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February 14, 2012

Occupy Wall Street Hosts Forum on Politics of the Commons

Occupy supporters explore the possibilities

On the Commons’ program director Alexa Bradley was among the people presenting at this first-of-a-kind gathering.

“There is enormous synergy between the emergence of Occupy and the rise of the global movement to reclaim our commons,” Bradley says. “The commons has a long history as a way that people claimed, shared and protected the resources on which they depended. It is rising again at the intersection of direct democracy, equity, ecological responsibility and community.”

“We will look at the insights of the Occupy movement and apply them to the deep work to reclaim, or re-invent our commons today,” she says. We will draw on examples of commons work of various scales and arenas – from the water of the Great Lakes to local resource sharing and reclamation.”

Making Worlds: An Occupy Wall Street Forum on the Commons
February 16-18, 2012
Church of the Ascension, 122 Java Street, Greenpoint, Brooklyn

An Invitation
The Occupy movement is entering a new phase, one in which many of us feel the need to combine renewed engagement through direct actions and mobilizations with a deep reflection on the strategic objectives of our movement. In order to fulfill this need, the organizing committee of Making Worlds is inviting Occupy supporters, sympathizers, and other organizations to participate in this Forum on the politics of the commons. In particular, we are interested in understanding how groups and communities working on housing, health care, education, food, water, energy, information, communication and knowledge resources can develop a vision of these resources as commons: a third form of social organization to the state and corporate capitalism. Making Worlds has the ambitious goal of articulating a strategic vision from and for the movement as well as specific political initiatives aiming at its realization.

The Forum
The departure point of Making Worlds is to deepen our knowledge about existing forms and practices of the commons in the United States and abroad. For the purpose of this discussion, we provisionally define the commons in two ways:

1) The commons is a resource whose mode of disposition and usage is determined by the community of its users and producers. Examples of commons may include the air and the oceans, water sources managed by local communities, self-managed factories and agricultural lands, (squatted) community centers and houses, community gardens, free and open source software, and users-run repositories of knowledge such as Wikipedia.

2) The commons is a way of organizing social practices, living experiences, community relationships and pathways for our collective reproduction. These activities may include cooperative strategies such as reciprocal caring, self-education, and workers cooperatives.

We believe that the organizational forms developed by our movement are already functioning, in many ways, as institutions of the commons. We also think that there are plenty of existing initiatives in New York and beyond from which important lessons can be learned. Securing the commons for the collective good, protecting it from private appropriation as well as from over-use takes ingenuity, cooperation, and planning. Making Worlds will provide a common space and framework for such cooperation and planning to take place. Starting from these considerations we pose several overarching questions:

What examples of existing commons can we draw upon for inspiration? How are they governed?
How can new commons be created and expanded in our society?

How can we think of social and political relationships as a commons in its own right?

Your Contribution
Making Worlds is open to every sympathizer and participant in the Occupy movement as well as other independent activist groups. If you are interested in participating in Making Worlds, we ask you to approach it by posing questions related to your field of interest or activity. For instance, if you are part of the kitchen committee or any other group working on and with food, how can you tackle the question of food production and consumption as commons? How is the food we eat every day produced (or not produced) in common? And how can we extend the common production and distribution of food?

If you work in a sustainability group you may ask similar questions in relation to drinkable water or the atmosphere. What kinds of initiatives and actions can be taken at a local and regional level to protect and build a commons? And what kind of coordination could make feasible a national campaign to make the ground waters a common good? Would it be possible to link such a campaign to the anti-fracking movement? Similar questions can be explored in relation to education, health care, the production of energy, the reproduction of the labor force, medical and scientific knowledge, and communication infrastructures. After your group has explored these preliminary questions, we ask you to reach out and propose a title for a workshop and speakers who can help you facilitate it.

Forum Structure
Making Worlds is to be a three day Forum:

1) The first day will be dedicated to the introduction of broad themes regarding the commons. Notable speakers and activists who have been studying the commons and struggling for their occupation and nurturing will share their perspectives and experiences.

2) Day Two will be managed directly by the working groups that have participated in the preparatory phases of the Forum. The suggested agenda was to divide the workshops in two sections: the first part to flesh out situations and research questions and to foster a debate around them; the second part to producing a short document containing ideas and pragmatic suggestions that will be posted the Forum’s web site by the end of the second day. But groups can vary their operation as their unique situations require, with each requested to produce a document or other materials envisioning concrete initiatives, lines of action, and intervention.

3) The third day will continue the work of Day Two, but end with a General Assembly that might draft a charter and a set of documents and materials envisioning concrete initiatives, lines of action, and intervention.

The organizing committee of Making Worlds is part of the Empowerment & Education Committee of OWS. Contact us at “makingworldsows@gmail.com”:makingworldsows@gmail.com.