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Brilliant Summary by David Bollier on the Essence of the Commons

Read the whole essay by David Bollier here.
I come here today as an ambassador of the commons movement – a growing international movement of activists, thinkers, project leaders and academics who are attempting to build a new world from the ground up.  It’s not just about politics and policy.  It’s about social practices and the design of societal institutions that help us live as caring, intelligent human beings in spiritually satisfying ways.

Many Americans have not heard of the commons except in connection with the word “tragedy.”  We’ve all heard the famous tragedy of the commons parable.  It holds that any shared resource invariably gets over-exploited and ruined.  Since the “tragedy meme” appeared in a famous 1968 essay by Garrett Hardin, it has been drummed into the minds of undergraduates in economics, sociology and political science classes.  It serves as a secular catechism to propagandize the virtues of private property and so-called free markets.

Thanks to the tragedy smear, most people don’t realize that the commons is in fact a success story – that it is a durable artifact of human history, that it is a way to effectively manage shared resources, and that it lies at the heart of a growing political and cultural movement.

I have been a part of this movement for the past fifteen years, writing books, blogging, organizing conferences, giving talks, writing strategy papers, working with partners and trying to raise money.  On this journey, I have discovered that the commons contains vast worlds within worlds, most of which are invisible to the Harvard-trained policy wonks who dominate Washington and the neoliberal economists from the great universities.  

The commons is in fact alive and well in countless manifestations.  It includes millions of open source software communities that have created Linux and infrastructure that powers the Internet; tens of thousands of Wikipedians who write and edit in more than 150 languages; and scientists and academics who contribute to more than 9,000 open access scholarly journals.  The Internet amounts to one of the great hosting infrastructures for the creation of commons.

The commons can be seen in irrigation collectives in Latin America; in farming ejidos in Mexico; and in coastal fisheries off Chile.  The commons is alive and well in community forestry systems in Nepal, participatory budgeting systems in Brazil, and stakeholder cooperatives in Canada.  The commons is hard at work in seed-sharing communities in India and community gardens in cities around the world.  It is powering the “collaborative consumption” that lets people share cars, apartments and tools.  The commons lies at the heart of indigenous cultures as well.  

You could say that the commons constitutes the great invisible sector of the economy and human society.  Or as Illich would have put it, the commons is vernacular culture at work.  It’s important to stress that the commons is not a resource.  It’s a resource plus a community plus that community’s particular rules and norms for managing the resource.  You could say that the commons is a socio-ecological-political-cultural paradigm and worldview.

Let me also stress that the commons movement is not a utopian or ideological project.  Nor is it about conventional politics or public policy.  The commons is mostly about building working systems for meeting everyday needsoutside of the market and state.  It is practically minded and reality-based.  It is a grassroots, do-it-yourself, take-charge-of-our-future kind of movement.  Commoners are determined to open up new social and political spaces in which people can make their own rules, negotiate their own governance, and craft solutions that are tailored to their local circumstances. - David Bollier

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