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Is it Time to Occupy the Commons?

Alexa Bradley
YES! Magazine / News Report
Published: Friday 2 March 2012
“Both the commons movement and Occupy spring form a shared sense of urgency about need for a different path toward the future, given the widespread human suffering and ecological destruction caused by the dominant economic system.”
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I am just back from Making Worlds, an Occupy Wall Street (OWS) Forum on the Commons consisting of workshops, presentations and discussions last Thursday through Sunday that explored the intersections of the Occupy movement and growing efforts around the world to reclaim and reinvent our commons.

If ever two emerging movements had synergy and much to offer each other, it is these two. Both the commons movement and Occupy spring form a shared sense of urgency about need for a different path toward the future, given the widespread human suffering and ecological destruction caused by the dominant economic system. The commons movement brings working models for shared resource governance. Occupy represents a highly energetic mass movement that is determined to redefine the politics and possibilities of our times.

As the Occupy movement considers how to expand the influence and energy of last fall’s uprising into thenext wave of work, it is looking at strategies for social transformation that combine a commitment to deep democracy, equitable economics, life-sustaining interdependence with the natural world, and a liberatory remaking of social relationships. It is not surprising then that the commons, as both a worldview and practical approach for sharing resources, would provide fertile ground for strategies and solutions.

Some 100 people participated in the Forum—both longtime commons proponents and others new to the ideas, people from New York and around the world, all engaging in rich and thoughtful conversation. The group was hungry to look at how the commons might offer new ways of reclaiming or creating shared resources and deeper community links, allowing us to “embody the vision of the society we want to create,” as Sylvia Federici, an activist and teacher at Hofstra University, put it.

The conversation was wide ranging with the crowd engaging enthusiastically about open source and digital democracy, water and seeds, culture and education, community/solidarity economic models, alternative banking, public assets and public space, and issues related to families, sexuality and health. Throughout the discussion speakers noted that commons of all kinds are defined by a type of social relationship in which the users of a given shared resource are also the co-creators, producers, protectors, stewards and decision makers. As Marcela Olivera, a Bolivian activist on the staff of Food & Water Watch, stated, “the commons is a social construction, not a thing. The commons will come from the doing and living of them.”

James Quilligan, of the Global Commons Trust brought this thought into a discussion about the relationship between the commons in both public and private realms. He cited the need for communities to “common” resources in either realm by reasserting their rightful claim, not just on benefit or access, but also in direct stewardship and governance. Where that is threatened, he said, “we must reclaim and negotiate in order to roll back the enclosures that deny people their livelihood, well-being and shared wealth.”

Most of the conversations expressed a belief that needed solutions will arise from the creativity and actions of people and communities, not the embattled and often bureaucratic public sector or the private sector. One of the challenges noted over the three days is the need to continually sustain the commons and the understandings and practices that are necessary to do that.

In that light, University of Southern Maine philosophy professor George Caffentzis talked about the long-standing lobster fishing commons in Maine as illustrative of what it takes to create and maintain a commons over time. He identified three conditions that make it possible to share and co-manage these fishing areas:

  • *The shadow of the future*– the recognition of ecological limits that must be respected if we are to sustain the commons;
  • The development and preservation of communal values;
  • The perpetual creation and production of the commons given that they will be under siege from both the market (privatization, individualism) and the state (bureaucratic rules rather than local decision making). These observations rang true as we looked at various commons—past and present, natural and created, vibrant and endangered.

The planners of the Commons Forum, a working group of OWS, put together a remarkable resource of writings and web links for any one interested. These are posted on their wiki at

The organizers consider this an initial exploration in what they see as an on-going dialogue within OWS about the commons and commons strategies.

Alexa Bradley is Program Director of On the Commons, where this article first appeared.

ABOUT Alexa Bradley

 Bradley is Program Director of On the Commons

Here's the URL for the Occupy

Here's the URL for the Occupy forecloses on CEO of Wells Fargo video:

I am saddened by the

I am saddened by the hostility against Occupy shown in these comments and can't quite figure out if that hostility is mainly directed at the abstract nature of this piece on social organizing theory. In point of fact, Vlasta, the occupy movement pretty much had to move out of it's tents in January, and yet continues to organize events across the country on such issues as the crisis in Bank foreclosures and the need to restore resources to public education (which is the focus of nation-wide events this weekend.) Increasingly, Occupy folk in local areas are collaborating with local constituency groups (eg: students in public universities, non-profits which specialize in affordable home issues). Actually, they have been doing this all along, but now that they have lost the encampments the level of collaboration has intensified.

Lannie: Maybe you aren't aware of all the Occupy actions that have taken place on the foreclosure issue. I agree with you that it's very important. Please take a moment to watch a short video of an anti-foreclosure action targeting the CEO of Wells Fargo in San Francisco:

How about occupying voting

How about occupying voting boots in primaries and November and get politicians who may make a difference. Additionally, how about occupying city halls and county officials during meetings when most important decisions about community lives are being made.

For this Occupy folks need to educate themselves about issues to make proper decisions, which is much more difficult than sleeping in the tents and obstructing working people from doing their jobs.

We need Tax Reform more than

We need Tax Reform more than anything in order to get our great country back to Greatness. "Tax Em Like 1938" is my motto. In 1938 we had 33 tax brackets to cover all classes of income. These brackets ranged from 4% for all income up to $64,000. all the way up to a top marginal rate of 79% for income over $79,000,000. Now that is Fair and Balanced.

Next time, Alexa, please

Next time, Alexa, please don't ignore the dead weight and bad training schools put on this.

We can enthuse as we might about the commons and Occupy movements but, meanwhile, the schools train everyone oppositely -- to the narrowest of "departments." In these imaginative silos, a few sinecured may enjoy their privileged isolation, and the reduced literacy and reduced humanity that goes with that. But they are teaching all that, for careerism, all must shear abilities & inclinations to reference outside anyone's "department."

This, Alexa, is a massive industry, corporate academe. It does massive imaginative damage. Please don't ignore it. Please account for the damages years of this have built into even enthusiasts of the commons and Occupy movements.

How about no longer turning a

How about no longer turning a blind eye to the 85% of foreclosures that are being taken by banks that not only don't own them ~ they don't even have access to the title. Once the illegal fraud is no longer allowed. The banks will then be incentivized / motivated to make Sure the modifications are made. Then and only then will the housing market begin to stabilize and even improve. Allowing the banks to have free license to lie and commit fraud is lunacy. The courts need to uphold the law. The banks have created this form of robbery to their massive benefit. Until the foreclosures are stopped and the title issues are resolved for everyone we (all of us) will not see recovery. We will see a major breakdown. Already the Federal government and individual States as well as the general population is gearing up for this. It is just amazing that no one has the will to stop it.

How is it that this is

How is it that this is happening? Are the homeowners being threatened and leaving as a result? Are they forced to leave, or leaving in ignorance because they don't realize the bank is doing this illegally?

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