Groundswell: True Community for Queers

We visited Groundswell on Saturday September 2nd. Pulling into the driveway in late afternoon, we were greeted by llamas, alpacas, sheep, goats, and two enthusiastic working dogs. Our main interviewee, Jim Doublesnake, took us on a tour of the property.

A 186-acre property in the Yorkville highlands, an area an hour or two north of the San Francisco Bay, the Groundswell property is now a residential area and event/retreat center for queer people of all stripes, though the residents are predominantly gay men. Groundswell provides relatively affordable housing in comparison to the surrounding area, and several residents live across the property, with a few also residing in a main house.

We made our way through a flock of geese and past another housing structure, where a heart circle was being held in partnership with another local gay organization called the Billies. Eventually we found ourselves at the O-gay-sis, a gathering of pillows, mats, and decorative hangings clustered on the bank of the river that runs through the property. Doublesnake filled us in on the many roles Groundswell plays. While serving as a farm and residential area for queer and male-identified people, it also houses a non-profit, the Groundswell institute. They host numerous retreats and educational events throughout the year.

Our conversation with Doublesnake then shifted to his philosophies and experiences as an activist and a queer person. Something that stood out to me about our discussion was the way he described his process of becoming radicalized and turned off the path of mainstream living. He discussed how growing up in Oakland in a fairly diverse family exposed him to multiculturalism at a young age. His stepfather, a Japanese American man survived internment during World War II had a lot of anger over the injustice he had experienced. Doublesnake explained that seeing this anger taught hum that he did not have to simply accept injustice, but could also choose to protest what was unfair and expect and create better and more just systems and alternatives. He also discussed how his physical disability and an early understanding that he was queer helped him see early on that he was different and already stood outside of mainstream culture in some ways. He emphasized that his disability in some ways shielded him from having to be masculine, and from many of the customs we often raise boys with in the US. Finally, he mentioned that his older siblings being a part of the hippie movement also introduced him to counterculture early on. All these things helped to catalyze him and attracted towards and alternative lifestyle of activism and community-seeking. Before moving out to Yorkville, Doublesnake worked with Green Faerie Farm, an urban homestead in Berkeley.

It was interesting to me how the ways in which Doublesnake was different - from his multicultural and countercultural upbringing to his own identity as queer and disabled - were really what made the difference in his life and led him down his current path. I often think that people who are different - who have identities that are not accepted by the mainstream or have close contact with people who have these identities - are more easily catalyzed towards refusing to accept the unjust world and the mundane life they are given. When the world isn’t built for you, doesn’t like you, doesn’t make it easy for you to exist, of course you will look for alternatives.

Along the lines of alternatives, something we talked about that Groundswell is working on is how to handle the care for aging residents. Doublesnake noted that the traditional model for security in old age involves securing a lot of money and having children so that they will take care of you. “As queers, we have a low reproductive footprint, and we should take advantage of that fact.” Residents of Groundswell, and indeed many people, need alternatives to the normative model of aging. Groundswell’s current resolution is to take care of its members to the best of their ability, and with the caregivers’ consent. As long as the care elders need is within their capacity, they are prepared for aging members and hope to continue to attract a wide age range of members. “There are a few back-to-the-land feminist communities around here where some of the members are in their 70s and others are in their 80s and they’re still trying to figure out what to do. There’s no younger generation to help take care of them.” By incorporating intergenerational practices, as well as building some new spaces specifically for elder care, Groundswell hopes they can sustain their project and provide care for their elders. Doublesnake noted that the obstacle of handling retirement and the fear of being left to fend for oneself are often barriers which keep people from doing radical things.

We do want to note that within Groundswell is some serious racial and class privilege. Out of the three queer land projects we visited, Groundswell is perhaps the most well-funded, with its members being a majority of white cis-gendered men, though there are some members and residents who are people of color, trans, or otherwise identified. There is an effort to acknowledge the history of the land, and the attempted genocide and theft perpetrated on the indigenous people who once lived there. One of the board members of the Groundswell institute is an indigenous person, and Groundswell has reached out to the tribal association in the area to seek approval for their project. Doublesnake himself has begun to learn basket weaving from the Pomo people.

A final thing I enjoyed from our interview with Doublesnake was his take on hope in the work he does. He conveyed that he wasn’t confident in humans and their ability to not take the Earth and its peoples over he edge in crisis, but he believes Earth will recover once we will gone. However, he also said he couldn’t continue on without doing work to heal the world and the culture, and he seemed to want to make sure that his existence made a positive contribution to planetary and cultural wellbeing. “I am willing to start working on a 500 year plan for the recovery of this forest, which used to be old-growth redwood.” This long-haul approach retains some hope, and we walked away feeling inspired and grounded in our own radical resolution. You can check out Groundswell’s website for more information on their project, and cruise our Instagram for some more pictures!!

You can check out Groundswell’s website for more information on their project, and cruise our Instagram for some more pictures!!