For people concerned about the fate of free culture, it is hard to beat the annual iCommons Summit and the wildly eclectic crowd it attracts. I just finished attending this four-day conference in Sapporo, Japan, along with 350 hackers, educators, remix artists, bloggers, do-it-yourself video makers, academics and journalists from dozens of countries. Truly, I have never encountered a more diverse, interesting and action-oriented group of people. Too bad I was also suffering from the mind-corrosion that comes with a thirteen-hour time change (Hartford to Sapporo in 20 hours!).
What’s a Water Reclaimer?
A new collaboration has formed in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul in Minnesota, calling themselves The Water Reclaimers. This collaboration is made up of people from environmental nonprofits, water quality entities, art organizations, city government, restaurants, and more.
p(photo-credits). Photo by perpetualstroll, Creative Commons NC, SA from “Flickr”:http://www.flickr.com/photos/jasonshim/32498477/
One of the worst things ever to hit our communities was the belief that homes, shops and workplaces should be strictly segregated from one another. Devised around the turn of the 20th century, when it did make sense to locate iron foundries and tanneries away from schools and apartment buildings, this idea of “single use zoning” took off to a ridiculous degree after World War II when corner stores, offices and even diners were deemed a threat to nearby homes.
Now that the New York Times has splashed it on the front page (July 22), consider it an official trend: locally grown food is all the rage. It is being avidly sought out by Manhattan’s Upper East Side, the glam crowd in the Hamptons, the merely affluent of Mill Valley, California, and even by the rest of us who live in less celebrated locations with few boldfaced residents.
Property law is not exactly a riveting subject, and law professors are not usually good storytellers. But in his new book The Gridlock Economy, Michael Heller, a professor at Columbia Law School, has written one of the most intelligent and accessible critiques of how overly broad property rights can be harmful not only to the commons, but to the market.
On the Commons Fellow Chuck Collins co-edited a special issue of The Nation about economic inequality, examining how “over the past three decades, market-worshipping politicians and their corporate backers have engineered the most colossal redistribution of wealth in modern world history, a redistribution from the bottom up, from working people to a tiny global elite.”
Water activists in Maine won a big victory last week when the Kennebunk-Kennebunkport-Wells Water District tabled indefinitely a proposal that would have let Poland Spring extract between 250,000 and 500,000 gallons of water a day from Wells, Maine. Poland Spring’s parent company, Nestle, already extracts water from eight wells in Maine, and is now seeking to take water from Rangeley, Maine.
One of the most powerful tools for enclosing the commons is fear-mongering. This infamous pattern is now playing itself out once again with the Bush Administration’s attempt to open up more offshore areas to oil drilling.
Once upon a time, the public owned the airwaves and broadcasters were mandated to serve the “public interest, convenience and necessity.” Now, not only has deregulation gutted the public’s rights to educational, local and public affairs programming, even the degraded commercial programming that remains is being converted into wall-to-wall advertisements. The tactic, usually known as “product placement,” is now metastasizing into obnoxious new forms of commercial propagandizing, none of it disclosed.
An historic event in the annals of human progress took place last fall with virtually no media attention in the United States.
After 22 years of negotiations, the United Nations voted 143-4 on September 13 to endorse the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People—a logical next step beyond the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, passed in 1948.
The Entrepreneur Commons is trying to change the process of financing startups, by doing loans instead of equity deals. The concept is similar to what is being done in Microfinance, but applied to entrepreneurs in developed countries rather than the poor in developing countries.
How would you draw the commons? Is it two circles — one for public and one for private sectors — with an overlapping part in the middle for commons? Is it a third circle separate from the other two? Maybe circles simply won’t do. I’ve seen other shapes used. I’ve seen rainbows; pastoral landscapes; abstract grafitti-like scrawling; even mobiles suspending paper sculptures and text. The point is that that there is a delicious paradox here. I “got” the commons instantly the first time I was introduced to the concept.
A backlash against the over-commercialization of science seems to be gaining new momentum. Two eminent Nobel prize winners — Sir John Sulston, a British geneticist and American economist Joseph Stiglitz – are working with leading scientists and ethicists to formulate a “Manchester Manifesto,” http://www.manchester.ac.uk/aboutus/news/display/?id=3805 in connection with the newly created University of Manchester Institute for Science, Ethics and Innovation.
Many are wondering if the commons will emerge as a bona fide political issue in this year’s presidential election.
Even if it doesn’t become a centerpiece of policy for the next administration, discussion of an issue like the commons on the campaign trail can significantly raise public awareness.
In Barack Obama, the Democrats have a candidate willing to think expansively about a wide range of issues beyond the usual electoral perimeters.
Last week I woke up in a room with twenty other people sleeping in bunk beds stacked four high. It was part of my induction into one of the great social commons in New England, the community of hikers who love the White Mountains of New Hampshire. With three friends, my wife and I hiked the Presidential Range and stayed in two of the fabled “huts” that give hikers spartan overnight accommodations, hearty food and the camaraderie of other hikers.
When Howard Rheingold wrote about “smart mobs” five years ago, many people assumed that that the rapidly assembled Internet “mobs” would be a marginal phenomenon confined to cyberspace. But as a series of major protests in South Korea have demonstrated over the past month, digital technologies are helping large masses of people to coordinate their actions in highly sophisticated and powerful ways. Their political will suddenly matters.
Modern culture seems so steeped in the market mentality that any effort to restore the commons to our lives is seen, by definition, as a brash and controversial move. But if you take a closer look, that’s not necessarily so. The commons endures in a number of forms we take for granted today.
Walk into a restaurant, and the waiter will usually bring you a glass of water right away. This act acknowledges water as a life-giving resource that we all share in common. Simple decency demands that everyone is offered a drink to slake his or her thirst.
Most Americans recently received a water quality report from their local utility, detailing what’s in the tap water they drink. This is a required by the Safe Drinking Water Act so that citizens know about potential dangers in their water supply.
Creative Commons license by Debcil, NC, from Flickr
Brad (lt) and Vernon (rt) present the WeJay at the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco.
David Rovics hates the word “protest singer,” probably because it conjures up so many clichés about the Sixties, music and political change. And in truth, he and his music are about much more than politics. I’d say he speaks more about the human condition in these times….. which, for any sentient being in the Bush era, necessarily involves politics.