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What is the commons?

thecommonsThis week Augsburg will host the Festival of the Commons featuring Nobel Laureate Elinor Ostrom on “Constructing Common Property Regimes.”

What is the Commons (Really)?

It’s an old idea—the chief organizing principle for human society for most of history—that’s now being rediscovered and reinvigorated all around the world.

The commons means things and practices—often created, governed, and sustained by communities themselves—that people share among themselves and protect for future generations.

The commons constantly touches our lives, from the water with which we brush our teeth in the morning to the fairy tales we tell children at bedtime. But it means more than a cozy sense of togetherness; the commons provides us with practical tools for solving problems and invigorating public life in America.

Examples of the Commons in Our Lives

Air and water; parks, libraries, schools; streets and sidewalks;

wilderness preserves and national forests;

public services; Wikipedia and other open-source software;

blood banks, soup kitchens, 12-step groups, museums;

the oceans, Antarctica, and outer space.

Why Does the Commons Matter to Us Today?

The commons is essential in the modern high tech world as well as in traditional agrarian societies. The commons is also endangered today by many forces, including general dynamics built into the modern world and political views across the spectrum which disempower citizens and take away a sense of collective responsibility for the future.

But the good news is that people everywhere, from every walk of life, are standing up to reclaim responsibility for the work of making and taking care of the commons. At this critical historical moment, the commons vision of a society where “we” matters as much as “me” is of crucial importance.

You May Already Be a Commoner…

If you treat commons spaces as if you own them (which, actually, you do). Tidy things up. Report problems, or repair things yourself. Initiate improvement campaigns.

If you are interested in exploring how things you now pay for could be acquired in more cooperative ways—checking out DVDs at the library, perhaps, or quitting the health club and forming a morning jogging club.

If you watch where your money goes. How do the stores, companies, and financial institutions you use harm or help the commons? This includes their impact on the environment and poor communities around the world.

If you share your knowledge ideas with online commons such as Wikipedia, online communities, open-education projects, and open-access journals. Or you could form your own online community based on what matters to you.

If you think of yourself as a commoner and organize neighbors and colleagues to join you. Stand up against threats to the commons in your community and around the world. Speak out in favor of opportunities to expand the commons.

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