In truth, our times don’t just require a new movement. They require a new type of movement, because the old movements and ideologies and organizations are not achieving what are needed. Too many of them are artifacts of an archaic, fading order of economics and political action. Think about it: It’s been more than three decades since we first learned that science had confirmed the reality of climate change. The 2008 financial meltdown – 15 years ago! -- revealed the arrogant power of global finance and capitalism – and yet the liberal state still has not significantly reformed those financial structures.
Guilford, CT — A thousand people gather on the Green, sharing umbrellas and straining to hear the valedictorian above the thunderstorm. She’s talking about the Green, a sixteen-acre park at the center of town where townspeople get together for concerts, picnics and the annual high school graduation. The speaker does not mention that we are sitting over bodies interred in the seventeenth century, for the Green has served other purposes: At various times it’s been a burial ground, a marching ground, a grazing ground and even a campground for townsfolk who lived too far from church to make it to town and home in the same day.
Most care services use a ‘Deliveroo’ service model: Individual care workers deliver care as if it were a package to another individual's home. These care workers have no connection to that person's wider support network, their neighbourhood or community. They also have no freedom or control over their day-to-day work. This amounts to a service that provides care independently from the support networks embedded in people’s local communities; any collaboration with these support networks in service delivery is generally incidental to a services organisation rather than a direct consequence of it. This is OK if you really are delivering a package, as all you need is a postcode; it is not OK when you are providing care.
The dialogue provoked by this workshop is timely and necessary because so many of the certitudes of political economy and culture are slowly crumbling before our eyes. It's fair to say that so many grand narratives of our time -- about citizenship, freedom, property rights, economic growth, and theories of value – have been called into question these days. Existing institutions and categories of thought aren't working so well. On the one hand, few people want to talk about structural change and necessary alternatives lest it open a Pandora's Box of monsters and chaos.
Oakland, California - Shortly after the opening of Tassafaronga Village, a renewed 7.5-acre community in East Oakland, the Acta Non Verba: Youth Urban Farm Project put down roots in the adjacent park. Founder Kelly Carlisle had been looking for a place to start a community farm and was inspired by the bright new neighborhood. After returning to East Oakland, where she’d spent some of her youth, as an adult, she was on the lookout for a place to make a local impact and seized on the opportunity presented by the new housing. Her nonprofit farm project – named after the Latin phrase for “actions, not words” – set out to invest in youth through urban agriculture, creating a secure and creative outdoor space for East Oakland’s youth and families.
The idea that the Ganges River in India or the Amazon Basin in Brazil should have "legal personhood" – and thus be able to defend its interests in court – was considered zany only ten or fifteen years ago, at least in Europe and North America. Now this once-fringe legal concept is going mainstream. Legislatures or courts in twelve countries have recognized the "rights of nature" at the state, local, and/or national levels in a dozen nations. In the United States alone, some three dozen communities –from Pittsburgh and Toledo to Orange County, Florida (population 1.5 million people) – have enacted such laws, often with overwhelming public support.
How do we mediate our relationship with water? Those in areas with unquestioned and sufficient supply may have issues with affordability and cleanliness. But in dryer parts of the country — and the world — more fundamental challenges with the allocation of scarce water are coming increasingly to the fore. In New Mexico, the reality of scarcity pits an Indigenous perspective of water as part of the commons against a Western worldview that is centered in a system of individual property rights. These two perspectives are colliding with ever greater intensity and higher stakes. On the one side there is a deep history of traditional water systems, bringing wide support from the Indigenous community, local food and water supporters, and religious and environmental groups.
Water is not, and has never been, a standalone issue. Over the past 20 or 30 years, in a context of increasing concern with access to water in terms of quality, particularly in the global south, there has been an extraordinary amount of activism around water: access, struggle, ownership, etc. What has that done to systematically change the configuration of access to water? Almost nothing. Clearly the highly triaged and uneven access and distribution of water is a major issue. It’s the number one cause of premature mortality in the world. Poor access to water is a concern that many activists share. Something has to be done. But the focus on the specificity of the issue is politically stifling.
Many years ago I was intrigued to learn of an art institute in the Netherlands, that formally declares its mission to be "working for the commons." That's how the Casco Art Institute in Utrecht presents itself to the world. Their tagline immediately raises questions about how exactly arts and commoning are related, and how an art institute might enter into the world of commoning. I decided to learn more by inviting Binna Choi, Director at the Casco Art Institute, to join me in a podcast conversation for Frontiers of Commoning (Episode #35). Binna, a native of South Korea who has led Casco since 2008, curates artistic work for major exhibitions and was a faculty member of the Dutch Art Institute. She has been a curator or artistic director for the Singapore Biennale 2022, the Gwangju Biennale 2016, and the upcoming Hawai'i Triennial 2025. Choi has brought the ethic and practices of commoning to the creation of art and its exhibition.
For African-American farmers -- afflicted by the legacy of slavery, racism, and land theft -- the struggle for emancipation has not been easy. I was therefore excited to learn about Jubilee Justice, a fledgling project that is trying to reclaim farmland for BIPOC farmers and secure their economic livelihoods. Besides embracing cooperatives and community land trusts, Jubilee Justice is dedicated to an open-source, climate-friendly type of rice farming and to courageous "transformational learning journeys" for racial healing. You can learn more about these experiments in commoning in my interview with Konda Mason on the latest episode of my podcast Frontiers of Commoning models of restorative economics and finance.
Even though the oceans cover 70% of the Earth's surface and provide half the oxygen we breathe, they tend to be "out of sight, out of mind," especially in landlocked nations or regions. It's therefore important to recognize that the market/state system is hard at work ravaging this sector of the natural world, too. Industrial-style fish trawlers are overexploiting fisheries, pushing many to the brink of collapse, and mining companies are chewing up the ocean floor in search of oil, gas, nickel, cobalt, manganese, and rare-earth minerals.
Through the organization Fashion Act Now, a growing band of dissident fashionistas want to make the clothing industry more ecologically responsible, relocalized, and culturally in sync with this moment in history, especially with respect to climate change, economic justice, and decolonialization. This means greatly reducing the industry's resource and energy use, and moving away from hyper-consumerist "fast fashion" business models that generate colossal waste and ecological harm. My podcast interview with Arnold and Niessen is a spirited, often surprising conversation. It's not often that I've heard the words "fashion," "biodiversity" and system-change" uttered in the same sentence.
United Kingdom - There are thousands of community-powered initiatives in action across the UK. Projects to bring broadband to a rural place that wasn’t expecting it to arrive for years, generate renewable energy, or make the most of treasured local spaces or assets. Schemes to deliver addiction services, protect neighborhoods from natural disasters, or manage social housing in an equitable way. In none of these have the communities in question needed supervision from the state or transactions with big businesses.
The American people own most of the wealth – private and public – and most of the information in the country. The top one percent do not. The American people have most of the power in the country. The top one percent do not. These assertions may surprise you, because the top one percent and the giant corporations work overtime to control what you own. This means they do not have to seize what you own so long as their control provides them with both riches and power over you.
Basic services like water, energy, health care and education build the foundation for healthy, just and sustainable communities. All over the world, citizens, public authorities and labour unions have been mobilising to bring these vital services and infrastructures back into public hands after a period of privatisation, where financial profit was put before social need and communities’ wealth. A new generation of public organisations is emerging to provide the basis for livelihoods in sustainable, democratic and affordable ways.