Joel and Melissa Thompson completed their relocation to Outlook, California at approximately the same time as the other persons whom Emily, Elbridge, and Diotima had tentatively selected for the cooperative community enterprise. Melissa was a CPA and quickly found a bookkeeping/accounting position with a small firm in Outlook. Joel had completed his college degree in law enforcement and had been serving as deputy police chief in Alton, Illinois before their relocation. He applied for a position with the Outlook police department, but since there was no immediate opening he took a temporary security officer job with a nearby college until a position in Outlook opened up.
All the other persons selected quickly relocated and since Elizabeth and Fred's farm house was so spacious, they invited Emily Blake, Jose Minendez, and Abraham to board with them and all three were pleased to accept. Fred and Elizabeth had the largest living room, so the group of fifteen met there for the planning and implementation of the cooperative community.
Will the Circle Be Unbroken?
Within three months all nine of the non-retired persons had settled into positions in or near Outlook. At the first meeting of the group, Emily, Diotima, and Elbridge explained how they had selected specific persons on the basis of their skills and capabilities. They had made a chart of the various skills of the group.
Cooperative Commonwealth Community
Person Primary Skill Secondary Skill
Herbal Medicine Specialist
Real Estate Specialist
High School Science and Math Teacher
Information Systems/Computer Specialist
Law Enforcement Specialist
Public Relations Specialist
Banking and Finance Specialist
Automobile and Small Engine Specialist
Fifteen highly intelligent and dynamic persons meeting to form a new enterprise constitutes an exceptionally volatile phenomenon. Fortunately, Elbridge and Diotima had training and experience in group dynamics, so they looked forward to the challenge.
"Now that you've become acquainted with all fifteen participants in the group," Diotima said, "you'll notice a few unusual features. None of you has any connection to an organized religion and all of you have progressive political and economic views. That was deliberate on our part. From our experience with persons who espouse orthodox religious views or adhere to reactionary political-economic views, we've discovered that they're invariably willing to let other persons--religious and civil authorities--do their thinking for them. And Emily, Elbridge and I realized that this cooperative community required persons who could form their own beliefs and reason to new conclusions--hence the emphasis in the training program and the personal interview on critical thinking and critical consciousness."
"Also, each of you has net holdings of a minimum of $50,000, half of which is invested in the community. Unlike the 1930s American cooperatives composed of unemployed persons who had little if any money and therefore had to barter for necessities, our cooperative community will need to purchase many necessities from the larger society: everything from auto parts to zinc ointment. We don't want to be limited in our life style to only the things we can produce in our community. We'll start at a much higher level of life and culture and evolve beyond that as we go."
"We began with the hypothesis that suitable candidates for community membership could be expected to have amassed $100,000 in assets and invest half of that in the community. When we researched the financial conditions of Americans in the twenty-first century, we discovered that, as determined by the Federal Reserve System, across all age and income groups for Americans, the 2007 median net worth was $120,300. In 2010, a person 40 years of age and making $40,000 per hear, has a median net worth of $51,575. So the requirement of $100,000 net worth for a community applicant seemed to be too high. We revised the financial requirement to $50,000 net worth and the ability to invest $25,000 in the community."You'll note, as well, that there are no children in the cooperative community as yet. This is deliberate, so we can plan for the education of the next generation as children join our group, making sure everything is well organized before the educational enterprise begins."
Emily continued. "In this first meeting of the entire group, we'd like to start with a discussion and evaluation of the procedures we used in screening and training, how we selected all of you based on skills, mind-set, attainments, and convictions."
Fred Collins stood up. "From speaking to everyone else today," he said, "it appears we're all well satisfied with the procedures you've used in bringing this group together--we agree with the idea of weeding out religious fanatics, Neanderthal ideological zealots, and dead-beats. As we go along, I'm sure we'll come up with revisions and enhancements for the screening and training procedures and criteria, but for right now these seem fine to us." All members of the group expressed their agreement with how the selection had taken place and with the major aspects of the training program: dialectical interchange, critical thinking, self-awareness, and critical consciousness.
Abraham Cole joined in. "All of us owe you two a debt of gratitude for acquainting us with the marvel of dialectical interchange which makes our meetings experiences of genuine communion and enables us to arrive at seamless consensus through illuminative dialogue. I don't think we'd have been able to create this community without this extraordinary process."
In the cooperative's later ongoing planning and implementation sessions, they hammered out precisely how they would form their commonwealth cooperative--what elements would be needed and why and when. With regard to selected enterprises, the group would become independent of the surrounding community as quickly as possible, providing those necessities within the cooperative fellowship.
For some time, however, they would continue to interchange economically, socially, and politically with local, state, and national enterprises. For example, Nina Webb would continue to work primarily at the medical clinic where she had found a position, but at the same time provide medical care for the cooperative members; the community would purchase computer equipment from American companies while developing their own material for their community Internet Website.
Since Joan and Darby White were retired and had sufficient personal income, they were tasked with devoting most of their time and effort to studying the local political, judicial, and financial system to see how they could begin to influence local activities. Melissa Thompson and Patrick Mercer were tasked with setting up a cooperative work-credit system for the group for when the time came when they could provide most of their needs within their own group.
The cooperative members agreed that one of their first community enterprises would be an educational enterprise, including elementary, high school, online college, adult continuing education components, and online information and consultation about how to form a commonwealth cooperative community. Julia Mercer and Emily Blake were put in charge of researching the creation of this community educational enterprise, including how revenues could be realized by admitting students from outside the cooperative.
Because of the deepening national economic depression, Jose and Abraham were unable initially to find much work on their own. Since their skill sets were so essential to the cooperative, it was decided that Emily would be tasked with finding viable foreclosed properties that Abraham and Jose could renovate and that the cooperative would then sell at a reasonable profit--either to outside persons or to new members of the cooperative. While the renovation was going on, the cooperative would provide room and board and a reasonable salary for Jose and Abraham.
So the first major decision the group had to make was how they would share in the expenses for room and board and equitable salary for Jose and Abraham. In the earlier training program they had all mastered the rudiments of group dialectic consensus decision-making and using that procedure the group decided that there would be a $200 monthly membership fee for the thirteen remaining members. This would cover the cost of the house renovation along with room and board and reasonable salary for the two and the cooperative would receive whatever profit there might be from the sale of the renovated houses. Fred and Elizabeth Collins would provide room and board for Jose and Abraham in lieu of the monthly membership fee.
From the beginning, the emotional atmosphere of the cooperative group was one of fellowship, all persons convinced that it was to their best interest to create a commonwealth community of like-minded, like-spirited persons. This was particularly brought home when Jose was offered a good-paying job at a local auto garage, so he petitioned the group to allow him to take that position and work part-time with Abraham on the house renovation project. When the group agreed to his request, Jose also insisted on using the money he received from his new job to repay the cooperative outlay of money for his board and room and small salary.
Elbridge had once built his own home by himself, so he worked part-time with Abraham on the house renovation project, since he enjoyed working with his hands.
Right Here in River City
It was almost to be expected that with fifteen new persons moving into a small town like Outlook, someone would notice the influx and wonder about it--other than the intrepid owner of the newspaper. Elbridge and Diotima had counseled all of the others to be as unobtrusive as possible as they moved into their new residences and their new jobs.
The Reverend Hardy Diment, pastor of the Bible Tabernacle Church, always had his nose to the ground to sniff out anything suspicious in Outlook, the town he considered his personal domain. Diment was also a part of the Guy Francesco clique, Mr. Francesco being the primary financial backer of the church. The pastor had consulted with the newspaper owner and they agreed that Diment would do some more investigating of this strange group.
Pastor Diment and his disciple/associate, Deacon Phillipe Drengle, showed up at the front door of Diotima and Elbridge's home one Saturday morning, carrying their Bibles, eager to sound out these interlopers.
"Good morning, we'd like to welcome you to our community," the Reverend Diment said in an oily tone. "I'm the Reverend Hardy Diment, pastor of the Bible Tabernacle Church and this kind gentlemen is Deacon Phillipe Drengle. We'd like to invite you to share in the communion of the spirit in our church." He seemed to twitch as he cast a deceitful glance in their direction.
Elbridge and Diotima were careful not to allow the dishonest-looking pair into their home, speaking to them on the front porch. "We have our own spiritual beliefs," Diotima said.
"Oh, really," said Pastor Diment, "and what beliefs might those be?"
"Our spiritual convictions do not include attempting to proselytize others," Elbridge remarked.
"Well, our faith demands of us that we spread the Good News to all the world," the pastor expanded his chest like a fat pigeon, "and it seems strange that any genuine religious faith wouldn't do the same."
"Thank you anyway," Diotima said, and turned back into the house. Elbridge faced the pair to make it clear that they were not welcome in their house.
The duo shuffled away, the pastor glancing back, glaring at them. He was sure this couple was up to something sinister and he intended to get to the bottom of it.
Over the next several weeks, other members of the cooperative received similar visits from the pastor and the deacon.
At a meeting of the cooperative members, they discussed what should be their response to this veiled threat. Joel Thompson had taken several Saturdays off from his university security job to follow this deceitful duo, being careful not to be observed. He noticed that the pastor/deacon twosome had also tried to proselytize some new people in Outlook who were not members of the cooperative. So the group was somewhat certain that Pastor Diment wasn't aware of the cooperative's specific membership or purposes.
Joan and Darby White had made a detailed study of the town's history by reading back issues of the Outlook Herald, the small weekly newspaper. They determined that Outlook was almost completely controlled by local real estate developer Guy Francesco and his minions, which included the mayor, city council members, the local judge, Pastor Diment, and police chief Earl Reddy. Because of graft in city government, all city departments were plagued with incompetence and corruption. Francesco and his minions had worked out a deal, among many others, whereby a big-box store would pay no taxes for thirty years, while providing a nice bribe of $100,000. Darby and Joan discovered that Guy Francesco and most of his flunkies were nominal members of Pastor Diment's Bible Tabernacle Church. The Church appeared to be a "cover" for most of the dirty dealings that went on in Outlook.
Diotima and Elbridge explained that all the towns they had examined in selecting Outlook were somewhat besieged with corruption, since criminality was endemic in the nationwide system of fascist capitalism. So the cooperative would need to weed out the corruption in Outlook while at the same time carrying on all the other activities required to build the commonwealth community.
The cooperative members decided to take precautionary measures to make sure their plans would not be disclosed before the time was right. And since the Bible Tabernacle Church appeared to be the axis of corruption in Outlook, it would receive special attention. They would initially work on two fronts, learning more about the town's political-economic power structure and examining the town's social and religious power bases.
Pastor Diment and his deacon had not visited Melissa and Joel Thompson's home, so it was decided that they would begin attending the Bible Tabernacle Church and become members to determine the power structure of the congregation. Meanwhile, Darby and Joan White would join the nearby Country Club and begin to mix with the town's upper crust. Rick and Nina Webb and Elbridge and Diotima would begin attending city council meetings to see how the power base operated.
To Chapter Three