Emergence of a Global Commons Movement, Year Zero

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The emergence of a global commons movement, year zero

Michel Bauwens, P2P Foundation blog, November 14, 2010


With the Commons Strategies Group (David Bollier, Silke Helfrich, Bea Busaniche, and myself) and associates from the Heinrich Boll Foundation (Heike Loeschmann) and E5 (Julio Lambing), as well as a host of enthusiastic volunteers of a support committee, the first International Commons Conference was held in Berlin, November 1 and 2. It’s subtitle was: ‘Towards a Commons-based Policy Making Framework.
Though we may not have met the goal of policy making itself, I believe we can say with confidence that the meeting was a success nevertheless. Yes, the International Association for the Study of the Commons has for a number of decades done stellar social-scientific research on traditional commons; yes, we have witnessed a strong emergence of a digital commons culture and movement; and yes, we have seen a number of activist charters, mostly connected to the alterglobalization movement, being pronounced in the last few years. And yes, also, we have witnessed the first stirrings of policy-oriented commons initiatives such as David Bollier at On The Commons, James Quilligan’s Global Commons Trust, Silke Helfrich’s pioneering publishing work on the topic with the Boll Foundation. Including the work at the P2P Foundation (http://p2pfoundation.net/Category:Commons).

But the point is: these various emergent movements existed separately, did not mesh, and did not work globally on making the commons a reality in terms of politics and policy.
This then is the historical significance of the Berlin meet-up. That various branches of the commons movement, material and immaterial, met each other for an extensive dialogue, and for the most part, understood and acknowledged each other, even as many issues need to be debated and trashed out.

While a conference of this scale always has a number of glitches (the program was really over-ambitious for such a short time, though it succeeded in creating a believable framework around the main issues), and a tiny minority proved reluctant (a famous global water commons advocate refused to sit on the same panel with a digital commons hacker), most attendees entered in a open and deep dialogue, and came away with very positive experiences, re-energized. Even a number of jaded activists, who felt at times despondent about the state of activism of more traditional political approaches, felt new vistas were opening up.

So, in a nutshell, these are the achievements of the conference:

- The various constituent movements related to the commons met for the first time, entered in a serious dialogue and recognized the need for joint policy frameworks about the global commons. The wish to continue this conversation and constitute a intermeshed global movement was palpable

- Representatives of the government of Ecuador publicly committed themselves to reframe their policies in the context of the commons

The Commons Strategies Group is therefore committed to continue its work facilitating and supporting this emergence, and is in a process of consultation about the best ways of doing this.

My own feelings, not yet fully discussed within the CSG, about what needs to be done in the future are this:

- Continue the discussion with constituent groups, and perhaps strengthen the links with political ecology and ecological economics, traditional social justice movements (labour, farmers, etc..); strive for even more diversity next time

- Strengthen the representation of those movements that bridge the immaterial and material commons, such as those engaged in the global construction through open design of a new distributed manufacturing infrastructure for appropriate technology

- Find ways to interconnect policy makers and political sympathizers within legislative and policy-making bodies, around thematic areas; through a observatory, online and offline dialogue, and the identification of commons-oriented stakeholders in all domains of social life

Lots of things to do, but it is vital in terms of the re-orientation of our world from its current destructive combination of pseudo-abundance (infinite growth in limited material environments) and artificial scarcities (il-legalisation of global cooperation and innovation sharing through repressive IP laws)

The CSG would be dedicated to intermeshing the global dialogues around reframing issues around commons-oriented policy solutions.