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Where to go from here? Frustrated with finding community off the road

Discussion in 'Off the Road' started by jimi, Dec 4, 2017.

  1. jimi

    jimi Hungry for Knowledge

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    I guess I'd like to hear stories of folks who have settled down in some type of alternative community or space long-term that has been completely fulfilling and worthwhile. I hear stories often of regrets and frustration about leaving the traveling life to rejoin "normal society" for one reason or another, even if folks are working on cool important things, and I feel similarly. Feeling completely fulfilled and true to yourself while living within a system you rejected for so long is difficult. People seem more fake and less motivated. Where have you settled and what are you doing that have made you feel that it is worth it? What projects keep you busy, how do you stay true to your ideals? What cities still have energy and cool things without unbearable drama or being fucking super expensive? Where is the DIY scene still going strong?

    This is a bit of a rant, I guess I just would like to vent. Hopefully someone can relate.

    I was always kinda on-and-off while traveling, staying in a cool place with a cool community for a few weeks or months at a time before moving on. But the last few years, after some major changes in my life, I found myself drawn to working on long-term projects with communities and organizations. I want to do shit to make a difference. After several years and many attempts, some successful and some less so, I'm still feeling less than enthusiastic, and largely disappointed. I feel lonely and disconnected compared to my relationships with others on the road. It is hard to connect with most people, and I am amazed at how difficult it is for people to cooperate with or respect each other. Functional communities that are centered around DIY ethic, self-reliance, rebellion, direct communication, and genuine camaraderie seem to be hard to come by. It is so easy for folks to fall into complacency. I keep encountering an emphasis on comfort & safety before adventure & action, and cliquey, isolated groups that spend more time nitpicking or arguing than accomplishing anything tangible, and this is just not my cup of tea. It is hard to live in both worlds, working against the system while functioning within it. A lot of people are tired or depressed or giving up, a lot of people are just talk-abouters that don't take initiative without their hand being held, and some are more motivated by social capital than genuine connection or growth. I meet less and less stationary people who have really dedicated themselves to their crafts or hobbies or skills or projects, or that even have the time/energy to do so. It seems to be hard to even get people together to do FUN projects.

    I miss recklessness and passion, impulsive creativity, the POWER OF FRIENDSHIP™ and teamwork, people who can openly and honestly clash and still work together. It's been a minute since I've seen anything I've been inspired by, and I need some inspiration in my life. Maybe I'm just old and jaded, or haven't been out of my bubble recently. I'll be hitting the road again soon.
     
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  2. CaptainCassius

    CaptainCassius One of the Regulars

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    Stay away from cliques. They exist in every type of association of people, and I think your thoughts on that are genuine and true.

    That being said; there are honest people out there seeking that same type of creativity, and they do come in all shapes and sizes, backgrounds and opinions, etc.

    A lot of them are scattered and it's hard to find a group of them existing at the same time and inhabiting a particular area, but they are out there and if ever you find another person like that you should reach out.

    Long Beach, CA circa 2011
    There was a very eclectic association of creative, differing, awesome in the true sense of the word humans that I had the pleasure of knowing for a brief year that were doing just what you say! It was amazing and no matter how different anyone was we could all feed off each other's creativity.

    Some of the most amazing artists, poets, musicians, storytellers, activists etc. ad nauseum, that I've ever met.

    I guess I just want to tell you; don't lose hope, and that it is all very, really, possible to find what you are looking for.
     
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  3. mumblz

    mumblz is getting to know the place

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    word
     
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  4. Nathan Liles

    Nathan Liles Appreciated Participator
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    I'm like you in that I've been trying to live between two worlds. Returning to each one is a culture shock. But I want to have and eat my cake.

    There's a community in Lafayette, TN I've been visiting off and on, and have finally committed to staying there for the long term. They have plenty of projects to do here (short and long-term) and people trying to make a difference. I keep coming back because most everyone is (generally) positive, and they get things done. Every time I return, there's something new built.

    You might have to define long-term, especially considering that we're talking about travelers who tend to have shorter timetables. I think that road relationships are by their nature fragile things. People are flighty, distrustful, and grappling with addiction/issues that make connection even harder than normal. They also have plenty of options to jump ship as soon as they feel the slightest bit uncomfortable.

    I'd like to find a meaningful relationship on the road, but I fully recognize that I'm a dumbass for expecting such things. The real world is even more lonely. At least through traveling I meet more people from different backgrounds than I ever would sitting in a cubicle pushing papers.

    Being able to work on shared projects with people is something I long for too. But it takes commitment from all parties, which is one of the hardest things to find imho. Especially when you have to recommit every day.

    What you want is out there. Just don't expect to easily stumble into it. Be prepared to hunt. Be prepared for disappointment.
     
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    #4 Nathan Liles, Dec 5, 2017
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  5. OP
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    jimi

    jimi Hungry for Knowledge

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    What kind of community is it, and what kind of projects to they do? I suppose I'd define long-term as a yearish or more, but I'm flexible. A lot of cool projects I know of out there right now are on really unstable ground, and any investment is a risk. I know it's gonna be hard, and I'm ready to be disappointed, or to decide that settling down isn't for me after all. But STP pointed me in some good directions when I first started traveling years ago, and I'm sure that even if I don't find something to dedicate myself to I'll make some good memories out there searching.
     
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  6. Nathan Liles

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    It's an intentional farming community. Right now the projects mostly revolve around gathering/chopping wood for fires to stay warm, and maintenance on existing structure like rewiring the electrical system. It is winter after all. But in the spring, there will be a planting party and plenty to grow/harvest.

    Basically you come up with an idea and ask for help. One guy wants to build an off-grid washing machine. Others paint signs in their free time. I plan to construct a yurt. It's really up to you (with the understanding that what you contribute is given to the farm as a whole).

    There's always the risk in any shared system that it can all go to pot. People do clueless things all the time like destroy areas of the garden or break tools. That's why I'm starting small and testing the waters.

    I know people who have been there for over a year, although not in a single unbroken stretch. But I've seen plenty come back after traveling elsewhere for a while.

     
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    #6 Nathan Liles, Dec 5, 2017
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  7. OP
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    jimi

    jimi Hungry for Knowledge

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    It definitely seems like 2010/2011 was the golden age for me too. There were so many cool things going on.
     
  8. OP
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    jimi

    jimi Hungry for Knowledge

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    Oh nice! How many people strong is it? And how long has it been going? Is there any stated mission besides farming?
     
  9. Nathan Liles

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    19 at last count. But people constantly come and go. You know how it is...I think 7 years since it got started.

    There are other goals such as establishing communities on other land, creating a network of buses to help travelers move around, etc... They're allies with several bus caravans who have missions of their own.

    Here's their facebook page:
    https://www.facebook.com/groups/388751901308125/

     
    #9 Nathan Liles, Dec 6, 2017
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  10. Shadow

    Shadow Celebrated Poster

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    I spent the last three years trying to plug into long-term communities.

    Found something at each that made me walk away from them in the end. Astral Valley was one I went to in Missouri that seemed like it was going to be a chill art commune. It turned out to be a tyrannical dictatorship where instead of working the allotted 25 hours a week we worked closer to 60. People were just kinda stuck there and only found solace in the beer/nicotine occasionally provided for them. The whole thing is funded by a real estate business known to do no credit checks and rent-to-own houses, which really just seemed to mean get the poor in as long as possible and get them out easier. The owner did things like loudly fight with her boyfriend, threaten to kick everybody out like every other day, and even turn the internet off so nobody could reach anyone. I spent four months there before I was cool with the lady running the place (her name is Sheena) leaving me on the side of the highway rather than go another day at the place.

    The next I went to was East Wind, also in Missouri. It's known to be one of the oldest in the country. It's about 70 people and was one of the wealthiest places I've been: with their organic nut butter business bringing in $250-500k a year. I had mixed-feelings from the beginning when some of the people were saying I should stick around for the winter after my three week visitor period, while some people went out of their way to make me feel unwelcome. I ended up leaving for the winter, but came back when my spot came open. I enjoyed the first couple months, but then afterward the place really started getting to me. It was often like their version of direct communication was to say the meanest or most aggressive thing to each other. If you support queer culture, there was some unfortunate things that happened to me after I stood against the discrimination built into their membership system that excluded trans, non-binary, and intersex people. Of which they were the only place within Federation of Egalitarian Communities still doing so. There's also layers of corruption in how people taking the most risk legally for others in the community are often also the most aggressive, getting away with various violence. The lack of maturity and communication drove me away, as it seemed a place to harden up rather than open. Often the feelings I had were like ones in jail, but surrounded by organic veggies.

    I hopped to another one within the FEC called Acorn (30-40 people), that was also six miles down the road from another old one called Twin Oaks (120 people). Acorn had a successful seed exchange business bringing in something like $1-1.5 million a year while Twin Oaks making tofu made similar amounts to East Wind (though both East Wind and Twin Oaks were wealthier in tools/ land resources). It was better in some ways, but had problems at the other end of the spectrum. Majority of the people there seemed to have families with money or even trust funds, so there was a disconnect about the importance as a decision. After all: if you can just hop to mom and dad's if things go south at the commune there is a lot less riding on how much you invest yourself. Instead of aggression there was passive aggression. There was direct communication, but also people who did so in their weekly meeting bureaucratic channels where it was easier for them to avoid changing themselves or helping move toward a solution. The exposure to more queer and poly people, definitely changed who I was and that was a good experience. The problem with it though is the majority were cis and white, with lame middle class ambitions. Twin Oaks, East Wind, and Acorn all mutually worked together in their own ways to cover up discrimination and toxic rape culture elements throughout its history. While I was there people on the board at Twin Oaks' yearly Women's Gathering made the decision for it to become trans-exclusionary. One of the board members lived at Acorn--and myself alongside a few others--called that shit out. They decided to announce they were canceling the gathering, but instead made it invite only. In the end if they hurt you at Acorn, they will never cease to tell you about how their trauma is to blame as if people with PTSD can't be held accountable to not abuse others. I even suffered an injury there, which they agreed to pay for and in the end didn't. It was an eye-opening experience for me, as this group of supposed radical leftists hoisted under that anarchy symbol was making decisions more similar to those of our current president than of promoting a healthy counter-culture.

    Overall: I have never healed or grown so much anywhere else, but how these communes used their power to make decisions that usually hurt the most marginalized disgusted me to the core. The person who had the most problems with me wouldn't even communicate with me, while my circumstance left me with nothing and this fell had his own house with gobs of money outside the commune setting. There are things that make me sick about the places I can't even talk about without likely being seen as a traitor of some kind. Everything is a scrambled complex web of power dynamics, history, and secrets.

    They would be comfortable to most cis-white people or any revolutionaries ready to conform by whatever means to meet basic needs like a room, fresh food, or medical care.

    I also visited a couple ecovillages in this time (Living Roots and Dancing Rabbit), which were doing really cool things at least as far as permaculture. They are never communal though and the land carries in the same class divisions from outside economics. With enough walls for the wealthiest to never have to take a long hard look at themselves.

    I suppose I'm sharing this to say it's not about the place, the money, or time it has been around. I think what is most important is just bringing people who actually want to give a shit about each other together. I went to those communities first because I assumed with all those resources and their money, they would be the most comfortable. All that property and money just corrupts their ideals (and even more so: their hearts). I'm practically convinced through the experience being nomadic might be the best thing in this world for someone like me, and anywhere you find bureaucratic decision-making: you will find covered up abuse and toxic elements.

    I'm currently looking for ways to survive until Spring.

    I have a friend that wants to live out of a car touring the country to do readings at bars + bookstores while living off busking. I'm looking forward to that experience. Relying on one or a few people and letting art bring me whatever it can to help me through each day.

    I'd like to adapt the good things about these communities to an urban area, maybe start an artist community that makes living dirt cheap and helps the neighborhood around it.

    Not sure.
     
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    #10 Shadow, Dec 6, 2017
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  11. OP
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    jimi

    jimi Hungry for Knowledge

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    Wow, thanks so much for sharing in such detail! I'm sorry it sounds like you've had a lot of unpleasant and disappointing experiences yourself, it's super cool that you've been out there making an effort to be part of something though, and it sounds like you put a lot of work into trying to improve the communities you were involved in. It's a shame to hear that so many places are still so trans/queer exclusionary. I can relate to a lot of the aspects of your experiences in my own current community. With money and legal "stability" often comes power structures and bureaucracy. The co-op I live in has been struggling for a while now, and I've been struggling with my role within it. It's way more "stable" than many projects, has incredible resources, and is overall one of the most promising things I've ever been involved with, but the bureaucracy, classism, and overall apathy & disrespect here is hard to manage. It's mostly relatively privileged (& mostly white) college kids with very little experience. We have everything we need to do pretty much anything we want, but few people utilized the resources or take initiative to accomplish anything other than the bare minimum, and it makes it hard for those with ambition to get anything done. There is also political side that comes along with running a large nonprofit, and just like you said, it is often toxic. I've seen it steadily declining for years, and I'm not sure if there's anything I can do about it.

    I hope you find what you're looking for out there, I lived in a van for some time and it was honestly wonderful. It sounds like you have a lot of experience that'll help you whenever you decide to start up something new!
     
  12. Dahloaf223

    Dahloaf223 is getting to know the place

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    That's cool you guys have a Co-op going. The closest I got was 3 friends and myself in college, before I got financial aid, so it only lasted a month with some really good times and psychedelics. I did stay at an old Route 66 hotel turned into a hostel once in NM, more meant for travelers, but they had a community kitchen and were super nice. They had non-profit and historical status for the place.

    It must be tough to run a Co-op, or just shared housing. But That's cool you guys are making it work.
     
    #12 Dahloaf223, Dec 6, 2017
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  13. Shadow

    Shadow Celebrated Poster

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    There wasn't a time power was used wisely in their communities. That said, I met a lot of cool people over the years and grew into an entirely new person. Nowhere is going to be perfect, but that doesn't mean you have to put up with abuse. The more people stand up against abuse and prejudice among the counterculture the more it grows.

    It's interesting too, that a lot of what you might hear can change with time.

    For instance, I've had long communications with Nathan here about The Garden that sound pretty cool. When I was first starting out though, I had a friend at The Garden when it was known as Shut Up & Grow It! The way my friend described it was a constant struggle. They used to have a deal where they wanted ten hours of labor a week or $10, but it seemed dirty kids would end up stuck there (contributing neither). My friend claimed they would have to hitch to the nearest town to fly signs until they made about $400 once a week in order to feed themselves and other people stuck on the property.

    The friend didn't end up saying whether the place was worth the stay, but was very tired of it.

    It's been over a year or so since then, but they seem to have changed a lot about themselves from the name to how they have people plugged in. I'm kinda interesting in visiting the place, having heard mixed things. I imagine I could contribute a lot of wisdom to stop them from going down some of the same dead-ends as Twin Oaks, East Wind, and Acorn. All sorta depends on what the people with the most power (those with their names on the property deed or have the most money) do with it. Which due to the human condition, might also depend on fluctuating emotional states.

    I guess the next point I'm trying to say here is there is different things to be said about anywhere, based on the perspectives coming from diverse individuals. It is hard to say sometimes whether someone legitimately faced abuse at a place, or if they are just some assholes trying to get back at people for not getting their way. Not to say it is happening in this thread, but also while living at these communes I used to over-hype the places to try to get more good people around hoping it would imbalance the more abusive stuff I was seeing out of people.

    Trust your own eyes and ears more than others, while also having a Plan B.

    I would like to start something co-op like. I kinda have a dream of moving into a house with several other artists and building a greenhouse in the backyard (both to sell locally and donate to the poor). I imagine the green house project paying most of the rent, so people could focus on art or their own spiritual pursuits (without completely hiding from the rest of the world in the woods).

    Such a setting wouldn't stop people from hopping places or traveling though, too.

    Is the co-op you are at basically a division of money through bureaucracy without actual care for the other human beings involved?
     
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    #13 Shadow, Dec 7, 2017
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  14. OP
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    jimi

    jimi Hungry for Knowledge

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    Haha, damn, you're echoing a lot of sentiments I have, and you seem to have a positive but realistic outlook. You seem cool as hell and like a really good person to have in a community space, I'm sure whatever you end up starting or contributing to will be amazing. If you pass through Eugene any time soon you should let me know, I'd love to chat with you!

    My co-op's situation is a bit complicated. It's a student cooperative, but had been accepting a few non-students & had worktrade for a loong time, but that recently changed (a huge part of why I think it's doing poorly). It consists of 3 houses, and when full can have like 60-70 members between the 3. Our house is the biggest and can have 30. It's a legal nonprofit 501(c)7, and all the members legally own it and manage it. We sign contracts, not leases. We have monthly dues but they don't go to anywhere but our own savings and to pay our expenses. We only hire 2 office staff, and the members are in charge of running the rest. We elect a board of directors (anyone can run) as our "governing" body and they make most of the big policy decisions, but overall the general membership (total membership) has the ultimate decision making power by 2/3 majority vote (if we need to vote on anything big or overturn a board decision), but it's hard to get that many people together, so we dont to general membership meetings often. Everyone is allowed to attend and contribute to board meetings though. Each house also has its own government and jobs, and has its own meetings and whatnot, and that's all most members really participate in. We use consensus in meetings except for special cases. Everyone has jobs; some "chores" and some more like "management" or "coordinator" positions, elected or assigned based on interest/ability, and there's a point system that is designed to help make sure everyone has a similar amount of work, but we allow variation based on individual needs. In theory, this should all work very well, and it has before, but we're having trouble.

    When I first visited in 2010 it seemed to be in a golden age, full houses, good people from a wide variety of backgrounds who were passionate, the finances were doing fine, and while there was drama of course, shit got done. There was a year long waiting list to get in, there were no major looming financial or structural problems, relatively minor conflict between members & houses, and many members who had lived here for years. It felt like a real community, people were passionate and driven and excited to be here. There were established systems that worked, or at least worked way better than they do now. A few years ago, for various reasons, it began going through a rough patch of low membership, people taking advantage of worktrade, a bunch of interpersonal drama, and other things. This went addressed for way too long. The houses started losing money, being super picky about membership (which is nice but we need enough members to pay our bills), got rid of all of our policy/procedures, neglected the properties, there was a bunch of culture-clash and nastiness between the different houses, basically everyone just decided they didn't give a fuck and just wanted to be chill and party... When I moved back in 2 years ago, this had been going on for a while, and I started to work against it, but it was a little too late. It got to a point where, reeeally long story short, we had to go to court against our own organization to save our house from being shut down and being "fixed up" and "started over" with a bunch of more wealthy responsible students. We were able to work it out and prove that we could gain membership and keep it afloat, but in the process and nitpicky bureaucracy of the court scare, we lost the ability to accept non-students and worktraders, which were essential to the culture and functionality of the co-op (since students don't have that much time or experience on their hands usually), and we pretty much had to start fresh with new members who have no historical knowledge, and many of them are very young, busy, and frankly aren't prepared to take on this shitshow. There's still a lot of political drama between the houses regarding finances, policy, membership, and where we want to go as an organization. That's where a lot of the power imbalances come into play, but I've already typed so much, haha. One of the houses is mostly grad students and very stable, they're responsible and their house is small, and they have a lot of power when it comes to decision making for the organization as a whole. Certain members are clearly better at debate and public speaking, academic language and all that. Consensus can be a really hard thing to work with on all levels when folks don't have experience with it, it's a very easy system to hijack if you're good at steering discussion. We've also just had a lot of kids who just want a cheap, laid back space to do art and party, but it's been hard to get folks in who can help pick up the pieces and manage the space like it deserves. Not many people want to deal with a challenge like this, considering most of us have to also balance school and at least one job.

    I feel terrible considering leaving, it's been my baby for so long and was the coolest space I had ever seen when it was working well. I tried to start my own co-op and even tried to buy a property at one point before I decided to move back because I loved it so much. I'm proud of how much I have done, I've definitely helped bring it back from the brink, but I've sunk so much time and energy into it without much personal return, and I gotta draw a line. I've become kind of the house mom who people expect to hold shit together and deal with all of the hard stuff, and at the same time I'm that annoying guy who's always talking about THE OLD DAYS and "how if you kids could just ____"... I am getting really negative and overly critical, and I'm fucking lonely and bitter. I'm not trying to be that person. Short of getting some kind of amazing crew together outside of here and bringing them all back to join, I'm not sure I have much left I can do besides leaving it to the people who are here and hoping they can pull it off.
     
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    #14 jimi, Dec 7, 2017
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    Heh...so to clarify... it's now 20 hours and $10 a week. But I've been told they waive the money due to hardship. Just don't be visibly and blatantly endulging all your vices while claiming you're broke.

    But no one goes hungry. Not sure how that rumor got started, but it's the one I hear most. My second favorite is that it's a cult. Unfortunately there's no koolaid to drink since we're all starving.

    There's plenty of food and people dumpster all the time. I seriously don't eat this good on my own. We had pizza the night before I last left.

    The part about spanging is true. But that's because Lafayette is a tiny ass town. And if all the travelers who came through were begging in the same spot, the town would run everyone out. Don't shit where you eat.

    Not to disparage Shadow's friend or sully the good name of dirty kid, but I think we all know people who generally never help out at all and just want to say schwilly off their ass the whole time. It's not a squat. And they do have to kick folks who can't hold their liquor.

    Regardless, come see for yourself. Rumor can circle the globe twice in the time it takes for the truth to put on its pants.
     
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    #15 Nathan Liles, Dec 8, 2017
    Last edited: Dec 8, 2017
  16. Shadow

    Shadow Celebrated Poster

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    Maybe the dumpstering was new, and what I meant was my friend was spanging for over a handful of other people who weren't doing much of anything else. I definitely look at Dirty Kid as an umbrella term, because I've met some who care about nothing but getting fucked up every day and also well-rounded revolutionary types moving through the world under the title. Titles don't really mean shit to either type. Ha.

    I'm definitely interested in checking it out sometime if I'm ever back in the neighborhood.

    Is it still practically off-grid, or is there ways to charge phones, etc?

    What's the ownership like? Are things on pretty equal ground?
     
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  17. Nathan Liles

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    Maybe scumfuck is a better term lol. But I agree, what you do is more important than what you're called. The winter crew here are all solid folk, and I think that's key.

    They do have solar panels plus a bank of batteries in the kitchen area for charging over USB. But no proper plug inverter setup yet.

    Technically Patrick is on the deed, but it's majority vote. Actually he's not even here at the moment. No hierarchy except that anyone who has been here less than two weeks can be asked to leave if anyone else feels uncomfortable. Otherwise that requires a council.

    If you're in Slabs by January, I'll drop off a couple zines at the library for you to read :)
     
  18. Shadow

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    Sounds cool!

    Always nice to at least have phone charging ability.

    I should be at The Slabs in 10 or so days, so I'll be there in January.

    Unless something comes up and I dip early or something.
     
  19. Shadow

    Shadow Celebrated Poster

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    Sounds like a blend of the Black Bear entry process and East Wind's voting system.
     
  20. Nathan Liles

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    Yeah charging but no signal unless you got an old skool flip phone. The governing setup is pretty interesting. It has taken me multiple visits to grasp. But they do seem to change things based on what works. Like putting alcohol in a cup instead of straight banning it vs temporary bans when it gets out of hand.