Dancing Rabbit Interview - Tony

Tony Sirna, one of the founders of Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, answered some questions about Dancing Rabbit and his experience. This is an abridged version of the interview. Click here for the complete interview.

BB: I know that you guys started thinking about the project when you were in school in California. What were some of the original goals that you had when starting Dancing Rabbit?

TS: In the early 90’s, there was a lot of stuff going on in the ecological movement. Global warming was really becoming apparent to those willing to accept it. It was real and it was going to be a problem and we wanted to do something about it. We wanted to do something radical. We wanted to do something that was a fundamental change as opposed to just sort of band-aid solutions. We didn’t really want to do protest work; we wanted to do something as a positive alternative. We were living in a coop, so we had this sense of cooperating in community. We had this vision - sort of like a New-England small town - as the model. The idea was that we could create this model town that was all focused on sustainability and that that would be an example that people could draw from. Making an ecological change was the first motivation and in some ways community and cooperation were sort of just an assumption because we were already living that way.

BB: How do you think you’ve done so far in terms of those goals that you set out?

TS: A lot of times people ask “Is Dancing Rabbit what you envisioned?” I would say that it’s pretty much going according to plan, except that it’s much slower than we expected. In our youthful naivety, we were like “Great, we’ll move out to the land with 20 people and then we’ll be 100 people in 5 years.” We had all these very quick goals. Both between the time it takes to integrate people socially and the time it takes to build buildings, things have progressed more slowly. Given our slow growth, in some ways I think our impact has been significant within the communities movement. A lot of people know about Dancing Rabbit. It’s not a household name yet, but in the right circles, a lot of people have heard of us. We’re getting tons of [visiting] classes and the 30 days TV show [helped]. It’s minuscule compared to the broader, wider culture, but in terms of inspiring people who are looking for an alternative, I think we are making an impact. But we haven’t yet brought down unsustainable consumer society.

BB: What would you say that you have lost by living at Dancing Rabbit rather than where you were living before?

TS: By not being in or near a major metropolitan area, you lose access to certain cultural things - whether it’s live music or dance clubs or bars or whatever. I mean, I don’t really care about bars and dance clubs but I do enjoy live music. We make some of our own here, so it’s not a complete loss. There’s a certain cultural diversity that you get in the city, just because there’s always something going on, like “I want to go see this poetry reading by this transgender disability activist.” You don’t get that in Scotland county. So it’s those kinds of cultural things that I miss out on by being in a rural location. As far as by choosing to live in community and living an ecological lifestyle, certainly I don’t go jet-setting around the world as much, but I’m pretty content here. When people are like, “what do you miss, what do you not have, or what did you give up?” I could say sometimes I wish I could play on a real ultimate team or I wish I could travel more or it was easier to see my family. The truth is if I lived in the city and I worked a mainstream job and I only got 2 weeks vacation, would I do those things? If I worked 40 hours a week? There’s other alternatives. I could make simple living choices in the city and get some of the benefits of both. But then again you’re in the city and there’s lots of concrete and here I can sit out on my front porch and see 15 different species of birds flying around just in the elm tree outside.

BB: What are some of the negative things you think you’ve avoided?

TS: It’s really nice not being embedded in consumer culture. When I go back to the city, there’s some parts where it’s like “oh, this is exciting.” But also it’s dirty; it’s smelly; you see the stuff in the shops and people spend money on the craziest things. There’s some level where I get to avoid the craziness of our wider culture. Not having a mainstream job and those pulls of - you need more money, but to make more money then you need a car, and now you need more money to pay for the car. You’ve got to keep up with the neighbors. I don’t think I would have done that necessarily, but I see that in friends who seem stuck in the system. When I see people who are making $100,000 a year and can’t make ends meet, it’s like “Wow. I make $9,000 a year and I have no trouble.” That whole dynamic - being able to choose what work I do for the most part, be my own boss, have a variety of different work - inside and outside, computer work and physical work, and having my work feel meaningful - makes a big difference. I don’t have to work for a corporation that I don’t really care about. That’s probably the nicest thing to avoid - having to work for the man.

BB: I’m curious about vision and re-vision, how often it’s revisited, how often it’s shared, how often people get to participate in that process.

TS: I think we did a good job early on in clarifying the few very key points of the vision of the community. We decided that we were going to be rural and we wanted to be a village. We set a certain standard for how ecological we wanted to be, and those things stay pretty constant. There’s a momentum behind those. We’re supposed to be the radical eco-village. How we manifest that when it’s about *your* driving or *your* concrete or whatever, that’s where sometimes it gets tricky. Every year we do a retreat and we do some visioning work in terms of what we are going to try to do in the next few years. What are we trying to accomplish? When we’re designing town center or in terms of land use planning, everyone gets a say in that. But we don’t debate the basic covenants. If someone wanted to bring that up, it would be very surprising. We were debating - do we want to extend the covenants [which exclude fossil fuel use] to include home heating, water heating and cooking, and people weren’t ready for it to be cooking because we didn’t feel like we had a good alternative to propane for cooking. The end result is that there is a clarity of vision on core principles while still allowing new people to feel not like you just have to buy into this whole system. You have to buy into these principles, and then you get to decide a lot of how that manifests. You get to be part of that process, especially in terms of cultural things. We’re constantly redefining DR culture.

BB: In what ways and how much do you think that Dancing Rabbit is integrated with the surrounding community in terms of Rutledge, as well as Scotland County?

TS: In some ways, very little - in the sense of day-to-day, we primarily see each other [within DR]. In some ways a lot. I think that we have very good relations with people in Rutledge. We go to a lot of social and civic events. We help out with things. We volunteer here and there. I think we’re well respected and people appreciate us. They use our business services, whether its websites and computer fix-its to fiddle lessons or whatever. So I think we have a pretty good reputation. We get a lot of local tours when we have our open house every year we get a couple hundred people come each year. You figure - the county’s only got 5,000 people. I’d say half of them have been on a tour of Dancing Rabbit - seems like it. People bring their relatives when their relatives come in from out of town. There are still some people who I think are either afraid of us because they think that we’re weird or that there are people who are against what we’re doing. But we don’t try and make the local people change in any sort of in-their-face kind of way. I think we are discreet enough about some of the ways that we are weird. I’m sure everyone knows that we have different social norms about clothing and we’re not all married. But there’s a lot of live-and-let-live attitude around here so we don’t put it in their face and don’t tell them that they’re not farming right, so they don’t come and tell us what they think we’re not doing right. There’s a lot of good attitude that way.

BB: Where do you see Dancing Rabbit in the “big picture?”

TS: Sometimes I see it as the most important thing in the world. My vision of the big picture is that our culture is going to change and we can be an example for inspiration and/or knowledge about how to do things differently. I don’t think we can prevent some sort of ecological/societal collapse. Dancing Rabbit can help cushion that or help people who are looking for an alternative to make that change. When the shit hits the fan, it’s going to come down on the underprivileged - the poor people - more than the rich people, and not just in the U.S., but in the rest of the world. In some ways, part of averting collapse is also hopefully averting oppression. It’s also tied in with social justice. For me it’s both for ecology in the sense of preserving ecosystems in their own right and it’s also about easing the path of society’s downfall so that it doesn’t fall on the little people so hard, hopefully giving people a voluntary alternative. When people get to change slowly, they’re OK with that. When people have to change very quickly, people don’t like that. So, if we can turn people onto the concept earlier, then they’ll feel less forced into change. That’s my theory.

BB: If you could have one thing for Dancing Rabbit - what would your fantasy next step or next acquisition be?

TS: Two things come to mind. One is having one or more people come who actually have some experience and skill and willingness to organize and lead projects. Currently there are a lot of people here who are willing to work on projects or would actually hire people to do projects but what we lack sometimes is people to be the coordinator and the organizer of a project. The other thing that came to mind was that we always envision this idea that it wouldn’t just be people coming here one at a time, that we could get a group of 6 people who all want to create a community together, people who already wanted to cooperate together. They could create another whole little cluster or whole little co-housing thing or whatever. I think that would really be a great way to grow – not one at a time, but growing by a chunk.

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