Principles Of The UGC

Core Principles

The following are a set of principles we use to guide our work at the Underground Center. These ideas are used as a theoretical guide post and a shared language as we work through the process of fostering social change through education. These ideas will continually be applied, reflected on and transformed as we widen participation in our process. We are committed to re-examining these ideas in practice as we move toward our evolving ideals and respond to a rapidly changing world. We hope others will critically examine these ideas and if they hold true in practice, apply these ideas in their work.

It is important to recognize that we are limited by our experiences, privileges and narrow perspectives. For this reason, we avoid a dogmatic approach that moves with tunnel vision toward a rigid end. As products of the society we are working to change, we can only have a vague idea of what an ideal society looks like. To address this, our approach to change is not abrupt or violent. We continually work to align our habits with our values and reevaluate our ideals based on what we learn from our new experiences.

The ends do not justify the means. Society is a process. It is people interacting, working together, learning, growing, repeating rituals and traditions, etc. There is no separation between working to create a society and acting in society. Therefore, the process of creating collective infrastructure must also follow the principles we want to end up with.

Actively move closer to the ideal through a progression of principles as opposed to a dogmatic approach to change. A realistic way to move toward radical change is creating graded steps toward that goal, as opposed to making changes abruptly. Abrupt change is usually short lived and leads us back to where we started. Radical change without an incremental approach can alienate potential participants and prevent us from creating a social movement. By creating reachable targets to strive toward we can have successes in our process of making change. This approach sees that we are all starting from different places but can make some kind of change.

Challenge comfort zones. Real social change in uncomfortable. We must continually challenge ourselves to have the courage to move toward our ideals.

Apply principles in action and then reflect on the results. What we create together through principled action will in turn influence us. We should create and utilize structures to reflect on our work, examine the truthfulness of our principles and redefine them according to our experiences. As we grow and become more inclusive this learning process will allow us to proceed with more intelligent and informed action.

Work to change the environment rather than judging the individual. Widespread individual change will not happen without structural change. For this reason we focus on changing environments and infrastructure not just individual lifestyles.

At the core of an equitable, sustainable society is a lived understanding that all life is interconnected. We are not separate from nature or other people. Therefore, our work should foster interdependence so we can experience our interconnectedness in real ways. This will create much more intelligent and sensitive habits.

Create interdependent relationships. Interdependent relationships are when different elements rely on each other to accomplish a shared goal. It is a powerful tool for learning how to cooperate to meet shared need. Our work should create interdependent environments that organize people around a common goal. This means structuring our tasks so we have to work together to accomplish them.

Take responsibility for your needs collectively. Independence is an illusion made possible by a system that displaces the burden of our needs on the shoulders of others that remain out of sight. The most effective way of removing this burden from others is by working together to take direct responsibility for meeting our needs.

Live small and simply. It is important to live small so that we can see how we impact the world around us and thus act more responsibly with this awareness. By living small we have less obligations and thus more freedom to help others. From a design standpoint, simple systems are less wasteful, require less inputs, and have less opportunities to break or malfunction. Simple systems can also liberate people from needing to rely on experts if there is a problem. With this in mind we should continuously strive to hack away at the unessential. We should create simple ways of meeting our needs that rely on natural systems. This includes our technology, our social systems, our housing, the space we occupy, etc.

Given the scale and complexity of the challenges we face, we need people with many different perspectives and world views to collaborate in shaping this movement. Unfortunately our present society perpetuates the idea of affluent, straight white male supremacy by barring countless people from working to create a better way of life through systematic oppression and state violence. As a community that seeks to create an equitable, sustainable society, we must work to dismantle existing unjust power structures. We can do this by creating pathways for people with different backgrounds to lead the creation of collective infrastructureThe movement to build a sustainable society should be intergenerational and stretch across class lines. It should be racially, ethnically and culturally diverse. It should include indigenous people, folks across the gender and sexuality spectrum, people with disabilities, and all different types of people. In order to create an environment that fosters this kind of diversity, we need to put great effort into creating a democratic infrastructure of inclusion, informing and decision making.

Include people in decisions that will affect them. This is the essence of democracy. To avoid the dangers of paternalism, we need a decision making process that gives power across a diverse group. In other words, to create a diverse system, we need a diversity of dreamers, architects and workers.

Foster diversity in all systems. Diverse systems are more effective and resilient than homogenous ones. From genetics, to soil, to culture, having many different elements within a system is crucial to adaptation and survival. Real creativity emerges from the connection of disparate variables. By encouraging diversity in our collective infrastructure, we can open the door to more ways of knowing, increasing the potential for creative solutions.

Do not appropriate culture as a substitute to including people that embody that culture. Adopting pieces and practices from cultures without the consent of the people that embody that culture is problematic. It is insensitive to adopt cultural practices without permission. It also works to disfigure that culture in the service of maintaining the power of a dominant group. This practice of “wearing masks” can alienate the folks we hope to include.

Inclusion is an active process. An “open door policy” is not enough to create a diverse system. We have to reach out to populations we hope to include in our process of creating collective infra- structure. To do this, we must actively find pioneers and groups that can pave avenues of participation for different demographics.

Create a structured approach to learning about other social groups, the limiting affects of our privileges, and our own judgments/perceptions. If we are serious about creating a diverse means of social change, developing an organized approach to critical education is a very important part of that process. We need to understand the history of power and the origin of societal norms. We should relearn the important lessons of systematically erased cultures in order to discover tools and models for creating a more just society. Through learning about different cultures and the structural forces that influence our worldviews, we can better understand our role in the complex challenges we face while creating a non-alienating space for collaboration. This principle is not geared toward “an end” but instead is on going as there is always more we can learn.

Create educational experiences that are geared toward diverse participation. Who is involved in the education process is as important as the ideas taught. Working together to create something is a powerful way to learn about each other. For this reason, fostering educational experiences that encourage participation from people of all walks of life is very important to social change. We should design and execute projects with people who are different from us in their backgrounds, experiences and abilities.

Develop a diversity of formats for sharing information. An essential function of non- hierarchical communities is clear communication. In order to reach as many people as possible, we must create ways of communicating that do not privilege certain forms of discourse (i.e. only in English, academic writing or only using exclusive technologies like email, texting etc.).

Create tools for feedback to measure the result of our collective actions. Learning as a community about the effects of our work through feedback will allow us to create more effective strategies for achieving our goals. If we tether ourselves to results in the real world, we can make adjustments along the way that can make us more responsible in our efforts to create change.

Our approach to education uses three elements to transition into a viable society: (1) Learning the skills required to meet our needs directly from the land around us. (2) Creating cooperative, non-hierarchical ways of organizing ourselves. (3) Rebuilding the infrastructure we use to meet our needs. If we work together to create an environment where we can learn and teach important skills through building the infrastructure to meet our needs, we achieve all three objectives. This is the essence of the educational model that guides our work and the principles in this section are key guidelines for bringing it to life.

Learn by doing with others. Transforming our habits does not occur through memorizing information, it happens through hands-on experience in a social setting. Furthermore, when we work together to educate each other through lived practice, our learning is enhanced because we can immerse ourselves in an environment that encourages the habits we want.

Strive to turn everyday experiences into opportunities to educate each other. Every experience influences us, but we aren’t always aware of how. We need to be conscious of the whole message communicated by how we use and understand collective infrastructure. We should consciously shape our experiences and lead reflection on the results of our actions, both socially and physically.

Collective Infrastructure should teach, produce and serve. This is possible when we work together to create something that serves others. We should develop curriculum around producing, which will change our habits, while learning and teaching skills. By sharing what we produce we foster the habit and culture of giving.

Teach for free. One huge obstacle to social change is the lack of access to practical skills and expert knowledge. Therefore, it is a principle of ours to not commodify knowledge. A lot of time is wasted selling what we believe needs to be taught. We do not charge people for access to learn and experience important things. We realize that in urging people to stop charging for their knowledge, we must replace that income stream with ways to meet needs directly. If our educational model of learning practical skills while building infrastructure to meet needs is successful, we should be able to do just that.

Working to change society is like planting a tree that’s fruit we will never eat. It will benefit “us” in a more holistic way, at a much larger scale than we are used to thinking about. The challenge is that we are planting this tree in a world that is currently on fire. Although we are working now to create a nourishing future, we must also address the rapid destruction caused by our current society. This means working to end suffering now while carefully laying the foundation of a better society for future generations.

Focus on kids. We must socialize children with good habits or else all of our efforts at social change will fail. The seeds of the future are planted in the hearts and minds of the youth. It is our utmost responsibility to instill in children a lived understanding of our interconnectedness with each other and the natural world we are a part of. By including them in the process of building collective infrastructure, we can train them to become the courageous stewards our world needs.

Think long term. Real social change takes generations so it is critical that we employ long term thinking in all of our work. We should be thoughtful in creating infrastructure for a better world because it is critical to think about who and what it will affect over time. Additionally we must think of longevity when it comes to making choices that affect our physical and mental health.

This work is bigger than us, so our comfort should not be our compass. Instead, our work should be shaped by the projected well being of generations to come. We have to build infrastructure that is guided by delayed gratification, long term goals, and discipline. We can not use our present wants, or comfort to dictate the direction of our work. By peering into the future, we can do our best to think about the experiences we should to create now in order to facilitate the habits that will be in line with what lies ahead.

Learn history. Long term thinking extends in both directions. We should create and utilize a structured approach to learning a diversity of history in order to make smart decisions that will effect the future. It is critical to unravel ancient, evolved patterns of behavior that were formed in different social, geographical and historical contexts. We need this historical lens that projects backward as well as forward to think soberly about what intelligent action looks like.

We must act now to relieve the unnecessary suffering of others. People are suffering and actively destroying the systems that support all life right now, in the present time. The longer we wait the more damage is done. Our methods should discover creative ways to help put out the immediate fire. 

Find a balance between the urgency of acting now and the importance of taking our time. We need to learn how to compromise on our ideals without sacrificing them. It is more important to create a culture and habit of sharing than it is to get everything perfect, but if we lose sight of the ideals of a nourishing society this project will fail.

A fundamental roadblock to social justice and sustainability is a privileged system of power. Power is the ability to do things. Unfortunately, the reason we often have power is because of a long history of violent oppression that continues today through pervasive attitudes and unjust social and economic structures. Therefore, those with power have a special responsibility to use their power to help others. This means we need to let go of our conceptions of what we have “earned” and look instead at what people need. In practical terms this means we should collectivize our land, money, access to resources, and knowledge toward dismantling the power structure.

Strive to create non-hierarchical structures. The idea that some people have power over others is at the heart of our present exploitive system. In order to transition into a more just, viable system, we need to create structures that share power across a diverse group of people. Sharing power means that we must challenge our traditional concepts of ownership, government, progress, family relations, etc.

Authority should always have to justify itself. We do not hold positions of power unless they are necessary, in which case they must justify themselves continually. Structurally, power has a great potential for corruption so no one should have power “just because.” We should strive to create a culture that challenges why people hold authority. Since there is an inequality of experience, skill and knowledge, some people may be authorities on a specific topic or field, but they should not have power over others in a general sense. The difference is that someone interested in learning would be wise to listen to them, but there is no rule that says they have to listen to them.

Learn about the sources and effects of power and hierarchy. We should create a structured approach to learning about the power structures that affect everything today. We should critically examine and challenge ourselves to discover the historical roots of authority and their implications on our day to day lives. Additionally, we need to discover what positive forms of power look like. In other words, learn and practice how to use our power in nourishing ways.

Recruit help in using your power to help others. To avoid paternalism and conflict of interest, a just way to share the power we have is to include others in the process of figuring out how to use it. Instead of assuming we know what is good for other people, we should ask them.

Build shared power by collectivizing our resources toward meeting need. Use collective infrastructure to dismantle the existing unjust system of power by organizing the community to pool their resources toward meeting shared need. By meeting our needs through our own labor we can liberate ourselves from depending on the system we are trying to transform.

The system of money is a huge obstacle to social change because it forces people to commodify their work, act competitively, and it creates an incentive to unsustainably liquidate and destroy natural resources. Money divorces the relationship between our needs and how they are met by acting as a “middle man.” This resulting “need” for money makes acquiring it a priority that comes before doing work that is socially just or ecologically necessary. Ultimately the only reason we “need” money is because other people charge us for things they have. Our primary goal is to interrupt this viscous cycle by working together to meet our needs and collectivizing our resources. Although money is a source of many problems, it remains a reality that we must contend with as we steadily transition into a nourishing framework. We must create an alternative way to meet needs if we want to abandon this suicidal system.

Develop creative ways to stop using money. Share things we have, examine what we can do without money, utilize the waste stream, try to build from scratch, and avoid investing in things that will require continued monetary input. Think deeply about what we feel obligated to pay for. Figure out what is our real moral obligation and take a stand.

Share the things we “need” money for. By socializing our resources, we can spread the financial burden across more people while helping to meet the needs of the community we share it with. This is a great strategy for creating interdependent relationships.

Use provided funding from the system to cover unremovable financial obstacles. We must recognize that we are not yet an ideal society which meets the needs of the people without money. There are some things that sharing within a community can not address without overthrowing the government (i.e land taxes). Since that is not a present goal of this group, we should utilize the legal exemptions from monetary obligations provided by the state (non profits, grants, land trusts, etc.) to focus our energy on creating a sustainable alternative model. It is important to first build the habit of sharing because sharing is necessary to create an ideal economy. These structural resources to deal with money are not totally sustainable so we should not depend on them long term.

Share money itself. Ultimately “making money” takes up the precious time we need in order to build infrastructure that will allow us to meet our needs without it. As a community committed to creating a nourishing society, we should invest collectively in this infrastructure. This is not to say we should develop a donation-based infrastructure. Instead we should pool our resources, including money, to build a better society.

Don’t commodify the work of building nourishing infrastructure. As a group, we should not sell the fruits of our labor. It is far more economical to use our shared resources for helping people instead of charging them. We need to house the homeless, feed the hungry, and teach kids nourishing skills. Therefore, whatever we produce should be shared for free. Our work should also create incentives for those who do charge for what they produce to transition into a need-based economy.

A need based economy is a system of production and sharing motivated by what individuals need. The principles of a need based economy are in line with creating an equitable society because the health of this type of economy is measured by the well being of the people. Put simply, work within this system is motivated by what needs to be done. A group of people can create a need-based economy by communicating what each one needs, pooling their resources, labor and skills, then deciding how everyone can work together to use what is available in order to meet the communicated needs. This is radically different from the dominant, transactional money economy which is motivated by individual desire, competition and profit. A need-based economy has the opposite physics and is driven by socially defined needs, cooperation and well being. In this sense, the current economic system and the need-based economy we must create are mutually exclusive, presenting a challenge in the transitional period where they coexist. We must find ways to incubate a need based economy from the pressures of the dominant money system without alienating those in transition from participating.

Give what you can. We all have the ability to contribute something toward collective infrastructure. If everyone in a community gives their time, labor, and resources to meet shared need, then the needs of everyone within that community should be met. If this is not the case, then we need to increase our shared labor and resources to accomplish this.

Keep the gift moving. It is critical that we share what we have when someone needs it as opposed to storing it for when we might need it in the future. Hoarding something for a “rainy day” will undermine a need based economy by creating a false sense of scarcity, forcing people to waste labor acquiring resources already available in the community. In essence, this means we must think more globally about what everyone needs rather than just ourselves.

Establish mutually accepted guidelines that distinguish between wants and needs. In organizing as a community to meet our needs, it is crucial for us to establish what those needs are and develop ways of prioritizing them. To do this, we have to be on the same page. It is important not to use our individual preferences as the compass for dictating collective work. Satisfying needs before wants is a collective responsibility. We should look holistically at what our community needs to sustain itself and the needs of generations to come.

Keep the economy simple. If you need it, and I have it, we got it.

Protect the gift without restricting its flow. We need to protect the need based economy from the pressures of the dominant competitive system. One way we can do this is by using what the economy produces to meet the needs of the workers and sharing the surplus with the public at large. By providing benefits for those doing the work we can create an incentive for people to participate without alienating those who can not immediately collectivize everything.

There is nothing more important to the creation of a viable society than radically transforming our relationship with land. Land is where all life comes from, where all needs are met. It is not a “parcel of property,” it is everythingTherefore we must create of a way of life based on the lived understanding that to nourish land is to nourish ourselves. There are many obstacles to this work. We have to learn how to meet our needs directly from the land, move beyond concepts of land “ownership” and commodification, and evacuate people from the quickly imploding cities. We must collaborate with indigenous people and those marginalized and oppressed by the present systems throughout this process to develop just ways of power sharing. In working to discover solutions to these complex problems, we must act as guests on the land. The shape and responsibilities of this role are things we have to continuously redefine as we learn through experience and a structured approach to critical education. It will not be easy, but we must have courage and perseverance in striving to create the foundation of a just and sustainable society.

Work to meet all of our needs at a scale we can observe and experience. Seeing the entire process of meeting our needs from the land can give us a type of intelligence for understanding how our actions influence the systems that sustain us. If we can observe and experience the process of extraction, production, distribution and disposal all in the same place, we can begin to figure out more responsible ways of living that nourish instead of exploit.

Our culture should be shaped by the land, not the other way around. If we want to create a sustainable society, we need to completely imbed our culture, habits, world views, languages and ways of meeting our needs in the land we live in. If we meet all of our needs from the land, it becomes self evident we should nourish it.

Don’t assume we know what Nature needs. As products of an exploitive society, we must be mindful that we have much to learn from the land before we can assume we know what is good for it. In this sense, establishing spaces where humans do not interfere is just as important as transforming our relationship with the spaces that we inhabit.

Act as stewards of the land. In practical terms this means, reforest and care for the soil, deal with non-degradable toxic waste, block efforts to exploit and destroy the land, and any activity that will nourish and foster the health of wildlife and ecosystems. Since all of our needs are met from the land, ensuring the health and vitality of natural systems is a basic responsibility for human kind. It is all one system, so pollution anywhere is a threat to life everywhere.

Learn about who has access to land and why. The historically unjust forces that shape land settlement and acquisition are still influencing land access today and if unchecked, will continue into the future. Transforming these unjust forces is not possible without understanding them in depth which requires a commitment to educating ourselves in a structured way. Unless we make an effort to learn about the unjust roots of land access, we are liable to furthering the society we are aiming to change. If we intend to create a just society, these trends can not be ignored and must be interrupted.

Create pathways of de-urbanization. Create opportunities for people who desire to leave the city but are forced to stay there. We should develop avenues for urbanites displaced by gentrification and development to move into the countryside and learn ways of living a nourishing life with the land. Long term, the infrastructure we build should have many open doors for the refugees of the cities when the systems of exploitation fail to keep the city going.

Protect land from commodification. The conversion of land into money by means of owning, buying and selling it as “property” is in direct conflict with our efforts to foster a nourishing relationship with land. This process of commodifying land is an obstacle to our work because when individuals have the “right” to do what they want with their property, they do not need to be accountable to the greater need of people or the ecosystem. For this reason we should develop multiple strategies for preventing land from being commodified and transitioning privately owned land into collectively managed regions.

Create social checks and balances for how decisions are made about land. To counter the dangers of private ownership and power abuse, we should create ways of sharing property that are social and service oriented. We can build greater accountability by encouraging collective responsibility for deciding how land is used.

Collaborate with indigenous people to develop and implement structures of power sharing and land use. We must include indigenous people in the act of building this nourishing infrastructure while developing strategies for sharing power and repatriating land. The genocide, systematic displacement, and erasure of indigenous people did not happen two hundred years ago, it is ongoing today. Far from actually being dead, indigenous people are alive throughout the country but have made little progress in gaining access to the land that settlers displace them from. Worse yet, they are subject to disproportionate poverty. As settlers on stolen land, we can not expect to become “native” and live at peace with the earth without giving up power. We can not transform our relationship with land by assuming indigenous people no longer exist.

Reestablish indigenous people and cultures. If we are serious about creating a culture that is completely imbedded in the land, we have to radically transform our world views and cultures. Instead of reinventing past cultures, creating a patch-work of appropriated practices as settlers, we should work with indigenous people to reestablish their culture, asking them what role we should play in the process.

Conflict is an inevitable part of our existing political, social and economic realities. There is a constant need for individuals to “win” in relationships with each other in order to meet our needs and maintain a sense of self worth. Global capitalism requires dominance of the workers by those who struggle to maintain and acquire more wealth. Colonialism, structural racism and industrial exploitation require nations to perpetuate psychological and physical violence on people to maintain their unearned rights to land and resources. These competitive structures combine to create a culture where simply existing as an individual in today’s society is in conflict with someone else’s needs. Additionally, conflict is a reality in Nature. Falling out of balance with our environment and struggling to regain it, is a natural process of growth. Our approach to social change embraces this reality. It is a thoughtful way to expose habits and social structures so people must consciously address them. Social change is conflict. For this reason, it is critical to develop clear tools to address conflicts as they arise because it is inevitable in our work and day to day life. 

Conflict is unavoidable With the complexity of society and the way we meet our needs, there is no neutral position. Every way of life is political in some way. Whether we like it or not, we are in conflict with someone or something. This reality plays out as violent trends in communication as well as acting without consulting those that are affected by our actions. These ways of interacting will inevitably bring about conflict. Suppressing, denying or avoiding this reality will only lead to bigger and more drawn out conflicts in the future. 

We should interrupt injustice and face conflict Because of our awareness of the conflictual nature of society, we should work to confront it instead of using our power to stay out of its way. Uncovering our role in injustice is a critical first step, but bringing conflict to the surface when we see injustice in action and facing it directly is necessary to create a more just society. As a group, we should develop strategies to address conflict and make a commitment to face it when it arises. 

Learn productive ways of addressing conflict as individuals and a group. Bringing conflict to the surface is important, but it can also lead to violence and end up perpetuating the problem. Conflicts will inevitably arise between each other but these should be tools to grow closer and create deeper connections instead of creating permanent rifts. As individuals who respect each other, it is important that we create and use tools for conflict resolution as we struggle together to make a better world. As a group dedicated to changing society, individuals, groups and the state will likely criticize, deface and even try to destroy us and the goals we are committed to. Collectively, we should think deeply and be clear about our stance on dealing with conflict, both trivial and severe, as it arises. 

Develop mutually accepted norms of respect, language and conduct As people working together, it is critical that we develop clear ways of communicating. Putting the time to think about and document mutually agreed upon values and expectations of how we should treat each other and holding one another to those standards will be a powerful tool in keeping group cohesion and avoiding violence with people and the environment we depend on.