Campaign for the commons at OWS

Darren mail at
Wed Dec 7 23:21:25 GMT 2011

At the first face to face meeting of Occupy Wall Street’s Campaign for 
the Commons working group, several suggestions were made. Noting that 
much of the activity of OWS was supportive of various commons – open 
source, Internet, civic engagement, and the use of public spaces – there 
was a suggestion that a broader understanding of the role the commons 
play in our society would benefit all, and that a teach-in might be an 
appropriate next step.

They invited James Quilligan, a world-renown commons thinker and 
activist, founder of the Global Commons Trust, who gave a talk recently 
in London on Managing the Local and Global Commons. He will talk about 
The Commons – A new Paradigm, at Occupy Wall Street on Dec 19.

That event may will become a milestone on the journey of the Occupy and 
Commons movement recognizing that in essence, they are one. We, at the 
Future of Occupy, will follow and share the news about that important 

Below is the reproduction of a view of the commons, put together by the 
Global Commons Trust and posted on the site of OWS’ New York City 
General Assembly.
The Commons

What are the commons?

The commons are our shared wealth without which people cannot survive 
and thrive. This wealth is comprised of common goods which we have 
inherited or created, are entitled to use, and are obliged to restore 
and pass on to our children.

What are some examples of common goods?

* Social, Cultural, Intellectual – indigenous culture and traditions, 
community support systems, neighborhoods, social connectedness, 
voluntary associations, labor relations, women and children’s rights, 
family life, health, education, sacredness, religions, ethnicity, racial 
values, recreation, silence, creative works, languages, words, numbers, 
symbols, holidays, calendars, stores of human knowledge and wisdom, 
scientific knowledge, ethnobotanical knowledge, ideas, intellectual 
property, data, information, communication flows, airwaves, internet, 
free culture, sports, games, playgrounds, roads, streets, sidewalks, 
plazas, public spaces, national parks, historical sites, museums, 
libraries, universities, music, dance, arts, crafts, money, purchasing power
* Solar, Natural, Genetic – solar energy, wind energy, tides, water 
power, oceans, lakes, springs, streams, beaches, fisheries, agriculture, 
forests, wetlands, ecosystems, watersheds, aquifers, land, pastures, 
parks, gardens, plants, seeds, algae, topsoil, food crops, 
photosynthesis, pollination, DNA, life forms and species, living creatures
* Material – the elements, rocks, minerals, hydrocarbons, technological 
hardware, buildings, inorganic energy, atmosphere, ozone layer, stratosphere

What is the interrelationship among these various commons?

The vital link is that all are necessary for our

* sustenance and livelihood
* individual expression and purpose
* social cohesion, quality of life and well-being

What distinguishes common goods from private and public goods?

* private goods are produced and sold by businesses to consumers
* public goods are regulated by governments for their citizens
* common goods are preserved or produced for the use of everyone

Why are common goods unique?

Unlike private and public goods, common goods involve

* peer participation, inclusion and cooperation
* equal access, free and fair standards, and transparency
* social creativity and innovation, mutual benefit and long-term 

Should every commons be managed?

Common goods may be local, regional and global in scope — and, of 
course, many resource areas overlap. Many commons are best left 
ungoverned, but an absence of management can lead to the overuse and 
depletion of resources — a ‘tragedy of the commons’. Although a variety 
of commons are owned and operated by the private and public sectors, in 
many cases they are not managed effectively. Various commons — seas and 
seabeds, atmosphere, outer space — are beyond the jurisdiction of the 
private and public sectors with no one to administer them.

What prevents us from immediately seeing or understanding our commons?

Since common goods are not part of our modern frame of reference or 
worldview, society is grappling now to understand their meaning. 
Although we often perceive them, we have lost the specific language for 
acknowledging and defining our traditional commons. And even for 
emerging commons like the internet, we are still developing new concepts 
and vocabulary.

How did we lose the meaning of the commons?

During the past few centuries, as physical space became increasingly 
quantified and commercialized, our mental categories for resources and 
goods were gradually oriented to that new social and economic system. 
Common goods were devalued and shrouded through

* private enclosure of property and legal enforcement
* commodification into private goods and accumulated wealth
* domination by — and dependence on — the private and public sectors

Is this changing now?

Yes. Although common goods still represent an evolutionary challenge to 
the economic and political status quo, humanity has begun to think 
differently about its commons. We are reorienting our perception of the 
world and developing new ways of understanding resources, 
interrelationships, governing structures, values and standards. This is 
creating a new consciousness around our commons.

How can a commons be reorganized and revalued?

The reorganization and recovery of a commons is a long-term process. 
There appear to be three developmental stages, including

* co-governance and co-production — communities of interest or 
stakeholders manage and create value from a commons
* social charters — stakeholders of a commons make a formal declaration 
of their rights to protect, use and produce these common goods
* commons trusts — trustees appointed by the stakeholders undertake 
legal and fiscal responsibility for the long-term preservation, use or 
production of a commons

So is this a new paradigm?

Yes. It’s the story of how we have forgotten our traditional commons and 
are now taking responsibility to reclaim and restore them. The story 
also involves the rapid development of different types of commons, many 
of which are driven by technology and social innovation. Full 
recognition of people’s rights to their commons requires a new system of 
economic exchange in which both streams of common goods — traditional 
and emerging — are preserved or created independent of commercial and 
financial pricing. In such a system

* common goods are protected to the extent possible for future generations
* some portion of these resources are rented to businesses for the 
production and consumption of private goods by the present generation
* taxes attached to the usage of a commons are redistributed by the 
state as public goods, to provide an income for those who have been 
negatively affected by the extraction and production of their common 
resources, and to repair and restore the depleted commons.

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