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Archive for 'Activism'

TTP and the Corporate Coup d’Etat

photo of Guy James

Guy James
22nd March 2015


TPPJust a reminder, if one is needed, that the Trans-Pacific Partnership or TPP is still being worked on, even despite the almost-universal opposition from anyone not connected with a multinational corporation (and of course I include governments as being heavily connected with corporations at this late stage of capitalism).

This article from Joyce Nelson in The Ecologist offers a nice summary of what the TPP is from a North American perspective, and who will benefit from it:

“The Trans-Pacific Partnership contains something called ‘investor-state dispute settlement’ (ISDS) – a controversial trade-dispute mechanism now being included in most secretly-negotiated trade deals.

ISDS allows multinational corporations and investors to sue countries over policy or regulations that hinder their future profits. These lawsuits are secretly tried in special ‘arbitration tribunals’ – courts that are basically privately run by the corporate sector, with the lawyers and judges selected from a few corporate law firms.”

If you’ve heard of the TPP but want to get up to speed with exactly what is proposed for its contents, and why it is imperative that we stop it becoming law, read more.

The image is by DonkeyHotey on flickr (CC Licence).
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Posted in Activism, Economy and Business, Empire | No Comments »

How we got Here? #Greece has an immense network of organisations focused on social good

photo of Kevin Flanagan

Kevin Flanagan
21st March 2015


Greece has an immense network of organisations that are focused on improving the social good, with or without the support of the state or private foundations. In many cases, they are self-organised and autonomous

Months after the fall of Matera, some unMonasterians came to Athens on a brief “exploratory” excursion in December, 2014. During their visit they discovered this vibrant network of locals, which has similar aims as the unMonastery, so they quickly plugged into it.

Source: https://medium.com/@unmonastery/how-we-got-here-8f463dc81920

Rooftop meeting in Athens in late December.

Later, following the Transmediale extravaganza in January 2015, many people that were involved with the original unMonastery decided to plop down in Athens in February to see what else there was to discover in Greece. This “scoping period” was intended to have a duration of three months.

What the unMonasterians found went much deeper than was initially perceived. The more time that was spent connecting to existing networks, the more it became clear that the people living in Greece have a strong affinity to hacking of all sorts; be it with internet connectivity, food sharing, reactivating abandoned spaces, or just simply taking the metro.

The vision for the future of Greece is especially captivating when you speak with the people here that are involved with making the place more liveable. The group of unMonasterians was humbled by the amount of knowledge and experience there was to absorb here.

One such visionary project is SatNOGS that was created by our new neighbours, the Athens Hackerspace. It’s a global network of opensource satellite ground stations that recently won the Hackaday prize.

Continue to read the full article: https://medium.com/@unmonastery/how-we-got-here-8f463dc81920

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Posted in Activism, Culture & Ideas, Featured Movement, Networks | No Comments »

Map of #Grassroots groups in #Greece

photo of Kevin Flanagan

Kevin Flanagan
20th March 2015


0dc8cfb0cb3c164e-OUZOMASTERsmallPresenting… our new grassroots map (June 2014)!

Source: http://omikronproject.gr/grassroots

Still think Greeks are sitting idle, the helpless victims of events in their country? Think again. In 2013, we carried out an extensive study to map all the grassroots movements in Greece who are stepping in where the system is failing, and produce the first edition of our grassroots map, titled ‘Coffee-drinking lazy Greeks?‘.

Now, we’ve released a second edition of the map – ‘Ouzo-drinking lazy Greeks?’ – fully updated and including over 60% more groups!

What is this?

The map is a poster showing all the grassroots groups that are currently active in Greece, split into ten categories from neighbourhood assemblies to education movements to alternative micro-economies, with information on each group and details of an example group in each category. We’ve also included a list of all these groups in text format, with links to their websites (below).

All the groups have been verified by us as grassroots, explicitly not-for-profit, Greece-based and active as of June 2014. By ‘grassroots’, we mean that the groups are open for others to join and that, at the time of their inception, they had no affiliation with a profit-making entity.

Like all our productions, the poster is made available under the Creative Commons license. Download it in high-resolution format and use it however you want.

What’s new in this version?

For this second edition of the map, there are 70% more groups, and a new category (Information Technology). We’ve provided English translations where appropriate, and we’ve removed all the groups that we found were no longer active. Thanks to all the groups who wrote to us to let us know of updates!

Help us keep this map up to date

This map is an ongoing project. If you notice any errors or omissions, let us know and we’ll make the necessary changes to the list below, as well as in the next version of the poster!

Continue to the full article: http://omikronproject.gr/grassroots

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Posted in Activism, Culture & Ideas, Networks, Visualisations | No Comments »

In #Solidarity with #Blockupy

photo of Kevin Flanagan

Kevin Flanagan
18th March 2015


De Nieuwe Universiteit (DNU) TV, our own media channel, goes On Air:
Block, Liberate and Deliberate!

Standing together in solidarity with #Blockupy swarm action targeting the new Troika Towers opening in Frankfurt which cost billions of
Euro, billed to the people.

Kom, kijk, en discussier mee! Come, watch and discuss together!

There will be an all day screening of the live streams coming from Frankfurt, where the 3rd international #Blockupy action will be taking place today 18th of March. The swarm action will be targeting the Troika’s new HQ, the new ECB towers, that cost billions of Euros to the people. Next to the screening, the DNU TV will be going On Air with a test broadcast. Our format and program will be collaboratively and openly constructed by the students, artists, activists, all others who are standing together with us and liberate the #Maagdenhuis everyday again and again from the predatory greed of the market players and grow the seeds of hope at Spui 21. We will be bringing deliberative? political debates, from the daily program of the Maagdenhuis, besides the selected videos, films, musics, art performances, teach-ins, and spontaneous interviews amongst others.

Event page: https://plus.google.com/events/cr1s0dj0evr2t5hvervo90gndc4

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Posted in Activism, Events | No Comments »

Our Generation of Hackers

photo of Nathan Schneider

Nathan Schneider
17th March 2015


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We are all hackers now, apparently—or are trying to be. Guilty as charged. I am writing these words, as I write most things, not with a pen and paper, or a commercial word processor, but on Emacs, a command-line text editor first developed in the 1970s for that early generation of free-software hackers. I had to hack it, so to speak, with a few crude lines of scripting code in order that it would properly serve my purposes as a writer. And it does so extremely well, with only simple text files, an integrated interpreter for the Markdown markup language, and as many split screens as I want. I get to feel clever and devious every time I sit down to use it.

Thus it seemed fitting that when I was asked to join a “philosophy incubator” with a few fellow restless young souls, I was told the group’s name—and that of the book we’d be publishing w?ith an internet startup—was Wisdom Hackers. Hacking is what this generation does, after all, or at least what we aspire to. The hacker archetype both celebrates the mythology of the dominant high-tech class and nods toward the specter of an unsettling and shifty subculture lurking in the dark. Edward Snowden is a hacker hero, but so is Bill Gates. The criminals and the CEOs occupied the same rungs on the high school social ladder, lurked in the same listservs, and now share our adulation.

To hack is to approach a problem as an outsider, to be unconfined by law or decorum, to find whatever back doors might lead the way to a solution or a fix. To hack is to seek simplicity, elegance, and coherence, but also to display one’s non-attachment—by way of gratuitous lulz, if necessary. Wisdom is not normally a feature of the hacker’s arsenal (they prefer cleverness), but evidently some of us have come to sense that even this generation of hackers will need to pick up some wisdom along the way.

But why hack in the first place? That is, why we should always need to use a back door?

For me this line of questioning began in 2011, the year of leaderless uprisings, starting with Tunis and Cairo and ending with police raids on Occupy camps, a civil war in Syria and a seemingly endless series of revelations spawned by Wikileaks. I followed these happenings as much as I could. I happened to be the first reporter allowed to? cover the planning meetings that led to Occupy Wall Street, and I stayed close to those early organizers as their illicit occupation became a global media fixation, then long after the fixation passed. Through them—and their sudden and surprising success—I tried to obtain some grasp of the spirit of 2011, which was elusive enough that it couldn’t be organized in some simple list of demands, but also intuitive enough that protesters around the world, in hugely different kinds of societies, found themselves saying and doing a lot of the same things.

I keep coming back to the slogan of Spain’s homegrown occupation movement of that year: “Real democracy now!” This had uncanny explanatory power from Tahrir Square to Zuccotti Park. Whether under Mubarak or Bush and Obama, young people around the world have grown up in societies they were always told were democracies despite repeated and undeniable signals that it was not: police brutality as a fact of life (whether by secret police or militarized regular ones), an unrelenting state of exception (whether by emergency law or the war on terror), and corruption (whether by outright graft or the mechanisms of campaign financing). When a system is broken, we resort to improvised solutions, jury-rigged workarounds, hacks. No wonder, then, that the mask of the amorphous hacktivist collective Anonymous became a symbol of the uprisings.

For 2011’s movements, however, the initial virality and the rhetoric of direct democracy turned out to mask a generation unprepared to deal with power—either wielding it or confronting it effectively. The young liberals in Tahrir may have created Facebook pages, but it was the Muslim Brotherhood’s decades of dangerous, underground, person-to-person organizing that won the country’s first fair elections. Even the Brotherhood would soon be massacred after a coup unseated them in favor of the military. “The army and the people are one hand,” Egyptians had chanted in Tahrir. With similar historical irony, the same might have been chanted about the internet.

In the Arab world, the 2011 endgame has included the rise of the Islamic State. Hacking every bit of social media it can get its hands on, the militants formerly known as ISIS emerged as a potent remix of al Qaeda’s guerrilla anti-colonialism and Tahrir Square’s utopian confidence, of Saudi-funded fundamentalism and hardened generals left over from Saddam’s secular regime. These disparate apps have been hacked together into one thanks to hashtags, an elusive leader, a black flag, and gruesome vigilantism.

I reject the often-uttered claim that the 2011 movements lacked purpose, or reason, or demands. Their fascination with hacking, and the vital fecundity that enchanted them, attest to the widely felt longing for a deeper, somehow realer global democracy. But what they share also had a hand in bringing them down. The allure of certain hacker delusions, I believe, played a part in keeping the noble aspirations of that year from taking hold, from meaningfully confronting the powers that now pretend to rule the world.

Ours is a generation of hackers because we sense that we aren’t being allowed in the front door. Most of us have never had the feeling that our supposed democracies are really listening to us; we spend our lives working for organizations that gobble up most of the value we produce for those at the top. We have to hack to get by. Maybe we can at least hack better than whoever is in charge—though that is increasingly doubtful. We become so used to hacking our way into the back door that we forget that there could be any other way.

I don’t want to hack forever. I want to open up the front door—to a society where “democracy” actually means democracy and technology does its part to help, where we can spend less time hacking and hustling and more time getting better at being human. Tech won’t do it for us, because it can’t. Hacking isn’t an end in itself—wisdom is.

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Posted in Activism, Culture & Ideas, Free Software, Networks, Open Models, Original Content, P2P Movements, P2P Technology, Politics, Technology | No Comments »

Call for an Internet Social Forum

photo of Kevin Flanagan

Kevin Flanagan
16th March 2015


Call for an Internet Social Forum

The Internet belongs to all people – Let’s occupy it

More and more, the Internet is the place where we meet up with our friends, get information, organise work, store our pictures and texts, do our banking, see videos, buy tickets and get public services. As we use the Internet extensively, we begin to be known through the Internet equally intimately. Soon, it will also hold extensive transactional information from the many “things” in our daily lives—the entire range of domestic devices as well as public and private infrastructure and services. All this knowledge is power, which can be put to good use or bad. Not only does the Internet increasingly hold too much information about us, with the advancing networked automation and remote access, it provides the power to reach anywhere to control physical spaces and activities.

It being so central to our daily lives and social systems, what do we want the Internet to look like in the future? Should it be a decentralised network for unmediated social connections, and for creating, exchanging and sharing information, publicly or privately as we choose? Will we have applications oriented to better living conditions, education and cultural development for all; services that guarantee the privacy of our data; technology our communities can trust, collectively own and control? Or will it be a surveillance-centric network controlled by a handful of governments and corporate monopolies that have a continuous micro-view of our interaction spaces; commoditise our information; extract exorbitant revenue by selling our private data; and police all of our online (and increasingly offline) activities? What Internet do we want?

As in the beginnings of the Internet, both trends are present; but the Internet is fast evolving towards the second scenario, as major transnational corporations concentrate their control over the net and security services such as the US National Security Agency and its close allies engage in pervasive monitoring. Such centralised control of international communications and data, alongside a vacuum of legal checks and balances with global application, are leading to an accumulation of global power in a few hands. This, in turn, not only threatens to further exacerbate imbalances of wealth and power, but could undermine the very bases of democratic society.

So then, what can be done to reverse this trend, before it becomes irrevocably ingrained in the Internet’s DNA, and ‘normalised’? In particular, how can organisations working for social justice, democracy, communication rights, free/libre and open-source software, net neutrality, or the broad range of human rights, as well as for citizen empowerment above that of governments or corporations, contribute to building a People’s Internet?

This call for an Internet Social Forum aims to create a global space precisely to take up these issues, where we will discuss the Internet we want, share information on our endeavours and struggles for democracy, human rights and social justice in relation to the Internet, and develop collective action agendas.

Why a Social Forum? The Internet Social Forum (ISF) takes its inspiration from the World Social Forum (WSF) process and its visionary call that “Another world is possible”—we are suggesting that “Another (People’s) Internet is possible”. Recalling the WSF Charter, which calls for a different kind of globalisation than that “commanded by the large multinational corporations and by the governments and international institutions at the service of those corporations’ interests”, we are calling for an Internet from below which is controlled by the people– including those not yet connected.

The WSF Charter presents the vision that “globalisation in solidarity will prevail as a new stage in history”, marked by respect for universal human rights and the environment, and resting on democratic international systems and institutions at the service of social justice, equality and the sovereignty of peoples. We see the ISF as a direct parallel to these efforts but within the sphere of the Internet and its governance.

From its first edition in Porto Alegre, in 2001, the WSF has been conceived as a people’s opposition to the elites of the Davos World Economic Forum (WEF) which we have now come to call the “1%”–those who represent and benefit from banker imposed austerity measures, from the globalisation of capital, and the ideological and institutional dominance of neo-liberalism; and also now in its Internet embodiment – the “Net Mundial Initiative” (NMI), recently launched by the World Economic Forum. The WEF’s NMI is directed as the elite’s attempt to provide self-serving ‘solutions’ with regard to global Internet-related public policy issues, and it simply takes one significant step forward in the WEF’s continuing efforts to enable an economic and political hegemony by global corporations and the global 1%. The WSF process appears as the obvious and appropriate space to launch a movement for a People’s Internet rather than an Internet in the interests of global economic and political elites.

Beyond the technical issues of standards and management of domain names, Internet governance is increasingly about finding appropriate ways to respond to the larger framework of social and economic justice and human rights issues that are emerging as the Internet impacts society at large. The governance of the Internet should be undertaken based on the same democratic principles and mechanisms as we expect in other aspects of our lives.

The Internet Social Forum will be open to participation by all those who believe in the philosophy and values of the WSF, and that the global Internet must evolve in the public interest. It will be underpinned by values of democracy, human rights and social justice. It will stand for participatory policy-making and promote people’s control of social technologies, as for instance is represented in the community media movement. It will seek an Internet that is truly decentralised in its architecture and based on people’s full rights to and control over data, information, knowledge and other ‘commons’ that the Internet has enabled the world community to generate and share.

The Forum also proposes to launch a bottom-up process for developing a People’s Internet Manifesto, involving all concerned social groups, communities and movements, in different regions; from techies and ICT-for-development actors to media reform groups, democracy movements, women’s rights organisations and social justice activists.

Next steps: A preliminary planning workshop will be held at the 2015 WSF, in Tunis, in March, titled ‘Organising an Internet Social Forum – A call to occupy the Internet‘. The Internet Social Forum is being planned for late 2015, or early 2016. Provision will be made for remote participation.

How to participate in the ISF initiative: As a people’s initiative, anyone motivated to support the public interest is welcome to join. However, as a matter of maintaining a congruence of some basic values, we follow the criteria of participation followed by the World Social Forum which can be found at https://fsm2015.org/en/criteria-participation. Anyone self-declaring as fulfilling these criteria may join by sending an email to the following addresses.

ISF secretariat : secretariat@InternetSocialForum.net

Regional contacts:

Europe Norbert Bollow Email: NorbertB@InternetSocialForum.net

Asia/ Oceania Rishab Bailey Email: RishabB@InternetSocialForum.net

Africa Alex Gakaru Email: AlexG@InternetSocialForum.net

North America Michael Gurstein Email: MichaelG@InternetSocialForum.net

Latin America/Caribbean Sally Burch Email: SallyB@InternetSocialForum.net

Initial list of participating organisations :

Advocates of Science and Technology for the People, Philippines
Agencia Latinoamericana de Información, Regional
All India Peoples Science Network, India
Alternative Informatics Association, Turkey
Arab NGO Network for Development, Regional
Bangladesh NGOs Network for Radio and Communication(BNNRC), Bangladesh
Association for Proper Internet Governance, Switzerland
Centre for Community Informatics Research, Development and Training, Canada
Chaos Computer Club Schweiz, Switzerland
CODE-IP Trust, Kenya
Computer Professionals Union, Philippines
Digital Empowerment Foundation, India
Foro de Comunicación para la Integración de Nuestr'América, Regional (América Latina)
Free Press, USA
Free Software Movement of India, India
Fundación-Redes-y-Desarrollo, República Dominicana 
Global_Geneva, Switzerland
GodlyGlobal.org, Switzerland
Institute for Local Self-Reliance - Community Broadband Networks, USA
Instituto del Tercer Mundo, Uruguay
International Alliance on Information for All (IAIA), Global
IT for Change, India
Just Net Coalition, Global
Knowledge Commons, India
Open-Root/EUROLINC, France
Other News, Italy
P2P Foundation, Global
Project Allende, Ireland and Argentina
SLFC.in, India
Solidarius (Solidarity Economy Network), Italy
Southern Africa Telecentre Network(SATNET), Zambia
The Network Institute for Global Democratization, Finland
The New Power by Synthecracy Movement, Global
Transnational Institute, Global
uncomputing.org, global
Verein grundrechte.ch, Switzerland
Young Internet Professionals, Africa
Surysur , Regional (América Latina)
Argentina Hub for Internet Governance, Brazil
Fundación para la Integración Latinoamericana (FILA), Regional (América Latina)
Action Aid, India
Media Rights Agenda, Nigeria
Fundación Casa del Bosque, Colombia
Forum for a new world governance, Argentina
Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development, Thailand
Indigenous Environmental Association of Panama, Panama
Revista Question, Regional (América Latina)
WilhelmTux-Kampagne für freie Software, Switzerland
"National Movement for Hope" of Mexico, Mexico
Noticias de América Latina y el Caribe (NODAL), Regional (América Latina)
1st-Mile Institute, USA
Periódico Desdeabajo, Colombia
Studio 12 - Electronic & TV Media, Slovenia
Association for Culture and Education – PiNA, Slovenia
Institute for Electronic Participation, Slovenia
Digitale Gesellschaft Schweiz, Switzerland
Appropriate Technology Promotion Society (ATPS) India
Swiss Open Systems User Group /ch/open, Switzerland
Isis International 
VOICE, Bangladesh 
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Posted in Activism, Events, P2P Infrastructures | No Comments »

The Future of Protest

photo of Nathan Schneider

Nathan Schneider
14th March 2015


People gather during last year's Occupy Hong Kong protests. Photo via Flickr user johnlsl

People gather during last year’s Occupy Hong Kong protests. Photo via Flickr user johnlsl

During the fall of 2011, when Occupy Wall Street inhabited a chunk of New York’s Financial District, many of us reporters found ourselves especially fascinated with the media center on the northeast end, a huddle of laptops and generators surrounded (at first) by a phalanx of bikes. I spent a lot of time there myself. After the christening of Tahrir Square as a “Facebook revolution” a few months earlier, this was the place where one would expect to find The Story, the place where the hashtags were being concocted and the viral videos uploaded. From #OccupyWallStreet to #BlackLivesMatter, it has become customary to name our movements after hashtags, and to thank our smartphones for bringing us together and into the streets.

As Occupy blew up around me, and as I tried to figure out what to write about it, I was lucky to have the guidance of Mary Elizabeth King, who worked for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee during the Civil Rights era and went on to become a scholar of movements around the world. I was editing a column of hers then, which gave us an excuse to check in regularly.

“Social media alone are not causative,” she wrote in one of her columns around that time. “Nonviolent movements have always appropriated the most advanced technologies available in order to spread their message.” This was something she told me again and again. Which is to say: Don’t be distracted by the technology—it’s not as big a deal as everyone thinks. She helped me listen better to the people themselves, to their ideas and their choices. Such meatspace-centrism also helped me understand why much of Occupy’s momentum was lost when police destroyed the physical protest camps.

We’re often told, especially by those who profit from them, that the latest gizmos change everything, that they spread democracy as a byproduct of their built-in disruptiveness. But whenever a Facebook-driven protest fills Union Square, I think of the May Day photographs from a century ago, when the same place was just as filled, or more so, by protesters in ties and matching hats—no Facebook required.

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Socialists in Union Square, New York City, on May Day, 1912. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Power is still power, and a lot of the techniques for building it and challenging it from the past aren’t going away—unless we let ourselves forget them. And I worry that the gizmos many of us depend on are too good at helping us forget.

What online social media excel at is getting an idea out to a large number of people really quickly—but only for a brief period of time. They’re great at spurring bursts of adrenaline, not so much at sustaining long-term movements. This shouldn’t be so surprising, because the developers of social media networks optimize them for rapid-fire advertising. A labor organizer working with low-wage workers recently lamented to me that many of those she works with are using Instagram—which is even worse on this front than some other popular networks.

“There’s only so much you can do by sharing photos,” she said.

The problems that viral media present are not entirely new. They’re akin to what happened in 1968 in France, when students and artists filled Paris with their slogans and provoked an uprising that nearly brought down the government. And then the unions stepped in—at first, they supported the students, but then, by negotiating with the government and wielding their economic power, the unions took the gains for themselves. A similar story unfolded in the wake of Egypt’s “Facebook revolution”: The young, tech-savvy liberals may have instigated the uprising’s early days, but when the fairest election in the country’s history came around, they didn’t stand a chance against the Muslim Brotherhood, who had spent decades organizing through neighborhood mosques and social services. The Muslim Brotherhood later fell to the US-funded Egyptian military. The liberal Facebookers still have a long way to go.

If a viral, revolutionary rupture were to happen in the United States right now, who would be best poised to benefit? Walmart? The military? I doubt it would be the self-styled radicals loosely organized across the country. Whenever I’m in a meeting of anarchists talking about how they’d be stronger if they provided childcare, I think of the evangelical megachurches I’ve been to that are actually doing it, big time.

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Protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square in 2011. Photo via Flickr user Ramy Raoof

Effective resistance movements depend on networks that are flexible, durable, and can adapt their strategies to changing conditions over time. They need to provide support to members and would-be members who want to ditch the institutions that prop up the current system. And they need to develop alternative institutions that build a new world in the shell of the old. None of these are things that Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Snapchat do terribly well—though, in principle, they could.

DemocracyOS, built by Argentinian activists, and Loomio, built by Occupy veterans in New Zealand, are open-source tools that facilitate collective decision-making; both are already being put to use by a new generation of internet-based political parties. CoBudget, a new add-on for Loomio, helps groups allocate resources collaboratively. Another open-source project, Diaspora—a Facebook-like network that allows users to control their own data instead of entrusting it to a corporation—works well enough that the Islamic State has turned to it. CoWorker.org is a platform that helps workers connect with each other and mount campaigns to improve their conditions. Movement-friendly technologies like these, however, tend to be far less market-friendly than their competitors, and don’t attract the private investment that commercial platforms use to build a critical mass of users.

Smartphones, meanwhile, make it easier than ever before to document police abuse and blast the evidence out everywhere. Organizations like Witness are equipping activists to be even more sophisticated in putting mobile cameras to good use. But these phones also come at the cost of perpetual surveillance by increasingly sophisticated—and militarized—police forces; there are times when they are better left at home.

If you look beyond devices and apps, there are lots of reasons to be hopeful about the future of protest and activism. Never before has there been so much knowledge available about what makes protest effective, or so many opportunities for getting good training. Researchers like Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan have been sifting through data on past movements to determine what works and what doesn’t. Historians, meanwhile, are rediscovering forgotten stories of popular uprisings that shaped our world. The country’s first program in civil resistance, at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, offers hope that someday schools teaching people power may be more plentiful than war colleges.

One thing that struck me over and over during my time among the Occupy encampments was the amnesia. The young activists’ familiarity with protest movements even a decade or two before theirs was scattered and piecemeal compared to their knowledge of celebrities, wars, and empires. Perhaps this is why so many participants succumbed to despair when the movement didn’t succeed quite as wildly as they’d hoped after just a few months. Perhaps, too, this is why so many people have given up on the Arab Spring after the horrors of Egyptian military rule and the Islamic State. We forget that the French Revolution underwent similar throes in its Reign of Terror and the rise of Napoleon; paradoxically, it was through Napoleon’s autocratic conquests that democratic ideas spread. In the United States, critics of Occupy fault it for not becoming more mixed up with electoral politics, like the Tea Party, but they rarely notice how it enabled the rise of progressive politicians like Bill de Blasio and Elizabeth Warren.

That protest may be over, but the movement is not. I hope that those fighting the racist justice system today keep a longer view in mind than Occupiers generally did.

If there is one thing I have learned from covering protests, it is not to trust anyone’s predictions—including my own. Movements will always surprise us. But I think we know enough now to stop expecting some killer app to come along and change the world for us. That’s something we’ll have to do ourselves.

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Posted in Activism, Collective Intelligence, Commons, Culture & Ideas, Networks, Original Content, P2P Action Items, P2P Collaboration, Politics | No Comments »

Reflections on the future of the sharing economy

photo of Rajesh Makwana

Rajesh Makwana
12th March 2015


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At a time when inequality is on the rise and nations are failing to reduce global carbon emissions, what does the future hold for the sharing economy movement unless it mobilises to reform government policies that are the root cause of climate change and socio-economic exclusion? 


Evidence suggests that most sharing economy activities attract mainly white middle class users, which raises important questions around how to ensure that ‘excluded communities’ can benefit more directly from sharing economy services. These concerns potentially underpin the very future of the sharing movement: if platforms for collaborative consumption and sharing aren’t facilitating access to resources for those who need them most, perhaps the sharing economy is failing to live up to its fundamental purpose. Such issues were at the centre of discussions at a recent Global Sharing Economy Network event at which I was invited to speak about the global implications of our failure to share in terms of escalating poverty, the global environmental crisis and conflict over natural resources.

My co-presenters included the founders of a number of exemplary sharing-based initiatives that focus squarely on meeting social or environmental needs. As with many similar organisations in this sector, they are largely staffed by volunteers and not driven by the profit imperative, yet they are often very effective at increasing access to food, support networks and other resources for the communities that they target. As if to reiterate the overarching point of the meeting, however, a number of people in the audience (including the principal of an inner city school and others involved in providing various forms of social assistance around London) confessed that they had never heard of the services being presented and were entirely unfamiliar with the concept of the sharing economy. Moreover, they were certain that the disadvantaged groups with which they work were also oblivious to these emerging forms of collaboration and sharing.

This reality check underlined the extent to which the mainstream media highlight trendy ‘sharing’ corporations that have huge PR and marketing budgets, but tend to ignore the small organisations that are making an immediate impact on people’s lives. Services like Food Cycle, for example, are a lifeline for those who are isolated and living in food poverty, but they are unlikely to be featured in the business press as Airbnb or Uber might. And even if they were, the coverage is unlikely to draw the attention of the excluded communities that were the focus of our discussions.

Supporting sharing or the sharing economy?

Perhaps the most revealing question raised and discussed was centred on the potential conflict between the timeless and familiar practice of sharing, and the business-oriented sharing paradigm that has emerged over the last five years or so. In other words, should we be promoting the sharing economy or sharing per se? As one lady rightly objected, people in excluded communities naturally share the things they own (including their spare rooms, car spaces and other surplus material goods) as it’s always been part of their way of life. So why do we need to embellish this common human behaviour by giving it a new name, especially if in the process we commercialise the practice of sharing and thereby place it out of reach for certain communities?

I fully agreed; if we are truly concerned about reaching people in excluded communities, surely it is time we look beyond the conceptual limits of the sharing economy and consider what it really means to share in economic terms. As outlined during my presentation, our understanding of excluded communities must also take account of those people across the world who struggle to access basic resources such as food, clean water and healthcare. If proponents of sharing are serious about reaching those living in poverty or making a real impact on environmental issues, we need to embrace a much broader definition of the sharing economy – perhaps along the lines of the one put forward by The People Who Share:

“The Sharing Economy is a socio-economic ecosystem built around the sharing of human and physical resources. It includes the shared creation, production, distribution, trade and consumption of goods and services by different people and organisations.”

Could it be, however, that this is more a definition of a ‘sharing society’ than a sharing economy, since the latter is mainly associated with companies operating within the private sector – even when their business practices do not reflect sharing in the true sense of the word? Any ‘socio-economic ecosystem’ approach to sharing must also explicitly include the role of governments and the public sector, as well as the charity and voluntary sectors, the core economy, the gift economy, the commons etc. Democratic systems of governance may also represent fundamental forms of sharing, at least in terms of how fairly political power is distributed throughout society. And in today’s globalised economy, is it possible to talk about sharing without considering the way in which wealth and resources are distributed across the planet? The fundamental problem is perhaps not our definition of the sharing economy, but the widely-held assumption that it does not pertain to the public sector or systems of sharing and redistribution that operate at the regional, national or global level.

Political advocacy for a sharing society

As one of the final points raised that evening made clear, the role of public policy is pivotal to ensuring greater levels of sharing in society, especially at a time when growing wealth inequality will inevitably result in more social and economic exclusion in the years ahead. Sharing economy activities that are targeted at excluded communities, not unlike the work of traditional charities, clearly have an important role to play in alleviating the consequences of gross inequality. But unless we change the policies that create poverty and inequality, the sharing economy will not have any real impact on the root causes of these growing crises. A similar logic can also be applied to addressing the systemic causes of climate change rather than working towards reducing the carbon footprints of a select group of sharing economy users.

By the end of the evening, it was becoming clear that if we are to take a ‘socio-economic ecosystem’ approach to the sharing economy, we need to recognise that it is sharing per se and not just the sharing economy that we support, which means advocating for the principle of sharing to be embodied in the private, public and third sectors. Given the current trajectory of government policy which is undermining existing systems of sharing and creating more inequality within and between countries, supporting the ethic and practice of sharing therefore means engaging in the political debate around how to create a more just and sustainable economic system – from the top down as well as the bottom up. This suggestion was widely supported at the event, which ended with an expert panel to which various sharing economy proposals were pitched by the audience.

Many international development charities dedicate a proportion of their resources to lobbying activities and advancing comprehensive policy solutions to the problems affecting the communities they represent. Perhaps, as suggested to the panel, proponents of sharing also need to mobilise concretely against policies that are responsible for generating inequality and social exclusion, and actively support systemic forms of economic sharing that can be delivered by local and national government. As STWR set out in a recent report, taking this political step could link sharing economy advocates to a global movement of progressive individuals and campaign organisations that are also advocating for sharing – particularly in relation to some of the world’s most pressing social, environmental and security crises. By engaging in these broader political debates, we come one step closer to creating a comprehensive socio-economic system based on sharing and cooperation rather than rampant commercialisation, consumerism and competition.


An edited transcript of the talk given at the event mentioned above is available here: Excluded communities and the future of sharing 

 

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After the great Piketty debate

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Adam Parsons
11th March 2015


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If de-growth on a global level is inevitable sooner or later – and there is enough evidence to suggest that it is – then the implications go far beyond Piketty’s solutions for how we can achieve a just and sustainable world.

The following article was originally published as an editorial in the November-December 2014 edition of Solutions Journal.


The year 2014 may be seen as a turning point in the public debate on inequality, which is in large part thanks to Thomas Piketty’s best-selling book Capital in the Twenty-First Century.[1] There is no doubt that Piketty’s tome of analysis has done a great service for progressives, in that it uses comprehensive data sets to discredit the prevailing economic ideology of our time.[2] It is no longer just common sense to presume that extreme wealth is not good for everyone, and that the invisible hand of the free market will never lead to a fairer sharing of wealth among the population.

However, many questions remain about Piketty’s blanket solution of a global tax on wealth, which he firmly places within the context of a market-dominated and consumer-driven economy. While such a tax may constitute a rational response to the continuing upward redistribution of wealth and income in advanced capitalist economies (even if it is a “usefully utopian idea”, as Piketty himself admits),[3] it proposes merely reform and nothing to change the source of systemic inequality.

Many critics of Piketty’s book have pointed out that the surest path to reversing inequality within countries is through strategies that create a better distribution of capital in the first instance, rather than relying on top-down, quick-fix and state-centric strategies afterwards.[4] In other words, it’s more effective to address the distribution of wealth at its source, including through changes in institutions and policies to make pre-tax income distribution less unequal.

This will inevitably demand the collective organisation of labour, the protection of workers’ rights, and new ways for capital to be owned broadly by the populace – such as a dramatic ramping up of participatory ownership through cooperatives.[5] These people-driven solutions point towards the shifts in power that are needed to create truly egalitarian societies, although this is a subject that Piketty leaves largely unaddressed.

By far the greatest blind side to Piketty’s analysis, however, is his failure to take seriously the ecological limits to growth.[6] It is clear that he defends the free market and the idea of perpetual economic growth, since his proposal for a global wealth tax assumes that wealthy countries will continue to grow at a rate of 1.2 percent (with a global growth rate of up to 5 percent). Nowhere in the book does he admit that infinite growth is unsustainable on a planet with finite resources, a position which is now conventional wisdom for many scientists,[7] environmental activists,[8] and civil society organisations.[9]

If de-growth on a global level is inevitable sooner or later – and there is enough evidence to suggest that it is – then the implications go far beyond Piketty’s solutions for how we can achieve a just and sustainable world.[10] When the pie cannot be grown any larger to share it out, much more serious questions of distribution arise given the planetary boundaries that economies are already hitting hard.[11] As succinctly put by Herman Daly: “is not the solution to poverty to be found in sharing now, rather than in the empty promise of growth in the future?”[12]

To be sure, we cannot grow our way into a vision of prosperity for all that replicates the North American or Western European standard of living worldwide. Which leaves us with only one option: to share the world’s wealth and resources more equitably among everyone, within the constraints of ‘one planet living’. But unfortunately, this is not the conversation that has been spurred by Piketty’s analysis which spends only a few pages talking around climate change and the ‘end of growth’ question, and in no way connects the dominant consumption-led growth model to the extreme social and environmental crises of today. As a result, his remarkably popular book has done little to help the general public embrace the radical transformations that will be required in the transition to a post-growth world.

There is much cause for optimism, however, as more and more engaged citizens and intellectuals are participating in this crucial debate over how to reimagine the economy as something different that escapes the growth compulsion, and in a way that is compatible with both social justice and ecological limits. This was particularly evident at the Degrowth movement’s fourth conference in September, which attracted an international audience of more than 2,700 people.[13] Although no-one has all the answers for exactly how a zero-growth world will function, a great amount of thinking has now been done on what such a world will look like,[14] and how genuinely shared prosperity can be achieved without causing economic collapse.[15]

Piketty is certainly correct that part of the answer lies in effective progressive taxation, in which corporations and rich individuals must pay their rightful share.[16] But we also need to rethink the entire edifice of capitalist economics, in which growth is the primary objective of all policy.[17] This demands solutions that lie outside of Piketty’s neoclassical and Keynsian worldview, despite being long discussed among heterodox economists and the progressive community at large. At the least, it means that we will have to reconsider the culture of consumerism, fundamentally rethink the paradigm of globalisation and free trade, and reinvest in our local economies and communities. All this depends on a shift in values towards quality of life and wellbeing, a new ethic of ‘sufficiency’,[18] and what Charles Eisenstein has called a “diversification in the modes of human sharing”.[19]

There is also no escaping the fact that a just transition will have to be managed and coordinated globally, with rich countries radically downscaling their resource and energy demands in order to clear the ecological space for those who need it. Considering that we already require one and a half planets to support today’s consumption levels,[20] a popularisation of the idea of ‘fair Earthshares’ is long overdue. For how much longer can we continue on a path of highly inequitable and over-development, while two-thirds of the world’s population – mostly in the Global South – still live in relative or absolute poverty? Clearly, the majority poor also have a moral claim to their fair share of the Earth’s resources, which means they urgently require economic growth for the basic necessities of life – such as schools, housing, hospitals, basic infrastructure, and decent jobs.

There is much to admire in the great Piketty debate, which has strongly resonated with a disillusioned public who are struggling to understand the causes of inequality in an age of austerity. Yet the very premises of this debate are mired in outmoded economic assumptions and orthodoxies, and hence it fails to ask the right question: which is not how to restart the growth machine, but how to live more sustainably and equitably without it. For the moment, this renewed focus on inequality is a hopeful sign that the momentous discussion on global sharing is finally beginning to reach a mainstream audience. But it surely won’t be long before public opinion is forced to consider a post-growth, and thus post-Piketty vision of how to create an equal and balanced future for all.


[1] Too Much. Institute for Policy Studies [online] (2014). toomuchonline.org/weeklies2014/may262014.html

[2] Mason, P. Thomas Piketty’s real challenge was to the FT’s Rolex types. Theguardian.com [online] (May 26, 2014). www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/may/26/thomas-piketty-economist-f…bling.

[3] Foroohar, R. Thomas Piketty: Marx 2.0. Paris School of Economics [online] (May 19, 2014). piketty.pse.ens.fr/files/capital21c/en/media/Time%20-%20Capital%20in%20the%20Twenty-First%20Century.pdf.

[4] Shaheen, F. Inequality: it will take more than bestsellers to break the spell. Neweconomics.org [online] (May 2, 2014). www.neweconomics.org/blog/entry/bestseller-to-breakthrough-whats-keeping….

[5] Alperovitz, G. After Piketty, the ownership revolution. Aljazeera.com [online] (June 17, 2014). america.aljazeera.com/opinions/2014/6/pikettycapital-cooperativeownershipworkerowned.html.

[6] Ortega, N. What Piketty forgot. Foreign Policy in Focus [online] (June 18, 2014). fpif.org/piketty-forgot/.

[7] Economic de-growth for ecological sustainability and social equity in Proceedings of the First International Conference on Economic De-Growth for Ecological Sustainability and Social Equity (eds Flipo, F. & Schneider, F.) (European Society of Ecological Economics, France, 2008). events.it-sudparis.eu/degrowthconference/en/appel/Degrowth%20Conference%20-%20Proceedings.pdf.

[8] Weyler, R. Deep green: why de-growth? An interview. Greenpeace.org [online] (June 27, 2011). www.greenpeace.org/international/en/news/Blogs/makingwaves/deep-green-wh… blog/35467/.

[9] Peoples’ sustainability treaty on sustainable economies. People’s Sustainability Treaties [online] (2014). sustainabilitytreaties.org/draft-treaties/sustainable-economies/.

[10] Victor, P. Questioning economic growth. Nature 468, 370–371 (2010).

[11] Planetary boundaries research. Stockholm Resilience Centre [online] (2014). www.stockholmresilience.org/planetary-boundaries.

[12] Herman, D. Wealth, illth, and net welfare. Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy [online] (2011). steadystate.org/wealth-illth-and-net-welfare/.

[14] Publications. Degrowth [online]. www.degrowth.org/publications.

[15] Jackson, T. & Victor, P. Does slow growth increase inequality? Passage Working Paper Series 14-01 (2014). www.prosperitas.org.uk/assets/does-slowgrowth-increase-inequality-paper.pdf.

[16] Financing the global sharing economy, part three (4): stop tax avoidance. Sharing.org [online] (October 1, 2012). www.sharing.org/node/207.

[17] Read, R. Green house’s ‘post-growth’ project: an introduction. Greenhousethinktank.org [online] (2012). www.greenhousethinktank.org/files/greenhouse/home/1Post_growth_inside.pdf.

[18] Alexander, S. Degrowth implies voluntary simplicity: overcoming barriers to sustainable consumption. Simplicity Institute Report 12b (2012). www.simplicityinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/OvercomingBarrier…ConsumptionReport-12b.pdf

[19] Eisenstein, C. Homepage for sacred economics: money, gift, and society in the age of transition. Realitysandwich.com [online] (June 23, 2011). www.realitysandwich.com/103908/homepage_sacred_economics/.

[20] Makwana, R. Sharing a (not so) living planet. Sharing.org [online] (October 3, 2014). www.sharing.org/information-centre/articles/sharing-not-so-living-planet.

Photo credit: jmettraux, flickr creative commons

 

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Excluded communities and the future of sharing

photo of Rajesh Makwana

Rajesh Makwana
9th March 2015


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In response to criticisms that the sharing economy appeals mainly to white middle class populations, it must become more inclusive and closely aligned with other fundamental forms of sharing in economic and political terms, argues STWR’s Rajesh Makwana.


Below is an edited transcript of a talk given at an event organised by the People Who Share as part of their monthly Global Sharing Economy Network meetings. An accompanying blog reflecting on the event can be viewed here


For those of you who are not familiar with Share The World’s Resources, we are a civil society organisation campaigning for a fairer sharing of wealth, power and resources within and between nations. As the name suggests, the principle of sharing is central to our advocacy work, and we have been following the development of the ‘sharing economy’ movement with interest over the past few years. During this time, it’s been very encouraging to witness the emergence of a more visible public discourse on sharing as a new economic model, and I am sure all of us here are now quite familiar with the transformative potential that has been attributed to the sharing economy.

However, we are also aware of the critique that the sharing economy has been subject to: that it is not living up to its full potential, and it is often being co-opted by purely commercial interests and stripped of its potential to pave the way for a more just and sustainable economic alternative. This increasingly polarised debate is of real interest and concern for us at STWR, as our focus is on how sharing within the private, public as well as the emerging commons sector is pivotal to addressing some of the world’s most pressing crises.

So in the context of today’s event, which considers excluded communities and the future of sharing, I would like to take a brief look at whether the ethic and practice of sharing really can create fairer, more sustainable and more democratic societies. And if so, what can proponents of the sharing economy do to play a more effective role in this transformative process? To help answer these questions, we firstly need to be clear about the nature and extent of the crises we face, not just here in the UK but globally.

Let’s look firstly at global poverty. From a systemic perspective, there has actually been a dangerous shift away from the practice of sharing across the world, as illustrated by growing levels of hunger, poverty and deprivation in both rich and poor countries. Of course, extreme poverty is far more severe in the Global South, where around 95% of people survive on the equivalent of less than $10 a day. As Oxfam reported earlier this year, the global situation is getting ever more extreme, as the richest 1% of the world’s population will soon own as much wealth as the rest of us combined.

So there is clearly an urgent need for more effective forms of economic sharing, especially in terms of the measures needed to end extreme poverty and life-threatening deprivation, no matter where in the world it occurs. The question we should perhaps ask ourselves is how we can talk about supporting the practice of sharing – in the truest sense of the word – when so many people go without access to the basics. Every day, around 40,000 people die due to lack of access to nutritious food, clean water and essential healthcare. Surely these people are part of the many communities that really are excluded from the sharing economy in any of its forms.

Let’s also touch briefly on the scale of the ecological crisis. It’s often said that humanity is consuming natural resources 50% faster than the planet can replenish them. Indeed, the average person in the UK has a ‘three-and-a-half planet’ ecological footprint, which highlights the extent to which all of us here would need to reduce our consumption levels if we wanted to live sustainably from a ‘one planet’ perspective.

But the challenge of sharing the planet’s finite resources is further complicated by huge imbalances in consumption patterns across the world. Currently, the wealthiest 20% of the world’s population consume 80% of global resources and are therefore responsible for the vast majority of climate change and environmental destruction. Again, that would probably include all of us in this room. Unless we make some radical changes to the way we extract, produce, distribute and consume goods and resources, we are clearly heading for a devastating rise in average global temperatures of up to 6 degrees centigrade by the end of the century.

Finally, let’s also consider conflict over scarce resources. Resource wars are perhaps the most dangerous consequence of our failure to share in economic terms. As we know, historically the powerful have always waged war to gain control over land and resources. Between 1965 and 1990, 73 civil wars over resources occurred in which more than a thousand people a year died, and at least 18 international conflicts have been triggered by competition for resources since then, including the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Unless communities and nations find ways of sharing rather than competing over scarce resources, a number of factors all but guarantee a further escalation of resource wars in the near future – including a rising world population, soaring global consumption rates, rapidly disappearing energy supplies, and of course climate change. It goes without saying, therefore, that a viable resource security strategy for the 21st century must be based on governance systems that facilitate cooperation and sharing on a global scale.

So what do all these rather grim and worrying statistics mean for the future of the sharing movement? There can be little doubt that we need radically new social and economic models that can address these crises, and economic sharing clearly has an important role to play in this process. But it needs to be a genuine form of sharing that reverses the rampant commercialisation and consumerism at the heart of social and environmental problems, and it must also address the power structures and politics that maintain the status quo.

This presents a real challenge to those working in and supporting the sharing economy. If the sharing economy movement is to be truly transformative, we will have to move beyond the solely personal, community and commercial view of sharing, and embrace a much broader understanding of this timeless principle. As the following points highlight, there are many ways in which systems of sharing could become more effective at reaching those in excluded communities:

  • Strengthen sharing businesses models
    In order to really disrupt the business-as-usual economy, sharing enterprises should at least be set up as not-for-profits or cooperatives, which could mean that no single individual or finance group drives the company for their own benefit. Instead, business models and practices that truly embody the principle of sharing should ensure that ownership is democratised and income is fairly distributed among employees.
  • Avoid ‘sharewashing’
    If sharing economy enterprises are going to remain genuinely aligned with the principle of sharing, then it does mean that the movement must resist co-optation by the big corporate sector. As we well know, this sort of co-optation is already well documented in relation to social and environmental issues through the various methods of ‘greenwashing’ and ‘whitewashing’ a company’s activities. A similar process is now evident in the sharing sector as businesses rebrand themselves under this trendy new meme.
  • Scale up sharing in the ‘core economy’
    A truly sharing economy is often free and not commercial, and has always included the unpaid care, support and nurturing that bonds us as human beings. The transformative power of interpersonal sharing lies in scaling up these non-economic dimensions through, for example, strengthening networks of mutual aid, pooled skills and community support.
  • Build the commons sector
    A vibrant commons sector could function independently of markets or direct government involvement and include many sharing economy activities. To help build this sector, we need what P2P theorist Michel Bauwens refers to as the ‘partner state’ – a reformed governmental apparatus that builds on the welfare state model and actively supports the development of the commons.
  • Broaden our definition of economic sharing
    On their own, interpersonal forms of sharing will never be enough to deliver social justice and environmental sustainability. A much broader definition of the sharing economy is therefore desperately needed, along the lines of the one Benita mentioned earlier. A truly ‘sharing society’ would include, for example, systems of universal social protection, effective public services, as well as accessible public spaces – and a lot more besides. We can even relate the concept of sharing to democratic forms of governance in terms of how equally power is distributed throughout society.
  • Support efforts to share internationally
    We must also support efforts to share on an international basis, as this global aspect of sharing is the most crucial with regards to addressing the underlying causes of inequality, climate change and conflict over resources. Almost by definition, sharing resources on a finite planet is a process that must take place globally, yet it is rarely discussed among proponents of the sharing economy.
  • Recognise that sharing is a common cause that unites us all
    If the sharing economy movement is to make a real difference to the social and ecological crises we face, we are going have to join forces with the millions of people around the world who are calling for a wide range of political and economic reforms that embody the principle of sharing. As part of our global call for sharing campaign, STWR has recently released a report called ‘Sharing as our common cause’ which demonstrates how a call for sharing has long been fundamental to demands for social justice, ecological stewardship, true democracy, and even global peace.

I hope these brief points will stimulate some thoughts about how to make the sharing economy movement much more inclusive in the future and more aligned with other fundamental and radical forms of sharing. To wrap up, I’d like to mention that we have also launched a campaign statement that individuals and organisations can sign in order to demonstrate their support for the principle of sharing in relation to their work and activities. Since you all broadly support the sharing economy movement, it would be great if you could add your signatures by visiting www.sharing.org/global-call

Image credit:Tobias Leeger, flickr creative commons

– See more at: http://www.sharing.org/information-centre/articles/excluded-communities-and-future-sharing#sthash.Id09lsaL.dpuf

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