Emma Goldman Finishing School (Part I), Seattle

Emma Goldman Finishing School is so far the only community we’ve visited that I didn’t find on ic.org.  We heard about them through some folks at the Food Not Lawns/Laurel Manor house in Santa Cruz — they highly recommended we visit this “social justice commune in the heart of Seattle.”  We stayed for a couple nights, and actually ended up attending an Open House for prospective community members where we gave a talk about the TTT and our travels.  So yes, now lots of cool people in Seattle know all about the Technicolor Tree Tribe, and have seen plenty of colorful pictures.

I’m going to let Emma’s speak for themselves; here are some excerpts from their excellent website (http://egfs.org/):


Founded in 1996, the Emma Goldman Finishing School is an intentional community in the North Beacon Hill neighborhood of Seattle. Formerly known as the Beacon Hill House, we changed our name in 2003.

Our community is based on the principles of societal change, egalitarianism, non-violence, ecology, simplicity, community living. Our home is a fun and supportive place to live, and it is also an institution working to build economic, political, and cultural alternatives. We see ourselves as part of a growing infrastructure designed to oppose and replace the dominant system.

As an egalitarian community, we value our labor equally. Some of us work more hours at jobs which bring in money, others work more around the house and on community projects. Regardless, we all contribute equal time. Every member is able to have all their basic needs met by the community, including food, shelter, transportation, health care, and retirement.

Currently, the community consists of eight adults and one child. While we work to maintain a gender balance and to preserve our community’s values and politics, we encourage membership in all ages, races, ethnicities, abilities, orientations, and class backgrounds.

Our economic system

The Goal

Based in our core value of egalitarianism, the goal of our economic system is to value each person’s labor equally. By taking advantage of the economies of scale that occur when a large number of people share their resources and expenses and by encouraging less consumption, we aim to reduce to a minimum the number of hours each member must devote to making a living and the number of dollars that flow into the system.

All hours are created equal

We believe that one hour of any person’s time is equal in value to one hour of anyone else’s time. We trust that each member will use their time as well as they are able, and rely on the honor system for the reportage of hours spent. We believe that clear expectations combined with a high level of trust inspires people to do their best work, and to do it–whenever possible–joyfully.

Whether we work outside the community generating income or work within the house (on things like renovation, cooking communal meals or attending meetings) each hour of our labor is valued equally, and all community members are expected to do the same number of hours per week. Different members, depending on their individual circumstances, do a different balance of income-generating and in-house labor.

One house member might do all her work in-house; another might work half his work in the house and half outside; still another might do the bare minimum of in-house labor and do the rest outside the house. The community supports them all.

How our decision making works

The whole community meets once each week, currently Monday evenings, to discuss all matters of significance to the community. We make all decisions by consensus, with facilitation duties rotating among all the members. Our goal is to equalize power so that all members have an equal voice in our discussions, and equal sense of ownership over all community decisions.

Building Community

Even though few people love long meetings, we see our weekly house meeting as an important opportunity to build cohesion, friendship and solidarity. Each meeting begins with a personal check-in so we can keep up with one another’s busy lives, and ends with a check-out where each person reflects on their experience of the meeting. It is no exaggeration to say that in our meetings we laugh, we cry, we yell, we doze off, and-not infrequently-we eat cake. Running the gamut of emotions, trading our loftiest and lowliest moments with one another, these meetings represent the pulsing heart of community life at Emma Goldman Finishing School.


In consensus decision-making, a decision is taken only when every member of the community approves it. This means that even one dissenter can block the passage of a decision. When each member has this kind of power, the whole dynamic of decision-making shifts. Decisions no longer depend on building coalitions, and counting votes, but on achieving a true unanimity of intent. This means that each person’s concerns and ideas must be accounted for, and each objection carefully considered. More often than not, much more thoughtful decisions result; and a deep sense of collaboration develops. The magic of consensus, which we have experienced countless times in our meetings, is when unity emerges from discussions that began with deep differences. This process encourages the community to look deeply into the question at hand, examine each person’s needs and concerns thoughtfully, and find the solution which works for everyone.

One Response to “Emma Goldman Finishing School (Part I), Seattle”

  1. Brian Hutton Says:

    This is the show we’re trying to bring down to Seattle’s Vermillion Gallery on Capitol Hill in August. ‘Return of the 20th Century Man’ and ‘In Their Own Words: Emma Goldman and Adolph Fischer’ 13 hours and counting on our fund-raising effort. http://www.usaprojects.org/project/20th_century_man_in_their_own_words

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