Constructive Program (CP) is a term coined by Mahatma Gandhi to describe one of the two branches of his satyagraha (truth force), the other being some form of nonviolent resistance, such as civil disobedience, sometimes referred to as “obstructive program”. CP is a way of carrying out a struggle through community-building and self-improvement by building structures, systems, processes, and resources that are alternatives to the mechanisms of oppression and that promote self-sufficiency and inter-relatedness in the resisting community.
Though not as well known as his nonviolent resistance programs, Gandhi described civil disobedience as “an aid to constructive effort” as early as 1948, saying, “My real politics is constructive work.”
A constructive program, which is often lacking in modern non-violent resistance campaigns, helps maintain continuity of effort when direct resistance is not possible, and convinces the public and the opposition that activists are not simply disruptive but have the capacity and intent to build as well.
The Obstructive Program
Randy Kehler and Betsy Corner were among the small group which formed the Valley Community Land Trust (one of the the first in the nation in 1976) in Colrain, Massachusetts so that they could live simply and responsibly on the land amidst a supportive community.
Randy had graduated cum laude from Harvard in 1967 with a degree in government, had worked with the Harlem chapter of CORE to organize support for the 1963 March on Washington, and directed programs for inner city children in Boston. He credits Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream speech” during the March on Washington with changing his life, moving him toward an increasingly radical stance.
Taking a job with the War Resisters League in San Francisco in 1967, Randy Kehler returned his draft card to the Selective Service. As a result, he was arrested in 1969, represented himself at trial and, after appealing all the way to the US Supreme Court, served twenty-two months of a two year sentence at a federal penitentiary.
Before Kehler’s imprisonment, Daniel Ellsberg was so inspired with Randy’s account of his act of conscience against the war machine, at a 1969 Haverford College anti-war event, that he decided to copy and release what came to be known as the Pentagon Papers (which led a furious President Nixon to the Watergate scandal, which then led to Nixon’s resignation and the turning of the America public against the war).
Randy co-founded the Traprock Peace Center in Deerfield, Massachusetts in 1979, served as National Coordinator for the National Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign from 1981 to 1984, and from 1986 to 1988 he worked on the staff of the Peace Development Fund’s Exchange Program. In 1989, Randy was also one of the founders of the Working Group on Electoral Democracy to create a pro-democracy movement in the United States.
War-Tax Resistance as an Act of Conscience
Randy Kehler married Betsy Corner in 1976, and they had a daughter the following year. In 1977, the first year that they had a taxable income, Randy and Betsy decided to withhold their federal income tax as a protest against United States military expenditures and involvement in global human rights violations. The couple continued to pay state and local taxes and donated their federal tax money to various charities, some of which were undoing the damage of the US war machine.
For fourteen years, Randy and Betsy publicly refused to pay federal taxes and, as a consequence, their home was seized by US marshals and IRS agents in 1989. After finding no bidders when the house was put up for auction (dozens of alternative non-monetary bids were made as a protest), the IRS bought the house themselves and began eviction proceedings, arresting Randy and Betsy for trespassing on federal property in 1990, and again when they returned to the house following their release in 1991.
Randy’s continued refusal to cooperate earned him an additional six months in jail in Northampton for contempt of court (the authorities jailed him in another county to make protest more difficult). After a second IRS auction resulted in a single bidder at the minimum announced price of $5400, the house was sold to a the Franklins, a young couple – a part time cop and a pregnant burger flipper – in February 1992. A group of Kehler/Corner friends and supporters occupied the house for several weeks until they were forced out by the new owners on April 15, 1992 – tax day – when the young couple knew most of the protesters would be at their annual vigil at the downtown IRS office.
The irony of this prolonged federal effort to target one of the most prominent peace activists in the nation was that it cost the government a great deal more than they reclaimed from the sale of the house, and it brought unprecedented national and international attention to the normally fringe War-Tax-Resistance Movement.
A vigil was set up on the property, first on a tent platform that friends and relatives of the Franklins tried to destroy with sledge hammers, injuring one of the protesters, and then in a winterized wheeled cabin, and it was sustained continuously for more than eighteen months by various affinity groups who performed a weekly “changing of the guard”.
While the Franklins technically owned the house, all the land under and around it was owned by the non-profit Valley Community Land Trust, which refused to transfer the lease to them.
As soon as the Franklins moved in, the Valley Community Land Trust took legal actions to have them removed, since the land lease was non-transferable and the Franklins refused to pay the lease fee or in any other way cooperate. Ultimately, in 1994, after an undisclosed negotiated settlement with the Land Trust, the Franklins vacated the house. Randy and Betsy declined to move back into their beloved house, insisting that their actions were intended to protest the government’s use of their tax dollars, not to regain their property. The Kehlers currently live in a new house, built with the help of friends and supporters and owned by Betsy’s mother on an adjacent Land Trust lot. They continue to withhold their federal income taxes and have said they will never own any real property again.
The Constructive Program
While the long vigil was happening, Randy felt it was necessary to engage the community constructively as well. A core group considered the options and decided that, since the reason that the Franklins had inserted themselves into an ongoing protest movement was that there was insufficient affordable housing available in the area, we should provide a stellar example of constructing truly affordable, community-enhancing housing.
Greenfield, Massachusetts was the nearest large town and the county seat as well as the site of most of the subsidized housing in the region, but in spite of a newly-formed urban community land trust and housing coop, inexpensive housing, particularly ownership stock was rare.
Thus the core group determined to Build Our Swords into Plowshares, incorporated a non-profit organization for that purpose, informed the Greenfield Selectboard of our intentions, and began a year-long organizing and fundraising effort.
The Institute for Community Economics, the organization that created the community land trust model of cooperative land tenure, and that assisted urban and rural community groups across the country to develop them (and for which I was one of the unpaid, live-in staff when it first moved from Boston to Greenfield), donated a vacant lot next to their home/office complex, and the local housing coop and community land trust agreed to take possession of the house and land when we completed the project.
The Greenfield political machine felt they had more than their share of affordable housing for the county, and tried to put up whatever road blocks they could to our endeavor. The town building inspector, a friend of mine, told me that he was ordered by the Town Manager (who, himself, was forced by the Selectboard) to not issue a building permit. The inspector worked with me to make sure that every “t” was crossed and every “i” dotted in the application so that he would have no grounds to refuse. He issued the permit and was the only town employee who did not receive an annual raise the next year.
We expected to take a year to complete construction, after a year of organizing. I chaired the design committee and, working with Amherst architect Bruce Coldham, who was committed to both community projects and energy-efficient housing, we came up with a unique 12″ thick double-wall framing system which I continued to develop into what has come to be known as the Riversong Truss Wall. Almost all the tricks, techniques and quality-control systems I’ve used since then, I developed during the long planning and construction process for this community project, for which I was also hired as the Construction Supervisor.
It proved to be more difficult than anticipated to get skilled carpenters to volunteer on any regular basis, though we had both weekday and weekend work days. Ironically, those who considered themselves skilled were reluctant to be told how to do things or to accept another’s quality control oversight, so a number of them showed up once, never to be seen again. But hundreds of less skilled volunteers, many of whom were regulars, came through and helped move the project to completion, although over a two-year timeline, rather than the one year we had budgeted for.
From the start, we worked with the utility-based Energy Crafted Home Program, which offered financial incentives and assistance to build to their higher-than-code energy standards. As I had already been trained for their program and because this duplex would significantly exceed their efficiency standards, this was an easy addition to the idealistic goals we had already brought to the project.
Though we had to purchase most of the materials for the super-insulated duplex, I managed to arrange a discount at the local lumberyard and some materials were donated. Almost all of the labor, however, was volunteer, and we arranged the loan of a tractor backhoe and a set of foundation forms.
We built on a full foundation, waterproofed with latex Drylok masonry sealer, parged coving at the footing-foundation wall joints, and exterior perimeter drain to two basement radon-proof sumps with pumps. An interior sub-slab radon vent was brought through the roof for stack-effect venting of soil gasses, and a TuTuf vapor barrier and rigid polystyrene insulation below and at the edges of the basement slab kept the interior warm and dry. The basement was finished with a 2×6 inner walls with R-19 fiberglass, and the two units were acoustically isolated by a framing separation at floor and walls as well as cellulose sound proofing and offset electrical outlets.
The first floor band joists were inset on the foundation so that the exoskeleton of the wall trusses and the cellulose insulation could bypass that typical thermal bridge and be continuous from sill to attic.
The interior KD 2×4 walls were load bearing and braced with let-in metal T-bracing, while the exterior 2×2 frame was non-bearing and tied to the primary studs with ½” plywood gussets 24″ on center. Second storey walls were balloon-framed with let-in ledgers for ceiling joists and let-in beveled ledgers for rafters, so no rafter birdsmouth was necessary, and the rafters could be raised above the ceiling enough to provide full-depth insulation out to the eaves (R-40 walls and R-60 ceilings).
Roof overhangs were sized for both weather-protection and shading, with the second floor overhanging (garrison-style) beyond the first storey walls for protection and shading of the south windows and wall below. Soffits and ridges were fully vented and site-built hardboard insulation baffles provided a continuous ventilation cavity under the roof deck.
No sheathing was used and pre-finished Dutch lap siding was installed over Typar weather-resistant barrier (housewrap). Windows were Pella Pro-line aluminum-clad wood double-glazed casements with low-E glass and argon fill.
Floor decking and roof sheathing were pine boards. Roofing membrane was #15 felt and roofing was fiberglass/asphalt singles. Heat and domestic hot water were by gas-fired boilers with baseboard radiation.
The air/vapor barrier system was the Air-Tight-Drywall system developed in Canada in the 1970s, with polypans behind all exterior-wall or upstairs ceiling electric outlets, and plywood window & door boxes with sealed joints.
Indoor air exchange was handled by Panasonic bath exhaust fans coupled with passive fresh-air intake vents.
For personal reasons, I had to withdraw as Construction Supervisor after 18 months of non-stop work (following the year of planning, designing and organizing), but the project was brought to completion after two years of volunteer community-based construction.
By that time both the local housing coop and the local community land trust were suffering financially because of the 1990-91 recession and national housing deflation, and were unable to take possession of the land and duplex as they had agreed. Instead, Building Our Swords into Plowshares arranged to transfer both land and duplex to the regional Habitat for Humanity affiliate, which found two home-owner families to occupy the duplex, and later built an additional single-family home on the adjacent lot.
Here are pictures of the construction sequence and the details that made this project the first of its kind in the nation and the template for much of my subsequent work.
This site is my gift to you. If you find value here and are moved to reciprocate:
If you need project consultation or design services, contact me directly at
HouseWright (at) Ponds-Edge (dot) net.