“We know that capitalism, which is already racial, gendered and violent, is not inevitable. And there’s nothing natural about it,” says Robyn Maynard. In this episode of “Movement Memos,” host Kelly Hayes talks with Rehearsals for Living authors Robyn Maynard and Leanne Betasamosake Simpson about about organizing and parenting amid catastrophe, and how organizers can build new worlds…
Archive for category: #mutualaid
The challenges facing the communes intensified after Hugo Chávez’s death in 2013.
- Some older Americans are building cohousing communities instead of moving into senior living.
- Cohousing refers to living arrangements in which residents own a unit and share common spaces.
- Residents said cohousing helped them avoid social isolation and lead their most authentic lives.
Carolyn Salmon, 82, and her husband used to live in a retirement neighborhood of about 500 homes just outside Port Townsend, Washington, but they never felt as if they were part of the community.
“We basically never saw our neighbors,” Salmon told Insider. “We had a little group that would get together about once a month for dinner, but other than that we had no other real contact with them.”
That was until 2014, when the Salmons and a group of eight other seniors began developing Quimper Village, a cohousing community in Port Townsend for people ages 55 and older. The group purchased nearly 3 acres of land and helped finance the construction of the 28-unit community, which was completed in 2017. The couple then purchased their 1,300-square-foot home in the community for about $400,000.
The Salmons are part of a growing coalition of older adults who are choosing to live in cohousing communities with people who are about their same age.
Quimper Village is a 28-unit self-governing condominium community about a mile outside downtown Port Townsend. Residents work on one of several “teams” that handle the village’s affairs, from landscaping and gardening to financial planning, according to its website. The website also highlights amenities such as a bocce court and an art studio, which residents also manage.
Cohousing emerged in Denmark during the 1960s and describes a living arrangement in which residents own or rent their own home but also share a common house — which may include amenities like laundry and a shared kitchen — with their neighbors.
Salmon said the group decided to build Quimper Village because more traditional senior-housing options in the area were scarce or were in locations that didn’t have a lot of nearby grocery stores.
“Maintaining community and close relationships isn’t always easy to do,” Salmon said. “But this place gives us the ability to drive less and do the things that build friendships.”
Cohousing is an example of how the senior-housing industry is evolving
Since 2005, 17 cohousing communities for older people have cropped up across the US with another six more in development, according to an online directory maintained by a researcher at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.
The move comes at a time when the cost of more traditional senior-living options is at an all-time high and occupancy rates and construction activity for these housing units are still below their pre-pandemic levels, according to the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care, or NIC, a nonprofit senior-housing research firm. Senior-living facilities include assisted living, memory care, and independent living. Nursing homes fall under a different category because Medicaid can reimburse their costs.
“The senior-living industry is evolving,” Beth Mace, a senior economist at NIC, told Insider. “Partly because of what happened during the pandemic, but also because developers are trying to figure out exactly what this cohort wants.”
Residents want to live their most authentic lives
Barbara Chase, 71, said that to earn the respect of her peers and clients while working as a corporate-management consultant she always felt as if she needed to hide the fact that she identified as a lesbian.
Chase retired in 2020 and moved into a cohousing community for LGBTQ seniors and allies ages 55 and up called Village Hearth just outside Raleigh, North Carolina. Chase said she purchased a 1,150-square-foot unit for about $385,000 when she moved in.
She said that decision had helped her live her most authentic life and avoid more corporate senior-living operations, where a growing number of seniors feel as if they have few support options, according to research from the National Center for Elder Abuse.
“As I was nearing retirement, I thought to myself, ‘I don’t want to spend the last sliver of my life in the closet,'” Chase told Insider. “To me, it means the world to live among people who embrace you, and help you preserve your dignity and self-respect.”
Chase considered more traditional senior-housing options, but none of the nearby places offered the same level of activity that she was looking for. At Village Hearth, Chase said, residents are responsible for everything from maintaining the property to planning and cooking community meals.
“We make collective decisions together about how we’re going to treat one another,” Chase said. “And that is the true meaning of community.”
Cohousing can help avoid social isolation
Karen Erde, 70, moved into PDX Commons in Portland, Oregon, in 2018 after retiring from a long career as a family physician. The 27-unit complex requires at least 80% of its residents to be above the age of 55, while younger homeowners can make up the remaining 20%, according to its website.
Erde said she moved into PDX Commons because it was the only cohousing community in Portland where she could live among people her own age and not have roommates who were generations younger than her. The community is also within walking distance of the Belmont Library, Laurelhurst Park, and pharmacies like Walgreens. Erde purchased her 1,065-square-foot unit for about $585,000, she said.
“I like kids and all that stuff — I raised three children of my own,” Erde told Insider. “But I’m not really interested in raising anybody else’s kids at this point of my life.”
Though Erde describes herself as an introvert, living at PDX Commons has allowed her to be more social, she said. Erde chairs the community’s communication committee, which helps spread the word about PDX Commons. She said she also helped community members solve computer issues and worked with other retired medical professionals who live in the community to develop the local COVID-19 guidelines.
It is also comforting to know that help is always nearby, Erde said. When Erde had her knee replaced in 2014, she said, her friends and family would have to drive 20 to 30 minutes to her townhome in Portland to help her cook and clean up around the house. If something similar happened today, Erde said, she has a group of friends at PDX in nearby units who would pitch in.
“I’ve been around other senior-living facilities where they have activities and people generally get to hang out with each other,” Erde said, “but I never got the sense that the people there actually wanted to live together.”
Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez defined communes as the key blocks to building socialism from the bottom up.
Preparedness, especially when it’s called ‘prepping’, has a bad name, and for good reason. The prevalent image of the prepper is a right-wing, white, middle-class cis man in his 40s or 50s who stockpiles guns, food and ammunition, prioritised in roughly that order. You can watch reality TV shows about this guy, or YouTube channels made by him that might as well be titled How to Survive the Apocalypse Alone in the Woods with a Hatchet Eating Squirrels You Hunt With the Aforementioned Hatchet.
Which, I’ll be real, makes for good YouTube watching. It just doesn’t make for very good preparedness. Or more to the point, it doesn’t present a particularly accurate picture of what preparedness actually looks like for most humans on the planet.
Because most people, in most places and most times in history, have concerned themselves with preparedness whenever they can. The right-wing doomsday prepper isn’t even representative of the vast majority of preppers, even under that name.
I would be a hypocrite and a fool to make fun of rural people in the US who dry their own food, keep their pantry as stocked as they can afford to, keep an extra five gallons of gas in a can in the garage, catch their rainwater for their garden, own and train with and maintain firearms, and pay attention to potential disruptions in infrastructure. I’m one of those people. I do all of those things. Most people who do those things aren’t living in some right-wing fantasy world – they’re applying values passed down through the generations.
Prepping from the right
Western societies present an illusion of stability to their inhabitants, so people who prioritise preparedness stand out, seem different, and are therefore mocked. But regular disruptions in services – the electrical grid, grocery supply chains, potable water infrastructure, access to gasoline, everything – are already here. And throughout most of the world, the stability of infrastructure has not been taken for granted. Therefore, all sorts of people have been and are preppers, whether under that name or not.
The far right represents a fringe, albeit a prominent one, in preparedness culture. No reasonable person is excited about being in company with people with swastika tattoos and confederate flags, and plenty of us are not safe around such people.
Mutual aid is and has always been a better strategy during times of crisis than any top-down organising or isolationism
High-profile, right-wing approaches to preparedness focus on individual and family-level preparedness above all else. They’re ‘I’ve got mine, fuck you’ in the same way that right-wing politics tend to be. This act of excluding others is perhaps the core of right-wing ideology, and differences within right wing ideology could perhaps be understood as differences in scale of this exclusion. A right-libertarian might focus on the individual and family level of ‘I’ve got mine, fuck you’ while a right-wing nationalist extends their exclusion out to the national level: ‘We’ve got ours, fuck you.’ The armed, fortified and angry homestead versus the armed, fortified and angry nation – the latter being familiar to both US and UK readers, I suspect.
Neither of these strategies of exclusion, at the personal or the national level, are ethical or strategic ways to handle crisis. Mutual aid is and has always been a better strategy during times of crisis than any top-down organising or isolationism. During times of crisis, the social barriers between people break down, as do the laws. Rather than competing for scarce resources, study after study shows that when faced with crisis, people’s natural inclination to work together to solve shared problems wins out.
The anarchist, or leftist, approach, or, I would argue, just the rational approach to preparing for crisis is to include other people – friends, family, neighbours, and strangers alike – in your primary plan and your contingency plans.
Imagine two cities in the apocalypse. One builds walls to keep people out and hoard and defend its resources, while the other lets in refugees. The walled city would have the short-term benefit of fewer mouths to feed with limited supplies. The open city, however, would have a far more valuable resource – people. People, when organised (especially horizontally), are capable of, well, basically anything. More people means more farmers, more engineers, more organisers, more medics, even more military might if it comes to that.
The same is true on the smaller scale. If you and your five best reasonable sounding plan will have a disproportionate impact on how the chaotic situation resolves. So first and foremost, what behoves the anarchist prepper is to learn organising, or work with those who do it. Learn how to interject horizontal organisational ideas, such as consensus decision making, conflict mediation, general assemblies and federations, into chaotic situations.
Some of that work can be done ahead of time, of course, whether formally by setting up mutual aid organisations or federations of activist groups, or informally by just getting to know your neighbours. This kind of work pays off even if there is no dramatic crisis – mutual aid and community enrich anyone’s life.
This isn’t to say that individual preparedness – stored supplies and tools, learned survival skills, and the like – aren’t useful. They are. Staying alive as an individual or family is a fine goal on its own (although easier in the context of a resilient community), and of course the prepared individual is in a better place to be of help to their community and requires less in return.
Anarchist preparedness differs too from the state-level approach, which has, at its core, the priority of the continuation of its governance rather than the continuation of human life. Police protect property from those who would redistribute that property to those in need. Complex bureaucracies make decisions from the top down, which both slows down decision making (as orders must move through the chain of command) and leaves those with less on-the-ground experience calling the shots. Anarchist preparedness, and disaster relief, is organic and is built with solidarity and mutual aid as its core principles.
We cannot let the right or the state control the conversation about preparedness. Preparedness is a reasonable thing that we should all be doing as best suits our skills and access to resources. Because the crisis is already here, and it’s just a matter of where and when it is and isn’t more severe.
Margaret Killjoy is an anarchist author, musician and host of the Cool People Who Did Cool Stuff podcast
This article first appeared in issue #237, Autumn 2022, Power in Unions. Subscribe today to get your magazine delivered hot off the press!