Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Case for the Commons

Raj Patel, Utne Reader, Sept - Oct 2010

"The first three times I heard the word commons, I had no idea what it meant. Hearing the phrase House of Commons in a media report from the British Parliament, I guessed that being a part of the commons meant being rich, white, and aggressively drunk. The next time, it appeared in a British children’s television series in the 1970s—The Wombles, about a group of furry creatures who practiced the dark arts of recycling on Wimbledon Common. I imagined a common to be a place littered with exciting things that were removed by the Wombles to be reused in their burrow. The third time was on a holiday in New York, where my family was told that if we wanted to have the full American experience, we needed to head to Woodbury Common, a large shopping complex outside New York City. (I got a sweater with an American flag on it.) Common, I thought, was American English for “shopping center.” What I never quite understood was that common could be not only a place, but also a verb to describe how to value and share the world around us.

Although it is often associated with Britain and its colonies, the commons as place and process can be found in societies from Central America to South Asia and, most recently, cyberspace. A commons is a resource, most often land, and refers both to the territory and to the ways people allocate the goods that come from that land. The commons has traditionally provided food, fuel, water, and medicinal plants for those who used it—it was the poorest people’s life-support system."

I highly recommend this article if you want to understand how very important the concept of the commons is in society today. Now, more than ever, there is a struggle going on between enclosure and commons. And it's important for our future that we protect and enlarge the commons.

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