Omni Commons

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= A collective space to share and commune in Oakland, California.


Please note David Bollier uses this concept in a more generic way [1]

as an integrative/integral commons organisation that operates on multiple levels at the same time.



"The simplest explanation of it: Omni Commons is an enormous old building in Temescal which is being renovated by hackers, activists, feminists, scientists, artists, educators and others who want to create a free space for building community, supporting local projects, sharing resources, hosting events, and teaching classes — but it is also much more than that." [2]


"A space in in Oakland, California collectively stewarded by a group of local, collective-process based groups. See Founding Document for governance.

From Latin omni-, "all, every, the whole, of every kind,"

Omni Oakland Commons is comprised of several Bay Area collectives. Its express purpose is to build consensus among member collectives with minimal possible bureaucracy for the administration of a common space and sharing of resources for the use and stewardship of the greater community. Each collective puts forth a delegate to participate in the consensus process.

The delegates do not to function as any sort of governing body for the groups involved in any general sense. There are no senators. Their only and sole point is to reach consensus on the use of the space, how to pay bills, resolve any conflicts between the groups in the space, interface with the state, banks, authorities and map out the logistical dissemination of the collective work needed to maintain the space as a commons open to the surrounding community." (


Julian Mark:

"Omni Commons is one of the largest and most ambitious projects for arts, science, and activism in the Bay Area. It's an effort by a group of multidisciplinary collectives to pool creative and political resources into a free public space in a building that has stood in Temescal since the 1930s. For some members, it's a solution to the out-of-control rents currently threatening the creative life of the Bay Area. For others, it's an overtly political continuation of the Occupy Movement that seeks to challenge cultural assumptions associated with capitalism. And for Temescal stalwarts and creative types, it could be a uniting force in response to the new, high-density developments.

The Omni Commons collectives include the hackerspace Sudo Room; the autodidactic university The Bay Area Public School; the bio-hackerspace Counter Culture Labs; the activist group Food Not Bombs; the celluloid film lab Blackhole Cinema; the small press Timeless Infinitely Light; and La Commune Bookstore & Café, in addition to others specializing in dance, visual art, music, health, and grassroots activism. The commons represents the most recent iteration of Bay Area counter-culture as well as an odd, startup-like manifestation of the oft-cited Bay Area culture war — one that seeks to reclaim terms co-opted by Big Tech, to challenge the "dominant culture," and to become a stronghold for arts and common folk in Oakland.


I'm at bio-hackerspace Counter Culture Labs in Omni Commons with Marc Juul, a co-founder of Counter Culture Labs and Sudo Room. The hackerspaces share a wide-open room that used to be dedicated to the Ligure Club's bocce ball courts. These days, it's filled with lab benches, test tubes, an industrial robot arm, and racks of scavenged hardware.

Juul pulls out an open PCR (polymerase chain reaction) machine. He explains that PCR machines are essentially DNA copy machines used in bioengineering to target and replicate desired strains of DNA, and that they're indispensable for genetic engineering projects. But for Juul, the fact that this PCR machine is "open" makes it something much more spectacular. It's a device he can modify, and even improve into a cheaper alternative.

He explained that the blueprint for the open PCR can be found under creative commons, meaning that anyone can download the plan from the internet and build the machine using basic tools and a bit of know-how. For Juul, an open PCR machine is an example of the potential power an ordinary person can wield if he or she has access to proper tools and knowledge. Juul noted that most advanced equipment cannot be found in the creative commons. "Most scientific equipment and academic literature is locked down and extremely overpriced — inaccessible to the public," he said.

"In order for us to work at the highest level of humanity right now," he continued, "everyone needs access to equipment ... knowledge ... skills."

This concept of open access mirrors a point of view popularized by twentieth century Italian political philosopher Antonio Gramsci, who asserted that everyone is inherently intellectual, but only some have the social privileges to realize it. That's why, Juul said, Counter Culture Labs and the other collectives at the Omni are building a "commons," a space in which everyone can have access to essential resources for learning, creating, and meeting each other, for free. "We're really trying to create a commons — not only in the sense of all these tools, but in terms of a space where the community can come in and be part of it and decide what to do with it," he said. "Not having a commons means you're reinforcing privilege in a lot of ways. But having a commons means that everyone — if they have the time and dedication — can come in and use it for whatever they want and create something."

Juul contends that Oakland doesn't have enough common space available. "Yes, there are park areas, but what are you going to do when a park is limited?"

Having come from Denmark, Juul explained that there are more public spaces — commons — there in which people can interact and share ideas. "There's a lot more positive socializing, and the intermingling of different social groups happens in these commons," he said. "And I think that's something that Oakland can really use."

Commons exist in many forms: There are intellectual commons, such as the creative commons, in which ideas, inventions, and text can be accessed free of copyright and patents; there are also digital commons, such as open source technology (Wikipedia, for example, or Linux, which gives users access to its code); and there are municipal commons, such as parks, libraries, and community centers — all of which Omni Commons seeks to resemble and expand on in some way. One can usually access these places without paying a fee. They are maintained and paid for by the pooling of resources.

Juul explained that Omni Commons also differs from a park and library because it welcomes participation. In other words, the more diverse the participants, the richer it can become. It can almost be thought of as an "open source" community center. "We're taking the ideas that have been successful in the digital realms and bring them into physical reality," he said.

At their former location, Sudo Room and the Bay Area Public School (BAPS) rented two rooms in an office space, which were connected by a dingy common area. The common area was usually filled with people waiting for the next BAPS class or Sudo meetup. These people would work on their laptops, pull a book off the shelf, or play the upright piano next to the bookshelf. A web developer might be arguing with a BAPS student about 18th century philosophy. Anybody could be there, even if they weren't visiting BAPS or Sudo. "It was almost as if Sudo Room and the Bay Area Public School were dating each other," said David Keenan, an organizer at Omni Commons. "We were different subcultures, there was a sense of possibility around sharing that common room that allowed so much stuff to go on there, which Sudo Room and the Bay Area Public School would never have on its own."

In order to create their "commons," members partake in "radical sharing." This means the sharing of tools, materials, and skills within the space. It also entails the complete relinquishment of ownership. "It's completely non-economic," said Niki Shelley, an organizer of Omni Commons and a member of the Bay Area Public School. "It's not about what you're going to get in exchange for something else; X doesn't equal Y."

Omni Commons recently received two $10,000 "innovator awards" from Kenneth Rainin Foundation, an art and science foundation, and from local clothing brand Oaklandish. The commons has also launched an Indiegogo campaign to pay for building renovations. Member collectives also pay rent — although at below-market rates. "It's a hard thing to pay a thousand a month for ... part of this space and let people use for free who don't have the same resources you have, especially when it's your stuff or my 3D printer that can be stolen or messed up," said Keenan. "That's radical sharing."

Radical sharing at the Omni is also intended to examine our culture's deep-seated relationship with money. It's an attempt to reclaim the word "sharing" from the so-called "sharing economy," which includes ridesharing services, such as Uber and Lyft; peer-to-peer home rental services like Airbnb; websites like SnapGoods that facilitate the lending of household items, including appliances, tools, and musical instruments; and enterprises like TaskRabbit and Zaarly, which are mediums for placing personal skills, such as sewing or pie making, on the market.

"The sharing economy is not about sharing," Shelley argued. "Human beings want to share, and value sharing, but the sharing economy seeks to commodify spheres of life outside of the obvious economic spheres; our personal lives are commodified every possible way. Our homes, our cars, are commodified in the name of this sharing economy."

Shelley explained that radical sharing is founded on the de-commodification of goods and relationships. "Radical sharing is based on ... the idea that what is between you and I — this relationship — is more important than the material things that either one of us possess, as opposed to a sharing economy, where the exchange of money is the most important thing."

Jenny Ryan, an organizer at Omni Commons and a member of Sudo Room, went so far to say that the term sharing has been co-opted by Big Tech. "There's a lot of buzz right now around the word 'sharing,' like sharing economy, which is bullshit," she said. "It's just another form of co-optation of what is really an essential human thing.

"I don't know how 'radical' it is, really," she added, referring to the radical sharing employed at the commons. "I guess 'radical' in the sense of getting to the root of the thing, which is just sharing — not sharing in the guise of some startup corporate bullshit."

In many ways, collectives at Omni Commons can be thought of as "anti-" or "social" startups, and the commons is their incubator for launching social and artistic enterprises. Instead of the traditional notion of a startup — a small tech business hoping to hit the jackpot — these startup "collectives" aspire to radical social change, cultural enrichment, community empowerment, and an all-inclusive society, not making money.

Shelley works part-time for a startup in San Francisco, and I asked her about the differences between collectives at the Omni and the startups she frequently encounters. She said it was more appropriate to compare Omni collectives to the original startups that were "hacking on shit in their garages. There's something about young people feeling that they don't have to go the traditional route — don't have to go to college, appeal to authority, climb the corporate ladder," she said. "There's something that feels exciting and sexy, and there's a sense of camaraderie.

"But the fundamental difference is why people are doing it and what they're doing it for," she continued. "We're not doing it for money and we're openly challenging the notion that money should dictate how we organize and the decisions we make in our lives."

But perhaps there's more to it. Walk into any co-working space in Oakland or San Francisco and you'll see that startups collectivize their resources as well, often benefiting from an ecosystem of complementary skills and ideas. In the business world, it's near-paradigmatic that an ecosystem breeds innovation. But the difference is that collectives at Omni Commons don't care about making money. Or, in the words of Korl Silver, an organizer at the commons and a member of Sudo Room, "We're like a business, but our gains are community."

And collectives at the commons that do work with technology — hackerspaces Sudo Room and Counter Culture Labs — represent an antithesis of corporate tech. Noemie Serfati, a French filmmaker who is making a documentary about Sudo Room and Omni Commons, believes Sudo Room and Counter Culture Labs are subversive precisely because they're located in the Bay Area. "The Bay Area is at the heart of an empire," she said. "Because of the tech industry, most of the power is concentrated here."

Many collectives at Omni Commons found their momentum within the Occupy Movement and seek a radical transformation of society. But instead of the "event-based" activism witnessed at Occupy, collectives at the Omni seek to build infrastructure that poses alternatives to dominant cultural values. This is done by offering a safe space for community discourse, as well as the incubation of community outreach projects.

This month, Sudo Room began hosting a collaborative coding bootcamp called the Cyber Wizard Institute. It has been described as an "un-bootcamp" or "anti-bootcamp" because it is free, collaborative, and takes in students at all levels. "Programming is currently an area where there's a lot of demand in the Bay Area, and there are a lot of folks who haven't had access to any sort of collaborative environment related to programming," Kukso said. "Most other options are expensive, and there isn't a whole lot of support for learning these skills." Indeed, many coding bootcamps in the Bay Area charge tens of thousands of dollars in fees, which can be seen as restricting access to what has become essential for finding a job in technology, let alone moving up in Silicon Valley's so-called "meritocracy." Kukso explained that Cyber Wizard Institute's mission is very much aligned with that of Sudo Room, which is to give everyday folks the opportunity to understand and create the technology in their lives. "For a lot people who consider themselves nontechnical," Kukso said, "a lot things relating to technology or coding seem mystical or secret, our perspective is ... everyone can learn these types of things."

And the Omni's diversity of disciplines allows it to come up with new and innovative methods for blending technology and arts with community outreach." (

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