentional community. Some are hesitant to associate themselves with groups that might give people the wrong impression; others are excited to find they have allies out in the world. Networks are only as powerful as the people and organizations that make them up. The FIC has developed a strong network over the years, but we need to keep strengthening it. We need to make sure we’re offering a mutually beneficial relationship. We need to do a better and better job of providing products and services that support the development of intentional communities and cooperative culture, and find the allies we need to build our capacity to make a bigger impact in the world.
And, it’s time the world knew! Intentional communities have been getting more media attention recently. In the last year, Twin Oaks has been visited by Al Jazeera America, Yahoo! News, CNN.com, and ABC Nightline News, all of which gave positive (if at times patronizing) spins on the community and lifestyle. Societal awareness of the global problems facing humanity is on the rise and people are looking for solutions. We certainly don’t have all the answers, but we have important pieces of the puzzle and we have a responsibility to share what we’ve learned.
Moving forward together
The FIC’s mission is to support and promote the development of intentional communities and the evolution of cooperative culture. As I transition into the role of Executive Director, I have two questions for you: What can the FIC do for you? What can you do for the FIC? We all want to change the world. It’s going to take a community effort.
Sky Blue is incoming Executive Director of the Fellowship for Intentional Community. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.