I’ve been living in a collective house for three years. Collective living is a difficult concept to fully understand; even if I were to explain it, it’s something that has to be participated in for a length of time to truly comprehend. It’s more than consensus-based decision making, it’s more than sharing household responsibilities, it’s more than participating in direct, thoughtful and sometimes difficult communication. Collective living is not a black and white existence. It’s constantly in flux, ever evolving. Always learning, always considering. Individual actions inevitably affect the whole, whether one is conscious of their actions or not. It’s how space is interacted with, how space is held and ultimately shared. It’s constantly considering all angles, all viewpoints. Not being stuck on one outcome, one way. It’s respecting past traditions while allowing the collective to actively embrace new ones. In a collective, one surrenders a great deal of personal autonomy in favor of the whole in hopes that, as a cohesive, healthy unit, your life and the lives of other collective members will be better because of it. It’s about contribution. It’s about sharing a collective existence.
The Alexander Berkman Collective has been a collective home for over thirty years. It began with the Olympia Food Conspiracy in the 70s, and then in the 80s it became an all woman collective focused on working toward social justice in the community. In the late 80s and through the mid to late 90s, it housed a generation of punks and political radicals. Through the 2000s, the house has seemed to go through a number of transitions, trying to find itself in an intentional balance of foodies, herbalists, activists, teachers, artists, musicians and students. The house is an entity in itself, and seemingly demands certain characters are repeated randomly on shuffle. Sometimes, when the house becomes unbalanced, old members leave and new members are invited in. Transitions are difficult, as someone new then needs to be integrated into the whole without feeling as if they’re losing their individual voice. This can take months.
The ABC house is not a show space, though we do host amazing events. The ABC house is not a community center, though all members are active within the community and contribute our time and talents in numerous ways. The ABC house is not an institution, though the house is rich in history, as the collective is in a constant state of flux, always rebuilding and reinventing itself. The ABC house is a sanctuary, a place to think, consider and heal. It’s a make-shift family in a society that has forgotten what familial ties truly represent. It’s a place where one learns how to truly forgive and be forgiven. It’s a place to lie in the grass under a 150 year old black walnut tree and ponder, for a moment or an hour, one’s fleeting existence in a world gone mad, dreaming of how, in some small way, a collective of dedicated, thoughtful individuals can make our shared time together important, influential and worthy of our tiny community. This house is our home.
This was written for those ABC housemates I’ve had the pleasure of living with, past and present: Lenny, Shawn, Margaret, Erin, Ruth, Eric, Andrew and Ben.
It’s summer. Now we can open the windows and doors… and breathe.
Original paper cut by Nikki McClure that hangs in our livingroom.