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Speaking notes on Reclaiming the Commons

on Fri, 11/23/2012 - 00:00


These are the notes for a talk I gave in the New Putney Debate organized by Occupy London 23-Nov-2012


The other day I heard a beautiful English folk song from 1750. Interestingly, it is getting very popular on the Internet nowadays. You probably don’t want to hear me singing it :-) so I brought to you its lyrics.

They hang the man and flog the woman

That steals the goose from off the common

But let the greater villain loose

That steals the common from the goose

I wanted to be sure to get the lyrics right, googled it and found 200,000 (!) webpages referencing this song. Isn’t it interesting that an 18th Century folk song became loved again, expressing something so timely in the 21st? “They let the greater villain loose that steals the common from the goose…”

What is new today is not that the villain steals the commons from the goose. Private expropriation of common goods is even older than capitalism.  What is new is that we don’t have to put up with it anymore.

We do have the power to organize ourselves around reclaiming the land, health care, enough food and shelter for all, the currencies, the freedom to re-use and re-mix the heritage of humankind’s collective intellect; power to reclaim everything essential to our individual and collective well-being.

In fact, that reclaiming is already happening, and you will hear about it this morning from some of the speakers. There are also 73 stories in this anthology, telling about the struggles for the Commons from around the world. This is a good time for reclaiming it because the many crises of the dominant political and economic system, open more space in the mind and heart of people for something new to emerge.

However, a Commons-based society will not prevail easily. And that’s not only because the resistance of Capital and its political apparatus. It will be a long learning journey. What we will need to learn is how to invent the new institutions of the Commons, and how to make them meeting human needs more effectively.

What could be some indicators of the maturing of the Commons movement? I suggest that we explore that question together in our conversations. I can add one to the list from my vantage point, as co-director of the School of Commoning.

Thanks to our followers on various social media and connections with the international commons movement, I receive a steady stream of exciting news about the commons. It comes much faster than Anna and I can do justice to it. Sharing even only the most inspiring ones in our blogs and websites would be a huge undertaking and we both have a day job. So for us, a small sign of the movement’s maturation will be when we’ll hear from people enthused about spreading the Commons culture that they want to work with the School, and help with sharing the news of the movement.

A much bigger sign of the Movement’s evolution would be, for example, if and when Occupy could organize itself for legally re-taking a building and maintaining it as an educational, cultural and coordination centre. Am I dreaming? Well, why not?