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“One Too Many Mornings” at the Technicolor Treetribe Co-Op. By Jonathan V.

September 23, 2010

It’s ten thirty-four a.m on a Saturday, when a great roar of clashing pots and ceramic plates, passionate argument and laughter fill the kitchen of the Technicolor Tree Tribe, a student-housing co-operative located near the University of Southern California. Volunteers for anti-war group Food Not Bombs, who are mostly undergraduates, prepare stir-fry, brown rice and and peach cobbler.

Behind the kitchen, a casually-clad young man carries a blue bowl of broccoli stalks, cabbage leafs and onion peels to tend to the compost in the backyard. Outside, Michaela Wagner, the de facto raconteur of the co-op, hoists a shovel above her head and then digs it into the soil at her feet. Behind her, two tan and one dark brown-feathered chicken scamper off into the distance.

Surrounded by dilapidated urban dwellings, discount market shops, holistic nutritional firms, intermittent reverberations of speeding cars, the co-op stands out. In contrast to urban life, the co-op promotes an alternative living arrangement for the socially conscious. Admittedly, Los Angeles is not home to very many intentional communities, or groups of people living together co-operatively, despite the existence of a large community and a dense-population. The co-op, then, seeks to change the mindset of competition to cooperation. As one resident put it, the co-op is unique because it provides a place where “like-minded” people live together and develop an “activist spirit.”

But most of all, the co-op promises to offer “peace, solace and community for those seeking down-to-earth and progressive-minded friends and housemates.”

The history behind the name of the co-op is inspiring. Roommates recount the tale of its formation: in a spur of the moment, Wave, one of the original members, uttered the namesake. Another member, Taylor, proceeded to draw an illustrated version with three mushrooms in the shape of three ‘T’s,’ and the rest is history. Moreover, as one delves into the annals of the Technicolor Tree Tribe history, one discovers that the modern Technicolor Tree Tribe was not always located on 28th street and Vermont, but on Orchard Street. The old-co-op lacked a proper-sized kitchen which made daily cooking a little difficult. Not to mention the old co-op had been run by a landlord who disapproved of the goals of the co-op. It, then, is not surprising why the co-op moved to recreate itself.

Indeed, as one explores the co-op, observes some of its quirks, interacts with those who run the place, it becomes increasingly clear that the city’s poverty, high crime rate, mutual Hobbesian distrust of everyone, deteriorating communal spirit and other vices do not prevent the formation of a space for “new society” within the confines of the “old.”The underlying principle is undoubtedly one of co-operation. A chore-wheel hangs on the kitchen wall informing housemates about responsibilities or vacuuming, watering the garden or feeding the cats. Conflicts are resolved by caucuses (e.g. race, gender and class) in order to discuss serious political issues to mundane issues such as rent allocation and private disputes. In order to ensure maximum respect for equality and housemate is different, the question is impossible to answer. But when asked whether the co-op is similar to a fraternity, a more assertive, well-reasoned argument emerged:

“Well, we both call ourselves “families.” We both occasionally throw big parties. We both eat meals together. We both house a lot of university students…[But] the [co-op] is different from a frat or a sorority because its goal is to create a micro-society based on equality…it strives to be a non-hierarchical, queer, feminist, anti-racist, anti-classist, consensual, environmentally-conscious, international, mind-expanding space.”

The literature of the coop spans nearly all subjects of knowledge and is accessible to anyone who seeks it, creating an environment of intellectual freedom. Two tall bookshelves occupy the living room. The first is filled with Marxian accounts of the Industrial Revolution, anti-globalization diatribes, philosophical tracts and German expressionist novels. Political stickers rest on the middle shelf and ornaments of rare, non-Western art. The second contains music and German board games such as Settlers of Catan, vegan cookbooks that teach you how to make dairy-less pastries and recently accessed books like Walden and Interviews with Chomsky.

Nevertheless, when asked whether the co-op subscribed to anarcho-primitivsm, or the idea that all technology is morally objectionable and that the simpler pre-industrial life is ideal, the response of one housemate was that most of those living at the co-op would not identify themselves as anarchists. Instead, most housemates still buy things in stores, are career-oriented, support humane animal ownership and so on. To be clear, however, no housemate supports materialism, consumerism and “modern civilization’s excessive individualism.” It is accurate to say then that the goal is to promote humane consumption and social responsibility.

Back in the kitchen of the Co-Op at twelve-fifty p.m. the volunteers maneuver past the containers of grains, book-bags and chairs toward the front entrance and ultimately to the community park to serve the prepared food. Several residents congregate near the staircase before the front door chat with those departing. Events scheduled for later range from cooking vegan quiche, silk-screening shirts and stenciling cut-out signs, bicycling and an eclectic variant of bingo for a birthday celebration.

Tani Ikeda writes a poem of the Co-Op called Flying The Coop which commemorates the idealism of the founding residents.

“They were extraordinary dreamers

I might even say bold

At a school that did not value recycling, energized football fans instead of

student protests, and only had a free speech zone open from 12-2pm

These bold dreamers decided to create a co-op….

…Because we said yes to the unknown, to our ideals, to evolving

The Technicolor Tree Tribe transformed us from people into birds

Growing our souls…”

Wagner, Michaela. personal INTERVIEW. 31 August 2010.

Address of the Co-operative:

28th Street and Vermont Avenue

Los Angeles, California 90089

Website:, search “Technicolor Tree Tribe”


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