Speaker: Ethan Hughes

Radical Simplicity as an Act of Disruptive Peacemaking

Many years ago, Ethan Hughes and his wife, Sarah, launched a wild experiment in radical simplicity that continues to this day: no electricity, no computers, no use of anything they don’t make by hand. They use an outhouse, grow their own food, cook in solar ovens, store their canned food in root cellars, and read to their two young daughters by beeswax candlelight. “There’s just no reason to do anything that doesn’t add to your life force,” Ethan says.

What started as a personal experiment has evolved into the Possibility Alliance, an educational and service community free from fossil fuels that was created by Ethan and his family to welcome anybody and everybody interested in experiencing how to live according to practices vital to personal and planetary well-being: radical simplicity, agenda-less service, social activism, inner work and gratitude. For Ethan's family, living with radical simplicity is a means for helping unleash their own and others' gifts, to reach their spiritual potential and inspire others to do so as well, and to become the most magnanimous vessel of love they can be. Living simply is a way of embodying the deep life force possible to all.

Located first in La Plata, Missouri and then in Belfast, Maine, the Possibility Alliance to date has hosted more than fourteen thousand visitors from around the globe, from Congolese refugees to a West Coast rock band, all inspired by their mission. For Ethan, “The Possibility Alliance is about freeing us from fear’s grip, about creating resilience and pumping our fists in the air when people say, ‘I have this crazy dream.’”

Ethan’s crazy dream started when he was 13, after his father was killed in a car accident by a drunk driver, causing Ethan to question everything. In college, he witnessed firsthand the devastation of an oil spill in Ecuador, watching indigenous people scooping dead animals out of the sludge. Vowing to give up cars and travel only by bike or public transportation, he says, “My amount of joy, wonder, and love of being alive increased.”

Soon after college, Ethan unexpectedly inherited $150,000, every penny of which he promptly gave away. After he married Sarah, whom he claims is even more radical than he is, the couple spent 18 months living at the Community of the Ark, a petrol-free activist center in La Borie Noble, France. They concluded that to really embody their dream, to whole-heartedly live out their vision, they would have to create a community from scratch, and even to choose to live well under the poverty line – which they continue to choose to do, in order to be exempt from contributing to the war machine via taxation.

The Possibility Alliance was established as a 110-acre intentional community in La Plata, Missouri. For 11 years, the Alliance gave free classes in subjects including straw bale building, homesteading, wild edibles, tree pruning, permaculture, organic gardening, and civil disobedience. Everyone was welcome. Initially anticipating perhaps 200 or so visitors a year, the Alliance ended up hosting more than 10,000; and when the visitors showed up for free classes, they were met at the train station by a horse and buggy. All was offered in the spirit of gift, including the first by-donation permaculture certification in the U.S. 

In 2018, Ethan and Sarah moved the Possibility Alliance to Belfast, Maine, where they serve in their local community and also work on indigenous reparations, anti-oppression, and what may be the most important pillar of their mission: gratitude and celebration. “Our biggest question has always been, ‘How do we enjoy the revolution?’,” Ethan says. “We live off the grid but we live like kings. We play music, do puppet shows, swim in the ponds, host sledding Olympics.”

The Possibility Alliance has given away $130,000 for reparations to indigenous and black causes over the past 15 years, tithing 20 percent to BIPOC groups. In the spirit of enjoying the revolution, the Alliance also serves as International Superhero Headquarters that, among other things, organizes Superhero bike rides where Zing (Ethan’s superhero name) and some 1,200 comrades with names like “The Love Ninja” and “Radiant X” spend a month swooping into towns dressed like superheroes to offer free community service. Zing’s superheroes, whom he calls a “peace service army,” have built a library, bucked hay, cleaned city parks, and given away goats, fruit bushes, seeds, soil, and compost. At last count, they’ve donated some 70,000 hours of free community service.

Join us in conversation with this peacefully disruptive, pragmatic builder -- both of dreams and of live-off-the-land communities alike!


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