Dear Friends of Plenty,
You’ve probably heard by now that Plenty’s founder and mentor, Stephen Gaskin passed away on July first of this year, right before our annual Plenty Board meeting. He hadn’t been directly involved with Plenty over the past few years but, without his original inspiration and vision, Plenty would not have been born. I first met him in 1968 in a church basement in San Francisco where he was holding meetings with a couple of hundred hippies on Thursday nights. Over the course of the following year these meetings grew to about 1,500 and they filled a local rock and roll hall, the Family Dog, on Monday Nights. Stephen would sit on a low wooden platform, talking without a microphone and lead a conversation related to the things we were all thinking about in those days like spirit and energy, war and peace and what could we young hippies do in a country and a world that we believed desperately needed some kind of spiritual awakening. We viewed Monday Night Class as the Continental Congress for the Second American Revolution, a revolution that would be nonviolent and motivated by love, but a real revolution in the sense that we wanted to live very differently based on our discoveries of who we were and what it means to be human. Of course, the late sixties and early seventies were traumatic times with the ever-present specter of an insane war in Vietnam and the assassinations of icons like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy. Then came the shooting of four students at Kent State by the National Guard on May 4, 1970. That was on a Monday and that night, when we were gathered in the Family Dog as usual, the voices for arming ourselves and taking it to the streets were especially loud and insistent. It truly felt like the country was on the brink of a generational civil war and Stephen played a pivotal role as a voice for peace, pointing out that, in the first place, we couldn’t win a shooting war and, most importantly, our revolution would be rendered worse than meaningless, just another sorry chapter in the immensely stupid and self-destructive cycle of violence that seemed to have forever plagued our species.
On October 12 of that year, about 200 of us headed out across America with Stephen who had been invited on a speaking tour at universities and churches and community centers and town halls. We had moved into school buses fitted out with beds and kitchens and wood stoves. The first gig was in Minneapolis. We went to New York City, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, Nashville, Boulder, CO and dozens of cities and towns in between, finally ending up back in San Francisco with the understanding that it was time to put our money where our mouth was.
The first step was to make a community where we could live together. We decided to head to Tennessee, to get away from the political noise on both coasts and where we might be able to afford land. We got lucky and found a thousand acre farm for $70/acre. In the beginning we were just learning how to farm and feed ourselves and deliver babies and deal with no running water and no electricity. We were very poor but we still felt like we had more than enough to be able to share. Because we had always been committed to effecting change in the world, the next natural step was to start Plenty. Through these early years of the Farm and Plenty, when we were pretty green and wet behind the ears and learning how to get along with each other (by 1974 when we founded Plenty there were about 600 of us) Stephen was an essential guide and I don’t think we could have made it without him. The rest is history and we actually have a book in the works (“The Roots of Plenty”) that will be out before year-end. On top of that, the Farm and Plenty are on display in the Tennessee State Museum in Nashville as part of an Intentional Communities of Tennessee exhibit until the end of November. Imagine that.
I’d like to sign off with love and a big thank you to Stephen for his courage, vision and perseverance. I want to make a special plea for our friends and colleagues, Bisi and Mahmoud Iderabdullah who manage Imani House International, which has a clinic that’s on the front lines of the Ebola epidemic in Liberia. Two of their staff have died from the disease. They need all the help we can give them. The new Bulletin is full of stories of people who inspire. They’re all on the front lines of the global campaign to make things better, to find and create solutions and to take care of others. They deserve our help.
With thanks to you from all of us at Plenty,