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July 27, 2011

Do I Need Livestock to Be Part of This Movement?

Concerns about the phrase "commons"

“The commons” is an evocative term that immediately conjures associations in people’s minds. While that might be advantageous to an emerging social movement, as opposed to some dull-sounding abstract label (think “disarmament” or “bioregionalism”), it’s not without problems. For some, the phrase means communal grazing land in Medieval England, a park in downtown Boston, lounges in their college dormitory, or the burgeoning number of apartment complexes that proclaim themselves “[This or That] Commons.”

Commons blogger Kim Klein lists some complaints from people who are interested in the concept, but unsure about the word. This raises the question: Do we need a different word to describe what we all share? Do phrases like the Common Good or the Public Good better describe our movement?

Let us know what you think in the comments section. — Jay Walljasper

Not everyone likes the word commons to describe the emerging wave of interest in protecting what belongs to all of us.

Here are some of the objections I’ve heard about the term:

• “Not to be totally punny, but the word is too common. You don’t want such an ordinary word describing something as important as the commons.”

• “It is too British. I live in New York City—we don’t do too much grazing here.”

• “It is so old-fashioned. When I hear it, I think I am going to have to endure a re-enactment of Ben Franklin or someone like that.”

• “It is too rural. I feel like I have to go somewhere carrying a small sheep.”

Excerpted from All That We Share: A Field Guide to the Commons by Jay Walljasper and On the Commons. It first appeared in Kim Klein’s blog Kim Klein and the Commons Kim Klein works with mission-driven organizations with Klein & Roth Consulting and helps non-profit organizations become more effective in promoting social change through the Building Movement Project website.