In line with the steady rise in social unrest over the past decade, it’s likely that we will witness an unprecedented escalation in large-scale citizen protests across the globe in 2016 and beyond.
Research by Dr. David Bailey provides empirical evidence for what many activists and campaigners have long suspected: that we have entered a prolonged period of dissent characterised by an escalation in the magnitude and diversity of public protest. The UK-based data clearly indicates that the catalyst for this upsurge in social unrest was the financial crisis of 2008, which continues to have a detrimental impact on economic security for the vast majority of citizens – even while the combined wealth of the richest 1% continues to soar.
Although many would regard 2011 as the year that mass civil disobedience peaked across the world (as exemplified by the emergence of Occupy and the Arab Spring, or ‘The Protestor’ being named person of the year by Time magazine) Dr. Bailey’s calculations show that 2015 was in fact the year that public mobilisations in the UK hit a record high. It’s not hard to see why protest activity is on an ascending trajectory, especially in light of government policies that continue to redistribute wealth upwards to an affluent minority. As opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn pointed out in response to the current direction of policymaking in the UK, “[this government is] slashing public services, especially at local level, for those who rely on them for security and a decent life. It is driving the NHS and social care into crisis, while accelerating the privatisation and break up of our health and education services.”
Unsurprisingly, most of the protests reviewed in Dr. Bailey’s research were austerity-related and convened in response to concerns around pay and working conditions in the public sector, cuts to social services, the privatization of essential services or the lack of affordable housing. More recent catalysts include climate change and the refugee crisis – pressing international issues that remain wholly unresolved and likely to cause further mobilisations in the period ahead. Indeed, with continuing economic stagnation, more austerity measures and growing levels of hunger and poverty anticipated in the coming months, there is every reason to believe that the scale of public disaffection and dissent in the UK will continue to escalate in 2016 and beyond.
Rising protest as a global trend
The evidence from the UK tallies closely with the situation in other countries, as well as the general perception that social discontent is on the rise across the globe. A spate of studies and meta-analysis in recent years depict how large-scale citizen mobilisations have been intensifying for more than a decade, reaching a new peak in the past five years. According to the conclusion of an extensive study examining the complexities of global protests, “The current surge of protests is more global than the wave that occurred during the late 1980s and early 1990s, reaches every region of the world, and affects the full range of political systems—authoritarian, semiauthoritarian, and democratic alike.”
But it’s not just the magnitude of protest that has been multiplying; the number of people engaged in public rallies is also rising. A study analysing 843 protests that occurred between 2006-13 in 87 countries concluded that 37 mobilisations attracted one million or more participants. For example, in 2013 around 100 million people marched against inequality and dire living standards in India, and 17 million citizens mobilised in Tahrir Square to oust Egypt’s President Morsi – possibly two of the largest demonstrations in history. Commentators also acknowledge the instrumental role that the internet and social media have played in engaging the population during Occupy-style campaigns, and that global communication networks have even facilitated the spread of protests across national borders. In terms of motivation, the evidence suggests that most protests take place in response to pressing socio-economic concerns, the violation of basic human rights or a lack of democratic governance. Put simply, the majority of protests constitute a demand for wealth and political power to be shared more equitably among citizens.
Skeptics might argue that citizen protests are unnecessarily disruptive and do more harm than good, or that they are ineffective at changing laws and regulations. However, the research demonstrates that this is not the case. Although some 63% of stipulations made by protestors between 2006-2013 were not met by their governments, many of these were for systemic reforms which can only be implemented progressively over time. Moreover, the influence that large-scale demonstrations have on public consciousness should not be underestimated – a point well-articulated in the film ‘We are Many’, which details how the anti-war marches that took place prior to the invasion of Iraq influenced Egyptian activists during the Arab Spring almost a decade later.
A new expression of democracy
It’s reasonable to conclude from a simple analysis of these trends that a revolutionary change is taking place in the global political landscape. As policymaking becomes increasingly subverted by powerful vested interests, the resulting democratic deficit is being filled by concerned citizens who are demanding that governments take heed of their collective demands. This signifies a fundamental shift in the relationship between citizens and the State, and heralds a new expression of democracy that is still in its infancy but already capable of shaping public opinion, influencing policy discussions and even toppling governments.
The peoples’ voice is likely to strengthen dramatically during 2016, especially in response to a deteriorating geopolitical, socio-economic and environmental situation that necessitates a far more effective form of intergovernmental cooperation than has yet been achieved. In response to this epochal challenge, perhaps citizens campaigning on separate issues or based in different countries will also begin to coalesce their activities more concretely around a common set of principles and global priorities, such as a united demand for governments to finally secure basic human rights universally. Without such expressions of international unity and solidarity among both policymakers and protesters, it is difficult to imagine how today’s converging crises can be addressed in a way that upholds the global common good.
The only certainty is that government ministers will invite further social unrest if they fail to act on the rising demand for real democracy and justice that is at the heart of the current wave of popular unrest. The way forward has long been clear to global activists and engaged citizens: curtail the power of elites and corporations, and ensure that governance systems truly serve the people and protect the biosphere. As a minimum – and in line with the growing demands of a disaffected majority – this necessitates a radical decentralisation of power and the redistribution of wealth and resources across the world as a whole.
2015 was a year of groundbreaking work and whirlwind travel for the P2P Foundation. Here are some of last year’s highlights.
Our New Organizational Structure
We’re pleased to announce that the P2P Foundation’s structure has recently been reorganized around three distinct operational hubs. Given the nature of our work, the distinction between them may be porous. These three entities are as follows:
The P2P Foundation commons itself, which observes, interconnects, stimulates and theorizes on knowledge production around the emergence of a commons economy and society. This work is led by Michel Bauwens through outreach, lecturing, writing, publishing and online documentation. The P2P Foundation is the umbrella organization under which Commons Transition and the P2P Lab (and other projects) operate interdependently. The following individuals operate as stewards in key areas: James Burke as operations and finance steward, Vasilis Niaros as the sustainability steward, Stacco Troncoso as the strategic direction steward, and Ann Marie Utratel as communications steward.
Commons Transition is now the main communication and advocacy hub of the P2P Foundation. Through the leadership of Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel, CT continues producing accessible documentation to effectively spread our commons-based and -oriented ideas and experiences, appealing to civil society actors and policy makers. CT is also building a new transnational activist network identified with the Commons to broaden these ideas into mainstream awareness.
The P2P Lab is now the research hub of the P2P Foundation. The P2P Lab operates as a concrete lab in northern Greece and as a global research network. They also track academic peer-reviewed publications around p2p and the commons (including the works of our core collaborators), and obtain grants for research. The work is led by Vasilis Kostakis and Vasilis Niaros with the collaboration of commons-oriented researchers, such as Penny Travlou and Rachel O’Dwyer.
Below are some of the achievements of these 3 hubs:
Michel Bauwens talks about the P2P Foundation at OuishareFest 2015
2015 was an extremely busy year for in-person outreach, through seven months of travelling on three continents for Michel Bauwens with the personal assistance of Kevin Flanagan. Notable highlights include two weeks in Madison, Wisconsin (USA) working with the Real Utopias project of Eric Olin Wright; one month in Cassis, France at the Fondation Camargo, working on the outreach of a French book on P2P; one month in Catalonia, Spain (see the CIC project below); participating on commons outreach in the Edge Funders network in Baltimore, Maryland (USA); and two weeks in South Africa with our colleague Irma Wilson of Futuresharp.
Our proposals to create an independent political and social voice for commoners gained traction in 2015. Chambers of the Commons and similar were created in Chicago (USA) and several cities in France, and a local Commons Transition Coalition in Australia was formed, all following Michel’s visits. We met with: the Green Party parliamentary group (Belgium); the chairman of the Flemish Christian-democratic party; the chairman of the Flemish socialist party; and local officials (including mayors, ministers) in New Zealand, Australia, and Switzerland, indicating an emerging interest in our approach. Reports of our work appeared in major articles in leading newspapers and magazines in several countries.
The P2P Foundation also continued to diligently curate and nurture the knowledge commons through its two traditional outlets: The P2P Foundation Wiki and the P2P Foundation blog. Noted contributors to the blog have included: David Bollier, Carmen Lozano Bright, Kevin Carson, Kevin Flanagan, Sepp Hasslberger, Øyvind Holmstad, Guy James, Vasilis Kostakis, Rajesh Makwana, Nathan Schneider, Penny Travlou, and the team from las Indias, among a great many others.
L-R Kevin Flanagan, Michel Bauwens, Vivian Paulissen at IdeaCamp 2015. Image by Julio Albarrán
The Commons Transition project was initially conceived as a wiki to house modified policy proposals from the FLOK society project, adapted to be more generally useful (non-nation specific). The Commons Transition team rethought the project and developed a broader set of tools with an eye towards expansion in both communications and advocacy. Commons Transition has become an umbrella project and “brand”, with an outreach effort and nascent set of forward-thinking partnerships in addition to a group of social media-friendly websites showcasing the commons in action. The key elements are listed below.
Web Presence: The main Commons Transition website contains introductory and policy materials, a free e-book download, FAQ, etc.Commons Transition Stories is a web magazine section with inspiring content for commoners worldwide. Its various subsections include: News and Articles, Commoners in Transition and The 100 Women of P2P (both feature exclusive interviews with changemakers), and Video. The Special Reports section is indexed with links and augmented with diagrams and footnotes. Each report has a corresponding version in the Commons Transition Wiki, and PDF downloads. We expand our Wiki with sector-specific solutions and policy ideas, and feature a dedicated portal for Law for the Commons Wiki. We also created a policy-engagement platform, Commons Transition Consulting, for administrations seeking to learn more about Commons Transition. Our communications ecosystem is growing: The Commons Transition Facebook page has over 1,800 followers, and more than 80,000 visits. We are also present on Twitter, G+, and Minds, and have started a Commons Transition Loomio group for public discussion.
We also continue working with communities wishing to adapt the Commons Transition approach to their prefigurative systems, including the Catalan Integral Coop (CIC). The P2PF spent a week with the CIC, studying their projects, giving lectures on P2P and building relationships. This sub-project was also awarded one of the first Robin Hood Coop collective grants, and our colleague George Dafermos will visit Catalonia in 2016 to continue our collaborative work developing their bio-regional, civil society-led Commons Transition plan. In Spain, we will be working more closely with our contacts in Podemos and the citizen-led government coalitions in Madrid and Barcelona in the coming year.
The P2P Lab
The P2P Lab, along with its network of fellows and collaborators from all over the world, has been mostly active in a theoretical basis in 2015, focusing primarily on transitional scenarios in various academic research fields as well as imagining visions for a commons-oriented economy and society.
Our full output for 2015 as well as other information, like our open call for new collaborators, may be found in the Lab’s webspace. In a nutshell, this past year the Lab has produced pieces of academic work that look into subjects like smart cities; open source technologies (such as 3d printing) in education; digital economies; the relationship between law and technological advancement; and most importantly the advent of a new production model called “design global – manufacture local”.
At the same time, we have designed large scale research projects and mapped out their materialization by securing research partners and exploring funding opportunities.
Summary: the 3 Strategic Priorities for the Peer to Peer Commons
Stream 1: Alternative Eco-system for Open and Cooperative Peer Production.
For Stream 1 we continued outreach on Open Cooperativism and presented our findings in numerous cooperative meetings, including the Platform Cooperativism conference in NYC. We also co-organized the Commons Strategy Group report on the subject. A highlight of this stream was our 10-day visit to New Zealand organized by Enspiral to study ethical enterprise coalitions. We examined finance for commons production with the CSG, and connected with RIPESS on a open solidarity economy. Progress on the Copyfair license has been limited, but the proposition was clarified through workshops in the Francophone sphere.
Stream 2: Cultural, political and policy transitions for a commons-centric society.
For Stream 2, Commons Transition continued to provide comprehensive, accessible overviews of the P2P/Commons movement through its various websites (see above). We also traveled extensively to discuss aspects of the Commons Transition with prefigurative communities and commons-oriented policymakers.
Stream 3: Sustainability Manufacturing and an Open Source Circular Economy.
L-R: Ann Marie Utratel, Stacco Troncoso, Michel Bauwens and James Burke. Image by Kevin Flanagan
Looking ahead to 2016
2016 will see a strong push in P2P Foundation publishing, mainly in general-reader level materials including synthetic summaries of our work and accumulated understandings, as a consolidation of our efforts of the last decade. Michel Bauwens and the P2P Foundation team will undertake a full schedule of intensive travel and speaking engagements, including a two-week intensive lecture tour in Belgium and the Netherlands on the occasion of the new second edition of the p2p book, “De Wereld Redden”. Other trips planned include an European trip in September, and an Australian tour in October.
Michel has also been invited by Erik Olin Wright to spend four months at the Havens Center at the University of Wisconsin, to write a ‘anchor essay’ for the Real Utopias series, (likely to be published by Verso along with commentary essays), which will be a rewrite of the 2005 P2P Manifesto.
Other publishing projects include a book on urban transitions (co-edited with Christian Iaione), and a mass-market book for the English-speaking market composed of interviews between Jean Lievens and Michel Bauwens, following the model of the French and Flemish best-sellers.
The P2PLab and the Blaqswans collective (Xavier Rizos, et al.), we will continue our progress on the sustainable manufacturing front through the study of the thermo-dynamic efficiencies of peer production (calculating them with added engineering and financial expertise). We will also collaborate in two Deep Dives with our colleagues at the Commons Strategies Group, one on ‘The Commons and the State’ and the other on ‘Value in a Commons Economy”, in the spring and fall of 2016.
Regarding Commons Transition, we will intensify our networking and outreach strategy by working to popularize the Commons as a unifying context for changemakers, and create an impact in popular culture. A key priority is the renewal of the P2P Foundation blog and landing page, plus project proposals regarding Open Cooperativism and new Commons Transition plans for policymakers, expanding our commons-oriented services portfolio.
The P2P Foundation’s role in the EU-funded P2Pvalue project will intensify in this final year, with additional research work planned in collaboration with the other project teams, outreach support for the open-source software created as part of the project, and a final event to close the project in September 2016.
Finally, the P2P Lab will attempt to further empirically explore and expand the theoretical work that has been produced in 2015. Through the various research projects, we will look into subjects like the aforementioned model of “design global – manufacture local”; open value networks; patents and technological development. More information may be found here. Further, as ever, the lab will be open to collaborate on projects that fit within the scope of our research interests and ethics, and we will gladly provide freely our assistance in work whose output is a commons.
In summary, the activities of the P2P Lab and Commons Transition will be melded into the P2P Foundation, establishing a common work output that functions in two interrelated levels. First, the research-oriented output of the Lab, influenced by the socio-political pursuits of Commons Transition; and second, the outreach efforts of Commons Transition that are informed and supported by the Lab’s work.
This review was collaboratively written by Michel Bauwens, Ann Marie Utratel, Vasilis Niaros, Vasilis Kostakis and Stacco Troncoso.
“When I think about the politics of powerlessness, it feels clear as day to me that the source of all of it is fear. Fear of leaders, of the enemy, of the possibility of having to govern, of the stakes of winning and losing, of each other, of ourselves.”
(this is a follow-up with of a 1st excerpt in which the author reflected on the failure of the Occupy movement)
“I start to internalize wisdom taught me by a mentor and coach from Generative Somatics, an organization that fuses emotional healing, physical practice, and radical politics: People do what they must to survive. Our behaviors?—?even the self-sabotaging ones?—?are our bodies’ responses to threat. Our instincts are clumsy at times, and they often cut us off from our better options, but credit where credit is due: these instincts, at some points, probably saved our lives. Instead of hating those traits so much, we might be better off tipping our hat to them, thanking them for the safety they have provided us, and letting them know that we don’t need them anymore?—?that we want to practice something new instead. It doesn’t mean excusing bad behavior in ourselves or the movement; it means understanding where it comes from for the sake of changing it.
This is our task as organizers and revolutionaries: to become our most powerful selves and supporting the whole movement in that same transformation. In the service of that goal, my anger thaws into compassion and my self-righteousness becomes curiosity, and it’s with this lens that I start to look at the movement with fresh eyes. I wonder what really caused the implosions at Occupy in the first place, and why those behaviors persist across the Left. I start to try to figure out where the politics of powerlessness come from, what needs they meet for us. And as I dig below the surface, I can’t help but notice the shifts that the Black folks rising up across this country have already offered the movement; so many enormous contributions in the struggle for freedom, but even something as small as hats that say power on them are a challenge to the politics of powerlessness, a reflection of our ability to make and practice new rules for ourselves as we transform.
Today, when I think about the politics of powerlessness, it feels clear as day to me that the source of all of it is fear. Fear of leaders, of the enemy, of the possibility of having to govern, of the stakes of winning and losing, of each other, of ourselves. And it’s all pretty understandable.
We call each other out and push one another out of the movement, because we are desperate to cling to the little slivers of belonging we’ve found in the movement, and are full of scarcity?—?convinced that there isn’t enough of anything to go around (money, people, power, even love). We eat ourselves alive and attack our own leaders because we’ve been hurt and misled all our lives and can’t bear for it to happen again on our watch. We race to prove we are the least privileged, because this is the only way we can imagine being powerful. We turn our backs on people who don’t get it, because organizing them will not only be hard but also painful, because we will have to give up some of our victimhood to do it, because it will mean being vulnerable to the world we came to the movement to escape. Our ego battles are a natural product of a movement that doesn’t have a clear answer for how leadership is to be appreciated and held accountable at the same time. Our inability to celebrate small victories is a defense from having to believe that winning is even possible?—?a way to avoid the heartbreak of loss when it comes.
And perhaps most importantly: Our tendency to make enemies of each other is driven by a deep fear of the real enemy, a paralyzing hopelessness about our possibilities of winning. After all, whether we admit it or not, we spend quite a lot of our time not believing we can really win. And if we’re not going to win, we might as well just be awesome instead. If we’re not going to win, we’re better off creating spaces that suit our cultural and political tastes, building relationships that validate our non-conformist aesthetic, surrendering the struggle over the future in exchange for a small island over which we can reign.
The politics of powerlessness is a defense mechanism, meant to protect us from our worst fears. And as I’ve been learning, it never works to hate one’s defenses, to bang our heads against them, to bend them into submission. No, the way we change is by really getting curious about their source, and trying to address their root causes. Of course we’re afraid. Fear is a totally grounded response to what is happening around us. We need to sit with that. And we need to find new practices for dealing with our fears, because in the end, those hard truths are precisely the reason we need to do awaywith the politic of powerlessness.
This defense mechanism, which may have saved our collective lives somewhere along the way, has outlived its usefulness. It has become a barrier to the success of the movements being born around us, the flourishing of our people, the world we want to win. We are standing against a series of crises one more terrifying than the next, stemming from systems more towering than ever before, guided by people who are happy to kill many of us to preserve their wealth. If we don’t get powerful soon, we’re going to lose. And in this case, losing means not only the immense oppression, exploitation, and repression this system guarantees; it also means the extinction of our species. Challenging the politics of powerlessness and replacing it with something that can win is not an academic question; it is truly a matter of life or death. We had better get our shit together, and quick.
We need to replace judgment and self-righteousness with curiosity and compassion. Those are the tools that will help us support each other in the face of the crises ahead, and they are the qualities we will need in order to truly understand the very many people we still need to organize. They will help us become facilitators instead of polemicists, teach us to build instead of tear apart. Flexing these new muscles, we must convert a politic that punishes imperfection into one that uses everything at its fingertips to win?—?that compels each and every one of us to turn our gifts into weapons for the sake of freedom. We need to build groups?—?collectives, organizations, affinity groups, whatever?—?because groups are what keep us in the movement, they’re what keep movement moments going, where we transform, how we fight, and the best way to hold each other accountable to the long struggle for liberation. We need to win small victories that open up space for bigger ones, and we must celebrate them, because that’s the best inoculation against a politic based in fear that nothing is winnable. We have to develop powerful visions for the world we want, so we can put those small victories inside a broader strategy that strikes at the roots of the systems we face. We must all engage in the hard and transformational work to become our most powerful selves; after all, it is truly the only way we even stand a chance.”
When I think about the politics of powerlessness, it feels clear as day to me that the source of all of it is fear. Fear of leaders, of the enemy, of the possibility of having to govern, of the stakes of winning and losing, of each other, of ourselves.
(we will follow-up with a 2nd excerpt on countering the politics of powerlessness)
“The truth is, it wasn’t the state, or the cold, or the media. The real problem underneath it all was a deep ambivalence about power. In fact, all of the things that made Occupy Wall Street brilliant had this paradox built into them, this politic of powerlessness woven deep inside, like a bad gene or a self-destruct mechanism.
For example, the mantra of leaderlessness came from a genuine desire to avoid classic pitfalls into hierarchy, but it was, at the same time, a farce, and divorced from any sense of collective structure or care for group culture. It foreclosed on the possibility of holding emerging leaders accountable, created a situation in which real leaders (whether worthy or not) went to the shadows instead of the square, and made it impossible to really develop one another (how, really, could we train new leaders if there weren’t supposed to be any in the first place?). Similarly, the refusal to articulate demands was brilliant in opening radical possibilities and sparking the popular imagination, but it also meant we didn’t have a shared goal, meant the word winning wasn’t even part of the movement’s lexicon. In many ways, it was an expression of a fear of actually saying something and taking responsibility for it, and it encouraged the often-repeated delusion that we didn’t even want anything our enemy had to give, that Wall Street and the State didn’t have any power over us. The vigilance against co-option came from honest history of movements falling prey to powerful forces hoping to dull or divert their aims; but it ultimately became a paranoia more than anything else, a tragic misunderstanding of the playing field and what it was going to take to build popular power. Instead of welcoming other progressive forces and actually co-opting them, purists shamed “liberals,” cultivated a radical macho culture more focused on big speeches at assemblies and arrests in the streets than the hard organizing behind the scenes, and turned Occupy into a fringe identity that only a few people could really claim to the exclusion of the hundreds of thousands who actually made it real.
Occupy Wall Street created a new discourse, brought thousands of people into the movement, shifted the landscape of the left, and even facilitated concrete victories for working people. But at the same time, a substantial chunk of its leadership was allergic to power. And we made a politic of that. We fetishized it, wrote articles and books about it, scorned the public with it. Worst of all, we used it as a cudgel with which to bludgeon each other.
Sure, the cops came for us?—?we invited them, after all. But we were the problem: When the state tugged hard enough, we tore at the seams.
I spent years being angry about it. I was angry at the people who had attacked the group I was part of from the inside, the people who bullied me into giving up every piece of leverage I had by making me feel like I didn’t have the right to organize the folks I had access to, who punished me every time I was quoted or interviewed, who came to the meetings I facilitated and intentionally disrupted them. The stories are too long and too many to recount here, and anyone who was in the middle of it has their own share of war stories too.
But more than anyone else, I was angry at myself for letting it happen. I spent months waking up in the middle of the night, replaying the different moments I had capitulated to cool kids and given up real opportunities to grow the movement out of fear that I’d be iced out if I didn’t. And the truth is, I had no excuse. I had already learned this important lesson at the New School in 2008 when a couple hundred of us occupied a building to get a war criminal thrown off the board, win back student space, and push forward student self-governance and responsible investment: Bad politics don’t go away on their own, you actually have to fight them.
Maybe it’s counter-intuitive, and it’s certainly unpleasant, but it’s true. In those moments, when we refuse to engage in these fights because they feel childish and below the belt, we forget that the majority of people are standing in the middle, wondering what the hell is going on and looking for people they can trust. When those of us who are thinking about power and trying to grow the base don’t step up to that challenge, the folks in the middle assume that the people bringing in toxicity are the leadership, and they don’t want to have anything to do with it. They find no other voices providing leadership they can feel a part of. So they go home.
And that’s kind of what happened. The state upped the ante, raised the heat on us. Shit got ugly, and directionless, and toxic. The self-destruct mechanisms went off, the politics of powerlessness played out to their logical conclusions. The folks best equipped to offer leadership in that moment didn’t step up. So everyone went home.
And as I think back on the mistakes I made?—?among them, this grand mistake of shrinking from the responsibilities of leadership, however personally costly?—?I can’t help but feel a little bit ashamed. We did a tremendous amount. But we could have done more. We could have lasted longer, brought more people into the movement, established more powerful institutions, won more material gains. If we understand the prison industrial complex and climate change and wealth inequality and the foreclosure crisis as hard and tangible threats to people’s literal survival, then we have to see, with equal clarity, that our movements are nothing short of an attempt to save lives. And we could have saved more lives.”
” the politic of powerlessness doesn’t only live on social media, but in our organizing spaces as well?—?and it’s in the realm of identity that so much of the battle takes place. We confuse systems like white supremacy, patriarchy, and capitalism with individuals we can use as stand-ins for them. We use the inevitable fuck-ups of our potential partners as validation that we should stay in our bunkers with the handful of people who make us feel safe instead of getting dirty in the trenches. We imagine identity as static and permanent, instead of remembering that all of us?—?to borrow terminology from organizations like Training for Change?—?have experiences of marginalization that can help us support one another, and experiences of being in the mainstream that can help us understand the people we want to shift. We forget that, while identity gives us clues and reveals patterns, itdoesn’t fully explain our behavior, and it certainly doesn’t determine it. We abandon the truth that people can transform, that ultimately we all?—?oppressed and potential oppressors alike (if such simplistic frames should even be entertained)?—?can and must choose sides. So we shirk this ultimate responsibility we have as organizers: To support people in making the hard and scary choices to be on the side of freedom. In all of this commotion, we turn inward. We forget the enemy outside, and find enemies in the room instead, make enemies of one another.
And here, just as from Occupy Wall Street, the vast majority of people?—?those great many on whom this system relies and the very same ones we will need to organize to make it come to a screeching halt?—?grow tired. So they go home. And we lose.”
Okay. As in all good blues songs, this story starts with ‘woke up this mornin’…’ and goes on to bemoan conditions of the storyteller’s life. We then go on to tie in an excellent critique by Stephanie McMillan of Paul Mason’s views on Post-Capitalism and why she thinks he is wrong to claim that it is the beginning of the end of capitalism.
Cartoon by Stephanie McMillan
In my case, I woke up this morning and read two articles on my kindle. This device, of course, is mass produced by Amazon (mine says ‘Assembled in China’ on the back), is sold cheaply as a loss-leader for their ebook platform so they can tie you into their proprietary format and bookstore, and does indeed allow me to hold literally thousands of books and articles in my two hands. I rarely pay for the content however – such is the abundance of good material on the internet that the bulk of my time using the device is spent reading articles saved for later when using Facebook or Twitter. In three years of owning it, I don’t think I have bought more than five books from the kindle store. The books I have bought have been mostly from independent online publishers such as OR Books or Synergetic Press.
Whether ‘information wants to be free’ (as in liberty), or not, the fact is that information does apparently ‘want’ to be free (as in beer, as in gratis). None of this is news, of course – we are all pretty much drowning in free or very low cost information, some of which is of an extremely high standard, to a degree unimaginable to previous generations. Read the rest of this entry »
“More contract disclosure will not necessarily result in greater understanding of the economic implications of fiscal terms. The terms only become meaningful when their interactions are understood alongside relevant national tax laws and regulations. So to make real sense of the economic implications, the fiscal terms must be considered under varying scenarios of production, price and costs. In other words, they must be modeled. Economic modeling is currently considered an advanced and esoteric pursuit, but we believe that this can be turned on its head: methodologically sound models starting from a pedagogical viewpoint can actually be the entry point to understanding the economic implications of extractives contracts. And, to put the converse case, the transparency community will not succeed in spreading public understanding of what these contracts mean unless this modeling does take place because in the case of complex extractives projects “you don’t know what you’ve got until its modeled”.
“The norm of contract transparency is gaining ground and more contracts governing extractive sector projects are becoming public – through several channels. Some governments have disclosed contracts as a matter of policy. International lenders, including the International Finance Corporation, are encouraging contract disclosure. Smaller, publicly listed companies have long been required to disclose contracts in the United States and Canada if those contracts could affect their share price. And, of course, sometimes contracts end up in circulation after having been informally disclosed, as is the case with the recent Statoil contract amendment in Tanzania. Many of these contracts can be found on sites including resourcecontracts.org and the Publish What You Pay site Who has published contracts?
Increased information in the public domain can only be a good thing. But more information does not necessarily mean more understanding. In fact, there is a risk it can result in more confusion, as Michael Jarvis of the World Bank pointed out in a blog post last year.
In the petroleum sector, public “model” contracts are commonly available. But what is often missing is not the general structure of the contract but the economic terms. Against this background, and coming from a low base of what we might call “contract literacy”, the first response to publication of contracts has been to focus on royalty rates, income tax rates, and possibly the level of government equity participation.
But what do such headline terms really tell us by themselves? Not much.”
* Modeling as an Essential Component of Sector Good Governance
Economic models are in widespread use in behind-the-scenes decision-making by companies and governments. All too often, governments rely on the company’s model during a contract negotiation. Curiously, economic models are not yet part of the extractive sector transparency agenda. In part, this is because the models themselves are almost never publicly accessible. But we suspect that it is also because economic modeling based on elaborate spreadsheets is seen as technical and esoteric – beyond the reach of many of those interested in better management of the extractive sector.
We want to change this. In our next post, we will review the common uses for project economic modeling in the extractive sector as well as some of the private and public organizations that build models. In the current environment, the characterization of models as highly technical and esoteric certainly rings true. These models are forbidding rather than user friendly.
It is easy to build models that are intelligible only to a very few technical experts. But we contend that this complexity is not inherent to modeling. Rather it is because, not surprisingly, existing models have been built by economists for economists.
There’s no doubt that it is easy to get lost when you combine 100+ page contracts with a model spread across multiple sheets in an Excel file. But if we make pedagogy a leading requirement in model design, it should be possible for models to be the best way to see the forest of extractive economics rather than just lots of trees.
Modeling needs to be mainstreamed. Currently, fiscal regime analysis is the precursor to building project models. We want to test the opposite hypothesis: that models can empower, and provide the best entry point to understand the economic implications of contract terms that are increasingly in the public domain but not often well understood.
In fact, we suggest there really is no alternative. Because when it comes to understanding the economic implications of extractive sector contracts, “you don’t know what you’ve got until its modeled.”
A new anthology of essays, Build the City: Perspectives on Commons and Culture,powerfully confirms that the “city as a commons” meme is surging. This carefully edited, beautifully designed collection of 38 essays shows the depth and range of thinking now underway. The book was published by Krytyka Polityczna and the European Cultural Foundation in September as part of ECF’s Idea Camp convening.
Thinking about cities as commons is so compelling to me because it gives a structured framework for talking our moral and political claims on cities. It helps makes our entitlements as commoners visible, as well as the scourge of enclosure – two concepts that are not particularly welcome topics in respectable political circles.
The essays of Build the City celebrate the idea that ordinary people – tenants, families, artists, the precariat, migrants, community groups, activists – have a legitimate role in participating in their own city. The metropolis is not the privileged preserve of the wealthy, industrialists, investors, and landlords. It is a place where commoners have meaningful power and access to what they need. In developing this theme, this book is a timRebel clown army confronts the G8 Summit in Scotland. From “Build the City.”ely complement to the Bologna “The City as Commons” conference in November.
If there is one recurring theme in this book, it is that commoners must devise the means for more open, inclusive and participatory models of democracy in cities – and that art and culture projects can help lead the way.
“Cultural initiatives that challenge the extremely individualized model of the world are worth closer attention,” writes Agnieszka Wi?niewska, a Polish member of the “Connected Action for the Commons” network, “as they may help us re-esetablish social ties and our trust in others.” The real challenge, then, is how to devise effective new structures that can empower commoners in improving governance, building social connection and democratizing power.
Build the City explores this issue from many different angles – art, culture, economics, politics, technology. Its varied roster of contributors include Michel Bauwens of the P2P Foundation; Richard Sennett, the celebrated sociologist who teaches at the London School of Economics and NYU; Julie Ward, a Member of the European Parliament; and a wide number of artists, critics, and cultural activists from throughout Europe.
A number of essays focus on the importance of public spaces to the functioning of democracy itself. This is a problem in many cities, from Istanbul to Barcelona, and from Prague to Budapest, where the forces of privatization and “development” are squeezing out the life of the city.
In one essay, Vitalie Sprinceana, a Moldovan sociologist, philosopher and activist, assesses the lasting impact of a 2012 mobilization of citizens in Chisinau against a furtive plan by city government to remake a beloved Europe Square, the site of a public garden and national monuments. The citizen effort reinvigorated the idea that public spaces must belong to the public in practice, and that politicians and bureaucracies must not dictate the fate of those spaces.
Many other essays explore how citizen-led art and culture are enlivening city spaces – and how these activities are essential to promoting democratic processes in Europe. The Polish artist and activist Igor Stokfiszewski explained why it is important that we “pay particular attention to artistic activity that aims to encourage grassroots self-expression through art by non-professional artists…..[It] encourage[s] practices that are geared towards the community, shaping extra-verbal ways of creating bonds through developing empathy and reciprocity.” The art that people contribute to the city helps shape the shared narratives and iconography that defines the place.
One of my favorite chapters in the book is an interview that Rob Hopkins, founder of the Transition Town network, conducted with the cofounders of the Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination. This is an artists’ collective that works with activists to open up new spaces of the imagination in city life. For example, at a protest at a G8 Summit in Scotland, the group once recruited a “rebel clown army” that did such things as put on lipstick and repeatedly kissed riot shields. The group has also organized the throwing of snowballs at bankers, and turned hundreds of abandoned bikes into machines of civil disobedience.
Explaining such tactics, Isabelle Frémeaux, a member of the Laboratory, said, “The Left is very scared of using desire and the body, and capitalism and the Right are brilliant at it.” By this, she means that many activists try to marshal facts and statistics to change minds, on the assumption that “people don’t act because they don’t know.” But in fact, Frémeaux said, “what generally makes people move is not rational thinking but much more often desires and fantasies of what could be.” She said that “people cling on to things and values that have been the structure of the life for a long time.” Art can help reawaken us to this reality, and point us in new directions.
The Laboratory, therefore, tries to use art and public theater to reach people’s emotional lives as well as their rational left brains. “In a sense, art is magic,” said John Jordan of the Laboratory. “It’s a form of magic. We think that’s one of its powers, that actually things become true when enough people believe in them. Art is very good at weaving the magic that we need in these moments.”
During an interview and discussion with the audience at the annual World Goodwill seminar in London, STWR highlighted the increasingly urgent need for concerned citizens to demand that governments enact the pressing structural reforms needed to address interconnected social, political and environmental crises.
On 14th November 2015, World Goodwill – a global network of citizens that seeks to stimulate awareness of major world problems and foster a universal spiritual perspective about humanity’s future – convened their annual seminar, which took place simultaneously in London, Geneva and New York. Separately at each venue, contributions were provided by a range of speakers from spiritual and business backgrounds as well as representatives from civil society organisations, including Share The World’s Resources (STWR) who participated at the London event.
A recurring point of discussion at all three venues was the ethic and practice of sharing, which was referred to by a number of speakers in relation to pressing social and economic concerns (such as sustainable development and the climate crisis), and also in terms of how embracing the principle of sharing is pivotal to our continued evolution and progress on Planet Earth.
Speaking in French during the Geneva seminar, Daniel Hersann argued that diametrically opposing world views are confronting each other at this critical moment in history: an emerging understanding based on group collaboration and sharing is challenging the predominant view that human beings are naturally exploitative, competitive and individualistic. He went on to suggest that the inequitable distribution of planetary resources cannot be resolved unless our willingness to share overpowers the pervasive desire for material accumulation that characterises the modern world.
Also speaking in Geneva, Thomas Bohrn noted that sharing is fundamental to physiological processes, particularly in relation to the distribution of oxygen and other nutrients that takes place at a cellular and atomic level. Bohrn questioned whether such elemental systems of sharing have been sufficiently recreated in the world around us, and concluded that economic systems are largely incompatible with the principle of sharing at present as they fail to freely distribute resources in the same way that nature always has.
At the seminar in London, STWR’s Rajesh Makwana (who’s contribution was in the form of an interview and discussion with the audience) responded to questions about the commons movement, the sharing economy and the role that not-for-profit enterprises can play in the ‘great transition’ that lies ahead. He also explained that systemic forms of sharing must be implemented on an international basis if governments are to finally end extreme poverty, noting that around 46,000 preventable deaths occur each day mainly because millions of people still cannot access to the essentials of life: nutritious food, clean water and basic healthcare.
Makwana also asserted that we are in the midst of what can only be described as a global emergency, adding that many millions more concerned citizens must therefore demand that governments enact the pressing structural reforms needed to address interconnected social, political and environmental crises. He also stressed the vital importance of heralding Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human rights, which is a proposition that is explored in detail in a study by STWR’s founder Mohammed Mesbahi.
The theme of sharing was further examined in a presentation by representatives of WYSE International, a voluntary organisation providing training opportunities for young people seeking to make a positive impact on world problems. Highlighting the urgent need to address pressing global crises such as the overconsumption of natural resources, WYSE’s Hilary Harvey emphasised the crucial role that education can play in this regard, especially at a time when half the world’s population is under the age of 35. Clarence Harvey drew attention to how people of goodwill are increasingly embracing core human values such as sharing and nobility, which he suggested are embodied in the idea of the Bodhisattva – the one whose heart is opened and whose mind is illumined.
Alluding to the confluence of global crises during the seminar in New York, Jimena Leiva Roesch of the International Peace Institute explained that the Sustainable Development Goals hold the potential to establish a new paradigm in international relations by integrating the social, economic and environmental aspects of development. According to Roesch, 2016 will be a pivotal year when the United Nations will have a historic opportunity to combine the sustainability and climate agendas and create a unified vision of human progress and environmental regeneration.
The seminars, which also included a number of meditations and presentations from other insightful speakers, provided an important contribution to the emerging discourse on the need for wealth, power and resources to be shared more equitably at across all levels of society – locally, nationally and globally. In particular, the combination of spiritual and civil society perspectives on this central issue was notable at a time when people everywhere are recognising the need to move beyond intellectual silos and unite on common platforms for transformative change.
STWR would like to thank World Goodwill for their kind invitation to participate in the London seminar.
At this time of year, it is easy to forget the reality of the critical world situation as we partake in the frantic overconsumption and festivities of Christmas. But what is the true meaning of Christmas in the midst of environmental destruction, growing levels of poverty and escalating global tensions?
Mohammed Mesbahi’s discourse on this question asks if we can celebrate Christmas in a humble and truly loving way with respect to the Earth and those less fortunate than ourselves. He argues that there is no better way to celebrate the birth of Christ than to unite under the banner of freedom and justice, and peacefully demonstrate for an end to hunger and poverty across the world.
As Mesbahi writes: “In light of all the suffering and critical problems in the world, what better way to celebrate Christmas this year than to go out in the streets and peacefully demonstrate for an end to poverty and injustice. To say: no more cutting of trees! No more buying extravagant presents! And then to raise our voices for all the world’s people to be fed, cared for and nourished. Wouldn’t that be the best Christmas we have ever known, considering the fact that thousands of people are dying each day from poverty-related causes? Because then we would not only express our loyalty and affection to our own family and friends, but we would also stand in loving unity with the entire world. If Jesus were walking among us today, perhaps that is what He would call on us to do.”
We hope you will take the time to read or re-read this essay, and pass it on to your family and friends.