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Campaign for Commons Literacy — a fresh wind of social renewal

photo of george por

george por
26th August 2011


Hello fellow commoners around the world!

Have you ever wondered why most of the world-changing ideas don’t stick, or as the Native Americans would say, “don’t grow corn?” That’s a phrase based on their philosophy of daily living, which simply means:  “If what you are doing, learning, or thinking isn’t making your life and the lives of others around you better, then why do it?”

As an unashamed but grown-wiser worldchanger, I’m fascinated by an idea that actually, “does grow corn.” As the adage goes, nothing can stop an idea whose time has come. Such an idea is of the Commons. It points to the post-capitalist, commons-based society of the future but it builds social relationships already in the present “in such a way that all those things we need to reproduce our livelihood will be shared in a fair way, and managed in a sustainable way.” (Silke Helfrich about  the Commons, at the 1st International Commons Conference in Berlin, October 2010.)

My love for the commons led me to establish with a group of associates the School of Commoning, a London-based social enterprise, earlier this year. Its ethos supports community self-organising (versus waiting passively for the government or the private sector meeting local needs). One of the definitions of the commons, which inspires our work at the School the most is this:

“The commons is the social and political space where things get done and where people have a sense of belonging and have an element of control over their lives, providing sustenance, security and independence. It gives voice to civil society and helps us to learn new social practices, imagine a political, economic and social system beyond capitalism or communism.” (Wikipedia)

We went public with the School on May 14, by launching our series of Meetings with Remarkable Commoners, where Michel Bauwens was our first guest, who talked about Governance in Worker Cooperatives, Peer to Peer (P2P) Networks, and Commons. Next, we had a very successful workshop on the democratic mobilisations in Spain and Greece, and the commons.

Our current and biggest project is the Campaign for Commons Literacy. In the first phase of the Campaign, we plan to organise two side events at the Labour Party conference on the 27th and 28th Sept. They will be the ‘Managing Local and Global Commons’ leadership seminar and ‘The Art of Commoning’ workshop. The first will be lead by James Quilligan; the second will be facilitated by the School of Commoning team, including me.

In our times of fragmented frameworks for transformation, the commons provides an approach that connects the dots of personal, communal/organisational and societal renewal. Illustrating that point will be in the centre of ‘The Art of Commoning’ workshop. (If you’re curious of the pattern that connects, ask about it; that’s one of my favourite commons subjects.)

The leadership seminar is designed to reach politicians, civil servants, academics, public intellectuals, and anybody grappling with the complex interrelatedness of the three forces of social organising and production: Market, State, and Commons. The Commoning workshop is designed to reach community organisers, social workers, student activist, members and facilitators of land-based and digital commons.

We chose the Labour party conference venue not because we are enamored by party politics but because not being in conversation with any group speaking of the Commons as the basis of good society, would be missing an opportunity to strengthen the broader movement for profound social change. Let me explain why.

If you’re not in the UK you may not be aware of something important that is happening here: inspired by the Blue Labour group of the Labour Party, a new stream of public conversations (in print and electronic media) went viral and brought the “commons as the basis of good society” into the awareness of larger number of people than ever before.

I found that phrase in the following, not less inspiring context: (Boldface added by GP)

“Ethical socialism argues that change created by the uncontrolled forces of capital destroys both the commons and the individual’s capacity for self-realisation.

These ‘commons’ include the common life, common good, common law, common wealth, the commons of the earth, ecosystems of flora and fauna, public spaces, knowledge, cultures and living matter. ?The commons is the basis of society, which is the connection of individuals to one another and the recognition of their interdependency. It is expressed in culture as a way of life. – Blue Labour blog, 15 May 2011

I think the upcoming conference of the Labour Party (in Liverpool, 25-29 Sept) will give Blue Labour a chance to go beyond being a movement of thought inspired by a group of public intellectuals, and become an emergent platform for the self-organisation of collective action inspired by and for the commons.

The initial aim of our Campaign for Commons Literacy is to make our seminar and workshop in Liverpool possible. The Campaign needs crowdfunding to give us the means to go to the conference, rent the rooms, and pay the related expenses. Whether we can make it, depends on all of you who appreciate the importance of our work and is willing to support it with donation (of even a small amount) and spreading the word about the Campaign in your networks.

Please visit our site at Indiegogo.com, where you can read a more detailed description of the Campaign, and watch our video. If what you see resonates with you, do support the Campaign, by making a contribution and/or by sharing this message, with your friends, networks, and communities, and suggesting them to get involved.

in solidarity for the Commons,

George Pór

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