The weight of Utopia makes the air in New Harmony thick with promise, sweet with possibility. Although there are Indiana farmers born to this fertile land along the Wabash who adhere to red state politics with the same faith they till their fields, this town of 750 souls includes people from all over our nation who journey here to live in the sprit of industrious cooperation that marked the Utopian ideals of the original Rappist / Owenite settlers. New Harmony is more picturesque than most small farming towns. The state and the RL Baffler Foundation have preserved many of the historic sites and also supported impressive contemporary buildings and gardens. This has induced a steady but dedicated group of progressives to settle here.
On my night in New Harmony, a dozen or more local citizens, all transplants from somewhere else, gathered for food, drink, and conversation. Although some responded to my question directly, the nature of such groups led to more diffuse discourse. New Harmony is a community that was founded on a strong vision of tomorrow, so most any discussion here deals with the essence of my journey.
How will we live tomorrow?
“Your succinct question lays upon my mind. We are compelled to live here where we, in a microcosm, explore how we can live and extrapolate that to the larger world.” – Owen Lewis, great, great, great grandson of Robert Owen, Utopian thinker
“I was born to be here. I was labeled to a communist.” – Clement Penrose, great, great grandson of Robert Owen
“I don’t know what tomorrow will bring. But since I live in a Utopian community, I’m betting on a cure for cancer and the world will be a better place to life.” – Ken Baer, woodworker
“We’re going to live closer together. Technology is bringing us together – maybe on a collision course. This election is bringing us tight. We are shoulder to shoulder and will struggle right through it. If you put rocks in a tumbler, the sharp edges rub together. That’s what we’re doing now. I used to think that technology was divisive. Now I realize it brings things to light. Sunlight is the only disinfectant.” – Chuck Menand, retired
“I’ve always been drawn to unusual places. We are drawn to the quiet and the intellectual and the mystic. I have history here. I came here as a teenager. That draw is strong. I’ve had many moments of being terrified of this decision. Yet, sitting here, in this room, with so many interesting people, is why we’re here.
“I’ve lived in many progressive communities. Now I live here, in a community with truly different people. I look back at where I used to live and think, ‘that ironic thing, it isn’t working for us anymore.’” – Mark Chevalier, moved from Nashville with wife and three young sons one year ago
“I moved here ten years ago from Chicago, You arrive in a cloud of optimism. Now, I am more realistic. It is the most urban small town in the world. In this microcosm everything is magnified.” – Laura, artist
“We don’t live in town – town is too small and everybody is in your business. We live on a farm outside of Solitude. We like New Harmony because we don’t live in New Harmony where the Utopian society is always bumping up against the individual experience” – Bonnie Menand
“In 1971 my dad died. I got on a Schwinn and rode to Ogden Utah. I left at 170 pounds, I returned at 135. My mother died in 1993. I did 2000 miles for my dad; how many would I do for my mom? I rode from Bloomington to New Harmony. It spoke to me, I returned in 1998 and bought a house. For eighteen years every person in this town, except two who are both dead, supported me. Last year I lost my mate, but separation is not death. Everyday, I get support for that loss in this town.” – Charlie Gaston, farmer
“I have two opposed ideas in my mind. Along one road I see the progressive element moving us in a positive direction. The second route is we let the loudest people to run the show. If we don’t object, they think we agree with them.” – Amanda Chevalier
“Can we have deep, substantial discourse from different perspectives? – Mark
“That’s a threat to the capitalist process as it exists today.” – Owen
“You are assuming the human element doesn’t exist.” – Laura
“We would seek out the most altruistic voices.” – Mark
“I don’t want to live in a place where everybody thinks alike.” – Laura
“I think you’re wasting your time pedaling, you ought to run for office.” – Ken