Every few weeks, I seem to give extended radio and pocast interviews about the commons, and write occasional talks and essays that find their way to the Web. Here is a quick round-up of some of my more notable recent media appearances.

Writer’s Voice on Patterns of Commoning. One of my favorite interviewers is the skilled and sophisticated Francesca Rheannon of the syndicated radio show Writer’s Voice.  In early August, she aired our half-hour conversation about Patterns of Commoning,  the book that I co-edited with Silke Helfrich that profiles dozens of successful commons around the world.

Progressive philanthropy and system change.  In June, I had an extended interview with Steve Boland, host of the podcast Next in Nonprofits. We talked about progressive philanthropy and system change, a dialogue prompted by my April essay prepared for EDGE Funders Alliance on this same topic.

The importance of public squares.  The Hartford, Connecticut, public radio show, The Colin McEnroe Show, featured me and two other guests talking about “Democracy in the Public Square," on April 28, 2016. I focused on the tension between the government as the lawful guardian of public spaces, and the moral authority and human rights of the people to congregate in public spaces.

Sep
17

2016 Sustainability Summit

A workshop presentation and discussion on "The City as a Commons," at the "Energizing and Democratizing the New England Energy Economy," organized by the New England Grassroots Environment Fund, Co-op Power and others.  Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts, 11 am to 12:15 pm.

Sep
27

Breaking Through Power Conference

Presentation, "Controlling What We Own -- Defending the Commons," at Carnie Institution building, Washington, D.C.  For more information, see conference webpage.

People constantly ask me for a definition of the commons as if a short sentence or two could begin to encapsulate the vastness and variety represented by the term “commons.”  So as a quick introduction to the many dimensions of the commons -- the inner and outer worlds to which "the commons" merely points to -- let me recommend this seven-minute film, “Seven Short Films on the Commons,”  (A thanks to Silke Helfrich for bringing this to my attention!)

The film(s) were produced by Amar Kanwar and the Foundation for Ecological Security, a leading advocacy group for the commons in India. The vignettes of each film are a lovely evocation of what the commons truly means to commoners in India. This is an important task -- naming and evoking the commons -- because governments and businesses of the modern world cannot see or generally refuse to recognize the commons. They are too focused on individuals shorn of social community, private property rights, and market growth.  

Here are the seven succinct declarations made by each short film:

1. Recognize the signature of our commons!  The film flashes words on the screen referring to things we depend upon and share without realizing it:  the air, folk dances, butterflies, playgrounds, the wind, grandma’s cure, the Internet.  The list goes on.

2. Recognize the Reciprocity of Our Commons!  The film notes how different elements of nature of which we are a part are interdependent....which leads to another point:

3. Recognize that Our Commons are a Web of Life!  

Sep
1

"David Bollier and the City as a Commons"

Amsterdam, Pakhuis de Zwijger, 8 pm. 

Why is it that American combat veterans experience the highest rates of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the world, while soldiers from other countries have far lower levels?  Amazingly, warriors of the past, such as Native Americans, rarely experienced PTSD-like symptoms.

In his new book Tribe, Sebastian Junger argues that much of the difference lies not in the individuals, but in the societies to which they return. During a war, American soldiers become deeply immersed in a life of mutual support and emotional connection.  Then they return home to a hyper-individualistic, fragmented, superficial consumer society.  The shift is just too troubling for many.  Life is suddenly bereft of collective meaning. There is no tribe.

It turns out that PTSD is not just about coping with memories of death and destruction; it is an abrupt loss of tribal ties and a resulting crisis of meaning. “When combat vets say that they miss the war,” writes Junger, “they might be having an entirely healthy response.”

“As awkward as it is to say, part of the trauma of war seems to be giving it up,” Junger insists. The intense, shared purpose in life-and-death circumstances is intoxicating and fulfilling. As one soldier told oral historian Studs Terkel, “For the first time in [our] lives….we were in a tribal sort of situation where we could help each other without fear.”

This theme was moving explored by Rebecca Solnit in her beautiful book, A Paradise Built in Hell, which describes how people show amazing empathy and help for each other in the face of earthquakes, hurricanes and wars. Londoners who lived through the Blitz during World War II don’t really yearn for the danger or death of that time.  They do yearn for the profound unity and cooperation that the Blitz inspired.   

Want an intensive introduction to the emerging “ethical economy” led by some of the most active practitioners and experts around?  Consider attending an unusual two-week study program, “Transition to Co-operative Commonwealth:  Pathways to a New Political Economy.”  It will be held from September 11 to 23, in Monte Ginezzo, Tuscany, Italy. 

The course will be hosted by Synergia, an international network of academics, social activists, practitioners and policymakers engaged in building a new political economy that is sustainable, democratic and socially just.  The course will provide a critical overview of the diverse elements of the ethical economy and the mechanisms required for its realization. 

The course will consist of lectures, workshops and site visits to leading cooperatives and commons projects in Tuscany and Emilia Romagna, home to one of the most advanced co-operative economies in the world.

Among the topics to be covered:

• Co-operative capital and social finance; alternative currencies;

• Co-op and commons-based housing and land tenure; community land trusts;

• Renewable energy; community-owned energy systems;

• Local & sustainable food systems; community supported agriculture;

Seeing Wetiko

One of the most important languages for expressing the values of the commons, I have come to realize, is art. It can often express visceral knowledge more effectively than words and give those insights a more powerful cultural reality.

Those were my thoughts when I saw "Seeing Wetiko," an “online gallery” of artworks, music and videos just released by the global arts collective The Rules.  “Artists and activists from around the world have come together in a burst of creative energy to popularize the Algonquin concept of wetiko, a cannibalistic mind virus they claim is causing the destruction of the planet,” the group announced. 

Wetiko is an indigenous term used to describe “a psycho-spiritual disease of the soul which deludes its host into believing that cannibalizing the life-force of others is logical and moral.”  The dozens of artworks on the website convey this idea in vivid, compelling ways.  The term wetiko was chosen for the project as a framework for understanding our global crisis, from ecological destruction and homelessness, to poverty and inequality.  To illustrate the scope of wetiko today, the website features a wonderful four-minute video, graffiti murals from Nairobi, carved marks from the US, a film about plastic bottle waste in Trinidad and Tobago, and a theater performance about patriarchy in India. 

The Rules is a global network of “activists, artists, writers, farmers, peasants, students, workers, designers, hackers and dreamers” who focus on five key areas needing radical change – money, power, secrecy, ideas and the commons. 

In an essay in Kosmos Journal describing the wetiko project, Martin Kirk and Alnoor Ladha, co-founders of The Rules, write:  "What if we told you that humanity is being driven to the brink of extinction by an illness? That all the poverty, the climate devastation, the perpetual war, and consumption fetishism we see all around us have roots in a mass psychological infection? What if we went on to say that this infection is not just highly communicable but also self-replicating, according to the laws of cultural evolution, and that it remains so clandestine in our psyches that most hosts will, as a condition of their infected state, vehemently deny that they are infected?"

New Report: State Power and Commoning

What changes in state power must occur for commoning to flourish as a legal form of self-provisioning and governance?  What does the success of the commons imply for the future of the state as a form of governance? 

My colleagues and I at the Commons Strategies Group puzzled over such questions last year and decided we needed to convene some serious minds to help shed light on them.  With the support of the Heinrich Böll Foundation, we convened a Deep Dive workshop on February 28 through March 2, 2016, called “State Power and Commoning:  Transcending a Problematic Relationship.” 

Now a report that synthesizes and distills our conversations is available. The executive summary of the report is published below (and also here).  The full 50-page report can be downloaded as a pdf file here.

Participants in the workshop addressed such questions as: Can commons and the state fruitfully co-exist – and if so, how? Can commoners re-imagine “the state” from a commons perspective so that its powers could be used to affirmatively support commoning and a post-capitalist, post-growth means of provisioning and governance? Can “seeing like a state,” as famously described by political scientist James C. Scott, be combined with “seeing like a commoner” and its ways of knowing, living and being? What might such a hybrid look like?

These issues are becoming more important as neoliberalism attempts to reassert the ideological supremacy of “free market” dogma.  As a feasible, eco-friendly alternative, commoning is often seen as posing a symbolic or even a political and social threat.  It is our hope that the report will help inaugurate a broader discussion of these issues.

Silke Helfrich and Heike Loeschmann deserve much credit for helping to organize the event, with assistance from Michel Bauwens. I wrote the report, and Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel have produced a beautiful publication and webpages.  Thanks, too, to the workshop participants who shared their astute insights.

Sep
2

Peer Value: Advancing the Commons Collaborative Economy

Presentation on "Reinventing Law for the Commons.  Conference is September 2-3, at City town hall, Amstel 1, Amsterdam.

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