Ashby Avenue, Berkeley
What I Still Want
What Does This Mean to Me?
The reality is that pretty soon, I am probably going to own a huge house. I am writing this to air my thoughts, for discussion purposes. I want to live with others in a collective, but this vision is endangered by the reality that I now "own" by myself, something I never intended. How to fill the void left by the breakup of the original collective, avoid the problems that caused that breakup, and figure how to rekindle the flames of collectivity? I want to try to use this document as a basis for discussion of these issues and to avoid surprises, and to get out into the open my own needs so that I can listen to and hear other people's needs and so that together we can figure out how to proceed.
Also, a lot of the things I write about in this document are things I haven't been able to do yet in my own life but that I would like to do and that I think I could do as part of a group struggling to live differently. These challenges, and the chance to always take on new projects and change and grow, is exciting. I am pretty sure I don't want to do or live by everything I list here--at least not right away. This is like a brainstorm.
First, here is some of the history of our original views of the house for background and as a sign of gratitude and respect for those and what came before.
After that, I must necessarily write about what "I" want.
It is a grave error to think that a collective can or should suppress the "I"--individuality. In my own psychological development, attempts to deny my own feelings and thoughts to be more "collective" have not worked and are dishonest.
At the same time, it isn't all about "I"--there needs to be compromise, giving and taking, sharing, trust. But you can only get to that sharing if you acknowledge what you want. If everyone is as honest as possible about what they really want, we can get the closest to having really honest discussion, and hopefully figure out how to balance different people's needs.
After living collectively for many years, I must conclude that I can be friends with many people with whom I would not want to live. I am sure the same goes for other people in terms of them not wanting to live with me. I am probably not the easiest person to live with in some ways. I believe I do act in good faith and I try to contribute some of my considerable energy to the places where I live. The important part in putting together a collective is to figure out who we are maximally compatible with so that living with others has as few struggles and as much grace as possible.
Following is the original flyer written by Elena and Jesse while they were thinking about buying a house with others.
Following is the language included in the contract that David and Elena and Jesse signed for 2231 Ashby Ave.
"The purpose of purchasing the Property is so that the Communists can have a beautiful, safe, supportive, inexpensive, politically radical, ecologically minimalist place to live."
What does all of this mean now that the original group has broken down?
What I still want: [Back to Top]
A place where we can plan to be the way we want it to be rather than something that just happens; a beautiful, safe, supportive, inexpensive, politically radical, ecologically minimalist place to live. A different kind of collective. Most of all I want to start living intentionally--to have meetings and discuss how things are going and figure out--collectively and democratically--how to proceed from there.
What does this mean to me?:
Planning [Back to Top]
Comrade Donna often observed the following reality: "a collective house, in order to work well, has to have a project that unifies the house, beyond merely living there." One of the main things I want beyond other houses I've lived in (where people share space, phones, food, but collectivity often does not extend to a deeper level) is to have a place to have experiments about new forms of living--a place based on grandiose, revolutionary visions that we try to turn into reality. Meetings where we theorize about new things that haven't existed before or that we've never seen work, but that we could try out. And where we take these theories and try to live them. A source of something new in the world, not just living day to day trying to survive but not really moving forward. A place based on conscious, democratic choices about how life should be, not a place that takes shape based on old habits and old conditioning. Planning, discussion, visions, and meetings are central to the vision of the house I want to live in.
It would be easy to dismiss the following as "life stylism." There are elements of that, but I do not put these ideas forward because I am under any illusion that we can change the world merely by living differently in our own, individual private lives. However, I also want to live more and more in a way that feels consistent with my ideas, whether or not living in this way will make any difference in terms of attaining "revolution." It is okay to have personal tastes and choices about how one lives. There is nothing noble about duplicating all of the lifestyle choices made by the system, any more than trying to live completely "back to the land." The question is, what kind of experiences will we have each day we live? Following are some of my tastes. I like the idea of doing stuff for myself, living with less modern technology, less energy consumption, more "alternative" choices. For example, learning to live with less can make experience more interesting and stimulating: chopping wood is fun; hanging clothes on a sunny day is an opportunity to have a quiet moment outside; cooking from scratch using vegetables in season is a culinary challenge and maybe we can learn new foods we like.
After writing what follows, I looked at it and realized the extent to which I do not currently live like the visions I describe. Ultimately, I'm interested in the challenge and the experiment--I may not enjoy (or even be able to) make some of the changes described. I would like to experience these things so I can see for myself. Also, I don't pretend this is all internally consistent. For example, why, if I hate fossil fuel use so much, am I going through all of the work I've gone through to build and buy a hottub, which has to be one of the most extravagant, energy wasting, western luxury items imaginable? It is a symbol of bourgeois decadence. Because I know that if I sit in a hottub more often, I'll be relaxed, I might be happier, I'll have opportunities to meet new people and have deeper talks with old friends, and I just want it, okay? If I can just have a hottub, maybe everyone should just acquire as many items and luxuries as possible, fuck minimalism. Well, I don't know how to solve this logical gap; I rationalize that I can give up some luxuries to concentrate on others, and maybe we can convert the tub to solar most of the summer and fall. We'll see.
Anyway, following are brief discussions of the phrase from the contract signed by Elena, Jesse and David.
politically radical [Back to Top]
What follows is my personal "taste", but one I'm hoping I will share with people I will live with. I believe that capitalism is fundamentally oppressive, flawed, destructive of the earth, and that the main project of humanity is to overthrow this system and entirely redesign how human beings relate to each other on radical, fundamental levels. I do not believe this system can be "Reformed"-- it must be smashed, overthrown, cast into the dustbin of history. Therefore, I am for revolution. Revolution is the central project to which I want to devote my life, and so far that is the central project to which I have tried to be devoted. I have both Marxist (early period) and anarchist tendencies and influences. I believe we cannot replace capitalism with a state run socialist system--this substitutes one form of oppression for another. The kind of revolution we need must totally redesign the way people are and how we relate to each other. Probably people will live in much smaller, much more self-sufficient, much more collective (as opposed to ruggedly individualized), much more locally based groups. Gender categories will probably change radically--perhaps the concept of gender will even disappear. Decisions will be made more face to face, with lots of meetings, participation, structure, and attention.
In terms of getting from where we are now to a revolutionary society, I'm not sure I'll ever see this future, but I do believe we can all contribute towards a future revolution every day we live our lives, both in our personal lives, in micro-communities, and on the local, state, national and international stages. Because of the infancy of the struggle for revolution, we must use a wide variety of creative, smart tactics. I suspect that the revolution will start more like building a new, micro society that stands as an example within the ruins of the existing society, not as a brief, violent uprising a la USSR, China, Nicaragua, Cuba, etc. Therefore, I am committed to building face to face community and alternative institutions. I think we should organize by example and live little parts of the revolution now whenever possible. We should also mount attacks on capitalism and the state where possible.
In the best case scenario, the house would contribute towards the movement for revolution. It could provide a base for organizing attacks on capitalism. In the flyer Elena and I made, we hoped the people in the house would also be our affinity group for direct actions. I want to go to many Seattle-like protests with my housemates (family) at my side. A strong house could support radical, direct action, militant tactics over the long haul, helping the members of the house to maintain radicalism through life changes and cycles. Since houses are the locus of the family, and the family is the domain of traditional gender roles, attacks on the patriarchy are particularly appropriate in a radical house. A radical house could support radicals and the radical community with mutual aid, perhaps meeting and work space, hiding places for activists who are underground, etc. It could provide a fertile ground for demonstration projects and creating revolution by starting to live differently now. To the extent possible, it shouldn't just be an imitation of the capitalist, industrialist aspects of society. It should to offer its members comfort during the long hard struggle; a welcoming family that is a revolutionary, not a conservative (like the traditional family) force.
ecologically minimalist [or perhaps "up with nature!"] [Back to Top]
Again, the following are to some extent my personal tastes, and I don't mean to heavy handedly impose this on people. However, within one house I think it is possible to have agreement on the basics. I think a small group of people can live together more easily if they are basically united on these issues.
The bottom line for me is that the current way of living in modern western industrialized countries is unsustainable, unjust because it condemns nature and people to annihilation, and must end immediately. This means that the vast bulk of unsustainable, technological privilege which most of us grew up with will have to be abandoned and replaced by simpler comforts and technologies which are in harmony with nature. Minimalism to me means striving to live with the least amount of impact on nature possible. By impact, I mean that we should try to burn as little fuel as possible, create as little waste as possible, cut as few trees and use as little land for growing crops as possible, and take up as little space as possible. We should be very conscious and careful of each way in which we use up nature in our day-to-day lives. Some kinds of technology may help us to live with less impact on nature and we need to develop and build these forms of technology now. Other forms of technology are unsustainable no matter what and we had better start re-learning how to live without these conveniences now. (100 years ago People lived just fine without most of the technology we have now).
The minimum to living minimalistically is that individually owned cars be phased out, bikes, walking, public transit, and doing everything locally encouraged. This is because of the pollution cars emit, but is also based on the resources needed to build cars and road, the space roads take up, the alienation that private vehicles create, and the social distortions related to private cars and the decline in human interaction based on the loss of dense urban areas. Simply having electric or less polluting cars does not make cars "okay." Given that this house is close to everything needed to live in a city, this house is ideal for car freedom.
Another important goal is to cut back and ultimately phase out fossil fuel energy use by making changes like: using fewer electric lights and appliances; figuring out how to cut back on or find alternatives to refrigeration; using clotheslines instead of the dryer when possible; trading passive solar and wood burning for central heating; using less hot water by showering less, etc. A house struggling for ecological alternatives could install solar hot water and heat, use less water, build a cool gray water system, compete to see if we can avoid throwing anything in the trash, etc. Other good ideas: urban farming, buying local food that is in season, eating low on the food chain, supporting local businesses not chains, solar, wind, insanely cool bike creations, add your own ideas:
safe, supportive: [Back to Top]
These are ideas that were central to Elena's vision of the house, and I am currently in therapy to get more in touch with my emotional side so I can appreciate these aspects more. I strongly believe that the house community could be like a family: people who take care of each other in deeper ways than housemates usually do. In a family, your brothers and sisters don't love you because you do things for them or because you're always in a good mood or because of your skills: they love you because you belong.
While I have a tendency to bring community and friends into the house, the house should be safe for people to "get away" from the community and be with those who unconditionally accept them. We all love community but sometimes we need to recharge--the house should be like that. The house should promote emotional growth and mental health. Taking care of mental health requires work and concentration and sometimes help from the family. While I want to have meetings at the house and in some ways conduct it like a political project or an experiment, etc., there must be places in our lives where we aren't in a struggle, argument, meeting, debate but where we are accepted, where there is unconditional love. I realize it is almost impossible to design this into a house situation. I realize that to even suggest these aspects goes against traditional understandings of what "housemates" mean to each other.
In terms of getting from here to there, I think a few things can help. One is long-term-ness. My ultimate goal would be to find a group of compatible people who just lived together year after year without an end date. This must of course evolve organically. In this period of transition, I think the best chance is to just have people live here and make it clear that if people move in and things work out and strong bonds form, they will be welcomed to "buy-in" (in whatever form that might mean) and stay permanently. For my own part, the house is part of my plans for moving through life into old age collectively.
An essential element of building this type of situation is to develop trust and vulnerability. I don't know how to "plan" or "design" this: it has to happen organically. I would like to make this a personal and house goal.
Coming with the emotional aspects would be really doing stuff together more than just having meetings and sharing food. Having house vacations or house outings or taking care of sick house members or being there when people's parents die or when things change dramatically. Part of my idea for this house is having a child or children in the house (not necessarily my child) and sharing the child or children in ways that transcend the biological parents and lay the groundwork for radical gender experiments. This would be the ultimate house project and also require the ultimate amount of trust and emotional intimacy in the house in order to work. Trying to have kids here without a pretty deep level of emotional intimacy is doomed to fail. We can't just have the pregnancy before the emotional stuff is well underway.
beautiful: [Back to Top]
the house is an art project. In the new revolutionary society, there would be no distinction between workers (who do alienated work designed by others) and artists (who create). Everyone would be an artist and craftsperson and everything that people do would be art. And no one gets to merely make art or think thoughts but avoid doing the work that needs to be done. There would be no experts and no people sitting on the sidelines watching. Everyone participates and creates always.
So in the house, we have an opportunity to make things nice--not just dumpy. Things we do should have fine craftsmanship valued over utility and efficiency. Things should be built to last--not for one year but for 100 years.
I admit there are different standards of beauty-just like some people like different kinds of art. I think to have a harmonious place to share, there needs to be a basic agreement on what is beauty or at least what people can live with. I do not find chaos, mess, or disorganization to be beautiful. Instead, chaos strike me as valuing utility (efficiency) over beauty, because it comes out of a wish to avoid the work required to make a plan for how things might look and then implementing that plan. I realize there is much room to disagree-this is about personal taste not ultimate "truth". This is my personal taste.
inexpensive: [Back to Top]
Because the founding collective got the house relatively cheaply (for Berkeley) this may be almost already accomplished. Assuming 5 adults and 1 or 2 kids live here, the adults should eventually pay approximately $450-500 per month to live here.
still believe that the house should be owned collectively by the people
who live here, not just by me. Given the experience of the past year,
I am not all that excited to sell shares of the house first and then
figure out whether it is working or not later. I think a smarter idea
is to figure out standards of how one would buy into the house and how
much it would cost and then develop a process so that once people have
lived here for a while (at least a year--maybe 2-5 years) and it is
working out and they belong and want to stay, they could buy in and
be here forever. Ownership of the house should be for people who really
intend to stay "indefinitely" to the extent any of us can
know that about our futures. At least some decisions about the house
(long term ones) probably have to get made by owners or permanent residents,
however that is defined.
[This is discussed more in the "mixed equity model" notes.]