My name is Jeffrey Harris. I grew up living in Chicago and Atlanta, moving back and forth as my father searched for a tenured position in academia. I went to alternative elementary schools of various flavors, a one room schoolhouse with 10 kids, a Montessori school, etc. I had a pretty comfortable childhood. I played with LEGOs, (I had thousands of dollars worth when I finally sold them to buy a computer), I played around with computers. I read anything I could get my hands on, especially science fiction. I sang a bunch, I was a member of the Chicago Children’s Choir from the time I was 8 ’til I was 18. I learned whatever math my schools were willing to teach me.
In eighth grade I made the transition from alternative schools to Kenwood, a mainstream public school in Chicago, where I was very bored, except for the AP history and English classes that I took, and the math classes the University of Chicago let me take because Kenwood didn’t teach any math after calculus. I learned to play basketball, because it wasn’t really an option not to. In the process, I shed a small part of my nerdy self-image. I participated in lots of math competitions, which were fun but ridiculously competitive, which excited me for a while, but eventually turned me off.
I went to college in Ann Arbor, primarily because I was interested in living in the student co-ops there, also because their math and physics were pretty good. After a few years in college, I realized that I didn’t really want to pursue math as a profession. I switched to physics, and loved it. Still, the competitive emphasis and profligacy of the entire university environment began to really bother me.
Meanwhile, I was loving the student co-ops. I became president of my house, and sat on the board of directors. It was all really exciting, being a part of something so different and so much better than the mainstream. I was astonished and delighted to discover that consensus as a decision making process could work, and work well. But my delight began to wear off as I realized that the Ann Arbor Co-ops just weren’t radical enough for me, something about catering to the needs of college students, an already ridiculously privileged group, didn’t sit right with me.
From the time I was little, I was very interested in social justice, but I was pretty numb to the problems I knew existed, because I saw no possible solution, other than maybe building spaceships and starting anew somewhere that didn’t already have overpopulation. While living in the co-ops, I began reading Noam Chomsky and radical eco-anarchist literature, and I started to believe that a solution to many of humanity’s problems could be reached. I started to get turned on to ecology. I’d been turned off by ‘the ecology movement’ in elementary school when I saw people advocating only band aid solutions that ranged from plans that were, at best, of very little use, like recycling big polluting corporations’ soda bottles, to things that were really only cosmetic, like collecting garbage and putting it in nice new plastic bags.
I was at a pretty painful place in my life, I’d just broken up with my girlfriend of 5 years, and all my plans seemed turned inside out. I was filled with anger at the university system and at the American economic system. As my dissatisfaction with the system I was in increased, I began dreaming about setting up a free, alternative university based on the principle that learning should take place throughout our lives, it shouldn’t be separated so much into work and school. The only way I could figure out to make my dream a reality was to go make lots of money in corporate America.
I’d always thought communes were dead, so I got really excited one day when my friend Anjanette told me different. I was telling her about my dream of setting up an ecologically minded anarchist university and bemoaning the death of communes, and she interrupted me to say that no, communes weren’t dead, she had friends living on a big one called East Wind, and that in fact she’d heard of this place called Dancing Rabbit that sounded just like what I was talking about.
When I finally looked up DR, I was pretty ecstatic. Consensus decision making, a vehicle co-op, an egalitarian community, finally something as radical as I wanted to be. When I came for my first visit I knew I wanted to live here.
I became a member of DR in August, ’98, and I’m really happy. Since one summer when I had a job taking apart on old building, I’ve dreamed of building my own house, and that’s becoming a reality here. I hope to set up a choir here, I’ve been delighted by the frequent sing alongs that happen spontaneously, but I miss really polishing songs and performing them. Another dream I have is to set up internet based co-op to satisfy a variety of needs. And, of course, one day I hope to have an alternative university here at DR.