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Archive for 'Activism'

Face It, Your Politics Are Boring As F-ck

photo of Stacco Troncoso

Stacco Troncoso
30th November 2015


Great commentary from Nadia C. from crimethinc.com, subsequently adapted by FilmsforAction.org. Alnoor Ladha from The Rules forwarded this to us, and it reminded me of this must-watch skit by the late, great Gil Scott Heron.

You know it’s true. Otherwise, why does everyone cringe when you say the word? Why has attendance at your discussion group meetings fallen to an all-time low? Why has the oppressed masses not come to its senses and joined you in your fight for world liberation?

Perhaps, after years of struggling to educate them about their victimhood, you have come to blame them for their condition. They must want to be ground under the heel of capitalist imperialism; otherwise, why do they show no interest in your political causes?

Why haven’t they joined you yet in chaining yourself to mahogany furniture, chanting slogans at carefully planned and orchestrated protests, and frequenting radical bookshops and websites? Why haven’t they sat down and learned all the terminology necessary for a genuine understanding of the complexities of our global economic system?

The truth is, your politics are boring to them because they really are irrelevant. They know that your antiquated styles of protest—your marches, hand held signs, and gatherings—are now powerless to effect real change because they have become such a predictable part of the status quo. They know that your political jargon is off-putting because it really is a language of mere academic dispute, not a weapon capable of undermining systems of control.

They know that your infighting, your splinter groups and endless quarrels over ephemeral theories can never effect any real change in the world they experience from day to day. They know that no matter who is in office, what laws are on the books, what “ism”s the intellectuals march under, the content of their lives will remain the same. They—we—know that our boredom is proof that these “politics” are not the key to any real transformation of life. For our lives are boring enough already!

And you know it too. For how many of you is politics a responsibility? Something you engage in because you feel you should, when in your heart of hearts there are a million things you would rather be doing? Your volunteer work—is it your most favorite pastime, or do you do it out of a sense of obligation? Why do you think it is so hard to motivate others to volunteer as you do? Could it be that it is, above all, a feeling of guilt that drives you to fulfill your “duty” to be politically active?

Perhaps you spice up your “work” by trying (consciously or not) to get in trouble with the authorities, to get arrested: not because it will practically serve your cause, but to make things more exciting, to recapture a little of the romance of turbulent times now long past. Have you ever felt that you were participating in a ritual, a long-established tradition of fringe protest, that really serves only to strengthen the position of the mainstream? Have you ever secretly longed to escape from the stagnation and boredom of your political “responsibilities”?

It’s no wonder that no one has joined you in your political endeavors. Perhaps you tell yourself that it’s tough, thankless work, but somebody’s got to do it. The answer is, well, NO.

You actually do us all a real disservice with your tiresome, tedious politics. For in fact, there is nothing more important than politics. NOT the politics of American “democracy” and law, of who is elected state legislator to sign the same bills and perpetuate the same system. Not the politics of the “I got involved because I enjoy quibbling over trivial details and writing rhetorically about an unreachable utopia” activist. Not the politics of any leader or ideology that demands that you make sacrifices for “the cause.” But the politics of our everyday lives.

When you separate politics from the immediate, everyday experiences of individual men and women, it becomes completely irrelevant. Indeed, it becomes the private domain of wealthy, comfortable intellectuals, who can trouble themselves with such dreary, theoretical things. When you involve yourself in politics out of a sense of obligation, and make political action into a dull responsibility rather than an exciting game that is worthwhile for its own sake, you scare away people whose lives are already far too dull for any more tedium.

When you make politics into a lifeless thing, a joyless thing, a dreadful responsibility, it becomes just another weight upon people, rather than a means to lift weight from people. And thus you ruin the idea of politics for the people to whom it should be most important. For everyone has a stake in considering their lives, in asking themselves what they want out of life and how they can get it. But you make politics look to them like a miserable, self-referential, pointless middle class/bohemian game, a game with no relevance to the real lives they are living out.

What should be political? Whether we enjoy what we do to get food and shelter. Whether we feel like our daily interactions with our friends, neighbors, and coworkers are fulfilling. Whether we have the opportunity to live each day the way we desire to. And “politics” should consist not of merely discussing these questions, but of acting directly to improve our lives in the immediate present. Acting in a way that is itself entertaining, exciting, joyous—because political action that is tedious, tiresome, and oppressive can only perpetuate tedium, fatigue, and oppression in our lives.

No more time should be wasted debating over issues that will be irrelevant when we must go to work again the next day. No more predictable ritual protests that the authorities know all too well how to deal with; no more boring ritual protests which will not sound like a thrilling way to spend a Saturday afternoon to potential volunteers—clearly, those won’t get us anywhere. Never again shall we “sacrifice ourselves for the cause.” For we ourselves, happiness in our own lives and the lives of our fellows, must be our cause!

After we make politics relevant and exciting, the rest will follow. But from a dreary, merely theoretical and/or ritualized politics, nothing valuable can follow. This is not to say that we should show no interest in the welfare of humans, animals, or ecosystems that do not contact us directly in our day to day existence. But the foundation of our politics must be concrete: it must be immediate, it must be obvious to everyone why it is worth the effort, it must be fun in itself. How can we do positive things for others if we ourselves do not enjoy our own lives?

To make this concrete for a moment: an afternoon of collecting food from businesses that would have thrown it away and serving it to hungry people and people who are tired of working to pay for food—that is good political action, but only if you enjoy it. If you do it with your friends, if you meet new friends while you’re doing it, if you fall in love or trade funny stories or just feel proud to have helped a woman by easing her financial needs, that’s good political action.

Perhaps it is time for a new word for “politics,” since you have made such a swear word out of the old one. For no one should be put off when we talk about acting together to improve our lives. And so we present to you our demands, which are non-negotiable, and must be met as soon as possible—because we’re not going to live forever, are we?

1. Make politics relevant to our everyday experience of life again. The farther away the object of our political concern, the less it will mean to us, the less real and pressing it will seem to us, and the more wearisome politics will be.

2. All political activity must be joyous and exciting in itself. You cannot escape from dreariness with more dreariness.

3. To accomplish those first two steps, entirely new political approaches and methods must be created. The old ones are outdated, outmoded. Perhaps they were NEVER any good, and that’s why our world is the way it is now.

4. Enjoy yourselves! There is never any excuse for being bored . . . or boring!

Join us in making the “revolution” a game; a game played for the highest stakes of all, but a joyous, carefree game nonetheless!

Note: this article has been adapted from its original


Posted in Activism, Collective Intelligence, Culture & Ideas, P2P Action Items, P2P Lifestyles, Politics | No Comments »

Ten billion reasons to demand system change

photo of Rajesh Makwana

Rajesh Makwana
30th November 2015

With the release of a refreshingly pessimistic science-based documentary that connects human development with the global ecological crisis, there is even more reason for concerned citizens to take to the streets in unprecedented numbers to demand a radical shift in government priorities.

Has the international community left it too late to prevent runaway climate change and widespread ecological degradation? Does the typical citizen and career politician have the inclination to accept the severity of the ‘planetary emergency’, let alone make the lifestyle changes and policy decisions needed to address it? And can the upcoming UN climate negotiations in Paris really signal an end to the unregulated dumping of carbon emissions, or mark a shift away from the business-as-usual approach to economic development?

These are among the many troubling questions that emerge when watching a new documentary written and presented by one of the world’s foremost scientists, Professor Stephen Emmott. The film –  Ten Billion –  draws on a bewildering array of statistics to paint a grim picture of humanity’s future prospects on Planet Earth. As the title suggests, the narrative emphasises the overwhelmingly destructive impact that human ‘progress’ is having on the natural world, especially as the global population heads towards the ten billion mark at the end of this century. Given the ongoing failure to reduce population growth and curb ever-increasing levels of consumption, Professor Emmott argues that governments appear to be completely incapable of adopting a more sustainable socio-economic model, even in the face of an impending ecological catastrophe.

Notwithstanding its bleak message, this is a powerful and compelling documentary that can help raise much-needed awareness about the environmental dimensions of the planet’s interconnected crises. It’s therefore a film that (like many others) should be compulsory viewing at this critical juncture in human evolution. While the style of the documentary is reminiscent of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, the Professor’s presentation takes the form of a theatrical performance rather than a public lecture, and the director Peter Webber has made full use of cinematic special effects and graphical illustrations to add context and a genuine sense of drama to the final cut.

There is much in the film to commend, including the way that a wide range of complex and interrelated issues are considered through the lens of humanity’s endless appetite for material consumption. However, many environmentalists will (rightly) be perturbed by Professor Emmott’s brief but notable statement in support of nuclear energy as the only pragmatic short-term solution to the energy crisis. Others might berate him for suggesting that the fear of reaching ‘peak oil’ is unfounded: he makes the undeniable point that new and plentiful reserves of oil are being discovered regularly, and that there is little sign that oil companies will want to shift away from fossil fuel production in the foreseeable future.

A broader concern is that the film lacks a robust political analysis of the structural injustice and unequal power relations that are the true cause of our environmental and social ills. For example, central to any discussion about ecological overshoot must be the recognition that the richest 20% of the world’s population are responsible for 80% of all consumption. But there is little emphasis on how unfettered consumerism in industrialised countries poses the real ecological threat, and not population growth in the Global South. Nor is there any mention of the role that neoliberal capitalism or the ceaseless pursuit of economic growth and corporate profit plays in maintaining a highly unsustainable global economic system. And despite framing the crisis as a ‘planetary emergency’ only fleeting attention is paid to the reality of world poverty and life-threatening deprivation, which is a substantial oversight given that 4.2 billion people are struggling to survive on less than $5 a day and 17 million people die needlessly every year – mainly in developing countries.

As well as failing to explore these critical systemic issues, Professor Emmott offers no guidance for those who (having been moved by his presentation) might want to get actively involved in an environmental cause, and he purposefully avoids presenting a vision of how the ecological crisis should be addressed. On the contrary, he scorns the argument often put forward by so-called ‘rational optimists’ that we can “technologise” our way out of these problems; he dispels the notion that politicians and UN conferences are capable of implementing the policy changes that are now so urgent; and he suggests it is unlikely that the general public will ever be willing or able to change their consumption habits.

With no vision of hope or tangible solution offered at any point in his presentation, the audience is left somewhat bereft by the end of the documentary. Indeed, nothing sums up the film’s essential message better than the melodramatic remark that Professor Emmott uses to conclude his sweeping analysis: “I think we are f****d!”. Although this depressing assertion is perhaps appropriate in the context of a theatrical performance, many will find it unnecessarily negative, disempowering and hyperbolic – especially at a time when the majority of people have no appetite for ‘system change’, or are disinclined to demand such change having convinced themselves that ‘there is no alternative’ to their present way of life.

When pressed during the Q&A session after a preview screening of the film in London, Professor Emmott conceded that he didn’t understand why more people – especially young people – are not protesting relentlessly in the streets to demand radical reform. On this note, the Professor’s personal views are in line with those of Share The World’s Resources (STWR), who have consistently called for ordinary citizens to unite through widespread, continual and peaceful protests for sound environmental stewardship and an end to the iniquity of poverty in a world of plenty.

In light of the scale of the crises that Ten Billion brings to life, it is safe to assume that mass public protest is now the only option left to the many millions of people who yearn for a more just and sustainable future. As STWR’s Mohammed Mesbahi argues, “The real question we should ask ourselves is not why our governments are failing to save the world, but why are we failing to compel them to take appropriate action as our elected representatives?” With government leaders preparing to meet for the concluding round of UN climate talks in Paris, let’s hope that this uncompromising documentary does ultimately encourage more people to take to the streets in unprecedented numbers – even if it is out of sheer exasperation with a perilously outdated model of human development and economic progress.


Posted in Activism, Collective Intelligence, Culture & Ideas, Empire, Featured Video, Guest Post, P2P Action Items, P2P Ecology, P2P Movements, P2P Public Policy, Sharing, Videos | No Comments »

Robin Hood Coop, an Activist Hedge Fund

photo of David Bollier

David Bollier
25th November 2015


Now here is an improbable idea:an activist hedge fund.Out of Tampere, Finland, comes the Robin Hood Asset Management Coop, which legally speaking, is an investment cooperative. It is designed to skim the cream off of frothy investments in the stock market to help support commoners. As the website for the coop describe it:

We use financial technologies to democratize finance, expand financial inclusion and generate new economic space.Robin Hood’s proposition is no different than it was 600 years ago in Sherwood: arbitrage the routes of wealth and distribute the loot as shared resources. Today we just use different methods to achieve the same:we analyze big data, write algorithms, deploy web-based technologies and engineer financial instruments to create and distribute surplus profits for all. Why?Simply, we believe a more equitable world is a better one.

The Robin Hood Coop currently has 808 members from some 15 countries, and manages about 651,000 euros in various stock market investments. Started in June 2012, the coop has generated over 100,000 euros for its members and to its common pool, which is used to support commons projects. Robin Hood reports that in its first year, it had “the third most profitable rate of return in the world of all the hedge funds.”

Anyone can join the coop for a 30€ membership fee, which entitles members to invest a minimum of 30€.Members can then choose eight different options for splitting any profits (after costs) among their own accounts, Robin Hood Projects and the general Robin Hood Fund. Most members choose a simple 50-50 split of profits to themselves and Robin Hood Projects. For the past two full years of its operations, the project has been profitable. (As of November 19, however, net asset value was down 6.38%.) Robin Hood says that its operating costs are quite low compared to normal asset management services provided by banks.

The enterprise is driven by Robin Hood’s “dynamic data-mining algorithm,” which it calls “Parasite,” because it tracks actual transactions in US stock markets and mimics the best market actors. The coop’s website explains:“The parasite listens to the feed of the NYSE, watching for traders and what they trade. Then it competency ranks traders, identifying ones that are constantly making money on specific stocks. When it sees that a consensus is forming among such competent traders, it follows.” Robin Hood appears to be out-performing many leading hedge funds and reaping impressive returns, and it provides a modest but welcome source of income for some commons projects.

I do have my doubts about the transformative impact of the project. Is it really changing the system, and is it “stealing” anything from the King’s forests? It seems to be playing by the King’s rules, albeit more successfully than many other players. What’s different is its channeling of its gains to commoners and commons-based projects rather than to the 1%. This has great value in its own right while bypassing the philanthropic or nonprofit intermediaries who often don’t really see or care about the commons.

As a financial enterprise, the Robin Hood Project has a rather unusual interest in “art, politics and finance” – and more broadly in subjective experience and cultural theory. The project’s website features a page for n-1 publications, a book publisher whose authors include Susan Sontag, Michel Foucault, Felix Guattari, and other cultural critics. In an interview on the website, Chairman of the Robin Hood Board, Akseli Virtanen, invokes Jacques Derrida, Gilles Deleuze, and Italian theorists such as Christian Marazzi and Maurizio Lazzarato. Not the usual bedtime reading of financiers.

Virtanen explains that the Robin Hood Coop is a cultural experiment in creating new forms and subjectivities by using the financial apparatus in paradoxical and “monstrous” ways. This has apparently prompted some reporters to question the very existence of the Robin Hood portfolio. Virtanen responds by citing audit reports from Ernst & Young, legal registration papers, and other such totems of trust. He adds:

“Robin Hood sounds like a ponzi scheme, a fake, or it could be a private group of aggressive entrepreneurs ready to take advantage of the naïve cultural people. It could be a hoax, a scam, or just an ‘art project’. It definitely parasites also the old ideal of community and cooperation. It is unallowable, impossible and disgusting… a monster… but it corresponds to our subjectivity.”

I confess that I had trouble following some of Virtanen’s reflections about the cultural significance of the Robin Hood Coop. Still, he makes some good points: The very idea of “value” IS a flimsy social construction, and Robin Hood is eager to provoke us to think about that. Why should we trust the official documentation about financial value when it is itself so abstract, arbitrary and almost theological?

The truth is, the meaning of value is elusive and socially contingent, and capitalist totems of value are in many respects laughable. No wonder conmen like Bernie Madoff could so easily exploit gullible investors. The trusted representations of “value” are so remote from the real economy and actual value that they can be easily manipulated to defraud people.

So Robin Hood has funded some worthy projects with the yields from its portfolio, and it has considered an impressive array of applicants. Its criteria: “Only projects that are bigger than only for themselves can be selected — projects that open up the common space, that produce the commons.”Projects must be “generative and expansive, generating growth in subjectivities, in possibilities, in organization, in sharing, in scale, in mobility, in access, in independence, in desire. They should make our existential territory more habitable.”

Among the recent projects funded are Casa Nuven, an autonomous, self-managed space in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, with 5,000 euros, as well as the P2P Foundation’s project with the Catalan Integral Cooperative and Commons Transition in Spain, with 4,000 euros. Check out the many applicants for Robin Hood funding here.


Posted in Activism, Collective Intelligence, Cooperatives, Culture & Ideas, Economy and Business, Featured Project, Original Content, P2P Business Models, P2P Development, Peer Property, Sharing | 1 Comment »

TPP and TTIP-Free Zones are being created by communities across the US and EU

photo of Stacco Troncoso

Stacco Troncoso
23rd November 2015


Reposted from Citizen Action Monitor, TPP-Free Zones are being created by communities across the US and EU.

Why aren’t Canada’s political, social, labour and environmental NGOs jumping all over this initiative?

Margaret Flowers“You can join communities that are rejecting these rigged corporate ‘trade’ deals that are being negotiated in secret and will undermine our ability to pass laws that protect public health and safety and the planet by organizing to create a TPP/TTIP-Free Zone. Details below.”Margaret Flowers

On a related note, The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, a Pennsylvania-based NGO has, since 1995, been doing magnificent work with communities to establish Community Rights – such that communities are empowered to protect the health, safety, and welfare of their residents and the natural environment, and establish environmental and economic sustainability. They have worked at the local municipal level to establish Community Rights. Communities that have established Community Rights ordinances have faced legal challenges from corporate and states. In response, CELDF has recently begun building on grassroots organizing to drive change to the state level, bringing together communities from across states to build State Community Rights Networks. For more information, visit the CELDF website by clicking on the about linked name.

Returning to TPP-Free Zones, so far no Canadian communities appear on the world map of TPP-Free Zones. To access this map, click on the following linked title. The repost below includes a link to this map as well as all the other details and links to affiliated information sources.


Communities Reject Rigged Trade, Create TPP/TTIP-Free Zones by Margaret Flowers, Popular Resistance, October 4, 2015

Note: You can join communities that are rejecting these rigged corporate ‘trade’ deals that are being negotiated in secret and will undermine our ability to pass laws that protect public health and safety and the planet by organizing to create a TPP/TTIP-Free Zone. Details below.

As negotiations of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) inch toward completion, resistance to it and the other rigged corporate international treaties, the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and Trade-in-Services Agreement (TiSA), is escalating.

A powerful form of resistance is underway in communities across the United States and the European Union – people are passing resolutions opposing these ‘trade agreements,’ which are actually international treaties that should not be allowed to fast track through Congress, to create TPP and TTIP-free zones.

In the European Union, activists are working to pass 10,000 such resolutions. In collaboration with the public service union, Unison, Global Justice Now, is providing helpful materials. Global Justice Now reports:

“It’s not just the UK. In Austria, Germany, France and Belgium there are significant numbers of TTIP Free Zones being declared by local authorities. When EU and US negotiators in Brussels leave their meetings they immediately walk out into the Brussels municipality which is itself a TTIP Free Zone.

There are 39 ‘no TTIP’ councils in Spain and a good covering in Northern Italy. This is a Europe-wide movement of local resistance to the corporate power grab that TTIP represents.”

During the fight to stop Congress from passing Fast Track legislation that will be used to rush these agreements through Congress, cities from Seattle, WA to Madison, WI to New York, NY passed resolutions against Fast Track. Labor played a big part in making these successful. Now, new resolutions are underway in more cities with the goal of 100.

On October 8, a resolution will be voted upon in Miami, FL, potentially making it a TPP/TTIP-Free Zone before the next round of TTIP negotiations there. Click here for details.

Organizing a TPP/TTIP-Free Zone is a great way to raise awareness of the ways that these secret rigged corporate deals will directly impact our communities. From the prohibition of “Buy America” practices to the new powers for corporations to sue over public health and safety laws that interfere with their profits to the outsourcing of jobs, lowering of wages, reduction of food safety and raising the costs of health care, the TPP and TTIP place corporate profits over protection of people and the planet.

Here is more information on how to create a TPP/TTIP-Free Zone from the Alliance for Democracy:

“If you, our un-elected representatives, create this corporate-driven monstrosity and then go to Congress for a rubber stamp, WE WILL NOT OBEY.”

Which cities have gone TPP/TTIP/TiSA Free?

This map shows which US cities and counties have passed TPP Free Zone ordinances or resolutions against Fast Track, TPP or other pending trade pacts like the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA).

It is time to make our municipalities “TPP Free Zones,” following in the footsteps of the successful resistance to an earlier trade agreement, the Multilateral Agreement on Investment, which was defeated in 1998 thanks to a global grassroots campaign.

What is a TPP-Free Zone?

AfD Co-Chair Ruth Caplan explains how local organizing for “TPP-Free Zone” laws can help defeat this so-called “free trade” agreement while supporting global civil society movements for economic and environmental justice and local democracy.

Educate for action: Our Fall 2012 issue of Justice Rising focused on international resistance to corporate global trade agreements, including the TPP. To read it online, click here. If you’d like to a copy, contact us at afd, The Alliance for Democracy or call 781-894-1179.

There’s more information, videos and resources on our TPP page.

Questions? Ideas? Resources? We’d like to hear from you. Contact the Alliance for Democracy office at afd (at) thealliancefordemocracy (dot) org, or 781-894-1179.

Lead image by Backbone Campaign


Posted in Activism, Anti-P2P, Cognitive Capitalism, Collective Intelligence, Culture & Ideas, Empire, Featured Movement, P2P Rights, Politics | No Comments »

The Shift from Open Platforms to Digital Commons

photo of David Bollier

David Bollier
23rd November 2015


Universitat de Oberta Catalunya — Open University of Catalonia — just published the following essay of mine as part of its “Open Thoughts” series.  The UOC blog explores the benefits and limitations of various forms of peer production: well worth a look!

From open access platforms to managed digital commons: that is one of the chief challenges that network-based peer production must meet if we are going to unleash the enormous value that distributed, autonomous production can

From open access platforms to managed digital commons: that is one of the chief challenges that network-based peer production must meet if we are going to unleash the enormous value that distributed, autonomous production can create.

The open platform delusion

We are accustomed to regarding open platforms as synonymous with greater freedom and innovation. But as we have seen with the rise of Google, Facebook and other tech giants, open platforms that are dominated by large corporations are only “free” within the boundaries of market norms and the given business models. Yes, open platforms provide many valuable services at no (monetary) cost to users. But when some good or service is offered for at no cost, it really means that the user is the product. In this case, our personal data, attention, social attitudes lifestyle behavior, and even our digital identities, are the commodity that platform owners are seeking to “own.”

In this sense, many open platforms are not so benign. Many of them are techno-economic fortresses, bolstered by the structural dynamics of the “power law,” which enable dominant corporate players to monopolize and monetize a given sector of online activity. Market power based on such platforms can then be used to carry out surveillance of users’ lives; erect barriers to open interoperability and sharing, sometimes in anticompetitive ways; and quietly manipulate the content and “experience” that users may have on such platforms.

Such outcomes on “open platforms” should not be entirely surprising; they represent the familiar quest of capitalist markets to engineer the acquisition of exclusive assets and monetize them. The quarry in this case is our consciousness, creativity and culture. The more forward-looking segments of capital realize that “owning a platform” (with stipulated terms of participation) can be far more lucrative than owning exclusive intellectual property rights for content.

So for those of us who care about freedom in an elemental human and civic sense — beyond the narrow mercantilist “freedoms” offered by capitalist markets — the critical question is how to preserve certain inalienable human freedoms and shared cultural spaces. Can our free speech, freedom of association and freedom to interconnect with each other and innovate flourish if the dominant network venues must first satisfy the demands of investors, corporate boards and market metrics?

« Open platforms that are dominated by large corporations are only “free” within the boundaries of market norms and the given business models »

If we are serious about protecting human freedoms that have a life beyond markets, I believe we must begin to develop new modes of “platform co-operativism” that go beyond standard forms of “private” corporate control. We need to pioneer technical, organizational and financial forms that enable users to mutualize the benefits of their own online sharing. We must be able to avoid the coerced and undisclosed surrender of personal information and digital identity to third-parties who may or may not be reliable stewards of such information.

There are other reasons to move to commons-based platforms. As David P. Reed showed in a seminal 1999 paper,1 the value generated by networks increases exponentially as interactions move from a broadcasting model based on “best content” (in which value is described by n, the number of viewers), to a network of peer-to-peer transactions (where the network’s value is based on “most members” and mathematically described by n2).

But by far the most valuable networks are those that facilitate group affiliations to pursue shared goals. (I call such groups commons). Reed found that the value of “group forming networks,” in which people have the tools for “free and responsible association for common purposes,” to be 2n, a fantastically large number. His analysis suggests that the value generated by Facebook, Twitter, and other proprietary network platforms remain highly rudimentary because participants have only limited tools for developing trust and confidence in each other (open source tools would subvert the business model). In short, the value potential of the commons has been deliberately stifled.

For all of these reasons, our imaginations and aspirations must begin to shift their focus from open platforms to digital commons. Self-organized commoners must be able to control the terms of their interactions and governance, and to reap the fruits of their own collaboration and sharing.

Towards the CopyFair license

A variety of legal and technological innovations are now starting to address the structural limits of (market-financed) open platforms as vehicles for commoning. These initiatives remain somewhat emergent, yet they are filled with great promise. They aspire to empower digital commoners in resisting market capture and enclosure of their collectively created content, community norms and identity. Corporate platforms privilege the social monoculture of producer/consumer relationships and only those social behaviors that comport with the host-company’s business model (or more generally, with market relationships). By contrast, self-organized commons enable richer, more diverse and meaningful types of freedom and culture.

The basic problem, however, is that digital commons tend to have trouble growing and sustaining themselves. They do not have adequate organizational and governance structures nor adequate financial support. However, a new generation of innovations may help address these problems.

One possibility now being explored, for example, is “commons-based reciprocity licenses,” sometimes known as CopyFair. These proposed licenses based on copyright ownership would allow no-cost sharing among members of a commons, but require payment by any commercial users of the community’s work. The idea is now being developed by Michel Bauwens of the P2P Foundation and open-agriculture hardware developers, among others. Unlike the Creative Commons NonCommercial license, which absolutely stops commercial development of a line of information or creative work, the CopyFair license would allow commercialization, but on the basis of mandatory (monetized) reciprocity.

The potential of the blockchain

Another instrument for converting open platforms into digital commons is the blockchain ledger, the software innovation that lies at the heart of Bitcoin. Although Bitcoin itself has been designed to serve familiar capitalist functions (tax avoidance, private accumulation through speculation), the blockchain ledger is significant because it can enable highly reliable, versatile forms of collective action on open networks. It does this by validating the authenticity of a digital object (for now, a bitcoin) without the need for a third-party guarantor such as a bank or government body.

This solves a particularly difficult collective-action problem in an open network context: How do you know that a given digital object — a bitcoin, a legal document, digital certificate, dataset, a vote or digital identity asserted by an individual — is the “real thing” and not a forgery? By using a searchable online “ledger” that keeps track of all transactions (i.e., bitcoins), blockchain technology solves this problem by acting as a kind of permanent record maintained by a vast distributed peer network. This makes it far more secure than data kept at a centralized location because the authenticity of a bitcoin registered among so many nodes in the network is virtually impossible to corrupt.

« We need to pioneer technical, organizational and financial forms that enable users to mutualize the benefits of their own online sharing »

Because of these capabilities, a recently released report suggests that blockchain technology could provide a critical infrastructure for building what are called “distributed collaborative organizations” (DCO, and sometimes “distributed autonomous organizations”).2 These are essentially self-organized online commons. A DCO could use blockchain technology to give its members specified rights within the organization, which could be managed and guaranteed by the blockchain. These rights, in turn, could be linked to the conventional legal system to make the rights legally cognizable and enforceable.

One rudimentary example of how the blockchain might be used to facilitate a commons: In the US, former Federal Communications Commission Chairman Reed Hundt has proposed using blockchain technology to create distributed networks of solar power on residential houses coordinated as commons. The ledger would keep track of how much energy a given homeowner generates and shares with others, and consumes. In effect the system would enable the efficient organization of decentralized solar grids and a “green currency” that could serve as a medium of exchange within solar microgrids or networks, helping to propel adoption of solar panels. The blockchain amounts to a network-based architecture for enabling commons-based governance.

Smart transactions

This field of experimentation may yield another breakthrough tool for forging digital commons: smart contracts. These are dynamic software modules operating in an architecture of shared protocols (much like TCP/IP or http) that could enable new types of group governance, decision-making and rules-enforcement on open network platforms.

We are already familiar with rudimentary — and corporate-oriented versions — of this idea, such as Digital Rights Management (DRM), an encryption/authentication system that gives companies the ability to constrain how users may use their legally purchased technologies (DVDs, CDs, etc.). As the power of networked collaboration has become clear, however, many tech innovators now recognize that the real challenge is not how to lock up and privatize digital artifacts, but how to assure that they can be reliably shared on open platforms in legally enforceable ways, for the benefit of a defined group of contributors or for everyone.

« A realm of software innovation is trying to blend familiar co-operative structures with open network platforms to enable collective deliberation and governance through online systems »

There are now many active efforts underway to devise technical systems for deploying “smart” legal agents whose transactions would also be enforceable under conventional law. The “transactions” could, of course, be used to invent new types of markets, but they also could be used to create new types of commons. Ultimately, the two realms may bleed into each other and create social hybrids that conjoin community commitments and market activity.

A related realm of software innovation is trying to blend familiar co-operative structures with open network platforms to enable collective deliberation and governance — “commoning” — through online systems. Some of the more notable experiments include Loomio, DemocracyOS and LiquidFeedback. Each of these seeks to enable members of online networks to carry on direct, sustained and somewhat complicated discussions, and then to clarify group sentiment and reach decisions that participants see as binding, legitimate and meaningful.

Networks of peer producers

In a natural extension of such capacities, “open value networks” (OVN) are attempts to enable bounded networks of participants to carry out crowdfunding, crowdsourcing of knowledge, co-budgeting among its identifiable members. “Open value networks” such as Enspiral and Sensorica have been described as an “operating system for a new kind of organization” and a “pilot project for the new economy.” OVNs consist of digital platforms that facilitate new modes of decentralized and self-organized social governance, production and livelihoods among members of distinct communities. The networks are organized in ways that let anyone to contribute to the project, and be rewarded based on their contributions, as measured by actual contributions, experience and other collectively determined criteria.

Unlike “conventional commons” that tend to eschew market-based activity, open value networks have no reservations about engaging with markets; OVNs simply wish to maintain their organizational and cultural integrity as commons-based peer producers. This means open, horizontal and large-scale cooperation and coordination; responsible stewardship of the shared wealth and assets while allowing individual access, use, authorship and ownership of resources “where appropriate”; careful accounting of individual “inputs and outcomes” via a common ledger system; and the distribution of fair rewards based on individual contributions to the project. Some notable keywords for describing OVNs: equipotentiality, anti-credentialism, self-selection, communal validation and holoptism.

As mentioned earlier, these initiatives to create new technical, organizational and financing for platform cooperativism are still emerging and debated in meetings as the one taking place soon in New York City. They will require further experimentation and development to make them fully functional and scalable. Yet they promise to provide attractive, potentially breakthrough alternatives to business-driven platforms that stipulate the terms of participation and do not facilitate the mutualized benefit among commoners. By providing more trustworthy systems for genuine commoning and user sovereignty and control, these new forms could soon enable digital commons — and hybrid forms of user-driven markets — to surpass the value-creating capacities of conventional open platforms.

1. See also David Bollier and John H. Clippinger, The Next Great Internet Disruption: Authority and Governance.
2. See the report Distributed Collaborative Organizations: Distributed Networks & Regulatory Frameworks, written by people associated with Swarm, the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, New York Law School and the MIT Media Lab. See also Rachel O’Dwyer, The Revolution Will (Not) Be Decentralized; and Morgen E. Peck, The Future of the Web Looks a Lot Like Bitcoin. The blockchain and related legal issues are being actively discussed in a series of global workshops known as “Blockchain (R)evolution,” convened by Primavera De Filippi, Constance Choi and John Clippinger. For a broader introduction to this general topic, see John H. Clippinger and David Bollier, From Bitcoin to Burning Man and Beyond: The Quest for Identity and Autonomy in a Digital Society (ID3, 2014).

Lead image by OpenSource.com


Posted in Activism, Commons, Commons Transition, Cooperatives, Culture & Ideas, Ethical Economy, Open Models, Original Content, P2P Collaboration, P2P Development, P2P Labor, P2P Legal Dev., Peer Property, Sharing | No Comments »

The Importance of Care and Affections in our Communities: Copylove and the Invisible Commons

photo of Stacco Troncoso

Stacco Troncoso
17th November 2015

Care adnd affection

Can we have a commons without care and affection? A special guest post by Sofía Coca from Zemos 98.

Copylove started in 2011 as a local informal network for investigations into commons and feminist practices. Later, it turned into a public and open investigation via www.copylove.cc (only in Spanish) led by Sofía Coca (ZEMOS98, Sevilla), Txelu Balboa (COLABORABORA, Euskadi) and Rubén Martínez (Fundación de los Comunes, Barcelona) in which we tried to extract, from the experiences we had, what kind of ties and relations are established within a community of agents, whose practices and ways of doing generate commons for the whole community. Copylove was a way of getting deeper into all that we consider that reproduces desirable conditions of existence: affection, processes of interdependence, mutual aid, community love, care, etc. When we say Copylove, we mean everything we produce and reproduce that can take us closer to “good living”, to a sustainable living, and not simply in monetary terms.

copylove map

The ontology of Copylove. Map collectively produced after the first Copylove Residencies. Translated by Rubén Díaz.

The story-behind: Commons, Love and Remix

About four years ago, Copylove put into orbit the ZEMOS98 festival, bringing an apparently simple premise: investigating how affection and care can cultivate relationships within a community of agents who are trying to generate common goods. Taking this hypothesis as a starting point, the coordination group called some residencies in February, March and April 2012; and there, people belonging to several groups with previous community experience could have a brainstormed ways of thinking related to the management of affections, commons and communities.

We believe in commons. Commons, as Elionor Ostrom said, are sometimes apart from the market or the government. Commons are about the contents we are sharing all the time in our digital networks. But commons are not new. When we talk about commons, we are talking about really old questions. For example, the recipe of our typical andalusian tomato soup is a common recipe. It is not private. It is not exactly public (in the sense of “institutional or governed by official rules). It constructs a common code. A common language. You can choose one single recipe and create your own version. But, if you share your own version, anyone could do it the same, remixing your version. Because, culture is an infinite palimpsest. So, of course, we have to expand the utility of the commons. We have to spread how the commons could help us to build our communities.

On other hand, when we talk about the market and the government, we talk about words like “inside” or “outside” the communities, and about our official economic system. And we divide it in two levels: the productive level and the reproductive. Some feminist studies consider that we are just talking about the official and productive level. When you ask someone, “What do you do?”, people answer with the professional profile. They don’t say: “I’m a mother” or “I usually cook rice with vegetables”. But, how important are these kind of tasks in our communities? Why can’t we talk about it? We consider this a reproductive sphere. And you can imagine how important it is for our culture.

"Our mothers teached us that life is a battlefield. The battlefield of making possible what we consider life". Poster of the 14 ZEMOS98 Festival, dedicated to our mothers.

“Our mothers taught us that life is a battlefield. The battlefield of making possible what we consider life”. Poster of the 14 ZEMOS98 Festival, dedicated to our mothers.

Commons, love and remix were the three initial concepts, they related to each other, they opened the field of play to start building collectively the meaning of “copylove”. We saw soon that they were three interwoven fields nourishing each other: Affections nourish commons and vice versa. We must place affection in the spotlight, understand commons as already a part of a community, see that communities have constituent links and values; but also, in order for them to be sustainable, require a caring component, a subjective built by affections.

The Invisible Commons

No doubt that the objective of the first edition of Copylove was to make all those ways of doing things visible, and create a community where citizens are the core of it. Trying to become more specific about it, we wanted to recall those everyday practices so tightly attached to our everyday life that go unnoticed, because they are essential to hold our lives together. We defined the invisible commons, as non-monetary resources, ways of doing things to which we have become assimilated (for good or for bad), and processes we have been taught or acquired in our community life and that make community sustainable. These commons are occasionally invisible because we have assumed they are something “natural” in our practice, but other times (most of the times and especially those related to women’s labour work) they become invisible by the developmentalist regime we are living in, specialized in ignoring that what makes life livable.

"Citizens-Godzilla", poster of the 15 ZEMOS98 Festival.

“Citizens-Godzilla”, poster of the 15 ZEMOS98 Festival.

Based on this legacy, we reached a new turning point in the investigation. We had to organise what we had learned and pose new questions. Following this track, we thought that “invisible commons” was a good label for the things we had learned up to that moment, and gave us the opportunity to keep uncovering those practices exceeding what is considered productive. In order to have a better understanding of all the resources and community processes we had to value and activate simultaneously, we started interviewing groups and associations from Bilbao and Barcelona, so we could obtain new questions for our Copylove residency.

We were searching for a better understanding of these invisible commons, starting from three topics that were present in the early stages of the investigation, they would help us to go deeper towards the following stage. Three major concepts would be helpful and would make new questions about “copylove” arise: Community, Memory and Life explained by the participants in this video (english subtitles):

After that, we did another Festival dedicated to Copylove in April 2013 and a crowdfunding campaign (gathering 7.865€, at the end of that year añlso) to try to gather all the essential lessons-learned in the process and of course, we had internalized most of them also in our daily practices and as part of our way of living and working.

In summary: without care, life is impossible. Life cannot be “productive” without a care centered economy. If we have been “productive” in the fiction called capitalism, it is thanks to the fact that we care for others, what some have labelled as an “unproductive” action: domestic work, the reproduction of labor. Without care, working life could not exist in a market economy, although these practices are not visible. This invisible work has been done by women (and here «women» can be also understood as minorities). Neither state nor market have managed to cover a fundamental need: the right to be cared for/of.


Posted in Activism, Commons, Commons Transition, Culture & Ideas, Guest Post, Open Content, Open Models, P2P Art and Culture, P2P Collaboration, P2P Lifestyles, P2P Movements, P2P Theory | No Comments »

Video: Medea Benjamin on How Individuals Can Participate in Systemic Change

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
11th November 2015

Recommended 4 minute explanation on the relation between individual engagement and choices and systemic change:

“Medea Benjamin, co-founder of CODEPINK, discusses her personal journey in systemic thought; how corporate and militarist forces converge to keep the U.S. in a state of perpetual war; and how social movements build deeper interconnectivity to develop a genuine alternative.”

Watch the video here:


Posted in Activism, Commons Transition, Politics | No Comments »

Cracking Capitalism vs. The State Option

photo of Stacco Troncoso

Stacco Troncoso
7th November 2015


Reposted from Guerrilla Translation. Amador Fernández-Savater, interviews John Holloway. The original Spanish text was translated by Richard Mac Duinnsleibhe and edited by Arianne Sved.

In 2002, John Holloway published a landmark book: Change the world without taking power. Inspired by the ‘¡Ya basta!’ [Enough is enough!] of the Zapatistas, by the movement that emerged in Argentina in 2001/2002 and by the anti-globalisation movement, Holloway sets out a hypothesis: it is not the idea of revolution or transformation of the world that has been refuted as a result of the disaster of authoritarian communism, but rather the idea of revolution as the taking of power, and of the party as the political tool par excellence.

He discerns another concept of social change is at work in these movements, and generally in every practice—however visible or invisible it may be—where a logic different from that of profit is followed: the logic of cracking capitalism. That is, to create, within the very society that is being rejected, spaces, moments, or areas of activity in which a different world is prefigured. Rebellions in motion. From this perspective, the idea of organisation is no longer equivalent to that of the party, but rather entails the question of how the different cracks that unravel the fabric of capitalism can recognise each other and connect.

But after Argentina’s “que se vayan todos” [let them all go away] came the Kirchner government, and after Spain’s “no nos representan” [they don’t represent us] appeared Podemos. We met with John Holloway in the city of Puebla, Mexico, to ask him if, after everything that has happened in the past decade, from the progressive governments of Latin America to Podemos and Syriza in Europe, along with the problems for self-organised practices to exist and multiply, he still thinks that it is possible to “change the world without taking power”.


Firstly, John, we would like to ask you where the hegemonic idea of revolution in the 20th century comes from, what it is based on. That is, the idea of social change through the taking of power.

John Holloway. I think the central element is labour, understood as wage labour. In other words, alienated or abstract labour. Wage labour has been, and still is, the bedrock of the trade union movement, of the social democratic parties that were its political wing, and also of the communist movements. This concept defined the revolutionary theory of the labour movement: the struggle of wage labour against capital. But its struggle was limited because wage labour is the complement of capital, not its negation.

I don’t understand the relation between this idea of labour and that of revolution through the taking of state power.

John Holloway: One way of understanding the connection would be as follows: if you start off from the definition of labour as wage or alienated labour, you start off from the idea of the workers as victims and objects of the system of domination. And a movement that struggles to improve the living standards of workers (considered as victims and objects) immediately refers to the State. Why? Because the State, due to its very separation from society, is the ideal institution if one seeks to achieve benefits for people. This is the traditional thinking of the labour movement and that of the left governments that currently exist in Latin America.

But this tradition isn’t the only approach to a politics of emancipation…

John Holloway. Of course not. In the last twenty or thirty years we find a great many movements that claim something else: it is possible to emancipate human activity from alienated labour by opening up cracks where one is able to do things differently, to do something that seems useful, necessary, and worthwhile to us; an activity that is not subordinated to the logic of profit.

These cracks can be spatial (places where other social relations are generated), temporal (“Here, in this event, for the time that we are together, we are going to do things differently. We are going to open windows onto another world.”), or related to particular activities or resources (for example, cooperatives or activities that pursue a non-market logic with regard to water, software, education, etc.). The world, and each one of us, is full of these cracks.

The rejection of alienated and alienating labour entails, at the same time, a critique of the institutional and organisational structures, and the mindset that springs from it. This is how we can explain the rejection of trade unions, parties, and the State that we observe in so many contemporary movements, from the Zapatistas to the Greek or Spanish indignados.

But it isn’t a question of the opposition between an old and a new politics, I think. Because what we see in the movements born of the economic crisis is that those two things come to the fore at the same time: cracks such as protests in city squares, and new parties such as Syriza or Podemos.

John Holloway. I think it’s a reflection of the fact that our experience under capitalism is contradictory. We are victims and yet we are not. We seek to improve our living standards as workers, and also to go beyond that, to live differently. In one respect we are, in effect, people who have to sell their labour power in order to survive. But in another, each one of us has dreams, behaviours and projects that don’t fit into the capitalist definition of labour.

The difficulty, then as now, lies in envisioning the relation between those two types of movements. How can that relation avoid reproducing the old sectarianism? How can it be a fruitful relation without denying the fundamental differences between the two perspectives?

Argentina in 2001 and 2002, the indignados in Greece and Spain more recently. At a certain point, bottom-up movements stall, they enter a crisis or an impasse, or they vanish. Would you say that the politics of cracks has intrinsic limits in terms of enduring and expanding?

John Holloway. I wouldn’t call them limits, but rather problems. Ten years ago, when I published Change the World without Taking Power, the achievements and the power of movements from below were more apparent, whereas now we are more conscious of the problems. The movements you mention are enormously important beacons of hope, but capital continues to exist and it’s getting worse and worse; it progressively entails more misery and destruction. We cannot confine ourselves to singing the praises of movements. That’s not enough.

Could one response then be the option that focuses on the State?

John Holloway

John Holloway

John Holloway. It’s understandable why people want to go in that direction, very understandable. These have been years of ferocious struggles, but capital’s aggression remains unchanged. I sincerely hope that Podemos and Syriza do win the elections, because that would change the current kaleidoscope of social struggles. But I maintain all of my objections with regard to the state option. Any government of this kind entails channelling aspirations and struggles into institutional conduits that, by necessity, force one to seek a conciliation between the anger that these movements express and the reproduction of capital. Because the existence of any government involves promoting the reproduction of capital (by attracting foreign investment, or through some other means), there is no way around it. This inevitably means taking part in the aggression that is capital. It’s what has already happened in Bolivia and Venezuela, and it will also be the problem in Greece or Spain.

Could it be a matter of complementing the movements from below with a movement oriented towards government institutions?

John Holloway: That’s the obvious answer that keeps coming up. But the problem with obvious answers is that they suppress contradictions. Things can’t be reconciled so easily. From above, it may be possible to improve people’s living conditions, but I don’t think one can break with capitalism and generate a different reality. And I sincerely believe that we’re in a situation where there are no long-term solutions for the whole of humanity within capitalism.

I’m not discrediting the state option because I myself don’t have an answer to offer, but I don’t think it’s the solution.

Where are you looking for the answer?

John Holloway. Whilst not considering parties of the left as enemies, since for me this is certainly not the case, I would say that the answer has to be thought of in terms of deepening the cracks.

If we’re not going to accept the annihilation of humanity, which, to me, seems to be on capitalism’s agenda as a real possibility, then the only alternative is to think that our movements are the birth of another world. We have to keep building cracks and finding ways of recognising them, strengthening them, expanding them, connecting them; seeking the confluence or, preferably, the commoning of the cracks.

If we think in terms of State and elections, we are straying away from that, because Podemos or Syriza can improve things, but they cannot create another world outside the logic of capital. And that’s what this is all about, I think.

Finally, John, how do you see the relation between the two perspectives we’ve been talking about?

Amador Fernández-Savater

Amador Fernández-Savater

John Holloway. We need to keep a constant and respectful debate going without suppressing the differences and the contradictions. I think the basis for a dialogue could be this: no one has the solution.

For the moment, we have to recognise that we’re not strong enough to abolish capitalism. By strong, I am referring here to building ways of living that don’t depend on wage labour. To be able to say “I don’t really care whether I have a job or not, because if I don’t have one, I can dedicate my life to other things that interest me and that give me enough sustenance to live decently.” That’s not the case right now. Perhaps we have to build that before we can say “go to hell, capital.”

In that sense, let’s bear in mind that a precondition for the French Revolution was that, at a certain point. the social network of bourgeois relations no longer needed the aristocracy in order to exist. Likewise, we must work to reach a point where we can say “we don’t care if global capital isn’t investing in Spain, because we’ve built a mutual support network that’s strong enough to enable us to live with dignity.”

Right now the rage against banks is spreading throughout the world. However, I don’t think banks are the problem, but rather the existence of money as a social relation. How should we think about rage against money? I believe this necessarily entails building non monetised, non commodified social relations.

And there are a great many people dedicated to this effort, whether out of desire, conviction or necessity, even though they may not appear in the newspapers. They’re building other forms of community, of sociality, of thinking about technology and human capabilities in order to create a new life.


PPLicense mockup small
Produced by Guerrilla Translation
under a Peer Production License.

Illustrations by ANDRECO

Original article published at eldiario.es

This Translation has also been republished in:

Reflections on a Revolution

Cunning Hired Knaves


Posted in Activism, Collective Intelligence, Commons, Ethical Economy, Guest Post, P2P Action Items, P2P Collaboration, P2P Lifestyles, P2P Movements, Peer Property, Politics, Sharing | 1 Comment »

Farewell Burns Weston, Questing Legal Mind and Dear Friend

photo of David Bollier

David Bollier
3rd November 2015

BurnsUntil the very end, my dear friend and colleague Burns Weston was passionate, hard-driving and committed to changing the world.  That’s why I was stunned to learn that Burns passed away yesterday, a few weeks shy of his 82nd birthday.  When he failed to make a scheduled telephone call, friends checked his condo and found him dead.  Burns was a well-known international law and international human rights scholar at the University of Iowa College of Law.  He was also founder of its noted Center for Human Rights.

I met Burns about seven years ago when he was a professor for one semester a year at Vermont Law School.  He was writing a major legal treatise about climate change, and one element of the essay dealt with the commons.  A mutual friend, the polymath Roger G. Kennedy, introduced us, and the gravitational pull of Burns’ essay quickly drew me in. It was an irresistible disruption in my life that got me thinking a lot about environmental law and the commons.

Soon we were working together on a variety of projects:  a major scholarly book, chapters in anthologies, law review articles, grant proposals. In the course of it all, Burns exposed me to a great deal of human rights and international law, and he helped clarify their potential and limits for re-imagining international governance, environmental law and the actualization of human rights. For my part, I introduced Burns to the loose but growing network of international commoners and commons literature. He quickly realized that the commons is not just complementary to human rights; the two are long-lost partners with affirmative synergies.

Our conversations became more serious and, with a bit of serendipitous funding, we embarked upon a grueling book project, Green Governance:  Ecological Survival, Human Rights and the Law of the Commons, published in 2013 by Cambridge University Press.  It was a bold attempt to reimagine environmental law and policy through the lens of human rights and the commons.  We wanted to envision new ways to actualize human rights principles and commons practices at global and regional levels.  We wanted to think beyond the framework of the nation-state and international treaty organizations.  We wanted to think beyond the standard forms and institutions of law itself.

Burns attacked these questions with the enthusiasm of a first-year law student and the sagacity of a gray eminence.  He really wanted to come up with creative legal solutions, and he wasn’t afraid if they might require social and political struggle. Now that’s not a quality you find in your average law professor, let alone one in his seventies. Burns had a bold and questing temperament, and did not let himself be confined by the disciplinary blinders of law. That’s why, following the publication of Green Governance, Burns wanted to continue our explorations.  So we founded the Commons Law Project to see if we could propose an architecture of law and public policy to address climate change and other urgent ecological problems.

Burns retired from teaching in 1999, but his schedule was anything but retiring.  Somehow he juggled a daunting portfolio of chapters for book anthologies, law review articles, law school teaching, public talks, support for the Center for Human Rights, sitting on the editorial boards of over ten professional journals, and acting as series editor for the longest continuing international law book series in the US.  I was privileged that our collaborations could fit into this schedule, and that I could learn indirectly from the many people and ideas that coursed through his life.

At his death, Burns and I were exploring – along with Professor Anna Grear, founder and editor-in-chief of the Journal on Human Rights and the Environment – the challenges of new forms of governance.  Anna and I still hope to convene workshops of venturesome legal scholars, activists and others to try to elicit some great ideas.  We will sorely miss Burns’ counsel, his mastery of the law and legal literature, and his friendships with a large network of legal thinkers.

Since I’m not a lawyer or a legal scholar, I had only glimpses into the world of international law and human rights in which Burns normally lived, and the many unusual experiences that he had in a prior life as an attorney.  He once chuckled at his meeting with Marilyn Monroe, for example, when he was a New York City attorney representing playwright Arthur Miller. Today, Professor Mary Wood, the indefatigable champion and scholar of public trust doctrine (Nature’s Trust), described sharing a podium with Burns just last week:

I stood with Burns just one week ago in front of the UN Association of Iowa to give an address on climate emergency.  Burns gave a resounding call to arms to those in the audience.  He said, if you think that you have a human right to the resources that sustain your survival, take that right to court.  It will not amount to anything if you don’t, he said.  It was thrilling to follow such a call from an incomparable scholar with my own address to the audience describing how youth across this nation are taking government to court in a global campaign spearheaded by Our Children’s Trust to force carbon dioxide reduction before it is too late.  Burns was an esteemed scholar in the atmospheric trust litigation amicus group supporting the litigation campaign.

Dean Agrawal has credited Burns with “putting Iowa Law on the map” in international law and international human rights.  He was responsible for recruiting some of our most distinguished faculty members in the fields of international and comparative law…and inspired generations of law students.”  She called Burns a “citizen of the world.”  I’ll say.

My deep condolences to Burns’ wife Marta Cullberg Weston and family, and to Burns’ colleagues at the University of Iowa.  We’ve lost a giant legal scholar, a restless mind and a dear friend.


Posted in Activism, Commons, Culture & Ideas, Featured Person, Original Content, P2P Ecology, P2P Legal Dev., Peer Property | No Comments »

Le Temps des Communs in Paris: Urban Commons

photo of Stacco Troncoso

Stacco Troncoso
3rd November 2015


The Commons Network‘s David Hammerstein summarizes his intervention at the recent Temps des Communs festival in Paris

On October 10th Commons Network’s David Hammerstein talked about urban commons  at the festival ‘Temps des Communs’ in Paris. Here are some notes from his talk.


Some basic commons principles and some possible contradictions for considering the urban commons

 AIR: “the simplest of all commons is the air we breathe” While historically and socially, the air of the city made you free in an individual sense, today the air of the city (specially in the days of volkswagen style diesel) can make you sick. The need to defend our common clean air is not a principle that needs to be reconsidered in assembly. Ecological sustainability such as clean air and fightting climate change are basic “previous principles”, something that generally should not be subject to negotiation, just like racism, sexism or policies of social inequity. Of course, what this means in practice is open to democratic debate.

CRAZY SCARCITY VS. ABUNDANCE: We live in a totally irrational situation in our official economy where we act as if our increasingly scarce natural resources were limitless, while our states (like they are attempting in TPP and TTIP trade agreements) are building higher and higher artificial walls of IPR around what is really abundant: our immaterial sphere of culture, science, imagination and creativity. One of the objectives of the knowledge commons is to substitute intense individual over-consumption of the biophysical world with greater access and relationships with immaterial productions inside and outside the digital sphere.

HEALTH VS. ECONOMY: Paraphrasing Aldo Leopold: Our societies are like a hypochondriacs, so obsessed with their macro-economic health that they end up losing their health altogether. The commons is about recovering our social and environmental health with new indicators of participation, inclusiveness and fruitful relationships.

PUT THINGS TOGETHER, OPEN UP CONTAINERS: Bauwens: The main transformative ideas that are penetrating the economy are open economy, solidarity economy and ecology. But they are being applied independently from each other. We need these ideas to converge for the birth of an Open Source Circular Economy. Eg. community based software and internet access, co-housing, food cooperatives, credit unions, time banks, Faircoops, hackerspace cooperatives, crowdfunding , open science, open access policies..

PEDAGOGY OF CATASTROPHE: We need to urgently expand commons initiatives to confront the growing social and ecological crisis (for example present refugee crisis) to be able to respond to social-ecological crisis with flexibility and resilience. The EU and states in general are showing their unwillingness and incapacity to play this role with solidarity and foresight. The coming crisis, worsened by the combined force of climate wars, stark inequality and ethnic nationalism, will put us to test sooner than we think.

COMMONS WITH SUBSTANTIVE VALUES NOT JUST COMMUNICATIVE ONES: Commons link individuals, communities and ecosystems. Ugo Mattei: “The Commons must question the domains of private property(and its ideological apparatuses such as self-determination and the market) and the state. Not a third way but an ecologically legitimized competitor or foe of the alliance of private property and the state.” In other words, the Commons should represent substantive values not just communicative ones involving participation and horizontal organization.

URBAN COMMONS AS A STRATEGY FOR SURVIVAL: We are not just for dealing with “the left overs”, or in urban terms the “terrain vague”, the peripheral undefined edges of the city, We need to transcend the Market-property-State dualism that dominates our society based on individualism and competitiveness. The Commons is incompatible with simply a rights-based individual autonomy idea as developed today. Beyond Western liberal thought, we need to move to the idea that each individual´s survival depends on its relationship with the community, with the environment.

QUALITATIVE VS. ONLY QUANTITATIVE. The commons are an ecological qualitative category based on connection, inclusion and access, whereas property and state sovereignty exclusively use quantitative economical/economicist categories based on exclusion and artificially produced scarcity (especially of immaterial goods) through the violent concentration of power into a few hands. The Commons, unlike private or public goods, are not commodities and cannot be reduced to the language of ownership. They express a qualitative relationship.

THE COMMONS NEEDS STRUCTURAL AND POLITICAL CHANGE. We need the commons to have an institutional structure reflecting long-term ecological sustainability and social inclusion. It is admirable and exemplary but it is not enough to have scattered, small examples of urban commons.

CHANGING OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH “THINGS”. As opposed to the subject-object relationship that produces commodification, We are the commons to the extent we are part of a concrete environment, a rural or urban ecosystem, where the subject is part of the object. Today there is an absolute domination of the subject (state or individual property owner) over the object (territory or more generally the environment) while the commons focuses on socially broadening and improving the complementary relationship and mediation between the two (subject-nature).

Some potential contradictions of urban commons and possible responses

We cannot ask the commons to solve all problems, to be an all encompassing model. It is an important strategy, among others, that can help point the way out of some of our present quagmires of inequity, ecological demise and alienation. We don´t have all of the answers, only some forms and principles of alternative urban action and organization that could help build a counter-narrative with on-the-ground realities.

MARGINAL LAND AND POLITICALLY: Are we only able to act with the left overs of the city, the “terrain vague”, the peripheral borders? How can we avoid becoming marginal tokens? It is important for commoners to complement practical commoning with broader structural political challenges of the irrational and unsustainable present management of our cities; to be both a real example of alternatives and a platform for commons ideas.

ONLY SMALL SCALE?  Are the commons initiatives only valid for small scale urban or rural projects? One possible response is to “confederate” commons initiatives in regional, national and European “Assemblies of the Commons” and “Chambers of the Commons” that could extend, facilitate and promote commons values and actions in the institutional and broader economic and social spheres.

ARE WE “PROCESS FREAKS”? Can the process of negotiation and communication of commons initiatives become a very tiresome, entropic end in itself, substituting political substance with democratic communication. Or can sometimes the stress on consensus in broad negotiations avoid necessary conflicts of interests and positively promote small, slow reforms but even weaken more radical alternatives for the city?

KNOWLEDGE PARASITES Knowledge is Power: Can our successful open knowledge economy be subject to parasitical extraction by big commercial interests? Open access for whom and for what? We are in the need to develop new methods and/or licensing strategies to make sure that knowledge in the commons benefits the common good of equity, sustainability and democracy

DIE FROM SUCCESS Can our physical success (even on a small-scale of commons projects such as urban agriculture or culture) in a neighborhood be motive of gentrification, creating new exclusive borders in a diverse area? How can we avoid becoming a “variation on a theme park”? We must place stress on the principles and practice of integration of diversity, social inclusion, long and permeable borders and liminality, as expressed by Richiard Sennett.

COMMONS CANNOT SUBSTITUTE STATE OR NOT? How can we not be an expression of the substitution of the state or even worse the “Great Society” as an option to a withering state? State social guarantees and social facilitation are always a crucial part of the urban commons.

VOLUNTEERISM,STABLE STRUCTURES AND BURN OUT. Stable structures or voluntarist “burn out”. Voluntarism can lead to unsustainability of projects. Can we have professionalization without greater hierarchy? Some professionalism and hierarchy is obviously necessary for the stability of projects over time.

ENEMIES OF OUR ENEMIES ARE NOT ALWAYS OUR FRIENDS: Can we overcome the productivism and economicism or keynsian pro-growth ideas of our left allies in or outside of power? It is not at all a given that our anti-austerity allies or new left party allies share or lend any priority to our work. It is very important for urban commons to retain their political pluralism and independence while exercising political commitment.

BRING THINGS TO THE SURFACE: Can we contribute to visibilize hidden ecological and social processes of the city? Water, immigration, energy, soil, gender, religious and ethnic differences, .. can evidently become more visible and socially appreciated and valued by means of urban commons projects.

Defending what it means to be human:

Flora Michaels in Monocultures: “It is not that the economic story has no place in the world. But without other stories..we have found essential throughout history, we imprison ourselves. When the languages of other stories begin to be lost, we lose the value of diversity and creativity that keep our society viable. We´re left trying to translate something vitally important to us into economic terms so we can justify even talking about it… we end up missing what it means to be human.”


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