Making a Difference: Housing Co-op

The next idea in my “Making a Difference” series isn’t exactly a new one. It’s been tried before elsewhere, and I’ve even suggested it before here in Carbondale. But it still hasn’t happened — and so, the stubborn Taurus in me is going to keep pushing this idea until I can find other people who feel similarly inspired.

The idea? Start a housing co-op.

A housing co-op is any form of housing where ownership (or at least rental) of a house (or houses) is held collectively. All decisions that affect the house(s) as a whole are made cooperatively by the members, and all maintenance/housework/etc. is organized by and for the members.

There are many benefits to a housing co-op, and many challenges as well. Here are some of the benefits:

* Owners have more control over the circumstances of their housing — not as much as a sole owner, of course, but much more than an isolated renter.
* Expenses tend to be lower, and quality of living higher, because there is no landlord extracting a profit.
* Flexibility of housing: Your housing co-op doesn’t have to be a big house with a bunch of roommates. It can take on other forms, including: an apartment building with separate living spaces; a trailer park with separate trailers; a lot or block with separate houses; a tenant-union-type group for people who are renters with the same landlord/neighborhood but don’t all live under one roof; or several buildings which blend alone-space and community space.
* Intentional Living: Some housing co-ops have a theme — all students, or all vegetarians, or all gaming geeks, or all activists, or all ninjas, etc.
* Participating in a weekly or monthly meeting gives owners experience with grassroots cooperative decision-making (i.e. democracy, which the U.S. was supposedly founded on).

And here are some of the challenges:

* You generally have to be at least a little more “involved.” This means going to a regular meeting, whether once a week or once a month. How important it is to make it to most/all meetings depends on what kind of housing coop it is.
* If you have other people under the same roof as you, you have to hope that they’ll keep up their end of any chores, meetings, etc. In other words, if your fellow members are bums, you might have to deal with dirty dishes, laundry on the floor, etc. (Or if your fellow members are neat freaks, you might have to listen to them complain because you don’t scrub the floor with a toothbrush every single day.)
* If you don’t have an already existing co-op to join, you have to start a new one. And even if it’s a simple one, it’ll take at least a little time and energy to think it through and talk it over with other prospective members.

The good news is that most of the challenges are easily manageable, and most are things you would encounter in any roommate situation. Being roommates is, in fact, a very simple form of cooperative housing.

So why is a housing co-op going to make a difference in the world? Well, there are a number of ways:

* We may save money by sharing resources — rent, and possibly even food money, time, energy, etc., depending on how we set it up. And extra money in the hands of cool people is a cool thing, whatever they may choose to do with it.
* We may get to know our neighbors/roommates better.
* We may get practice cooperative decision-making.
* We may form interest-based housing co-ops to support each other around some particular interest or quality we have in common.
* We’ll be supporting a shift in thinking — away from the idea of landlords and towards the idea that everyone should be in charge of their own housing situation.

Does any of this sound like a good idea to you? Good! Let me know what you think of it all. And since I’ve pledged to get as specific as possible with these “Making a Difference” ideas, here are a few simple and specific ideas about action steps you can take if you like the idea of cooperative housing:

* Talk to other people who share your interests. Not everyone who talks about it will actually go through with the idea, but this can help you to learn more about housing co-ops and think about what you might be looking for in a housing co-op.
* Organize/Join a discussion group. Discussion groups about “new ideas” are helpful because there may be many people who like the sound of an idea, but aren’t familiar enough with it to invest time and energy in it until they actually see it unfolding.
* Be roommates with people who share your interests. And in saying this, I’m not just talking about finding a roommate you can tolerate, or a roommate who is your friend’s friend. Think about what’s most important to you in life — whether that’s art, politics, ecology/environment, music, computers, gaming, etc. You may already be doing this to a degree… if so, talk to your current roommates about it, and keep these qualities in mind the next time a housing/roommate decision.

If I can find at least two other people who are interested, I’d like to co-start a housing co-op with a focus on eco-activism and/or eco-spirituality. This would probably entail being roommates for a year, seeing if we get along, and clarifying what if anything we would like to be a next step [i.e. incorporating, trying to own rather than rent, how to rotate members in/out, etc].

If there’s some other type of housing co-op you’d like to start, I’d still be happy to give you a hand and direct you to any information or resources you may need.

And if you really don’t like the sound of housing co-ops at all… well, that’s cool too. That’s why I’m coming up with a whole SERIES of ideas! The world needs a lot of change, and not everyone will agree on what needs changing, or where each of us may fit in. So, let’s explore as many options as possible and find as many people as possible who are interested in a similar approach.

I hope to hear back from some of you soon, whether you love this idea or hate it with a passion. In the meantime, I’m off to grab some dinner and/or flesh out a few of the other ideas I’ve got on tap for future blog entries.

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Making a Difference: An Unconventional Approach

So… how would you like to make a difference in the world?

As many of you know, I’ve been writing for several years now about my views on the world’s problems and possible solutions. During that time, I’ve sought to make a difference in the world in a variety of ways. Public speaking… activist groups… community businesses… independent media… these are just a few examples of the places I’ve put my time and energy, searching for the power to change things for the better.

I’d like to believe that I’ve made an impact in the community. I’ve met good people, and we’ve done more together than any one of us could have done individually. Even so… there’s still so much more to be done. With that in mind, I’m going to spend the next few months searching for unique, innovative, specific, cooperative, and powerful ways that I and other kindred spirits can make a difference in the world.

I’ve already got a few schemes brewing. It’ll take time to work out the details, and it’ll take time to come up with a few other ideas to round out this batch of revolutionary projects. But in the meantime… since I’ve long had a flair for the dramatic… I thought I’d start this out with the most far-flung idea of them all. And if all goes according to plan, YOU may be the one to make history!

So, what’s this idea? Alright, hear me out…

Do you believe in psychic abilities? Do you believe in the power of human consciousness to interact with the world in ways that established science currently doesn’t understand? If not… well then, this message isn’t for you. Stay tuned for the next few blog entries, where I’ll be discussing other ideas that are grounded in political theory, psychology, and sociology rather than anything “unconventional.” But if you DO believe in psychic abilities… and you DO believe in the power of human consciousness to create change in the world… then keep reading.

For years, I’ve walked in two separate worlds… the political world, and the spiritual world. In the political world, I’ve witnessed horrors the likes of which most people would not believe… in the spiritual world, I’ve witnessed wonders the likes of which most people can scarcely imagine. For a long time, I’ve wanted to adopt a course of action based on the insights of both worlds… combining the liberatory potential of political theory with the liberatory potential of spiritual experience.

One of my favorite authors, Starhawk, has gone a long way in doing just that. It was quite a treat to spend two weeks last summer attending one of the Earth Activist Trainings that she co-taught in Missouri. But so far, I’ve met precious few people in Southern Illinois who share both interests. There are the dedicated, passionate, activist-types who taught me everything I know about revolution… and there are the insightful, intuitive types who taught me everything I know about spirituality. Inevitably, there is overlap… but the people who talk politics mostly want to stick to politics, and the people who talk about spirituality often focus on personal empowerment rather than community organizing. I’d almost go so far as to say that it’s taboo for political people to talk about spiritual or psychic stuff, and vice versa.

I want to bridge that gap. I want to find other people, in Southern Illinois and elsewhere, who share an interest in both “progressive” politics and psychic awareness. I believe that if we gather and talk amongst ourselves, something powerful and exciting will inevitably emerge. I already have a specific project in mind for anyone out there who may have significant psychic abilities… if you are such a person, I have a very specific approach that we can take to making a powerful positive difference in the world very quickly. But even in the absence of any psychic prodigies, I’d like to get together with other people who share an interest in both (A) progressive spirituality [psychic abilities, personal empowerment, etc.] and (B) progressive politics [eco issues, anti-authoritarian perspectives, cooperative economics, etc.].

So… are you up for the challenge?

If so, you know where to find me. It’ll be an uphill struggle, but also a very rewarding journey. When we join forces, adventure and excitement will surely await us as we explore the outer reaches of human experience! What could be more pioneering than an effort to explore the boundaries of individual consciousness and community organizing simultaneously? If the forces of conformity do not smite us where we stand, we’re bound to discover something interesting.

And if you’re not up for the challenge? If all of this sounds like a bunch of hooey to you? Well… like I said, I’ll be getting back to some of the non-psychic projects soon enough. What can I say… it’s a full moon tonight, and the lunar energies that you may or may not believe in have me feeling even more restless and wild as usual.

Either way… hopefully we can all agree that there is hope in the world. I was feeling rather exhausted, depressed, and even a bit combative this morning… but as soon as it came time to do my radio show, I felt a renewed sense of hope and inspiration. Sure, there’s a lot of madness and destruction in the world… but as long as we set aside time to be with our friends and talk about what’s important in life (be it politics or personal), then there’s still hope that our children, and our children’s children, will live in a better world.

I’m off to celebrate the full moon… I’ll be back soon though with more to share. As always, I’m eager to hear from you as well… let me know what you think, and maybe together, we can figure this all out.

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Overgrow the Government

One of my favorite Green Party bumper stickers says “Vote Green: Overgrow the Government.” I may not be a member of the Green Party, but I’m certainly a supporter and an ally, so I don’t feel too bad about using part of their slogan as a focusing point for my latest thoughts on revolution. The difference, though, is that we’ll be doing more than just voting, and it’s more than just the government that needs overgrowing.

I’ve been reading Starhawk’s book Truth or Dare, and even though I’m only about halfway through, I’m already finding myself once again inspired and transformed by her writing. It’s a bit dated, and it’s not my favorite book of the series, but it’s still filled with the rich strands of radical analysis and powerful “mytho-poetic exploration” that make her writings always worth reading.

One of the most exciting aspects so far has been her exploration of the social evolution from the Goddess worshipers at the dawn of history to the patriarchal societies that supplanted them. Of course, I don’t believe that any of us know for certain what really happened back in those days… but based on the information available to her, Starhawk offers her telling and framing of the tale through a mix of ordinary text, fictionalized accounts of a day in the life of an ancient Goddess-worshiper, and poetry between the chapters.

It’s amazing to consider the possibility of societies that may have existed before patriarchy, and war, and the rule of kings and corporations. It’s amazing to experience what a living, breathing, personal moment from one of those societies may have been like. And yet, it’s equally devastating to continue forward through history and witness the descent into a war-mongering, life-annihilating, freedom-destroying, global madness.

Was it really necessary? Did we have to tumble headlong into several thousand years of violence and oppression just to learn how truly precious life, and love, and joy, and freedom, and equality really are? Or is there some way that we could have avoided it all?

Who knows. But whatever the case, the world is burning all around us, and I for one am in favor of doing everything that we can to heal and liberate ourselves, each other, and the planet,

One of the big steps that I haven’t talked about much in this blog lies in the difference between “power-over,” “power-with,” and “power-within.” Power-Over is when a person uses some form of coercion in order to achieve some supposed personal gain. Power-Within is when a person relies on their own inner strength, creativity, and personal resources to achieve some goal. Power-With is a balancing act where people choose to cooperate with one another in a free and egalitarian manner in order to achieve their common goals.

One of the biggest flaws in revolutions past is that they’ve often been stuck in the rut of Power-Over. The thinking goes something like this:

“The King is using his army to oppress us. We need to raise our own army/mob to attack and defeat his army. If we can hit them harder and faster and better than they hit us, we win.”

At times, there’s something to be said for this argument. In the short term, especially on a personal self-defense level, circumstances may leave you with little choice but to choose between using force or suffering dearly from the use of force against you. Therefore, I can’t really fault peasants for using force to overthrow their violent king, or people in occupied nations for using force to overthrow their violent occupiers. But in the long-term, all that the violent rebel has done is demonstrated to the king, to themselves, and to the world that the only sure way to solve problems is by using force to assert our power over others. If the rebels truly have freedom and justice in their hearts, then a brief period of freedom and justice may ensue. But eventually, the same logic that put them in power will destroy any good intentions, and the cycle will continue.

The only way off of this mad merry-go-round is to develop entire societies of people who think, feel, and act differently. The only way to create a socially just, ecologically viable, economically cooperative, and politically free society is to grow that society from the grassroots — in the heart and mind of each and every citizen.

To some, this may seem like an absurd, fantastic, wildly utopian notion. How can we truly hope to grow a new society from the ground up? How can we encourage people to live in a radically more free and cooperative way when the current organization of society is all that they know? But when you think about it, at some point in history, the societies that we all live in grew from the ground up. It may have taken years, or centuries, or even millennia, but their internal and external landscapes changed so dramatically that they wouldn’t be able to grasp the psychology or social-political dynamics of their great-great grandchildren.

Maybe if we do things right today, our great-great grandchildren will know a life so wonderful that it will be beyond our comprehension.

That’s my dream, my passion, the one great shining beacon on the horizon that fills my heart with hope. When I connect deeply with my heart, and the hearts of those around me, and the heart of the Earth, I see a vision of our potential for liberation and actualization that goes beyond anything I can articulate. My hope is that if we all pursue our own unique interpretation of this vision, then we really will grow a new society that is radically better than the old. With our aid, our descendants may one day find the power within themselves to co-create a world of such freedom, such joy, love, such beauty, such harmony, that our 21st century minds would scarcely be able to comprehend it all.

A better world will only come into being if we start growing it today. In our personal lives, we must choose freedom, cooperation, love, passion, joy, and hope. In our communities, we must choose connection, cooperation, and transformation of our social, economic, political ecological, and spiritual relationships. If we do this, then a new society will grow in the cracks of the crumbling blacktop parking lots of the old society. At first, they will use their power-over to spray weedkiller on us and drive us back beneath the pavement. But in the end, if we focus on power-with and power-within rather than trying to best them at the game of who can be the most powerful combatant, then we WILL be growing a world that our children, and our children’s children, will be truly happy to call home.

I’m excited about that possibility. I’m also excited about some of the possibilities on the horizon in my life and in Southern Illinois. I’ll have more news on these soon… in the meantime, I’m up in the suburbs of Chicago visiting family, so I’m going to go and actually visit with my family! This has been a good trip so far, but I’ll be happy to make it back home to Southern Illinois for many more adventures…

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The Question of Revolution

I had one helluva good time last Saturday at my early birthday party. It was a relatively small gathering by Carbondale party standards, but I like how smaller gatherings actually let me talk to people. It had a good mix of work friends, D&D friends, and political friends. And truth be told, most of these qualifiers are arbitrary since in most cases, our friendship runs deeper than the context we may have met in. With such good friends gathered together, a good time was almost inevitable. We talked, we joked, we made simple music, we ate yummy foods, we played games, and more. We laughed; we cried; we hurled; and a good time was had by all.

For one night, then, I found myself celebrating the joy that is life. In fact, I found myself feeling very happy and fulfilled well into the next day, despite the fact that I had to work. But somehow, some peculiar warp in my consciousness always seems to take blissful experiences and eventually convert them into fuel for my restless, relentless, infamous, almost manic revolutionary impulse. And so, less than 24 hours after the start of a party that gave me a renewed sense of joy and satisfaction in life, I found myself feeling a renewed and more fervent commitment to the question of revolution.

A lot of my less political friends — and even some of the more political ones — may wonder what manner of madness leads me to think such seemingly depressing thoughts after such a wonderful experience. Yes, there are all sorts of problems in the world — but can’t I just have fun for once in my life without worrying about all of that?

Well, that’s actually something I’m learning to do more and more these days. If I talked about politics or revolution that night, it was brief, and I don’t even remember it today. What I do remember — and what I experienced quite fully — is a carefree night of good fun with good friends and little if any concern about the problems of the outside world. even so, I think that there are two reasons why such fun and uncomplicated experiences inevitably end up driving me further and further in the direction of revolution.

First of all, on some level, I think they trigger in me the fear that I will forget about everything I’ve learned and everything that needs to be changed. In Matrix terms, they trigger the fear that I may one day take the blue pill and forget about the need to liberate ourselves and each other from the Matrix. I mean, I don’t seem to have much power in this system anyway… so why not just abandon my deeper aspirations and spend the rest of my life pursuing good food, good games, and other delights of earthly existence?

This is a reasonable fear, and a real temptation that sometimes rises within me. But really, I know myself well enough to realize that I can never really go back to that existence. That fear alone is not enough to explain what’s happening. However, there’s another, deeper reason why all of these moments of joy in my life drive me further in the direction of revolution.

They make the beauty of life itself feel more real to me.

When my consciousness first started awakening to the horrors of the world, I was still just a child. At the age of six, I can remember going to sleep one cold November night with a vague but overwhelming fear that Ronald Regan’s re-election was opening the door for a nuclear holocaust. And I didn’t understand any of it at the time, but no matter how my mother tried to shield me, growing up poor as the child of a single mother quickly exposed my emerging empathic senses to countless examples of a community, a society, and a world in crisis. As my capacity for perception and reflection matured, my understanding of the world’s problems deepened. By the time adolescence had come and gone, my short circuiting empathy had flipped a breaker switch in my heart, leaving me to identify more with the sentient robots and superhuman heroes of fiction than with any living, breathing human beings.

For years, that was the story of my life. For years, I kept my deepest human emotions at bay — always aware of them, always touched by them, never fully succeeding at cutting them off, but always so afraid of their intensity that the only thing I could really feel was a deep anxiety.

At first, this ability to keep my emotions at bay seemed like a blessing — or at least a necessary evil. After all, how could I possibly act against all of the suffering in the world if I found myself overwhelmed with grief and sorrow every time I bore witness to yet another atrocity? I felt as though my ability to disconnect emotionally were the only thing protecting me from going mad as I watched so many people — and an entire planet! — suffering and dying under the yoke of such unthinkable oppressions.

And so, for years I supported revolutionary causes through some impersonal sense of duty, with all of my most personal human emotions held back for safekeeping. But then, a few years ago, I finally started to understand what I was missing. This disconnection and resultant anxiety and depression was not only eating me alive, but also distancing me from the very people and planet I loved so dearly. It left me personally disheartened; it left me ineffective at understanding and organizing with people who actually HAVE emotions; and ultimately, it was a great sacrilege against my deep-held belief that the human heart is a wonder of nature meant to be cherished and nourished.

And now, with the fullness of my humanity slowly returning, I’ve learned at least two important truths. The first is that yes, these human emotions really do bring me an incredible amount of pain when I stay with them in the presence of the world’s horrors. Yes, feeling a deeply personal human love in my heart while bearing witness to the world’s atrocities does drive me to the brink of madness, and I probably couldn’t have handled it as an adolescent.

But you know what? I’ve learned that this human heart of mine, and the love that it carries, is both my greatest treasure in my life and my greatest tool in seeking revolution.

Before, revolution was merely a duty. When I distanced myself from my own human emotions, I felt distant from humanity itself, and the Earth itself. Revolution, then, became some sort of abstract duty — all-consuming, yes, but devoid of real passion or power.

Now, revolution is a passion for me. I see my family, my friends, my fellow community members, my fellow beings on Planet Earth, and I feel a tremendous, deep, personal, human love for all of them. And in our moments of joy together, I have an ecstatic experience of our deepest potential to be happy, to be free, to live together in harmony and freedom and peace. And when the moment passes, I am sooner or later reminded of WHY the moment has passed — why the joy, the friendship, the excitement have all given way to the oppressive mix of boredom, frustration, and sorrow that fills so many of our lives. And I am reminded of the people who never find even a moment’s peace in this life, and the living planet that is slowly but surely being dismembered by the end results of our own inability to discover and stay connected to our deepest potentials for freedom, cooperation, and harmonious living.

Even when I felt like a robot, I felt a devout ideological commitment to helping others, and to making the world a better place. But now, as I reclaim more and more pieces of my broken human heart, that devotion is deepening beyond anything available to a robot. It’s becoming more personal, more passionate, more fierce than ever before. It’s the extreme intensity of a mother protecting her child, or a lover protecting their beloved. Every cell in my body has tasted this passion now, and every cell in my body burns with the deepest of desires to protect the people and the planet that I love.

In those precious moments when I experience true joy, whether it be with friends or alone, my love deepens. And when my love deepens, my passion for revolution deepens. Sometimes, the frustration and restlessness that this brings seems like a curse, because it’s really hard sometimes to see how one person living in Southern Illinois can hope to enact any sort of revolutionary change. But the truth is that I’m not alone, and that this deepening experience of human love is what life’s all about, regardless of how much pain it may sometimes bring me. It’s this love that makes life worth living, and this love that has the power to change the world. It’s the most precious thing I’ve ever experienced — and come what may, I am eternally grateful.

Next time, I’ll have some new and somewhat specific thoughts on how we can actually go about the whole task of revolution here in Southern Illinois and beyond. But in the meantime, I just wanted to set the details aside and express the experience, because these feelings of love and bonds of friendship are at the heart of the revolution I seek. If you do nothing else in this life, do everything in your power to deepen your experience of love and your bond of friendship with others. Do this, and your world will inevitably change for the better.

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My name is Treesong. I'm a father, author, talk radio host, and Real Life Superhero. I live in Carbondale, Southern Illinois. I write novels, short stories, and poetry, mostly about the climate.

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