There have been communes in America for 300 years. Timothy Miller has written two books which together are a survey of American communes that were in existence from 1900 – 1975.
Miller sets seven conditions a community must meet before the community reaches the status of being a commune. For example, the first four are:
1. A sense of common purpose and of separation from society.
2. Some form and level of self denial, of voluntary suppression of individual choice for the good of the group.
3. Geographic proximity.
4. Personal interaction.
A protocommune is a term I’ve coined. A protocommune is an effort that meets some of Miller’s seven conditions. A protocommune sets the groundwork for being a commune. A protocommune is actively working to meet the threshold for being a commune.
1. Reckon Location
The Reckon protocommune house is in suburbia. The address is on Bybee Street in Silver Spring MD if someone wants to go to Google and get an idea of what the neighborhood is like. It’s a corner house, with parking spaces in the front and on one side. There is a yard.
The neighborhood is surrounded by forested land. The house is close to bus stops, and is not far from urban areas. Thus the location has notes of both rural and city life. It’s possible to live in this area without owning a car. Furthermore, ride companies like Lyft and Uber operate here. There’s a strip mall nearby that has rental trucks and vans, also.
The house is livable, but needs a bit of work before it can be used as a commune. Planned improvements include a modular fence around the entire lot to improve privacy and allow camping out, and installing a loft for sleeping.
2. Reckon purpose
The purpose of the commune is self-improvement. Communards spend part of the day working, part of the day working on their character traits. One of the primary vehicles for improvement is keeping a journal to assist in making self-reckonings. Thus the name “Reckon” for the commune.
The physical layout of the commune is broken down into two distinct zones. The house space includes the house and yard. The public space includes the property between the street and the yard, and commune vans that are sometimes parked on the street. Different rules apply in different zones.
The first rule is: everyone must speak calmly and softly in the house. This does not mean that only whispering is allowed, although whispering is fine. It means speaking at the lowest necessary volume. It means speaking slowly. It means taking periodic breaks from speaking to allow others to respond, or to indicate that they understand what is being said, or to indicate they are not interested in having a discussion. In line with this, all audio and video players should be used with headsets in the house space.
The second rule is that the clothing worn while in the house space should cover the body as much as is consistent with the season.
The third rule is no one should touch anyone else while in the house space.
The fourth rule is that communards are expected to participate in daily meetings.
The rules are designed and enforced for a completely rational reason: to minimize conflict. These are not hard and fast rules. If the rules aren’t working, they are subject to change.
3. Practical aspects: living, work, common activities
I’m a big proponent of van living. Although I’ve never done it, a former commune member has. I live in the house, but meagerly. Anyone joining the commune accepts this kind of very basic existence. Communards live in vans that are parked here and use the house as a base. To avoid any violations of laws, communards have sleeping spaces within the house.
There are several businesses here.
One is part of the suburban agriculture movement: growing food on residential yards and selling it.
Selling baked goods out of a house is legal here. So a bakery is the second business.
The money from the businesses goes to pay for the upkeep of the house and for paying for the vans and fuel for the vans. The rest is saved, and distributed to communards for basic needs like clothing, food, and whatever else is needed. Decisions on spending are decided communally.
Everyone is expected to think and act independently while living communally. The sparse living conditions means that all one’s major belongings should be able to fit into a small car. Anyone can get up and leave any day they want.
In line with that, potential communards before moving in are expected to join in on regular teleconferences to familiarize themselves with life at Reckon.