San Francisco and its surrounds have a long history of intentional communities, from the Haight-Ashbury's Kerista, the free-love commune that became Northern California's largest Apple computer dealer, to the less loving Manson Family home, just up the hill in Ashbury Heights.
Add to that list lawyer and economist Andrew Hoerner, director of research at the Oakland think tank Redefining Progress. Hoerner is aggravated with the left wing's mounting political losses, on issues from education to child poverty. So he's putting together a group with the grand plan of changing the course of national affairs — by moving in together. A dozen or so progressive activists, scholars, and professionals will live in the tentatively titled Convergence Institute for Essential Change and Sustainable Living Center, advertised as “an attractive home for grown-ups, with furniture that matches, art on the walls, a hot tub, etc.”
The place doesn't exist just yet — Hoerner plans to make an offer on a building in the next few months — but it'd be hard to fault him for pessimism. He believes that a household full of disparate liberals, from environmental activists to labor organizers, will generate ideas for how to save the floundering leftist movement. “We are specifically wanting to create an environment where people can come together, cross boundaries, and shape the next wave of progressive thought and agenda,” says prospective Convergence tenant Carla Turtle, also Hoerner's assistant.
Several locals, mostly in their 30s and 40s, have expressed serious interest in moving in, and Hoerner claims $300,000 in loan commitments. To round out the residents, they're circulating personal ad-style e-mails so politically correct they'd make a Berkeley earth mother blush: “2 [of the organizers] are white, 1 Native American; 2 are bisexual, 1 straight; 2F, 1M. Affirmatively seeking diversity in our organizing core,” reads one. “People working on economic or racial/ethnic justice at any scale especially welcome.”
In the meantime, Hoerner is practicing for what's to come by hosting “convergence dinners” of local progressives. He's also considering high-concept “future visioning process” sessions — inviting working-class people or people of color to sit in a room and imagine what an attractive, happy future world might look like. “The project is still young,” Hoerner says. “But I've been impressed by the caliber of people interested. I think we're going to make this happen.”