An Urban Community Perspective

By Jon Dumont

The Jolly Ranchers have been an income sharing consensus based
community since the summer of 1995, when we managed to scrape together
a small down payment on two modest homes on a corner lot in Seattle�s
poorest neighborhood. Before that, and since college in the eighties we
had lived on the east coast in rented houses with lots of friends. The
lack of intentionality of those households allowed things to get messy
now and again, but we learned a lot in spite of ourselves, and always
had great fun. Seattle is about half the size of Boston, housing is
cheaper, and there is less pollution and crime. While the quality of
our lives has improved, the kind of life we lead remains essentially
the same. The rhythm and tempo of the city has significantly determined
our manner of being in the world. Work, play, relationship, even
ideology are in many ways conditioned by environment. We were then and
are now died in the wool urban dwellers.

Building an intentional community turns out to be no small
feat, and lots of friends eventually stepped off the merry-go-round,
but for us it did not constitute a radical act. It did deepen and make
us more conscious of a process in which we were already engaged. It is
difficult to be an educated person living in an eastern city and not be
outraged by the poverty, violence and neglect that have reached
epidemic proportions in the poorer neighborhoods. The logical next step
is to determine what ones responsibility is to that situation, and how
to live up to it. In my experience this led to a commitment to social
service, some union organizing, and to an understanding of my need for
internal change. Late night front porch conversations (and lots of
related reading) eventually provided a rough mental blue print for a
small family style intentional community with a primary focus on the
creation of a safe environment for honest communication about ourselves
and each other in hope of facilitating intimacy. Naturally our first
and best thought was to attempt to realize our vision against the
backdrop of the city where we hoped we might provide a model of
non-violence, egalitarianism, right-livelyhood and simple living

Although trading time for money will always be a losing
proposition, the financial benefits of living in community allow us to
work at jobs we enjoy and that we believe make a positive contribution,
rather than at careers that simply pay well. Currently the three core
members are counselors serving adults with developmental disability. It
is important work, which we take seriously and do well for low pay at
non-profit agencies for a neglected and oppressed segment of the
population. Sometimes it is frustrating to be away from the Ranch for
huge chunks of each day. We have less time to be with each other, and
less time still for the things that need to get done around the houses.
However, I honestly cannot imagine not doing the work that I do. It has
helped me to become a better person, partner and commune-mate.

Nevertheless a small but persistent part of me yearns for that
singularly transformative and purifyingly radical act of abandoning my
frenzied urban existence, turning my back once and for all on the
senseless comodification, the faceless conformity, the sheer human cost
of the city. I dream of emerging from a cocoon to start fresh on a
close-knit farm commune, far from everywhere, committed to permaculture
and sustainability. Eating only what we can grow. Asking the neighbor
to borrow the tractor. Hell I don�t really know; I can�t even pound
nails convincingly. These images seem powerful to me precisely because
they are so alien. My life has had a consistency that I fear
constitutes a lack of courage. The rural community seems in many ways
to represent total commitment. Maybe the rest of us are just

Be that as it may, we are justifiably proud of what our
community has accomplished, and believe that we are creating a process
that encourages progressive change. But, it would be disingenuous not
to mention the things that we aren�t doing well enough yet and the
comforts that we find difficult to do without. The Jolly Ranchers are
not practicing sustainable living in any defendable way. After three
years of trying we remain persistent consumers. Five people use one
car, and we bike, bus or walk when we can, but plenty of gas gets
bought and burned. We eat far too much prepared and packaged food. Our
entertainment habits are expensive, passive, and come in the forms you
might expect: pubs, music clubs, restaurants, cinemas, theatre, and
bookstores. We talk often about whether these things are pleasures or
addictions, and take seriously Guy Debord�s warning of a society of the
spectacle. It remains an open question.

We tend vegetables in our yard, and have a plot at the
neighborhood organic p-patch, but the Jolly Ranchers manage to grow
less than 5% of our own food. Time, effort and know-how all play a
factor, but my suspicion is that we will never truly be farmers.
Farming is just not in our blood the way that, say, shopping is.
Cities are not going away. Without cities the population
carrying capacity of this planet would be much smaller than it is now.
Only by making cities livable can we avoid flood, draught, famine and
chaos of unimaginable proportions, and preserve whatever is left of the
Earth�s natural sustaining balance. Obviously, these cities will have
to be radically transformed. The commune movement will undoubtedly play
a role in that transformation. In the meantime, let�s buy a latte� and
go see a movie.