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August 26, 2012

Present: Bridget, Hannah, Jesse, McAllen, Mike, Ryan

various brainstorming

Hannah: We should have a 1-3-sentence statement of values. When I ask myself what we want, for me, I've summed it up in three things: a whole lot of fun (joy), education, mutual support I keep coming back to those things.

Jesse: smaller ecological footprint. I think that needs to be important in the mission statement. Going from Eugene coops to Austin coops, it was something I missed a lot. Even though there was rhetoric, it never really manifested in the same way.

Hannah: I think there's something about that in your mission statement?

McAllen: Absolutely. I'm glad that you brought that up. That's a key component.

Jesse: Requirement for community service. Also felt that this was missing from Eugene. Mission was directed towards being a good community member. You're part of a larger group.

Hannah: In the coop, or the neighborhood?

Jesse: Not necessarily, but everyone needs to do some kind of community service, ie, working in a soup kitchen, or in Eugene we regarded political activism as community service. Can be broadly described. Part of the mission statement that we're going to create good citizens.

Hannah: I like the line “good citizens.” Resonates with me. Reminded me a lot of Americorps; if you have a little extra time, you should be doing something outward-facing. We've been talking at sasona about how, if this house had a mission statement, Sasona should have a mission statement, and CHEA should have a mission statement. I think it would help differentiate all these entities. One of the big differences in the undercurrent about the conversation of this house is that we're talking about a community that's fairly outward-facing. Sasona is definitely inward-facing. Web site says it provides a nurturing environment for people to carry on their lives and their work. I think we're great at that–you can be nurtured to do your work, but work tends to be very individual. I think it's good that we have a more out-there house and a more quiet haven in a quiet neighborhood.

McAllen: Ultimately, would be nice if independent coops in Austin could offer as many options as the student coops offer. This is a step in that direction.

Ryan: based on the people who live there (student coops). Changes over time. With something like this, you can go with something more structured. Older residents will be more long-term. Hannah: That's part of what's exciting about where we're at right now. We can set up any structure to make this place what we want. People will change it, but, if there's institutional expectations of what we want this to be, that will affect it. If some day it isn't relevant to what the culture is, they can change.

Jesse: It's an important aspect of the Eugene coop. It's broad, what community service is. If it were rigid, then inevitably it's going to break.

Hannah: That's good to remember, too. We don't want to set forth really rigid expectations of what it is because we might not live there some day. It isn't our business what it is if we don't live there. To make it encompass what we think a good place to live at would be, but also flexible, too. I have to remember that; isn't just about what I want.

Jesse: Consensus is a lot easier with less than 20 people.

??: How many people do we have?

Hannah: I'm hoping for 18. Something we should talk about, too. Most coops in Austin are democratically-run. We should talk about it. We could have consensus -1. Sasona requires 75% often. Ensures that there's a critical amount of buy-in.

Bridget: I wonder if we could incorporate community into the education. I agree it shouldn't get too lengthy or complex.

Hannah: I was looking at other examples around town, focusing on other member-run organizations. I looked at the Yellow Bike Project, Monkey Wrench, the Rhizome Collective, other coops, both here and out of state systems of community coops. A lot of them were vague. My favorite was the RHizome Collective. jesse's been involved with them for a while. They kind of folded about 5-7 years ago, but they've kind of resurged. There was always a bunch of people trying to start it back up again, but they're really pushing through now. Recently released a mission statement: a short mission statement along with points of unity.

Jesse: Was one of the first collective organizations in Austin. Wrote an environmental grant for a brown field and brought a lot of ideas to it. Were doing permaculture and water reclamation; a model for sustainability practices. One of his ideas is that it's not enough to be sustainable–you need to repair damage that's been done. Like all orgs, it's prone to the struggles of its own members. They allowed a lot of people to stay there counter to the code regulations. Were in communication with the city for about six months to try to save the space, but they lost it.

Hannah: That's why code compliance is important.

Jesse: I'm interested to see what they're going to do with the org since then.

Hannah: I'm glad that Jesse just gave us a little synopsis of them. They're a cool model to look at, too. Hosted a number of orgs within their space.

Jesse: At their consensus meetings, each of those orgs would have a voice in the larger collective. Comes from the idea of reclaiming. Has a very strong component of political activism to it.

Hannah: We're doing something new to us, but there are a lot of other groups we can take inspiration from. I'm interested in their government structure.

McAllen: This meeting is essentially a brainstorming sesssion for figuring out what we want to do with the house.

Jesse: I think NASCO has a good policy in terms of guests. Have to have a place to stay in in terms of code, get charged money, have to do x amount of work to benefit the community while they're there. Isn't that the policy at Pearl?

Hannah: Might involve bargaining with the membership officer.

Hannah: Would be nice to have a way to hostel people on a regular basis. A yard space, or a yurt. I don't think we'll be able to set aside a room, but would be cool to have some kind of availability for that. We don't do that at Sasona. I get emails all the time. I'd love to have them hang out at the house for a few days, but we can't do that with our current policies.

McAllen: Has anyone heard of the Radical Dixie Ranch? Five girls who I'm friends with have a house. They've moved several times because they do just that–have several people in their backyard until their landlord finds out about it.

Jesse: Need to abide by code; otherwise we'll end up like Rhizome.

Hannah: Give people a reasonable limit (4-5 days), limit to 1-2 at a time, so it isn't open to an indefinite amount of people for an indefinite amount of time.

McAllen: We can check code restrictions.

Jesse: Might be abused in sxsw or acl; might encourage the individual in charge of maintaining that to invite a bunch of people, and then people want to leave because ACL is coming to their back yard. Hannah: We should check the legal restrictions to determine at what point people are a legal occupant. I get calls like this at the shelter. I get calls from people who have someone in their house who they want out, but need to give 30-day notice.

Jesse: That's not how it works in coops.

Hannah: I'm wondering how people feel about the consensus model. I haven't lived in a coop that formally operated on the consensus basis, so I don't entirely trust it for that reason. I'm going to email White Hall and ask how it feels for them.

Jesse: ?? worked on a consensus basis. Was an all-coop meeting at the beginning of the year. Members were required to take a workshop. The second year, that did not happen, and consensus fell apart. Consensus is an education process. Need to take account a wide variety of opinions. It's different from democracy where you just disagree with someone. It's work. I will not lie to you. It is work. I think consensus-1 is important. In real consensus, that isn't supposed to end the conversation. That rarely happens. You've got the mission statement and points of agreement that help build the community.

Hannah: To play devil's advocate, we're talking about valuing diversity and welcoming diverse people, so people will have different assumptions.

Jesse: That's the beauty of consensus. Allows people to work through those differences.

Hannah: Did it take a really long time?

Jesse: In the larger houses, yes.

Hannah: How big?

Jesse: About the same size as Pearl, maybe a little less. The first meeting to decide on who would run could be a 4-hour meeting. If it's a contentious issue, like moving someone out, could be a 2-3-hour meeting. ?? was a comparable size; 18-25 people. The larger the group, the more differing opinions.

Hannah: What you're saying is reassuring in a way. When we've had member reviews, budget meetings, we have 2-3-hour meetings, too.

Jesse: And should. Those are big issues.

Bridget: How was the education set up?

Jesse: Originally we had an outside facilitator. The second year we had people who were part of the coop and not necessarily trainers in consensus, and wasn't mandatory for coops to go through it, so that looser of restrictions made it easier to fall apart. I think it's necessary. We're taught to acquiesce instead of standing up for something we value internally, instead of saying, “this is absolutely against who I am, and I can't be part of it.” A person can stand aside–may not agree with a decision, but not feel so strongly about it that they're going to leave the group.

Hannah: Does anyone think this is a really bad idea, or kind of a bad idea?

Bridget: If one of our core values is education, I can't imagine a better way to understand people than to go through that process. I've always wanted to be able to live out or practice consensus in some way. I've done it with small houses of 4-6 people, but would be amazing to do with a bigger group of people.

McAllen: For my psychology class, I read ?? ways to Influence People. One of his main points was “seek first to understand and then to be understood.” That made an impression on me.

Hannah: I operate on that principle constantly.

Ryan: I've never worked with the consensus model, but would be fun to try.

Jesse: That's the wonderful thing about coops. Things change as new people come in.

McAllen: When I thought about membership criteria, I was actually thinking about Americorps. They recruit a very diverse staff of volunteers. I'm not a fan of making this too complicated or idealistic or unrealistic and being as open as possible, but, at the same time, I have good experiences with how a group like Americorps was able to institutionalize diversity in their membership successfully. I think it's worth seeing if we can do the same thing in some capacity.

Hannah: If we're talking about races or ethnicities, that bares some research into fair housing law. Not that we can't do it. It's a little uncomfortable for me, having specific criteria or advantage being given to some people. I kind of like the open membership principle where we can modify the way we portray ourselves and we leave it up to people to self-select.

Mike: Was at a FHA training for ICC given by Daniel, and, according to him, it is illegal to, ie, require a specific gender for the purposes of gender balance, so coops should address these kinds of issues by reaching out to groups who they would like to be represented.

Jesse: Is it possible that, whenever College Houses changed the way they advertised themselves, specifically at high school students, you changed the demographic in a significant way, and you could do the opposite of that, to make sure we attempt to honor diversity, we intentionally put ourselves out to groups not normally associated. It's proactive but not restrictive. Puts our message out to a specific community.

Bridget: Shouldn't discriminate. It's a matter of recruiting, getting the word out. I'm curious to talk to an Americorps recruitment officer. My brother's roommate is a City Year recruitment officer. They might be more likely to select you if you fit a certain profile, but mainly it's all about recruitment.

McAllen: We can let people know about our community service projects. In doing outreach for our community service projects, we can also encourage people to apply for membership.

Bridget: We should talk to Foundation Communities.

Hannah: Perhaps we could partner with them.

McAllen: We have an acre of land, so we could be a venue for community service projects (a bicycle workshop, community garden, tax prep)

Jesse: like 21st, or it is essentially what Rhizome does.

Jesse: I love the idea of having a secret cafe, where donations are collected that go to an organization. Hannah: Stone Soup, where people come, donate $2 for a meal, various non-profits give their spiel, and people vote on which nonprofits should get the funding

Mike: would like to work with permaculture community

Jesse: Student coops have a problem with turnover, and they're already dedicating 8 hours/day to going to school, and then need to study.

Ryan: We can't even sustain a compost pile.

Jesse: I noticed that Sasona's grounds are beautiful.

Hannah: I love gardening and books. Have been bringing those things together more recently. I've been thinking lately, as I've been reading Second Nature by Michael Pollan, it's about finding an intersection of gardening and culture and nature, using the garden as a testing ground for having to figure out this interface, since we're getting more numerous, but also not have romanticized ideals about not disturbing the wilderness absolutely at this point, since we already are, and it's kind of made me realize that there's all kinds of great literature in that intersection of gardening and words. It would be really cool to have a garden that was based on that idea and had quotations interspursed throughout it, with relevant plants nearby. ??: Have you looked at shinto gardens? I saw a Cicero quote on Facebook: “If you have a library and a garden, then you have all you will ever need.” If there's one thing I collect, it's books. Would be nice to have a dedicated sharing.

Mike: “Acts of Sharing” site where people can put up a list of items that they're willing to share

Jesse: Permaculture gardens are set up as model education centers, like Rhizome.

Hannah: I don't remember the details except being amazed by it.

Jesse: A lot of water reclamation.

McAllen: There are about a million and a half possibilities for permaculture projects.

Hannah: We should start talking to the different groups around town that will interface with us. Some of them might like to collaborate on a big slice of land. The Travis County Master Gardeners Association has a demonstration garden out east.

Jesse: There are a number of community gardens on the east side. Could be community service. We can't have bees where we're at. Need to be 30 feet from a building. Can't be in a place that's heavily trafficed.

Hannah: I feel like it's the holy grail of East Austin hipsterdom to have chickens.

Jesse: Was talking to Alan Robinson, and he felt that that was the next step, to have a group of coops, some for farming.

Hannah: I think we should start with an herb garden. Most cost-cutting type of garden we could have.

McAllen: Have you ever heard of an herb castle? I read about them in some permaculture book and was blown away by it.

Jesse: I saw a Facebook post from a permaculture book with a fruit tree garden

McAllen: Keep in mind the bad-ass origin myth for our coop. Some part of the myth could be what our house name is based off of.

Hannah: We should think about getting more people here at one time. We could do a doodle, but sometimes that doesn't work, and giving people a firm date/time might be better. Maybe ask people an open question, of what times they aren't available.

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