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Twin Oaks Intentional Community
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Culture

Activism: Twin Oakers have done a variety of activist work over time. Some members have become more locally politically active around issues relating to national politics, such as voter registration. We do some amount of self-education around oppression within the community. Past outward-facing activities that members have participated in include Books Behind Bars (books to incarcerated persons), indigenous rights, women's marches, LGBTQ activism, Black Lives Matter actions, and more. While many individuals at Twin Oaks engage in activist activities, as a community we do not officially endorse any particular course of political activism (i.e. members do this work as individuals, not in the name of community).

Conflict: In any group of people living or working together, some amount of conflict is inevitable. At Twin Oaks, there are different types of conflict. Conflict can spring from values differences, from communication difficulties, from different assumptions of what's "normal" or "acceptable", and from having different perspectives on the same set of events. Some conflict is work-related, some is interpersonal. There are different ways we deal with conflict as it arises. Sometimes the people involved simply talk to each other to resolve differences. Sometimes the people prefer to have a mediated meeting, in which a third party is present either as a facilitator with skills in helping resolve conflict, or simply as a witness, creating a feeling of greater safety. Our Process Team offers support and resources for people in conflict, and also keeps an eye on "hot" issues in the community which might cause conflict to come up. We try to keep in mind that it isn't the existence of conflict that determines the health of a group, but rather the manner in which a group does or doesn't deal with conflict that determines it's health.

Twin Oaks culture places a much higher value on cooperation than mainstream culture. Sometimes, this can mean we need to learn new skills, and we strive to "raise the cultural bar" around communication skills. To a large extent, the expectation at Twin Oaks is that if conflict does arise, members be willing to engage in working it out, and to use respectful communication in doing so. Both the ability to see and understand (although not always agree on) more than one perspective of "the truth" and each of us being able to take responsibility for our own behavior in partially creating the conflict are skills that can go a long way in resolving conflict. We're still learning. Conflict resolution exists here along a spectrum; different members have different opinions. We find common ground in our hope that ultimately we can find a way to work out our differences and work together.

Connection to Mainstream Society: Members can be as connected to the mainstream as they desire. A few prefer to live a quiet life on a farm, while many others are quite connected to the mainstream. Some members avidly follow global, national, and local politics; others don't. Historically, we have chosen to not have television here, as we wanted to avoid its influence in importing mainstream values such as consumerism, violence, pre-packaged "canned" entertainment, etc. We do have internet at Twin Oaks, but it is less prominent than it is in the mainstream. We work on finding a balance between keeping our culture distinct and realistically engaging with the technology that exists in the world. However, we are not purists, and many members watch movies (including documentaries and independent and foreign films) and follow shows, etc.

We have more than a dozen public computers, and most members have various personal devices (laptop, cell phone, tablet, etc.). There are almost daily trips to town for social activities: to go to the library, to visit friends, to take a day off, etc. We shop at local shops and know the people there. There are also quite a few ex-members who have settled in the town and cities near us, which is one way that we are spread out into the larger community. Although we are interested in creating a culture that is distinct from the mainstream, we are not interested in isolating ourselves from the mainstream.

Diet: We have a mixed diet at Twin Oaks—some members are vegetarian, some are vegan, some are meat-eaters. We don't serve meat every day, and most of the meat we eat is produced here in the community. We have a number of members with special diet needs (eg. gluten-free, no nuts, no eggs, no mammal meat), which we are generally able to accommodate.

Diet can be pretty fluid at Twin Oaks; members often follow their dietary instincts and eat differently at different times over the months and years. We produce a significant portion of our own food including vegetables, fruit, and meat. Some people make diet choices based on the knowledge that they are eating organic, free-range, locally-produced food.

Ecological Sustainability: Twin Oaks incorporates a variety of ecological practices. Our choice to share houses and cars reduces our footprint on the earth: our 18 vehicles and 7 residences for 100 people are both well below the national average and use substantially less resources per person. Because we work in our community-owned businesses on our land, our commute, instead of using fuel, involves a short walk through the woods. When we do drive (for business or social reasons), we carpool extensively. We build our own buildings; and, although our building techniques in terms of structure of the building are fairly conventional, we incorporate a wide variety of alternative energy features. These include passive solar features (large, south-facing windows to light and heat the building), super-insulation, skylights and sun tubes for natural lighting, cellulose insulation in some places (instead of fiberglass), wood heat (using wood from our own forests and scrap from our sawmill) in almost all of our buildings, solar hot water, photovoltaic solar electricity in one residence, multi-use of most spaces, permaculture landscaping around buildings, and more.
Growing a significant portion of our food in our organic garden also helps us be more sustainable by not using pesticides and by reducing the amount of food we buy that needs to be transported by trucks. We also buy most purchased food in bulk, thereby reducing packaging.

Feminism: We strive for an intersectional feminism, in which the intersecting social structures of gender, race, social class, sexual identity, religion, ability, and age, among others, are acknowledged as being as interrelated and shaping one another.

Systemically: Much of the organizational infrastructure here is classically feminist in nature; for example, our decision-making process is egalitarian (as opposed to hierarchical), and the community’s labor system equally values traditionally women’s work (cooking, cleaning, laundry, some amount of child-care, emotional labor), whereas in the mainstream this work is often undervalued when done as paid labor and/or is done over-and-above paid labor.

Culturally: We have much less division of labor based on gender. People of all different genders in the community prepare food, fix cars, do child-care, use power tools, etc. We practice consent culture and it is assumed that personal boundaries will be respected and that all people will be sensitive and tuned into interacting with and treating each other with appropriate respect. We largely ignore mainstream values of clothing choices, make-up, hair (including body hair), etc., instead opting for a fashion of self-determination. Whereas in the mainstream, certain relationship styles tend to be socially and economically rewarded (most notably a man and woman married to each other), at Twin Oaks a much wider range of relationship choices are accepted as normal and are not remarked upon.

Gender: Twin Oaks has members of various gender identifications. We have transgender members, cis-female and cis-male members, as well as people who identify as non-binary or genderfluid. We expect everyone to honor people's chosen names and gender pronouns.

Holidays: Twin Oaks is sufficient in size to have developed our own holiday culture, including rituals and ceremonies which are unique to our village life. We have one member who serves as our Holiday Manager, who coordinates the organization of each holiday activity. Read about specific examples.

IT (Computers, Cell Phones, etc.): We have public and individual computers and mobile devices here for members to use for both community work and personal use. Our internet connections are communal; so, in order to equitably distribute bandwidth, we have restrictions on certain uses such as streaming video, downloading/uploading large files, etc. Most, but not all, members have cell phones, although we limit use in public space in order to minimize screen culture and maximize face-to-face interaction.

Non-Violence: One of our primary values is non-violence. Our culture is one that values resolving conflict in a cooperative, peaceful manner and living one's daily life in line with those principles. We do not tolerate physical violence at Twin Oaks, and verbal violence (this can mean different things to different people) is discouraged. We have members who have been involved in the war-tax resistance movement, and our historical choice to not have television here has been partially rooted in wanting to avoid importing the violence often found in that medium. Members do currently consume media via the internet, and non-violence in media is more important to some members than others.

Racial Justice: Twin Oaks strives to center anti-oppression and social justice work, including racial justice, in our community.

We have RET (the Racial Equity Team), which both works on internal education around racial justice in the community and helps develop policy and other changes relating to racial dynamics and support for POC. We also have the REAL Team (Racial Equity & Advocacy Leaders), which is a group of BIPOC members within RET, who hold authority to veto decisions and to meet and discuss issues separately whenever they deem it appropriate to do so. (Currently, due in part to lower-than-average population, there are no members serving on the REAL Team.)

We acknowledge that Twin Oaks is a majority white organization, and we are striving to forge a path forward where our values and how we live are grounded in inclusivity.

Relationships: We have a quite wide variety of intimate relationship styles at Twin Oaks. Some members are single, some are married, some are in non-married but long-term committed relationships, some have a series of relationships over time, some people are celibate, and some are polyamorous (in relationships with more than one person at a time). We have people of many different sexualities living here, plus some who would refuse to be labeled. There is no community norm about relationship choices—it's up to the individual. Unlike mainstream culture, we tend not to have social or economic rewards for choosing a particular relationship style.

Social scene: We are very social creatures at Twin Oaks. We have all kinds of different social and cultural activities. We have innumerable on-going, weekly activities that are at least somewhat social in nature, and over time have included singing groups, bands, yoga classes, a juggling group, knitting groups, art nights, scrabble nights, video nights, support groups, political discussion groups, etc. Events of a more purely social nature (dances, parties, games nights, etc.) also happen frequently. We also tend to socialize throughout the day, during work and at other times. We chat with each other, lay in the sun in hammocks, canoe on the river, play music, go to church, do political activism work, and much more. However, members also take alone-time as needed, walking in the woods, spending time in their room, and engaging in other solitary pursuits. People can be as socially involved or as solitary as they like, according to personal preference.

Spirituality-Religion: As a community, we purposefully have no one specific spiritual direction/path; the choice is left up to the individual. As a result, we have quite a variety. Many members practice no spiritual path or religion at all, and would be identified as atheist or agnostic. Our membership also includes Buddhists, Pagans, Christians of several (mostly progressive) varieties, and general "New Age" types.

In terms of religious observances, the community officially celebrates the Solstices and Equinoxes—usually with a day off of work, a party, and an informal ritual (all optional). There is a group of Pagans who gather throughout the year for more involved rituals. Different practices arise and disappear over time; these include activities like hosting a local Quaker meeting, observing Friday night Shabbat gatherings, offering a meditation group, attending services at a nearby country church, etc.

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