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New Film Documentary, “Seeing the Forest”

photo of David Bollier

David Bollier
25th May 2015


two-salmon-e1429733253359In the 1990s, many communities in central Oregon were torn asunder by the “War of the Woods.” Environmentalists had brought lawsuits against the U.S. Forest Service for violating its own governing statutes. For decades, timber companies had been allowed to clear-cut public forests, re-seed with tree monocultures, and build ecologically harmful roads on mountain landscapes.

Environmentalists won their lawsuit in 1991 when a federal judge issued an injunction that in effect shut down timber operations in the Pacific Northwest of the US. While the endangered northern spotted owl was the focus of much of the debate, the health of the entire ecosystem was at risk, including the Pacific salmon, which swim upstream to spawn.

There is often no substitute for litigation and government mandates, and the 1991 litigation was clearly needed.  But what is really interesting is the aftermath:  Rather than just designating the forest as a wilderness preserve off-limits to everyone, the Forest Service instigated a remarkable experiment in collaborative governance. From “Seeing the Forest”

Instead of relying on the standard regime of bureaucratic process driven by congressional politics, industry lobbying and divisive public posturing, the various stakeholders in the region formed a “watershed council” to manage the Siuslaw National Forest. Twenty years later, this process of open commoning has produced a significant restoration of the forest ecosystems, implicitly indicting the previous forest management regime driven by politics and the formal legal system.

This story is told in a wonderful thirty-minute film documentary, “Seeing the Forest,” produced by writer and filmmaker Alan Honick, with support from Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics.  Honick writes how the public lands in Oregon contained most of the remaining old growth forests outside of protected parks:

These were complex and ancient ecosystems, particularly on the west side of the Cascades, where the moisture from Pacific storms gave rise to rich and diverse temperate rainforests. Hundreds of species of animals and plants depended on this habitat to survive.

For 40 years, these forests were logged with the same industrial methods practiced on private land. Vast swaths were clearcut, then densely replanted with monocultures of the fastest growing trees. When they reached sufficient size, they were scheduled to be clearcut and replanted again, in an ongoing cycle considered sustainable by those who employed it.

The aftermath of the 1991 litigation could have been simmering hostility and litigation, which would likely flare up again.  It was based on the old, familiar narrative of “jobs vs. the environment,” a debate that government was supposed to mediate and resolve.

In Oregon, however, it was decided to develop a “Northwest Forest Plan” that inaugurated a new space and shared narrative.  The Siuslaw Watershed Council invited anyone with an interest in the forest to attend its open, roundtable meetings, to discuss how to manage the forest and resolve or mitigate the competing interests of timber companies, environmentalists, recreational fishers, local communities, hikers, and others.  Outcomes were based on consensus agreement.

One environmentalist confessed that he had never wanted to sit down at the same table with a timber industry representative.  The process of sitting and talking as a group was an important behavioral experience for all sides, however.  It was a process for overcoming mutual skepticism, building trust, putting aside past differences, and taking risks on new ideas. The group does not have binding decisionmaking power, but as a Forest Service representative explained, it has “all but legal” decisionmaking power for the Siuslaw Forest, including how funds will be spent.

The process has focused on a shared goal – the restoration of salmon in the streams and rivers.  While there remain differences among participants, everyone is oriented to finding workable solutions rather than in “winning” through a pitched political or legal system.

One advantage to this process has been using informal agreement to bypass bureaucratic and legal limitation for doing things.  The life-cycle of the salmon spans an entire watershed, from the headwaters of the streams to the ocean – a geographic expanse that goes well beyond the Forest Service lands to include many private lands and community lands.  The watershed council helped surmount some of these jurisdictional issues and allow people to develop more flexible, far-ranging plans than a bureaucratically driven process would allow.  The outcomes had a built-in consensus and legitimacy, which cannot often be said about regulatory processes, where legal strong-arming, big money and cultural polarization often prevail.

The watershed council was able to initiate all sorts of solutions that would probably have eluded the Forest Service acting as a typical bureaucracy.  The council has overseen the thinning of forests in selective, ecologically responsible ways while minimizing road use and decommissioning old logging roads.  It has restored the ecological function of streams and watersheds, including the creation of culverts that mimic streambeds so that salmon could move upstream.  Instead of pulling dead trees out of the stream, they are now left intact because the fish need such habitat.  And so on.

When a major storm hit the forest in 2012, its impact on the streams and roads was minimal – indeed, far less than the impact of a devastating 1996 storm.  Of course, telling this story of effective forest management is harder because there are no apocalyptic photos of destruction to qualify as “news.”

Honick’s understated, well-made film makes a powerful point about the potential of open collaboration.  It can successfully manage even something as large and biophysical as a forest.  Even the market individualists of American culture can achieve a fundamental transformation through commoning.


Originally published at bollier.org

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Posted in Activism, Commons, Featured Video, Original Content, P2P Ecology, Videos | No Comments »

With P2P: Spain’s ‘citizen candidates’ shake up politics

photo of Stacco Troncoso

Stacco Troncoso
24th May 2015


A man gestures with his mouth gagged as dozens of protesters shout slogans before local elections [AP]

A man gestures with his mouth gagged as dozens of protesters shout slogans before local elections [AP]

With the election results only a few hours away, we’d like to finish today’s coverage with an extract from Katharine Ainger‘s excellent Al-Jazeera article entitledSpain’s ‘citizen candidates’ shake up politics“. In preparation for the article Ainger contacted P2P Foundation co-founder Michel Bauwens for some feedback.


Bauwens told Al Jazeera given historical problems with monolithic political parties on the one hand, and problems with direct democratic assemblies on the other, “the most realistic option is to combine electoral democracy with new forms of deliberative and participative democracy”.

With numerous figures from both traditional major parties in Spain embroiled in corruption scandals, there has been a collapse of public trust for conventional politicians. This crisis of political legitimacy is exacerbated by the second highest unemployment rate in Europe, low wages, and anger against cuts to social welfare. As a result the country’s bipartisan system is being eroded, in many different directions.

This is the context in which Barcelona en Comú and sister coalitions are contesting Sunday’s municipal elections in towns and cities across the country, from Galicia to the Canary Islands. They are polling best in Spain’s two largest cities, Madrid and Barcelona. In many cases allied with anti-austerity party Podemos, and using crowdsourced electoral platforms, social activists are running for office under names such as Ahora Madrid (Madrid Now) and Zaragoza en Comun (Zaragoza in Common).

Javier Toret, the developer of Barcelona en Comú’s online participation platforms, said he is influenced by theorists such as Michel Bauwens, who is working in the field of peer-to-peer technology to create new forms of democracy.

Bauwens told Al Jazeera given historical problems with monolithic political parties on the one hand, and problems with direct democratic assemblies on the other, “the most realistic option is to combine electoral democracy with new forms of deliberative and participative democracy”.

With new technology it is now easier and cheaper than ever before for citizens to vote on almost any issue in the running of their cities. Toret was particularly inspired by web tools from Reykjavik in Iceland, where users proposed and debated policies online, took budgetary decisions, and voted on neighbourhood issues.

Using a similar model, 1,000 people took part online in the creation of Barcelona en Comú’s ethical code. Aimed at increasing transparency and avoiding corruption, the code limits wages to 26,400 euros ($29,000) a year for all party officials – thereby slashing the mayor’s salary by more than 100,000 euros ($110,100) – and commits them to full transparency, including publishing all meetings and income sources, and to “promote and support all citizen initiatives”.

Click here to read the full article

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Posted in Activism, Commons, Commons Transition, P2P Development, Politics | 1 Comment »

The Prospects for Radical Democracy in Spain

photo of Stacco Troncoso

Stacco Troncoso
24th May 2015


A rally for Ahora Madrid in April. (Ahora Madrid / Flickr)

A rally for Ahora Madrid in April. (Ahora Madrid / Flickr)

Continuing our series on Spain’s all-important municipal elections, we are happy to present this article, originally published in In These Times, and authored by Vicente Rubio Pueyo and Pablo La Parra


The upcoming municipal elections will be a key test for the rising leftist movement in Spain.

“Do you hear the buzz? The buzz says: let’s defend the common good.” These are the lyrics of the campaign song of Barcelona en Comú–one of the new “confluence” platforms of “popular unity” running in the May 24th municipal elections in Spain, sung (with the help of autotune) to the rhythm of a popular Catalán rumba by its candidate, Ada Colau. According to pre-election polls, Colau is poised to win the mayoral election in Barcelona this Sunday.

Colau is part of a rising electoral insurgency across Spain by candidates trying to reimagine radical democracy, drawing from social movements to create a new participatory style of “governance by listening.” Four years ago, the May 15 movement appeared during the campaign for municipal and regional elections. Then, the characterization of the movement by many politicians and mainstream media oscillated between patronizing and condescending, along the lines of, “If these kids want to achieve anything, they should organize a party, and run for elections.”

Four years later, the political landscape has changed. As a popular slogan puts it, “Fear has changed sides.” Or perhaps happiness and hope have changed sides, as Spaniards finally have a political alternative to austerity. The emergence of PODEMOS in the European parliament elections one year ago was the first electoral manifestation of a growing political shift to the left in Spain. The buzz could be heard by anyone in the streets, in the plazas, in every mobilization in defense of public education and healthcare, in every neighborhood. Today, several cities and numerous smaller towns are running candidates from these new political parties, with elections on May 24.

From outside of Spain, it’s easy to conflate all the post-15M new electoral alternatives under PODEMOS. But the reality is more complex. On May 24, there will be two elections in Spain. One is the regional elections, which will take place in every “autonomous community” (the Spanish term) except four. PODEMOS is running electoral candidates at the regional level. This process has shown a rich diversity among the party itself. Pablo Echenique, for example, is now running for the Aragón regional government. Nicknamed “the other Pablo of PODEMOS” (in relation to Pablo Iglesias, PODEMOS’s Secretary-General), Echenique is prominent within the party as a strong advocate for participatory methods in constructing the party’s program.

“This participatory ethos is the heart and soul of the confluence candidacies: from online primaries to configuring electoral rolls to the collective composition of the party’s platform through open assemblies in each neighborhood.”

At the local electoral level, a series of experiments in constructing movement-influenced electoral platforms are taking place. In these so-called “confluence” processes, PODEMOS is one force among many. Confluence forces have become important new players in the upcoming local elections. In addition to the aforementioned possibility of a mayoral victory in Barcelona, polls this week point to a technical tie in Madrid between the ruling Popular Party and Ahora Madrid (loosely affiliated with Podemos), which would allow its candidate, Manuela Carmena, to become mayor of the capital city with the support of other forces. There are similar possibilities for parallel initiatives in other major cities throughout the country: Zaragoza en Común, València en Comú or Málaga Ahora, among others.

What does this confluence mean? How does it work? What are the ingredients of these new municipal initiatives? The “confluence candidacies” bring together a wide spectrum of participants: from grassroots activists to members of Left political parties, from well-known scholars to common citizens from diverse professional backgrounds. Rather than reproducing the traditional “electoral coalition” model (the tactical merger of a group of parties that preserve their strong, visible identities), the confluence logic is based on the idea of the “non-hierarchical encounter.”

Take, for instance, the case of Barcelona en Comú. The parties and individuals willing to join this initiative agreed to a “Code of Political Ethics,” which had been previously discussed, amended and approved in an open, online debate. This participatory ethos is the heart and soul of the confluence candidacies: from online primaries to configuring electoral rolls to the collective composition of the party’s platform through open assemblies in each neighborhood. No longer a top-down politics of opaque pacts and closed policy platforms, but an open-source process based on grassroots collective participation.

Manuela Carmena and Ada Colau themselves are good examples of the heterogeneity of the people involved in these political experiments. Carmena, a 71-year-old retired judge, has a long history of political judicial work, from her involvement with the clandestine movement of labor lawyers involved in the anti-Francisco Franco workers’ movement to her later defense of inmates’ human rights in Spanish prisons, or her work to guarantee social housing to evicted people in Madrid. Colau is a 41-year-old social activist, co-founder and former spokesperson of the PAH (Platform for People Affected by Mortgages), undoubtedly one of the most tenacious and innovative grassroots social movements developed in Spain during the recent economic crisis.

The generational span and complementary trajectories of Carmena and Colau hints at the dialogue between different activist traditions underlying these municipal movements–as when Carmena praised the contributions of the squatter movement in Madrid or Colau reclaimed the memory of the proletarian neighborhood struggles of the 20th century in Barcelona.

Both Carmena and Colau were elected through open and participatory processes, and both have put into practice a logic of leadership that looks quite different from traditional electoral spectacles and entrenched authority. As Colau argued in a recent interview, participation has to be understood “not as a top-down concession but as a way to rule,” thus it is necessary to develop non-patriarchal modes of leadership inspired by feminist and ecological thought. Similarly, Carmena has repeatedly criticized traditional political rallies, instead promoting what she calls close “encounters” with neighbors.

“Ahora” (“now”) and “En Comú” (“in common”) have been recurring themes in most confluence candidacies. On the one hand, “Now” summarizes the sense of urgency in recovering basic social rights and, more so, overturning the neoliberal model of urban growth that has been the model for Spanish cities over the last decades. After almost 25 years under conservative rule, Madrid has become one of the most aggressive laboratories of neoliberal privatization throughout Europe, propelled by a conglomerate of political power, major construction companies and financial interests–repeatedly proven corrupt–that have overtaken basic public infrastructure such as hospitals and water access.

The apparently kinder, social democrat/nationalist-ruled model of Barcelona is perhaps one of the most exemplary cases of the effects of branding in a city’s everyday life: streets have been turned into shop windows for tourist consumption, while spectacular buildings coexist with one of the highest eviction rates in all of Spain. Confluence forces advocate for a profound shift in this model of urban development, rooted in social economy and sustainable practices.

On the other hand, “In Common” appeals to the demands for extended participation within the political institutions that 15M first put forward. The programs of these citizen platforms are packed with proposals for newer forms of political accountability, transparency and the use of both online and in-person assembly methods of deliberation in the elections of district representatives, among many other developments. Although focused on immediate needs, and thus pragmatic and realistic in many of their proposals, these programs also convey an open-ended character focused on defending and democratizing the public domain. These forces have an experimental character that goes beyond the anti-austerity Left’s usual reactive framework: in their combination of audacity, openness and realism, these new political projects represent not so much a simple “return of the Left”–or, at least, of the Left as we knew it–but the building blocks of a whole new political constellation.

The political scenario after the upcoming regional and municipal elections this Sunday remains uncertain, although some indications for major changes are at stake. If Ahora Madrid and Barcelona en Comú finally win the elections in the two major Spanish cities, what potentials and limits will they find operating at a municipal scale? Are Madrid and Barcelona at the brink of a new definition of municipal autonomy, popular empowerment and a grassroots reactivation of the right to the city? To what extent would a hypothetical new political landscape in the regional elections influence PODEMOS’s strategy towards the November 2015 general elections, at a moment when many critical voices are reclaiming a critical examination of the “middle-classist” turn of the party?

PODEMOS started from the top tier of the European parliament elections to try to produce change at the state level, while these municipal confluence forces have started from the local level. The elections tomorrow and over the next few months will determine if these two distinct approaches can intertwine in order to prepare for the fall elections. Meanwhile, the buzz keeps getting louder.

Vicente Rubio Pueyo and Pablo La Parra are affiliated with the NYC to Spain delegation.

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Posted in Activism, Campaigns, Commons, Commons Transition, Culture & Ideas, Politics | No Comments »

Video of the Day: Buzzing for the Commons in Madrid

photo of Stacco Troncoso

Stacco Troncoso
24th May 2015


Today, as municipal elections take place throughout the Spanish State we wanted to present a series of posts reflecting the new citizen-led electoral coalitions spawned out of the 15-M Movement.

First up is this inspiring video, originally shared by Cecilia Barriga on Vimeo and featuring an impassioned Ada Colau (who’s running for mayor in Barcelona) describing the buzz created around her Madrid-based municipalist counterpart, Manuela Carmena.

Madrid, It buzzes for the people from cecilia barriga on Vimeo.

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Posted in Activism, Commons, Commons Transition, Featured Video, Open Government, P2P Development, Politics, Videos | No Comments »

The Care-Centered Economy: A New Theory of Value

photo of David Bollier

David Bollier
15th May 2015


Do You Still Care?

I recently encountered a brilliant new essay by German writer Ina Praetorius that revisits the feminist theme of “care work,” re-casting it onto a much larger philosophical canvas. “The Care-Centered Economy:  Rediscovering what has been taken for granted” suggests how the idea of “care” could be used to imagine new structural terms for the entire economy.

By identifying “care” as an essential category of value-creation, Praetorius opens up a fresh, wider frame for how we should talk about a new economic order.  We can begin to see how care work is linked to other non-market realms that create value — such as commons, gifts of nature and colonized peoples –all of which are vulnerable to market enclosure.

The basic problem today is that capitalist markets and economics routinely ignore the “care economy” — the world of household life and social conviviality may be essential for a stable, sane, rewarding life.  Economics regards these things as essentially free, self-replenishing resources that exist outside of the market realm.  It sees them as “pre-economic” or “non-economic” resources, which therefore don’t have any standing at all.  They can be ignored or exploited at will.

In this sense, the victimization of women in doing care work is remarkably akin to the victimization suffered by commoners, colonized persons and nature.  They all generate important non-market value that capitalists depend on – yet market economics refuses to recognize this value.  It is no surprise that market enclosures of care work and commons proliferate.

A 1980 report by the UN stated the situation with savage clarity:  “Women represent 50 percent of the world adult population and one third of the official labor force, they perform nearly two thirds of all working hours, receive only one tenth of the world income and own less than 1 percent of world property.”

But here’s the odd thing:  The stated purpose of economics is the satisfaction of human needs.  And yet standard economics don’t have the honesty to acknowledge that it doesn’t really care about the satisfaction of human needs; it’s focused on consumer demand and the “higher” sphere of monetized transactions and capital accumulation.  No wonder gender inequalities remain intractable, and proposals for serious change go nowhere.

“The Care-Centered Economy” asks us to re-imagine “the economy” as an enterprise focused on care. While Praetorius’ primary focus is on the “care work” that women so often do – raising children, managing households, taking care of the elderly – she is clearly inviting us to consider “care” in its broadest, most generic sense.  The implications for the commons and systemic change are exciting to consider.

I think immediately of the Indian geographer Neera Singh, who has written about the importance of “affective labor” in managing forest commons. Singh notes that people’s sense of self and subjectivity are intertwined with their biophysical environment, such that they take pride and pleasure in becoming stewards of resources that matter to them and their community.

Such affective labor – care – that occurs within a commons becomes a force in developing new types of subjective identities. It changes how we perceive ourselves, our relationships to others, and our connection to the environment. In Singh’s words:  “Affective labor transforms local subjectivities.” In this sense, commoning is an important form of care work.

By setting forth an expansive philosophical framework, Praetorius’ essay provokes many transdisciplinary, open-ended questions about how we might reframe our thinking about “the economy.” The 77-page essay, downloadable here, was recently published by the Heinrich Böll Foundation in Berlin as part of its “Economy + Social Issues” series of monographs.

Praetorius begins by situating the origins of “women’s work – children, cooking and church – in the original “dichotomization of humanity” into “man” and “nature.” This artificial division of the world into realms of man and nature lies at the heart of the problem.  Once this “dichotmomous order” is established, the public realm of monetized market transactions is elevated as the “real economy” and given gendered meaning.  Men acquire the moral justification to subordinate and exploit all those resources of the pre-economic world – nature, care work, commons, colonized people.  Their intrinsic needs and dignity can be denied.

What’s fascinating in today’s world is how the many elements of the “pre-economic lifeworld” are now starting to assert their undeniable importance.  As Praetorius puts it, “Without fertile soil, breathable air, food and potable water, human beings cannot survive; without active care, humanity does not reproduce itself; and without meaning, people descend into depression, aggression and suicide.”

As the pre-economic lifeworld becomes more visible, it is exposing the dichotomous order as unsustainable or absurd.  Climate change is insisting upon limits to economic growth.  Modern work life is becoming ridiculously frenetic.  Questions of meaning arise that “free markets” are unequipped to address.  “Why work at all if working amounts to nothing more than functioning for absurd, other-directed purposes?” writes Praetorius.  “Why keep living or even conceiving and bearing children if there is no future in sight worth living?”

As the private search for meaning intensifies, the formal political system has little to say.  It is too indentured to amoral markets to speak credibly to real human needs; it is ultimately answerable to the highest bidders. This also helps explain why politics, as the helpmate of the market order, also has so little to say about people’s yearnings for meaning.

But new meaning are nonetheless arising as the credibility and efficacy of the old order begin to fall apart. Praetorius argues that the anomaly of a black man as US President and a woman as Germany’s chancellor makes it increasingly possible for people to entertain ideas of subversive new types of order. “The supposedly natural order of the hierarchical, complementary binary conception of gender is inexorably disintegrating,” writes Praetorius.  Other dualisms are blurring or becoming problematic as well:  “belief and knowledge, subject and object, res cogitans and res extensa, colonizer and colony, center and periphery, God and the world, culture and nature, public and private spheres.”

What’s exciting about this time, she suggests, is that the “dichotomous order” is opening up new spaces for new narratives that re-integrate the world. People can begin to “collectively dis-identify” with and deconstruct the prevailing order, and launch new stories that speak to elemental human and ecosystem needs.  If there is confusion and disorientation in going through this transition, well, that’s what a paradigm shift is all about. In any case, people are beginning to recognize the distinct limits of working within archaic political frameworks – and the great potential of a “care-centered economy.”

What exactly does “care” mean?  It means the capacity for human agency, individual initiative yoked to collective practice, shared identity and meaning-making.  It means “being mindful, looking after, attending to needs, and being considerate.”  It refers to “awareness of dependency, possession of needs, and relatedness as basic elements of human constitution.”

While some might regard the elevation as “care” as vague, I agree with Praetorius:  “Care” helps break down the dichotomous order and emphasize the “pre-economic” order of human need.  “The illusion of an independent human existence becomes obsolete,” she writes.  Relationships outside of markets become more important.

Introducing “care” into discussions about “the economy” can also have the effect of transforming ourselves.  We can begin to name the pre- and non-economic activities — care, commoning, eco-stewardship – that create value.  We can develop a vocabulary to identify those things that mainstream economics deliberately does not name.  In this sense, talking in a new way becomes a political act.  It begins to change the cultural reality, one conversation at a time.

Praetorius’ essay is a fairly long read, but a rewarding one.  I came away from it with a fresh, more hopeful perspective.  I also realized how care work and commoning are part of a larger enterprise of honoring, and creating, new types of value.


Originally publshed at bollier.org

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Posted in Activism, Collective Intelligence, Commons, Commons Transition, Culture & Ideas, Ethical Economy, Featured Essay, P2P Collaboration, P2P Gender Issues | No Comments »

Commons Fest 2015 Program

photo of Vasilis Kostakis

Vasilis Kostakis
4th May 2015


The program of the CommonsFest 2015, which is taking place the weekend after this in Athens, has just been announced here. The event will include seminars, workshops, interactive discussions, exhibitions, and concerts. This year, Richard Stallman, Massimo de Angelis and Pat Conaty are going to deliver the keynote speeches during the three days of the festival (May 15, 16, 17).

Learn more about the aim and scope of the CommonsFest here.

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Posted in Activism, Commons, Economy and Business, Events, Featured Project, Politics, Technology | No Comments »

The P2PF/CIC strategic plan will be presented in AureaSocial on Tuesday, May 5th

photo of Enric Duran

Enric Duran
29th April 2015


This spring brings a new collaboration between the P2P Foundation  (P2PF) and the Catalan Integral Cooperative (CIC), working together on a Commons Transition Plan which follows the agenda developed by the common work group formed by both teams in 2014.

To start off and to raise awareness about the project, a public presentation will take place in AureaSocial on Tuesday, May 5th at 6:00PM. In this presentation, we plan to openly discuss our understanding of this collaborative process, and to share interesting concepts such as Peer Production and the Commons Transition Plan itself, as offered by the P2P Foundation.

Michel Bauwens

Several P2P Foundation members, including Michel Bauwens, Stacco Troncoso, Ann Marie Utratel and Kevin Flanagan, will be in Catalonia from the 30th of April to the 13th of May to observe and study the CIC’s practical and political strategies. The team is eager to hold interviews and meet different CIC members and projects, get to know the various work groups, commissions and spaces, and take part in any encounters than could benefit both inititiatives.

If you would like to collaborate by helping to manage the agenda, we encourage you to contact Joel at joel@cooperativa.cat.

This first convergence will focus on finding common ground between the two collectives as a first step towards a long term Commons Transition Plan, which will be further defined as our collaboration proceeds (and as long as both parties agree to continue).

You can find more information about Commons Transition on this website.

We hope that you’ll take part in the presentation and scheduled meetings. As soon as the agenda is confirmed, we will provide updated information.

comuns

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Posted in Activism, Commons, Commons Transition, Cooperatives, Open Models, Original Content, P2P Business Models, P2P Collaboration, P2P Development, Sharing | 2 Comments »

Excellent Profile of Enric Duran and Catalan Integral Cooperative

photo of David Bollier

David Bollier
27th April 2015


The Catalan Integral Cooperative (CIC, pronounced “seek”) is surely one of the more audacious commons-based innovations to have emerged in the past five years.  It is notable for providing a legal and financial superstructure that is helping to support a wide variety of smaller self-organized commons.  Some of us are calling this proto-form an “omni-commons,” inspired by the example of the Omni Commons in Oakland.

CIC is smart, resourceful, socially committed and politically sophisticated.  It has bravely criticized the Spanish government’s behavior in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, which has included massive bank bailouts, foreclosures on millions of homes, draconian cutbacks in social services, a lack of transparency in policymaking.  CIC regards all of this as evidence that the state is no longer willing to honor its social contract with citizens.  Accordingly, it has called for civil disobedience to unjust laws and is doing everything it can to establish its own social order with a more humane logic and ethic.

Journalist Nathan Schneider provides a fascinating, well-reported profile of CIC in the April issue of Vice magazine. The piece focuses heavily on the role of the visionary activist Enric Duran, who in 2008 borrowed $500,000 from banks, and then he gave the money away to various activist projects. Despite being on the run from Spanish prosecutors, Duran went on to launch CIC in early 2010 with others.

His avowed goal is to build a new economy from the ground up.  CIC is a fascinating model because it provides a legal and financial framework for supporting a diverse network of independent workers who trade with and support each other.  This is allowing participants to develop some massive social and economic synergies among CIC’s many enterprises, which include a restaurant, hostel, wellness center, Bitcoin ATM, library, among hundreds of others.

As Schneider writes:

At last count, the CIC consisted of 674 different projects spread across Catalonia, with 954 people working on them. The CIC provides these projects a legal umbrella, as far as taxes and incorporation are concerned, and their members trade with one another using their own social currency, called ecos. They share health workers, legal experts, software developers, scientists, and babysitters. They finance one another with the CIC’s $438,000 annual budget, a crowdfunding platform, and an interest-free investment bank called Casx. (In Catalan, x makes an sh sound.) To be part of the CIC, projects need to be managed by consensus and to follow certain basic principles like transparency and sustainability. Once the assembly admits a new project, its income runs through the CIC accounting office, where a portion goes toward funding the shared infrastructure. Any participant can benefit from the services and help decide how the common pool is used.

CIC members can choose to live in CIC-associated apartments in Barcelona or at a farming commune called Lung Ta, or at Calafou, a “postcapitalist ecoindustrial colony” in the ruins of a century-old factory town that Duran and a few others bought. In a country where the unemployment rate is more than 20 percent for the general population and more than 50 percent for people under 25 years old, the CIC enterprise is not just some wild, half-baked scheme. It’s a system for surviving the vise of neoliberal politics and economic policy.  CIC helps people build their own livelihoods in a socially supportive context – something that the state is notably incapable of doing.

In a play on the famous Gandhi line, Schneider summarizes CIC’s self-styled mission as aspiring to “Be the Bank that You Want to See in the World.”  It is inventing radically new types of finance and exchange to emancipate its members from dependency upon a predatory capitalism and an unreliable state. For example, CIC is developing a global digital currency FairCoin that is adapating Bitcoin-style technology to serve more socially constructive types of exchange.

In a short blog post, it is hard to do justice to the daring ambition and innovation coming out of CIC, so read the full article.  Let the following excerpt about CIC’s backoffice financial sophistication serve as a teaser.  Schneider writes:

Accounting takes place both in euros and in ecos, the CIC’s native currency. Ecos are not a high-tech cryptocurrency like Bitcoin but a simple mutual-credit network. While the idea for Bitcoin is to consign transactions entirely to software, bypassing the perceived risk of trusting central authorities and flawed human beings, ecos depend on a community of people who trust one another fully. Anybody with one of the more than 2,200 accounts can log in to the web interface of the Community Exchange System, see everyone else’s balances, and transfer ecos from one account to another. The measure of wealth, too, is upside down. It’s not frowned upon to have a low balance or to be a bit in debt; the trouble is when someone’s balance ventures too far from zero in either direction and stays there. Because interest is nonexistent, having lots of ecos sitting around won’t do any good. Creditworthiness in the system comes not from accumulating but from use and achieving a balance of contribution and consumption.

The idea was to help people out and radicalize them at the same time. The rich use tax loopholes to secure their dominance; now anticapitalists could do the same.

The CIC’s answer to the Federal Reserve is the Social Currency Monitoring Commission, whose job it is to contact members not making many transactions and to help them figure out how they can meet more of their needs within the system. If someone wants pants, say, and she can’t buy any in ecos nearby, she can try to persuade a local tailor to accept them. But the tailor, in turn, will accept ecos only to the extent that he, too, can get something he needs with ecos. It’s a process of assembling an economy like a puzzle. The currency is not just a medium of exchange; it’s a measure of the CIC’s independence from capitalism.

The full Vice article can be read here.


Originally published in bollier.org

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Growing calls for sharing and justice

photo of Rajesh Makwana

Rajesh Makwana
26th April 2015


1-No ttip

The STWR report ‘Sharing as our common cause’ explains how a call for sharing is consistently at the heart of civil society demands for a better world, even though this mutual concern is generally understood and couched in tacit terms.


As part of STWR’s ‘global call for sharing’ campaign, it is therefore useful to highlight how recent protest or campaigning activity is invariably focused on the need to share wealth, power and resources more fairly and sustainably, especially in relation to grassroots mobilisations for social and economic justice. In this light, the massive demonstrations in many countries against harsh austerity measures are implicitly concerned with how resources are shared throughout society, most obviously in relation to how a nation’s finances are pooled and redistributed to maintain public services such as education and national healthcare.

Thousands of people are continuing to march in protest against crippling government cutbacks to these services, while the interests of corporations and rich individuals are favoured at the expense of ordinary citizens. The basic injustice of these flawed policies are now commonly hailed by anti-austerity movements the world over, as recently embodied in the growing Printemps 2015 movement in Quebec, the “Dignity” mobilisations in Madrid, and the recent protest rallies in Montreal, Brussels and many other cities.

Often, the demand for sharing is almost palpable in calls for improving the state provision of social protection, as exemplified in an excellent piece by Dave Lindorff about ‘taking it to the streets (and voting booth) to demand Medicare for all and Social Security that all Americans can live on’. With Republicans now controlling both houses of Congress and President Obama outwardly supporting cuts to these two critical funding programs, Lindorff makes the case for massive grassroots organising to not only defend these programs but also demand they are significantly expanded.

And the only way to do this, Lindorff argues, is to stop shielding corporations and the wealthy from contributing their fair share. He concludes: “Washington needs to be regularly clogged with masses of demonstrators demanding ‘Medicare for all’ and ‘Real Social Security people can live on.’ Furthermore, no candidate of either party who opposes single-payer healthcare and a doubling of Social Security benefits through higher taxes on the rich should receive a single vote in future national elections!”

The Free University movement

If commercialisation is the antithesis of sharing, then the renaissance in student protests is another case in point that demonstrates the growing demand for fairness and sanity in how resources are distributed. Academics and students across the world are taking part in strikes and occupations that are protesting against the corporatisation of education, many under the banner of The Free University movement. At the London School of Economics, for example, students describe their institution as “the epitome of the neoliberal university”, one that is managed and organised around corporate interests which promote elitism and perpetuate inequality. Through Occupy LSE, they propose that students, lecturers and workers should run their own university – a project they’ve named the Free University of London. Similarly in Canada, Amsterdam, Italyand across the UK and US, students are calling for free tuition and an end to the corporate domination of education, in which profit-making and efficiency is prioritised rather than creativity, critical thinking and a higher education that is accessible to all.

As pointed out by Josh Hoxie of the Institute for Policy Studies, the idea that students should be able to attend university without taking on mountainous levels of debt or bankrupting their families is hardly revolutionary. The cost of covering tuition for all students at public colleges and universities in America is also surprisingly low – and could easily be funded by cutting government subsidies to the for-profit college industry and re-arranging education spending. Hoxie argues that tuition costs could be fully met by a more robust estate tax (a levy on the wealth multimillionaires leave to their heirs), which would also rein in or roll back the rising concentration of wealth across the country. Far from pursuing such redistributive tax policies on behalf of the common good, however, the United States House of Representatives is pushing to repeal the existing estate tax passed in 1916 – thus further accelerating inequality and hurting lower- and middle-class Americans.

Implicit demands for economic sharing at #WSF2015

At the World Social Forum in Tunis held at the end of March, the call for a more equal society – based on a fairer sharing of wealth and power – was central to discussions and protest activity where thousands of people had gathered from 120 countries to proclaim that “another world is possible”. On the eve of the Forum’s 10th global meeting, a joint call was released by an alliance of well-known international civil society organisations (including ActionAid, Greenpeace, Oxfam and Civicus) that effectively summarised the case for sharing by identifying growing economic inequalities between and within countries as a central cause of global poverty, environmental degradation and social injustice.

The hard-hitting statement of intent from NGO leaders calls for a new approach to development that goes “beyond tinkering” to address the “structural causes of inequality”, in which social movements and the poor are bolstered in their efforts to hold the powerful 1% to account. Pledging to fight for redistributive policies to reverse inequality, the NGOs also commit themselves to “press governments to tackle tax dodging, ensure progressive taxes, provide universal free public health and education services, support workers’ bargaining power, and narrow the gap between rich and poor.”

During the five-day event, 70,000 delegates from more than 4,000 organisations discussed a wide range of critical issues and causes that reflect the global call for sharing, including the interlinked struggles to protect the environmental commons, end poverty and marginalisation, democratise global governance and reform the corrupt global financial system. The Tax Justice Convergence Assembly, for example, took aim at the world’s governments that “continue to invent new tax incentives for multinational corporations and wealthy individuals as part of a global race-to-the bottom”, while “rigged global tax rules fail to protect the tax bases of the world’s poorest nations against erosion driven by international tax dodging”. Reaffirming a broad list of demands agreed at the previous WSF in 2013, the Global Alliance for Tax Justice called for progressive tax policies to tackle inequality within countries, and new international tax rules that make multinational corporations pay their fair share.

In its final declaration, the Assembly of Social Movements also put the spotlight on the neoliberal policies that have “massive impacts both on the Southern and the Northern countries and contribute to an increase in migration, forced displacement, evictions, debt, and social inequalities.” Spelling out the need to create “alternatives for a socially just development that respects nature”, the declaration asserts the commitment of WSF delegates to fight for the cancellation of illegitimate and odious debts, and push for an alternative to the myriad free trade agreements that are imposed by states and transnational corporations. Echoing the roots of the WSF following the ‘Battle of Seattle’ in 1999, it also affirms “that it is possible to build another kind of globalization, made by and for the people, based on solidarity and on freedom of movement for all human beings.”

Resisting the new trade offensive: #A18DoA

A key battle for those who seek a fairer world is the fight against trade and investment deals that are currently being negotiated behind closed doors, particularly the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the Canada EU Trade Agreement (CETA), the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA) and the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). On Saturday, campaigners and concerned citizens from across the world gathered together in one of the largest collection of protests to date against these emerging free trade agreements, all of which pose a major threat to our environment and human rights. Hundreds of demonstrations took place worldwide – primarily in Europe and the US – in opposition to this attempt to re-engineer the global economy in the interests of powerful corporations at the public’s expense.

Although the “trojan horse” treaties vary in many complex ways, they could reverse decades of progress towards better protection for citizens and the environment. Campaigners warn that the governing principle behind the agreements is that of extending the reach of the market, giving big business unprecedented power over our societies and potentially opening the door to an aggressive corporate take-over of our common resources and public services. As STWR have commented previously, it will remain impossible to conceive of a new economic paradigm based on sharing rather than competing for the world’s resources, so long as these rigged treaties are promoted by our elected leaders no matter what the cost in terms of poverty, inequality and environmental destruction. Yet opposition to the corporate trade pacts is increasing exponentially, and this latest Global Day of Action demonstrates how a growing call for sharing the world’s resources (however implicitly expressed) is fast becoming a potent force for change on the international stage.

There are of course many other popular demands for social and economic justice that intrinsically embody the principle of sharing, many of which are hitting newspaper headlines recently – such as the Fight for 15 workers movement that held more than 230 protests across the US last week. We’ll continue to highlight these grassroots calls for economic sharing in future editorials and commentaries, along with an upcoming focus on the debate around sharing that is increasingly prominent in policy discussions on environmental stewardship and tackling global poverty.

For regular sharing-related links of the above nature you can visit STWR’s twitter andfacebook pages, as well as a new scoop.it! page on ‘what we’re reading’. If you see that we’ve missed anything pertinent or you know of any sharing-related issues that we haven’t mentioned, please drop us a line at info@stwr.org. You can also sign up to our newsletter on the homepage if you’d like to receive regular updates in your email inbox about what we’re doing at STWR. To learn more about STWR’s campaign or add your name to the ‘global call for sharing’, please visit: www.sharing.org/global-call

Photo credit: garryknight, flickr creative commons

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University protests around the world: a fight against commercialisation: London School of Economics #UK

photo of Kevin Flanagan

Kevin Flanagan
23rd April 2015


LSE occupation
‘LSE is the epitome of the neoliberal university. It is managed and organised around corporate interests, which promote elitism and perpetuate inequality.’ Photograph: Alex Kurunis

This week we are serialising extracts from an article by  at the Guardian looking at how students around the world are fighting back against the commercialisation of University education.

London School of Economics and Political Science, UK

What’s happening? A central administration room has been occupied by students since 18 March.

What caused the protest? The occupation is a reaction against the marketisation of education.

Natalie Fiennes is an MSc student studying political sociology and Ellen Lees is an undergraduate student studying social anthropology at LSE.

LSE is the epitome of the neoliberal university. It is managed and organised around corporate interests, which promote elitism and perpetuate inequality. OccupyLSE proposes that students, lecturers and workers should run a university – and we have named this project the Free University of London.

We are occupying the main administrative meeting room to symbolically disrupt the management of the school, which is responsible for the neoliberalisation of our education. We have used the space to reclaim our education and encourage political participation by teaching and learning from each other. This is a rejection of the commercialisation of education – we are learning for free and we are learning freely.

The space and workshops are being used to focus and refine the demands we are making as a movement on issues of free education, workers’ rights, university democracy and governance, liberation and ethics. The power of occupations is that they create a domino effect: this is only the beginning.

Continue to Read the Full Article – http://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/2015/mar/25/university-protests-around-the-world-a-fight-against-commercialisation

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