Photo: Ryan Ford

By Sam Nickerson at Emmanuel College

Last August, a small group of young adults took a radical departure from conventional living when they signed the lease for their home on Amory St. in Jamaica Plain.

All in their 20s, the group challenges the traditional concept of family by operating their home as an anarchist collective.

A collective is not just a house of people sharing food, according to member Kate Bonner-Jackson, but an “intentional community based on consensus decision-making.”

Some members are divided on whether collective living could replace the standard nuclear family home.  Stephanie Bird feels that her home is a microcosm for an ideal society.  The collective aims to do away with oppression and hierarchy in favor of a safe and equal space.  Stephanie Bird even plans to raise a child in the house due to the available support.

Boston has long been tied to alternative living, dating back to the early 19th century anarchist Josiah Warren.  The Amory St. crew is quick to mention that there are still many collectives operating in Boston, representing a diverse spectrum of ages and ideologies, and the number is quickly growing

For some members, this is their first foray into alternative living.  Others, like Lesley University graduate Jake Bison, have lived in collectives in other Boston neighborhoods.

“Living here really keeps you grounded in your ideals,” said Bison.  Most members met one another at demonstrations and through community meetings.

The collective members contribute five percent of their paychecks to a house fund, which is used to purchase food and other necessities.  On the refrigerator is a chart that assigns household chores, including vegan dinner preparation, on a rotating schedule.

Wednesday nights, they hold a house meeting where members check in with each other and discuss community events.  The house also features a library and a bike workshop.

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7 Responses

  1. Anonymous

    One of the main questions raised here, and brought up on the topic of most anarchic movements “in practice”, is simply: where is the anarchy? Where is the push for non-statehood/non-government? Aren’t small, consensus-based decisions indicative of a smaller scale government?

    At what point (in size/population) is the commune operating, effectively, under its own government? Even as it is, if it’s functional within a larger government, it’s merely a part of that system. Hierarchy is not derived from the abstract or non-human traits, it has arisen out of something innately human.

    In other words: how should this group actually define itself? And if not that question, how does it define anarchy?

    • Anonymous

      There is no hierarchy within the home. Therefore they view it as a microcosm of an anarchic society. Decisions aren’t made by certain powerful members, groups, or classes but by democratic means involving every member of the collective. Anarchism involves structures of purely democratic organization. You could call it a form of government, but it isn’t as coercive as modern states and involves direct participation by the members of the community in decisions.

      • Anonymous

        Is the end-game for ‘anarchists’ like this, then, a series of very small communes? That’s the only way I could see that sort of system working- in very, veeeeery small groups. Even then, there are issues of both the technical nature, and the philosophical.

        Not to attack, but I don’t know what you’re deriving your ideas of anarchy from. That’s not to say they’re not valid, I just can’t see eye-to-eye with phrases like, “Anarchism involves structures of purely democratic organization”. If I were to be an anarchist, red flags would go off at ‘democratic’, ‘organization’, and hell, even ‘structures’. I’m also apprehensive about the gray area involved in your points regarding the actual governmental nature of anarchy, along with the comparison of it to a “less coercive” modern state. All I would need is more clarification on what you mean by a less coercive state- why not scrap statehood all together?

        I almost feel that, in many ways, anarchism is the RESULT of a realization that structures (of both a large societal nature, human nature and a governmental nature) are oppressive to a human’s liberties. Liberty meaning choices; ability to choose. No intense examination of what liberties are is required- if a human intrudes on your choices, they impede your liberties. I guess that’s more “Rousseau-like” in its approach, but I’ve commonly felt that many anarchists relate to those readings. Liberty must be the end-game for communes like this, at leaaast in respects to the society they’re choosing to part from.

        Let me go back to one quick point- the size of these communes and the bigger picture they’re in. In theory, consensus-based decision-making, as a lifestyle, could only MAYBE exist in a small setting (e.g. this house in JP- once again, maybe). One of the main reasons for this is the aspect of voting or constant “referendums”. It is simply NOT efficient to ask each member in a society what their opinions are on each and every issue. Hence why a very small group is the only thing that could sustain such a methodology- and even then, it’s likely many, many conflicts could take away from the functionality of the commune. Before my use of functionality and efficiency is questioned, I simply mean the ability to live life, get your necessary liberties, maintain shelter, maintain social interaction, and so on. I’m not talking about the efficiency of production or anything overly progressive, just basic human needs. Constant voting, and subsequent conflict, would hinder such things. Additionally, if people give up their ability of actual, conscious choice in order to make consensus, they would be surrendering that choice-based definition of liberty.

        And one last thing. There’s a flaw with “microcosms”, especially of this nature. The fact that they are fueled by the conditions around them and the preceding conditions created by larger society. It is no doubt linked to the society/environment it is set in (one which the commune rejects, in philosophy at least- I think?). However, in a locale such as Jamaica Plain, it’s impossible to not rely on resources such as groceries, a rent-based shelter, heating, electricity, bicycles, and so on. Calling it a microcosm is the same as saying a psychological experiment, where most major variables are controlled, can be extrapolated to the whole of everything. Microcosms, as the name suggests, are small and isolated, like experiments. But once you say the experiment is a better alternative, it must face the test of non-controlled conditions.

        Could this commune survive once it leaves its microcosm/experimental phase? And if so, is it still anarchic, or even commune-istic (trying to phrase this so it’s not interpreted as Communism)? There are a lot of semantics involved, but the main point is: how do you avoid running into the same intrusions of liberties that exist in every society, large and small?

      • Anon

        The word Anarchy is derived from greek meaning “without government” or “without governance”. This is the key. You can still have a church, police etc but the rules of society are governed by the people. Some people say democracy is the ideal but when you look as the sh!t governing countries today, they are not representing the consensus of the people but are in the pockets of banking, corporate entities ans war.

        Technically, today modern society could live in a realtime anarchic society where voting on key decisions is undertaken online by all who wish to participate.

      • Anonymous

        I take it you’re new to the discussion, and not the person I last responded to. (My last response was the one at 11:27PM on Feb. 28th)

        Okay, so you’re saying in anarchy you can “still have a church, police”, etc…, but I disagree:

        I’ll start with why police cannot exist in the fundamental concept of anarchy, or even most schisms of anarchy. The function of police in society is the execution of law. Police are a more tangible version of executive power than Presidents, Prime Ministers, etc. Police are representatives/enforcers of the state, and states are recognized as being set territories with an organized governance supported legitimately by its people, and so on. The fact that police are representatives of governance directly conflicts with the definition you supplied of “Anarchy”, in that, there is supposed to be NO governance/government.

        You also stated an organized church could be included, but this simply negates the idea in anarchy which supports “absence of authority”. Divine authority, political authority, judicial authority- it does not matter. Churches are incredibly similar to government structures, and possess hierarchy. This cannot be argued otherwise from the perspective of an anarchist.

        You stated that the “rules of society are governed by the people”. This, plus your statement about having the “consensus of the people” needed, is known as direct-democracy. As you insinuated, this process, via ballots, is not efficient (you suggested using the internet instead- I’ll get to that in a minute). But even IF it were to be efficient, you run into the problem of ENFORCEMENT of the rules. In other words, a direct-democracy still would require a government, and a government implies hierarchy, or at least a loss of liberties. Even so, in a direct-democracy, the minority would be ignored (see; mobocracy). And I mean, come on- the idea of an anarchy with absolute direct-democracy is unsupported entirely by any exhibited human behavior to date.

        In addition, your point about an internet-run direct-democracy is impossible (we’re not even close to anarchy anymore). The internet has been constructed through resources established by governments, companies supported by the ‘stability’ of governance, the upkeep of infrastructure by governments/taxes, direct payment to internet providers, computers built by corporations, etc. If you’re talking about an anarchic world with the internet, that’s unrealistic as well. If you even had the ability to maintain upkeep for the internet, rules would still be instituted for the same reason they’ve shown up anywhere in history. Boom, bye-bye anarchy, hello governance/authority.

        I’m not an anarchist. I can’t tell you how to be an anarchist. I’ve yet to meet an anarchist, true to their “creed”- I don’t see how I could. If one were to exist, it’s off the land with as few human beings as possible, unknown by any state/government/outsiders. EVEN SO, hierarchy or something contradictory to anarchy would develop- somebody is stronger, somebody is faster, somebody is quicker. We’re animals, not wind-up toys.

        Most importantly, don’t let me be misunderstood. Modern societies showcase horrible cruelties and injustices. But in my opinion, anarchy movements hold motivations that could very well be more counter-productive to bettering human equality and life than they assume about themselves. I respect their passion, I really do. I see similarities to myself in many thinkers who support ideas in that realm, but I simply can’t see a justified reason for abandoning the world for a system that will eventually lead back to the same flaws, nor can I see a possible way to do it without being overridden by existing societies.

  2. nia

    a little late to seeing this article but isn’t this what we all did in out 20’s? It is called having roommates.


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