Ryan Lau | @agorisms
America, since its founding, has strongly valued the need for a government to satisfy needs. Rule of law, freedom, and checks and balances are ideals that many of us grow up believing in. But some people believe that freedom is not compatible with the State. The range of anarchist thought varies drastically, from philosophical to political and individualist to collectivist. In 1993, a group of them came together and birthed their ideas. Hence formed Acorn Community.
Acorn Community Anarchism
Acorn Community, as stated above, began as a small project in 1993 in Louisa County, Virginia. It is a member of the Federation of Egalitarian Communities, a group of rural autonomous settlements throughout the United States. The community professes itself to be anarchist, egalitarian and sustainable. Moreover, it claims to thrive on non-coercive, voluntary interactions.
The group began when a sister group, Twin Oaks, was at its maximum capacity of 100 members. Many more people wanted to join, so the group branched out and purchased another plot of land. Now, both communities are healthy and full. Twin Oaks operates with over 100 members, while Acorn Community has around 30.
Of the many groups that make up the FEC, Acorn Community is one of the few that professes anarchism. Despite this belief, the community nonetheless does still pay taxes. With 501(d) non-profit status, their rates are considerably lower, but unlike some religious organizations, they are not entirely exempt from the state.
Collectively, the roughly 30 members of Acorn Community own the various elements of property present on the site. Large items, such as houses, cars, and the seed-growing business that they use to sustain the group, fall under this communal ownership. On the other hand, smaller items, including those that one can stash in a bedroom, are owned by individual members.
The Decision-Making Process
What makes Acorn Community particularly notable is the way that it reaches agreements. In fact, that’s exactly it: every rule they impose on the community, they all agree to. The group rejects majority rule as a way of disregarding minority voices. Instead, they firmly believe in a process that they call Consensus.
In the system of Consensus, any full member of the community is allowed to propose a new idea. Then, every other member of the community can voice his or her agreement or disagreement. Peaceful discussion and debate follows, and eventually, they all state their preferences. If a single full member disagrees with the notion, then it does not go into action.
This form of decision-making is incredibly uncommon, even among other members of the FEC. It is known by political theorists as unanimous direct democracy, under which everyone’s voice is included and no one member can make a decision for another without his or her consent. In a sense, it gives ultimate veto power to every single member. Some theorists believe that such a system is the only way that both authority and autonomy can exist. Acorn Community, therefore, is a rare example of such a phenomenon of freedom and democracy.
However, for the sake of efficiency, Acorn Community encourages members to listen to each other and seek out compromises. If each member can agree to one, then the motion moves forward.
A Lack of Conflict
In its history of more than a quarter-century, there has not been any conflict between Acorn Community and local police. The group, in order to sustain itself, operates a GMO-free seed business. With their profits, they are able to buy essentials for the members. They also use the excess money for social events such as dances, parties, books, games, and other entertainment.
The distinct peace separates the group from many other exhibits of anarchism in the modern world. Freetown Christiania, for example, boasts itself as another successful anarchist district. Though they have effectively survived without a state for longer than Acorn, they recently have been the victim of several police raids.
On the other hand, Acorn Community appears to function with very limited interaction with the government. This is possible due to their self-reliance; a rotating schedule of farmers and cooks enable the community to thrive off of their own local produce and livestock. Both meat and vegetarian options come from local products. Crops that they cannot grow generally come from other local, organic farmers. Though not every member works in food preparation or growth, all must meet a quota of 42 hours per week, or six hours a day. Yet, non-traditional forms of labor, such as childcare and cleaning, also count towards the total. As a result, many members exceed the quota considerably, thus earning extra time off.
How to Become a Member
The process of joining Acorn Community is quite complicated. First, any interested applicants must fill out an online questionnaire and make a visit to the farm. The visitor period may be from anywhere from one to six months. During that time, the visitor can request that he or she become a provisional member.
In order to be a provisional member, the current members hold a test for excitement. As a majority, they must determine they are “excited” for the new applicant to join. If they vote “accept” or “have reservations”, then the vote continues. Every “have reservations” vote cancels one “excited” vote. A single member can also entirely block the process, halting the initiation at once. This fits the method of unanimous direct democracy that Acorn Community practices.
If the applicant gets enough “excited” votes, they then must complete a round of Clearnesses. This essentially means that he or she must meet individually with each of the existing members. There, members can express their concerns about the new member or just get to know him or her better. After this, one more test for excitement occurs, and if the applicant passes, he or she becomes a provisional member. Every six months after this, a new test for excitement will occur. At this point, the members can vote on whether to make the provisional member into a full member. If at any point, the members reject an applicant, he or she has two weeks to leave the community. Members can extend or shorten this timeframe if need be.
Culture and Entertainment
Though Acorn Community places an emphasis on work, they are not without recreation. Living on a farm, they frequently use their outdoor space for sporting events. Wrestling, volleyball, and croquet and particularly popular. They also enjoy swimming in the nearby river and holding bonfires. In the winter months, they often soak in a hot tub, play board, card, and video games, and practice yoga.
On occasions, the community organizes events with the neighboring Twin Oaks community. The two groups are very close with each other, even though Twin Oaks does not claim to be anarchist. All in all, Acorn Community is a thriving example of what simple life can be, without the influence of a coercive government.