Making New Worlds Possible

Re-posted from, authored by Alexa Bradley, originally published on: 23 February 2012

OTC program director Alexa Bradley was one of the presenters at Occupy Wall Street’s inaugural forum on the commons Feb. 16-19 in Brooklyn. Here is her report on what that happened.

A report from the Occupy Wall Street forum on the commons

I am just back from Making Worlds, an Occupy Wall Street (OWS) Forum on the Commons consisting of workshops, presentations and discussions last Thursday through Sunday that explored the intersections of the Occupy movement and growing efforts around the world to reclaim and reinvent our commons.

If ever two emerging movements had synergy and much to offer each other, it is these two. Both the commons movement and Occupy spring from a shared sense of urgency about need for a different path toward the future, given the widespread human suffering and ecological destruction caused by the dominant economic system. The commons movement brings working models for shared resource governance. Occupy represents a a highly energetic mass movement that is determined to redefine the politics and possibilities of our times.

As the Occupy movement considers how to expand the influence and energy of last fall’s uprising into the next wave of work, it is looking at strategies for social transformation that combine a commitment to deep democracy, equitable economics, life-sustaining interdependence with the natural world and a liberatory remaking of social relationships. It is not surprising then that the commons, as both a worldview and practical approach for sharing resources, would provide fertile ground for strategies and solutions..

Some 100 people participated in the Forum—both long time commons proponents and others new to the ideas, people from New York and around the world, all engaging in rich and thoughtful conversation. The group was hungry to look at how the commons might offer new ways of reclaiming or creating shared resources and deeper community links, allowing us to “embody the vision of the society we want to create,” as Sylvia Federici, an activist and teacher at Hofstra University, put it.

The conversation was wide ranging with the crowd engaging enthusiastically about open source and digital democracy, water and seeds, culture and education, community/solidarity economic models, alternative banking, public assets and public space, and issues related to families, sexuality and health. Throughout the discussion speakers noted that commons of all kinds are defined by a type of social relationship in which the users of a given shared resource are also the co-creators, producers, protectors, stewards and decision makers. As Marcela Olivera, a Bolivian activist on the staff of Food & Water Watch,stated, “the commons is a social construction, not a thing. The commons will come from the doing and living of them.”

James Quilligan, of the Global Commons Trust brought this thought into a discussion about the relationship between the commons in both public and private realms. He cited the need for communities to “common” resources in either realm by reasserting their rightful claim, not just on benefit or access, but also in direct stewardship and governance. Where that is threatened, he said, “we must reclaim and negotiate in order to roll back the enclosures that deny people their livelihood, well-being and shared wealth.”

Most of the conversations expressed a belief that needed solutions will arise from the creativity and actions of people and communities, not the embattled and often bureaucratic public sector or the private sector. One of the challenges noted over the three days is the need to continually sustain the commons and the understandings and practices that are necessary to do that.

In that light, University of Southern Maine philosoph professor George Caffentzis talked about the long-standing lobster fishing commons in Maine as illustrative of what it takes to create and maintain a commons over time. He identified three conditions that make it possible to share and co-manage these fishing areas:

*The shadow of the future*– the recognition of ecological limits that must be respected if we are to sustain the commons
The development and preservation of communal values
The perpetual creation and production of the commons given that it will be under siege from both the market (privatization, individualism) and the state (bureaucratic rules rather than local decision making).

These observations rang true as we looked at various commons—past and present, natural and created, vibrant and endangered.

The planners of the Commons Forum, a working group of OWS, put together a remarkable resource of writings and web links for any one interested. These are posted on their wiki at

The organizers consider this an initial exploration in what they see as an on-going dialogue within OWS about the commons and commons strategies. All of us at On The Commons look forward to participating in that exciting process.

Tags: ecological destruction, sense of urgency, social transformation

Categories: Commons, Identity & Strategy


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4 Comments on “Making New Worlds Possible”

  1. Reply
    February 24, 2012 at 9:56 pm #

    I think the greatest challenge to the Occupy movement and any/all social movements for change which are highly energized right now — will be to keep the “flame burning” and unwavering over a LONG stretch of time. I was in my early 20′s in the years of “flowering” of the so-called ‘counter-culture’ in 1969-the first part of the ’70′s. It was “Hell” to experience the ‘withering’ of that highly-idealistic anti-war movement. My hope for Occupy Wall Street is that it puts down VERY DEEP ROOTS and strengthens itself by connecting with PEOPLES’ MOVEMENTS in other areas of the world. I myself am deeply interested in the history of Latin American peoples’ movements, and I’m sure others track movements in Africa and other geopolitical areas. I think we need to be constantly “WEAVING” a sense of SOLIDARITY among people everywhere, doing deep investigations into the “REAL” history of the world as we know it today — not the “textbook history” of any particular nation or geographical area. WE SIMPLY CAN’T AFFORD TO LET THIS MOVEMENT IN 2012 FADE AWAY. We have, at any cost, to ‘feed the flame of Love’ on this Planet.

  2. Reply
    February 24, 2012 at 11:26 pm #

    A second comment: Occasionally someone “tweets” something that sticks in my mind in a BIG WAY. One such comment made not too long ago went something like this: “..MT…It’s not Socialism or Democracy or Communism or a “system” that’s the problem. IT’S CORRUPTION…” YEAH. Many many people will say, and it can be difficult to argue with them, that “corruption is HERE TO STAY–that the possibility of being ‘corrupted’ is a significant factor in human nature.

    SO MY QUESTION IS: To what extent can new cultural/social norms REDUCE the amount of corruption which flourishes and/or is tolerated to any degree in a “social group?”

    I think the answer is a lot; but I’m sure there are people who will say ‘Not at all.’

    Perhaps the Occupy and Commons Movements can benefit by doing a ‘deep analysis’ of “CORRUPTION.” How does corruption occur, what conditions in life circumstances are most likely to predispose individual people to become corrupt, and can people be “dissuaded from a path of corruption” before they have caused huge damage to an incalculable number of other people.

    What role does FEAR play in the ‘flowering of corruption?” People are AFRAID of retribution, of loss of many kinds (jobs, money, status, etc.) How can the “flowering of corruption” be cut off at the pass — so to speak — before it wreaks havoc on enormous swathes of innocent, struggling human beings?

  3. Reply
    Paul Codd
    February 25, 2012 at 9:14 pm #

    In a systems thinking course I asked my MBA students to form teams and for each team to look at a big, hairy, seemingly intractable problem. 3 or 4 groups chose corruption related topics. The net result of their work was that corruption is basically a symptom of inequality. Although individual countries have their own circumstances, when viewed in aggregate, the higher inequality rises, the more corruption rises, and the more it falls, corruption falls with it. Obviously it is a very dynamic and complex relationship with many variables and actors but the general rule was proven simultaneously by each of the teams.

    • Reply
      February 25, 2012 at 9:51 pm #

      Hello Paul, Your above post is incredibly interesting” to me. This is ONE OF THE MAJOR ISSUES THE ENTIRE OCCUPY MOVEMENT HAS ADDRESSED IN NUMEROUS WAYS — but the Movement has mostly addressed THE VARIOUS OUTCOMES of awesome levels of corruption in world-wide governments, particularly (for the U.S. Occupy Movements of course) in the U.S.

      And then along comes this One “Tweep” and notes: “Well corruption is a given. Corruption is everywhere — corruption is part of LIFE. What are you going to do about that?”

      The ubiquitousness of CORRUPTION appears to be worth a lot of deep inquiry to me. I think we shouldn’t circumvent this subject — rather it would be good for the Occupy Movement to bring it into the light of day — find out everything there is to be ‘found out’ about it (as you were doing with your MBA course) and OPENLY explore/discuss ways of nipping it in the bud — also ways to respond to it if/when it’s uncovered.

      Maybe we have to reinvent the culture of the behavior of “groups” or try to figure out whether it’s even possible. I think “shunning” should be for people who wage corruption which causes “misery” — rather than for people who are ‘homeless.’

      (I am merely an amateur student of human individual and group behavior.)

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