What happens when a nonprofit corporation decides it wants to change its mission but poverty-level old people have built homes on the corporation's land, in accordance with its original mission? The corporation evicts the old people — without compensating them for their houses.
Stephen and Ina May Gaskin are both counterculture heroes, both recipients of the Right Livelihood Award and the Counterculture Hall of Fame Award. He's known for being the charismatic schoolbus caravan guru who started the Farm in Summertown, Tennessee, in 1972 — the longest lasting of all the intentional communities to come out of the 60s — and for his dozen books on spiritual and political topics, including Cannabis Spirituality. Ina May, author of the classic Spiritual Midwifery and a popular international lecturer, has been called "the most famous midwife in the world."
My name is Gayla Groom. I served as Stephen's assistant for eight years, ending in 2011, spending hours every day with him, often in his and Ina May's bedroom/workspace, where he worked from bed like a king. I also helped Ina May with her midwifery projects, and the three of us enjoyed an intimate and steadfast friendship.
Stephen was deposed from leadership of the Farm in 1983, although he continued to live there and be revered by most members. In 1992, he aimed to relive his ruling status by starting another community next door on 100 acres, setting up a nonprofit corporation called Rocinante (where I lived) with the intention of creating a place where old hippies could retire and eventually experience high-quality deaths. The project made little progress over the years, partly because of provisions that residents would build their own houses (or have them built) and then donate the houses to Rocinante upon their deaths. Over the years, only five houses were built, and Stephen assured residents that if they needed to sell their houses, they could.
Since residents more or less worshipped Stephen, and since Stephen was supposed to be infinitely trustworthy (an "ascended master"), no one ever asked for anything in writing, until some new folks arrived in 2010.
When I left the Farm in 2011 (a story in itself), Rocinante was in the process of drawing up deeds and community regulations to formalize the unwritten agreements that had been operating for years.
Concurrently, Stephen began dropping into senility.
The Rocinante Board of Directors at that time included Stephen and Ina May, Stephen's daughter Dana Gaskin Wenig, and Pamela Hunt, head of the Farm Midwifery School. It now includes Peter Schweitzer, executive director of nonprofit Plenty International.
With residents demanding their rights, and with me now living in Mexico and Stephen losing his memory, the Board circled their wagons and stopped talking to Rocinante residents.
I had suggested that my friend Rick build a house at Rocinante, and he spent six years doing so. In 2011, he became disillusioned with Rocinante and wanted to leave, as did the new folks who'd arrived in 2010. The Board went to extraordinary lengths to keep them from selling their houses. Apparently, the Board had decided, without consulting residents, to "stop doing the old people thing" and to instead use Rocinante for the Farm Midwifery School (thus avoiding liability issues on the Farm). Unfortunately, there were a few old people cluttering up the place, and they wanted to be paid for their houses.
By May 2011 I was back at Rocinante squatting at Rick's house through the summer, trying to help resolve the hateful situation that had developed, but since I had taken the stance that the Rocinante residents had a right to the property they had built, no one on the Board would talk to me. Stephen and Ina May reportedly told some mind-blowing lies blaming me for their errors (for instance, saying I had hidden a lawyer's letter from Stephen, when in fact I had read it to him (he's mostly blind) and we'd then had a two-hour meeting with the lawyer to discuss it). As Stephen's senility increased, he made things up out of whole cloth, and believed them, and those around him chose to believe him also, when it suited them.
There was a lot of drama over the summer, including a heated protest outside the Farm store and a contract signed by Stephen and then torn up in residents' faces by Dana Gaskin Wenig. One resident was nearly driven to suicide by powerlessness in the face of Rocinante's refusal to deal with critical issues.
Finally, in August 2011, Rick was able to sell his house, despite some world-class skullduggery from the Rocinante Board of Directors. The BOD signed a separate agreement with the buyers (specifying that they could not sell the house and that their interest in the house expired at their deaths).
But in May 2012, the Rocinante BOD sent Stephen and Ina May's son Sam Gaskin — a super-buff Brazilian street fighting champion — to evict Rick's buyers. They left, with the impression that it had been Rick who evicted them, and still owing $17,000 on the house purchase contract.
Rick found out about the eviction only when he hired a collection agency for nonpayment from the buyers. He then wrote Peter Schweitzer of the Rocinante BOD, who replied he had nothing to say to Rick.
I recently learned that on Christmas Eve 2011, Sam had similarly evicted one of the earliest Rocinante residents, who was returning, after successful surgeries, to the cabin he'd built there. He was told that his cabin was going to be used to house students of the midwifery school. When he requested compensation, he was told absolutely not. He is trying to get permission to live on the Farm, but without reimbursement for his house he doesn't have enough money to qualify.
Only one Rocinante resident remains. Her house is contractor-built (worth maybe $70,000), unlike the houses of the folks who were evicted (worth an estimated $10,000 and $25,000). She is afraid to step out of line lest she too be evicted.
Meanwhile, the Farm continues feeling good about itself as it works to better the plight of the oppressed around the world, utterly ignoring the corporation that stole everything old people built with their own sweat, the only assets they had in the world, the plank in its eye next door.