On the evening of November 15, during a 3-day meeting of the European Commons Assembly, a conversation took place between representatives of the commons movement and DIEM 25. The context was sweet and sour.
2015 began with the enthusiasm of the Athens Spring and the New Politics it heralded. Later that year, austerity politics trumped, and the rise of the extreme right in Europe made it into the news. 2016 brought new fences around Europe and ended with Trump’s victory in the USA. These are the developments real democratization is up against – in economic, political and cultural terms.
Deepening democracy is at the core of both DIEM 25 and the commons movement. This conversation allowed for a cognitive and political mapping of both DIEM 25 activists and commoners from all over Europe: Where are we at and in which context? Lorenzo Marsili (XYZ) metaphorically: “we can certainly common our way out of a beautiful collectively-managed garden, but around us will be wasteland”.
The conversation was set up to explore common ground and devise concrete cooperation.
The challenge is huge. It is beyond than making democracy more bottom-up, more local or more participatory. It is about re-thinking democracy and enacting a truly democratic culture at all levels! One thing became crystal clear: both approaches are, to quote a Belgium participant: “extremely complementary.”
Came into mind after thinking about the “make commons great again” phrase which echoed and provoked resistance:
- Make commons thrive again.
- Make commons thrive.
- Make commons!
- More commons for more democracy! Now!
- There won’t be more democracy without more thriving commons.
- Thriving commons mean/equal more democracy. Beyond nationalism and beyond the prevailing left vs. right polarisation.
What does it mean to be political for the commons movement?
Ana Margarida Esteves, social scientist, Portugal: “Actually the true politics is being built outside the so-called public institutions.”
response David Hammerstein: “… and that’s what the commons is about!”
Joren de Wachter, DIEM 25, Belgium: “The commons has been of enormous benefit in bringing a huge amount of good thinking, knowledge and experience to this process.” (of democratization)
DIEM25 and the Commons movement
Lorenzo Marsili, European Alternatives and DIEM25, Italy: “It’s years of working together on commoning.
“It is time to say that the neoliberal capitalist system, of financial capitalism that we have had after 30 years of appropriation and concentration of the wealth is now defeated. Unfortunately what might follow up from it might be even worse unless we capitalize on this moment and gain a transformation in historical proportion and go forward.”
Marsili: “DiEM needs commoners, needs the movement for the commons. Not to decorate its movement but to use its message when it comes to what a new economic and a new investment policy means for the EU.”
What to do?
Agnieszka Wisniewska: “This is politics! This is how we are doing politics. [ …] when we ask all these questions, when we don’t know, when we don’t agree, when we discuss about the things we have in our heads, [when we] imagine how to do something. This is the beginning.”
Lorenzo, Marsili: “A people, the demos, emerges through joint struggle and joint mobilisation. […] the only way it is possible to happen is by doing it.”
Joren de Wachter: “We need to develop a narrative that is better and more effective than the neoliberal narrative that is bankrupt.”
One way to do it?: “Change the frame and the words that are being used to discuss what is going on in the society around us. We don’t use competition, we use cooperation; we don’t think that when everybody is nasty it will mean everything will be good for everybody.”
David Hammerstein: “We have to have the feeling of home and identity without nationalism.” ->
Joren the Wachter: “Nationalism, as part of how you look at your identity, is something that is very dear and close to people.”
Silke Helfrich: “This new narrative needs to be beyond market fundamentalism and nation states, beyond left and right and even beyond political parties.”
Laura Colini: (Our idea of…) “Commons has to be dealing with basic societal battles. They are not just goodwill, good intentions, right-based arguments. They […] have to deal with basic minimum income or living wage, or measures like child guarantees or basic health care.”
Marsili: commoners should participate in drafting DIEM25 policy papers
” I think we need something like a commons group within DiEM that can directly make sure that the commons is not only a part of a wider policy but that there is a very clear policy on the commons.”
Featured image by European Commons Assembly. Separator images by Bart Cosijn and Zemos98