Imagining a Utopian Intentional Community

Utopia

Personal Utopia Writing Project

Nancy Babbitt

Ideal Worlds: Utopian Literature

(2015SU2-CUL-224504-01)

SUNY Empire State College

 

Dr. Debra Monte

August 2015

 

Part One: Personal Utopia – Imagining a Utopian Intentional Community

Peace and Plenty Ecovillage

Intentional Community

Welcome to the website of the Peace and Plenty Ecovillage. Thank you for visiting us today. We are glad for your interest in who we are and what we do. We are an intentional community of individuals and families who embrace the philosophy of nonviolence. We are a democratically governed residential community situated on 250 rural Washington County acres in beautiful upstate New York. We organized into an intentional community in 1989 when four families joined together to purchase the Peace and Plenty farmstead. Since that time, our community has expanded and now includes over one hundred and twenty five individuals sharing land and resources. We are a child-focused community, basing our decision making on what we feel will be the best for the future generations, even unto the seventh generation from today. We also value and honor our elders, as they are the carriers of the community’s wisdom. Our core values include social, economic, and ecological justice.

Social justice, to us, takes place in a diverse community that is egalitarian in its social structure. Therefore, there is no social hierarchy based on in-group/out-group categories. All community members honor and embrace human difference including difference in racial/ethnic backgrounds, sex, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, age, ability, size, and religion/spirituality. We practice empathic listening and nonviolent communication as a way to avoid conflicts. We attempt to resolve all differences with restorative justice practices. Our community ceremonies embrace an eclectic mixture from many ethnic and spiritual practices. Furthermore, we are a participatory democracy – one in which the voice of all community members (including the children) is required, and decisions are made by consensus.

Economic justice, to us, means that all community members contribute their special talents to the wellbeing of the community and in return, each community member/family enjoys separate living quarters, but also benefits from community meals and community activities/ceremonies based on the earth’s cycles. Each community member has access to healthcare. All are encouraged to engage in ongoing education. We sustain ourselves through self-sufficiency activities such as gardening/farming, food preservation, and arts and crafting projects, as well as teaching. We operate a cooperative retail outlet selling what we produce to the public.

Ecological justice, to us, means concerning ourselves with environmental sustainability. This means stepping away from the competitive and consuming lifestyle that surrounds us, and living instead, with enoughness. Enoughness refers to a philosophy of living life abundantly while consuming less of the world’s resources. In order to achieve this more-with-less end, we embrace an ever-present attitude of thanksgiving. We also utilize green building techniques, we conserve energy, and we use green energy technologies. We are an off-grid zero-carbon community. We reduce consumption, and we reuse, mend, and repair before we recycle. We rarely throw away, because there is no away. We are stewards of the land that sustains us, and therefore, we are caretakers of the forest, of the fields, of the waters, of the air, and of the plant and animal life.

We practice environmentally sound methods for food production (e.g. food forestry, permaculture, organic gardening and farming methods avoiding all genetically modified organisms, free-range pastured animals, sustainable hunting and fishing practices).

Our goal is to be as self-sufficient and ecologically sustainable as possible while at the same time serving the larger community. To serve the larger community we also operate as a learning center. We share our wisdom about growing and preserving food, we teach arts and crafts, and we teach peace and social, economic, and ecological justice as well. We also assist others who would like to develop a similar intentional community of their own.

In sum, the members of Peace and Plenty Ecovillage are social activists. We are active in creating the sort of society in which we wish to live. We practice nonviolence. Nonviolence consists, in part, of obstructive program – blocking the systems and structures that oppress us. However, nonviolence primarily consists of constructive program – creating alternatives to the dominant systems of inequality, oppression, and violence. Constructive program is our primary focus.

Our goals are lofty and perhaps we have not achieved paradise on earth or the perfect utopia, but we feel that our actions and our way of life make a positive difference in our own lives, the lives of those around us, as well as for the generations who will come after us. It is our hope that each future generation will experience increasing ecological diversity and abundance – the very foundation of all wellbeing. It is also our hope that each future generation will experience increasing levels of social justice, peace, and harmony. However, we have designed our governing structure in a way that each generation will be able to shaping their unique version of an ideal world according to their changing world, beliefs, and value systems.

Part Two: Constitution, Manifesto, and Laws

Laws Governing Peace and Plenty Ecovillage’s Participatory Democracy

  1. Community participation is crucial in a participatory democracy and therefore it is mandatory that all community members voice their ideas in all decision-making processes. Community elders facilitate this process.
  2. Each new community member is assigned membership to a band. Children belong to the band of their mother. Members joining from outside Peace and Plenty Ecovillage will be adopted by the band with least number of members and can begin participating in decision making after one year of community membership.
  3. There are five band names, one for each of the following elements of human wellbeing – land, water, air, plants, and animals. There will be two leaders appointed to each band, one male and one female in order to maintain power balance between the sexes. Those leaders’ focus will be on the people of their band as well as their element. Their duty will be to look after their band’s wellbeing as well as the wellbeing of their element and speak on their behalf at community meetings.
  4. Community meetings are generally held on the first Tuesday of each month at 7:00 pm. but can take place whenever there is a need.
  5. Decisions are made by consensus, and therefore community leaders facilitate consensus-building processes rather than exercising top-down management of the people.
  6. Community leaders are not elected rather they are raised. This means that community elders observe the children to see who the natural born leaders are and then begin working with them, supporting their growth and ability in representing their community. There shall always be children in apprenticeship to all leadership roles.
  7. Elders will continually observe the children, seeking to discover their unique gifts and talents and encouraging them to increase their skill and usefulness in order to strengthen and benefit the community.
  8. Community leaders speak the interests of the community. Therefore, community leaders cannot speak for or act on behalf of the community unless the issue at hand has been addressed in a meeting and approved by consensus beforehand.
  9. Leaders not acting on behalf of their community are removed from office and the process for new appointments then begins.
  10. Each community meeting or important gathering shall begin and end with a ceremony of thanksgiving. The ceremony involves expressing thankfulness for those things that are truly important for human wellbeing – community of other people, the living earth, water, air, plants and animals, as well as any other elements deemed necessary at the moment. The purpose of this thanksgiving is to focus our minds on what is truly important to us all and thus facilitate consensus building.

Part Three: Reflection

What is most appealing to you about this place?

To my way of thinking, the most appealing aspects of the Peace and Plenty Ecovillage are the lack of coercion and domination as well as (like the name indicates) it being a place of environmental stewardship that creates bounty and thus, relations that are more peaceful.

What are the most significant barriers to actually achieving this utopian community?

I do think that a somewhat utopian intentional community is possible. However, the barriers would include obtaining the land and resources necessary to build it as well as finding other like-minded individuals who would wish to join and make it happen.

How does your utopian vision connect to the utopian literature we have read this term?

My utopian vision connects to other utopian literatures in that it primarily consists of social theory. It is distinct, however, in its ability to have an eventual real-life application. I think this distinction exists because my utopian vision is for a small community of like-minded individuals, rather than a large homogenous utopian society. The reason that a large utopian society is unlikely, in my opinion, is because people who live in different regions of the world would naturally have different perspectives and needs and then consensus building would become nearly impossible.

How did the reading of utopian theory (in Kumar) shape the development of this utopia?

The reading of utopian theory in Krishan Kumar’s text Utopianismshaped the development of my own utopian vision. This is because Kumar often describes utopian literature as social theory and this is the perspective about utopian literatures that I appreciate also. Although most of the texts covered in class were rather dystopian in nature, I intentionally focused my attention beyond deficit theorizing about what is wrong in the current order or in other utopian literatures to looking for ways in which we might actually shape more ideal communities.

Did you have any difficulties creating this utopian plan? What were they?

I did not have a great deal of difficulty creating this utopian plan because I have spent a great deal of time thinking about changes I would appreciate. For this reason, I included many of my interests – peace; social, economic and environmental justice; nonviolence; non-violent communication; restorative practices, participatory democracy, consensus building, food sovereignty, cooperative sharing economies, intentional communities, voluntary simplicity, self-sufficiency, green technologies, and indigenous knowledge. Much of my utopian plans were taken directly from Indigenous authors such as Barbara Alice Mann (remembering her writing about the Corn Way of Peace and Plenty), and writings about the Haudenosaunee Peace Confederacy of Nations – their customs and their form of governance – and adapted to the purpose of this project.

Did you have any particular difficulties writing this utopian fiction? What were they?

I think the most difficult aspect of writing utopia involves creative fictional writing. Framing my writing in the form of a “home” webpage for a fictional intentional community made the creative writing project more manageable for me – a non-literary student.