Commoners Descend on Chieri, Italy, for Major Festival

Italians once again took the vanguard in advancing the commons paradigm by hosting a three-day festival in Chieri, a town of 60,000 people on the outskirts of Torino, Italy.  The International Festival of the Commons featured films, musical performances, video exhibits, lectures, panel discussions, food and drink, and lots of enjoyable conversation.

I think festivals are a fantastic way to bring together both deeply committed commoners and ordinary citizens who are just looking for a fun time with a dash of politics and education. The festival attracted hundreds of townspeople who strolled through city parking lots converted into concert spaces, and listened intently to public talks and debates about the commons. 

Jurist and politician Stefano Rodota, a prominent Italian politician who has pioneered the idea of a human right to “common assets” (things needed by everybody), spoke one evening to a packed crowd about “the commons as between solidarity and fraternity.” 

A performance at the International Festival of the Commons, Chieri, Italy.On another evening, seed activist Vandana Shiva – fresh from a series of protests against GMOs at a major food expo in Milan – spoke about the commons as living systems that should not be commodified and sold. To the great satisfaction of an audience of about 600 people, she noted that Italy is one of the few places that still produces juicy, tasty tomatoes; the rest have been so modified by agribusiness to suit global commerce that they amount to biological cardboard. Shiva did a great job of showing how the commons is not an academic abstraction, but a language for explaining why so many aspects of daily life are being degraded and how enclosures dispossess us.

In a series of public presentations and discussions in Italian (alas, no translations into English), the event convened some of the leading Italian theorists of the commons, such as Rodotà, cultural theorist Antonio Negri, law scholar Ugo Mattei and jurist Gustavo Zagrebelsky. There was also French philosopher Pierre Dardot, author of a major theoretical work on commons in French.  For a special evening of entertainment, Brazilian musicians Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso performed for about 2,500 people.  Gil has a storied history as an artistic dissident, an early champion of the Creative Commons licenses, and the Minister of Culture under President Lula.

I found time to talk about the blockchain ledger and the future of “digital autonomous organizations” for a panel on the digital future. I also introduced the Italian translation of my Think Like a Commoner (La Rinascita dei Commons, published by Stampa Alternativa) to a group of people interested in the political implications of the commons. I also participated in a workshop led by Francophone commons activist Frédéric Sultan on the proliferating charters for urban commons, which are attempting to give citizens more power to self-govern themselves and bypass city bureaucracies.

Even though many elements of the festival eluded me because I don't know Italian, a lot of the festival required no words. One evening a troupe of cello players called “10% of 100 Violoncelli” performed in the main venue. The performers were part of the larger group of 100 young musicians who had performed memorably at Teatro Valle in Rome during its long occupation by commoners, 2001-2014. The audience loved their passionate commitment -- to the music, and to social solidarity in the face of enclosure. Festivals like this have a way of memorializing such history, and for opening up new possibilities.