The commons is a fresh way of looking at political, economic, social and cultural life that means, in short, everything that belongs to all of us. This includes the environment and the Internet, public spaces and human culture -- and much more that we share together rather than own privately. And taking the commons seriously can point us toward new strategies, ideas and inspiration for social change.
Here are some thoughts about how we can restore and reclaim the commons in our lives, from the new book "All That We Share: A Field Guide to the Commons" (The New Press).
- Challenge the prevailing myth that all problems have private, individualized solutions.
- Notice how many of life's pleasures exist outside the marketplace -- gardening, fishing, conversing, playing music, playing ball, making love, enjoying nature and more.
- Take time to enjoy what the commons offers. (As the radical Brazilian educator Paulo Freire once declared, "We are bigger than our schedules.")
- Introduce the children in your life to the commons. Let them see you enjoying it, and working with others to sustain it.
- Keep in mind that security and satisfaction are more easily acquired from friends than money.
- Become a mentor -- officially or informally -- to people of all ages around you. (And be prepared to learn as much as you teach.)
- Think about living cooperatively with housemates.
- Don't be afraid to ask for help.
- Have some fun. The best reason for restoring the commons is that it enriches our lives.
- Offer a smile or greeting to people you pass. The commons begins with connecting -- even in brief, spontaneous ways.
- Walk, bike or take transit whenever you can. It's good for the environment, but also for you. You meet very few people behind the wheel of your car.
- Treat commons spaces as if you own them (which, actually, you do). Keep an eye on the place. Tidy things up. Report problems or repair things yourself. Initiate improvement campaigns.
- Pull together a potluck. Throw a block party. Form a community choir, slow food club, Friday night poker game, May Day festival or any other excuse for socializing.
- Get out of the house and spend some time on the stoop, the front yard, the street -- anywhere you can be a part of the river of life that flows past you.
- Create or designate a "town square" for your neighborhood where folks naturally want to gather -- a park, playground, vacant lot, community center, coffee shop or even a street corner.
- Lobby for more public benches, water fountains, plazas, parks, sidewalks, bike trails, playgrounds and other crucial commons infrastructure.
- Conduct an inventory of local commons. Publicize your findings, and offer suggestions for celebrating and improving these community assets.
- Organize your neighbors to prevent crime and to defuse the fear of crime, which often dampens a community's spirits even more than crime itself.
- Remember streets belong to people, not just automobiles. Drive cautiously and push for traffic calming and other improvements that remind motorists they are not kings of the road.
- Buy from local, independent businesses whenever possible.
- Before buying something at a chain store or online from a distant vendor, see if you can find it or order it from a local merchant. That way, some of your money stays in the community.
- Investigate how many things you now pay for could be acquired in more cooperative ways -- checking out DVDs at the library, quitting the health club and forming a morning jogging club, etc.
- Form a neighborhood exchange to share everything from lawn mowers to childcare to vehicles.
- Barter. Trade your skill in baking pies with someone who will fix your computer.
- Look into creating a Time Dollars system or locally-based currency.
- Organize a Common Security Club. You are not on your own when it comes to economic woes.
- Watch where your money goes. How do the stores, companies and financial institutions you use harm or help the commons?
- Purchase fair trade, organic and locally made goods from small producers as much as you can.
- Join campaigns opposing cutbacks in public assets like transit, schools, libraries, parks, social services, police and fire protection, arts programs and more.
- Support activists around the globe working for debt relief, environmental protection, human rights, worker rights, sustainable development and indigenous people.
- Take every opportunity to talk with elected officials, non-profit organizations, labor unions, professional societies and business leaders about the importance of protecting the commons.
- Protest the private patenting of products created with research paid for by taxpayers. Demand that publicly-funded research data be available to everyone on the Internet.
- Write letters to the editor about the commons, post on local websites, call in to talk radio, tell your friends.
- Learn from everywhere. What can Copenhagen teach us about bicycles? India about wellness? Africa about community solidarity? Indigenous nations about the commons itself? What bright ideas could be borrowed from a nearby neighborhood or town?
- Pick up litter that is not yours.
- Avoid bottled water whenever you can. Tap water is generally safer. If you still have concerns about the local water supply, get a filter and pressure local officials to clean it up.
- Become a guerrilla gardener, planting flowers and vegetables on neglected land in your neighborhood.
- Organize a community garden or local farmer's market.
- Roll up your sleeves to restore a creek, wetland, woods, grasslands, or beautify a vacant lot.
- Remember that everything that goes down your drain, on your lawn, in your garbage, or into your storm sewer eventually winds up in our water or air.
- Seek new ways to use less energy and create less waste at home and work.
- Form a study group to explore what can be done to promote sustainability in your community.
- Purchase goods -- from beer to clothing to hardware -- produced close to home whenever possible. Shipping, trucking and flying goods long distances stresses the environment.
- Patronize and support your public library.
- Demand that that schoolchildren should not become a captive audience for marketing campaigns.
- Contribute your knowledge to online commons such as Wikipedia, open-education projects and open-access journals. Form your own online community to explore commons issues.
- Use Creative Commons licenses for your own writing, music, videos and other creative pursuits.
- Conceive a public art project for your community.
- Think yourself as a commoner and share your enthusiasm. Raise the subject in conversation, art, professional circles and organizations with which you are involved.
- Launch a commons discussion group or bookclub with your neighbors and colleagues, or at your church, synagogue or temple.
- Spread some hope around. Explain how commons-based solutions can remedy today's pressing problems.
Money and the Economy
Information and Culture
Follow Jay Walljasper on Twitter: www.twitter.com/JayWalljasper