"The right to private property, acquired or received in a just way, does not do away with the original gift of the earth to the whole of mankind."
--Official Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church (no. 2403, 1992)
On the Commons by On the Commons
The phrase "the commons" is making its way back into our social consciousness and vocabulary in 2012. Not as a new thought or movement, but a resurrection of sorts around an idea that has been the basic human organizing principle since time began.
"We would not have achieved what we have as a species if everything was reduced to what its price tag is," said Jay Walljasper, senior fellow and editor of OnTheCommons.org, which is dedicated to education and bringing attention to the commons and forming partnerships and projects that show the commons is more than an abstract theory.
"There are a lot of things more important than what they can fetch in the marketplace," Walljasper says. "We (at OnTheCommons.org) think of the core of the commons as having three pillars: Environmental Protection, which is sustainability; Participatory Governance, which is democracy, and Social Equality. Social equality doesn't mean that everyone makes the same salary, but it means there aren't people who aren't included in the citizenry. These three pieces are really at the heart and soul of the commons."
Or to portray it in its simplest format: The commons flips society's vision from "me" to "we."
On The Commons, which recently celebrated its 10 th anniversary, has sparked collaborations, showcased commons-based solutions at the community and national level, developed approaches of how to share the commons equitably, and given inspiration to commons activists to make a difference in their communities and the world. It is a center that connects organizations, community leaders and individuals with new ideas, practical solutions and one another to create significant change.
"We all know that our societies are caught in a zero sum dynamic," said On the Commons co-founder Harriet Barlow, who has a long, distinguished background in founding and leading progressive organizations. "To embrace the worldview of the commons and act upon it with integrity is a pathway to generous sanity, which is the antithesis of the horizon toward which we're going."
The website provides insights into the breadth and depth of the education and the project work underway and will delight the reader with thought-provoking articles such as Walljasper's recent "12 Reasons You'll Be Hearing More About The Commons in 2012", which provides a synopsis of the valuable assets that belong to all of us. Of particular note to their project work is their international campaign to declare the
"On the Commons is really is a practical set of solutions that can make a difference in people's lives and the world," Walljasper said. "The commons has a great potential to help change the market mentality paradigm we're now living under. That's not to say that markets are evil. But if everything in society centers around what you can buy or how much something is worth, then a lot of people don't have a big role to play in society."
Jay Walljasper, of On the Commons by On the Commons
"The persistent effort of all those involved to model approaches, ideas, organizational behavior and spirit that is consistent with the promise of living in healthy commonness is what gives me a sense of pride in the work we've accomplished," said Barlow. "It's what people outside the
And what exactly are the commons?
"They're everywhere you look," Walljasper said. "The commons touches our lives from the first thing in the morning when we stumble into the bathroom and turn on the faucet to the last thing at night when we tell a story to our children or grandchildren."
Walljasper provides a wonderful list of where to find "the commons" in his book All That We Share: A Field Guide To The Commons. The commons can be the obvious: air, water, parks, libraries, streets and sidewalks. But how many have thought of the commons as dance steps and fashion trends, blood banks, poker, jokes and taxpayer-funded medical and scientific research.