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COMMONS MAGAZINE

Poetry as Provocation

May 13, 2013 | By Camille Gage

Sarah Browning is the executive director of Split This Rock, a national organization that helps poets take a greater role in public life and heightening poetry as a living, breathing art form. Split This Rock integrates the poetry of provocation and witness into movements for social justice and supports poets of all ages who write and perform this vital work.

America's Most Enduring Common Ground

May 10, 2013 | By Jay Walljasper

With only thirty British pounds, in 1634 John Winthrop and his Puritan followers purchased fifty acres of Reverend Blackstone’s land in what is today the heart of of Boston. Part of that land was set aside for sheep grazing, a space which came to be known as the Boston Common, now America’s oldest public park.

Hidden Power Grab Stops Communities From Deciding Their Own Futures

May 8, 2013 | By David Morris

In his 1996 State of the Union Address Democratic President Bill Clinton famously declared, “the era of big government is over.” And during his tenure he did everything he could to make that true—deregulating the telecommunications and the financial industries; enacting a free trade agreement severely restricting the authority of the federal government to protect domestic jobs and businesses; and abandoning the 75-year old federal commitment to the poor.

Why Should We Care About the Commons Now?

May 4, 2013 | By Jay Walljasper

Both the idea and the reality of the commons have been declining since at least the 18th century. Why now, at the beginning of the 21st century, should we struggle to revive them? What purpose do they serve in a modern, urban society?


The simple answer is that we have to.


Despite the many benefits it brings us, the market operates like a runaway truck. It has no internal mechanism telling it when to stop—stop depleting the commons that sustain it.

The Commons That Connects Us Six Days a Week

May 4, 2013 | By David Morris

For 225 years the U.S. Post Office has been the most admired and ubiquitous manifestation of government. From 1789 until the 1960s, the Cabinet level agency saw its mission not only to deliver the mail but to aggressively defend the public good. In the late 19th century when oligopolistic mail order delivery companies abused their rural customers the Post Office launched parcel post. The competition quickly forced private companies to reduce their exorbitant prices and dramatically improve the quality of their service.

Summertime Ooooohhs!

May 1, 2013 | By Jay Walljasper

The first unmistakable signs of summery weather—warm temperatures already at breakfast time, passersby in short sleeves, sounds of squeeling kids coming in through open windows—are greeted here in Minneapolis with an exuberance reserved for Super Bolw victories in other cities. This gentle delirium overtook us last week when temperatures hit the 70s. Appointments were abruptly cancelled and offices grow empty throughout the afternoon as everyone conspired to spend as much time out-of-doors as possible.

The Real Tragedy

April 30, 2013 | By Jay Walljasper

In the belief system called economics, it is an article of faith that commons are inherently tragic. Almost by definition, they are tragic because they are prone to overuse. What belongs to all belongs to none, and only private or state ownership can rescue a commons from the sad fate that will otherwise befall it.

The Real Tragedy

April 30, 2013

In the belief system called economics, it is an article of faith that commons are inherently tragic. Almost by definition, they are tragic because they are prone to overuse. What belongs to all belongs to none, and only private or state ownership can rescue a commons from the sad fate that will otherwise befall it.

How Arts and Culture Open a Window to the Wider World

April 25, 2013 | By Camille Gage

We’re pleased to announce the new Arts and Culture department of Commons Magazine, where we will amplify our coverage of creative work in all disciplines. With a special emphasis on artists, writers, performers, and collectives who blur the lines between art making, personal activism, and community involvement, we seek to show how art can help us dissolve lines of class and geography and create a context for renewing our sense of belonging in the diverse global community. After all, when art and culture open a window to the wider world, we can more clearly see all that we share—the commons.

A Review of Shiney Varghese's "Water Governance for 21st Century"

April 25, 2013 | By Ana Micka

Water Governance for 21st Century, by Shiney Varghese at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, makes a compelling case urging advcates and policy makers to advance an approach combining the commons framework and the Public Trust Doctrine principles. Shiney notes that the tendency of recent trends to rely on market and rights–based policies has exaccerbated the failures in water governance.

Submission Guidelines

April 24, 2013 | By On the Commons Team

Thank you for your interest in submitting to Commons Magazine’s UNCOMMON/WORD: A collection of commons-inspired poetry. Submissions are now closed. The next submission period will open on April 1st, 2014.


Anyone contemplating a submission is encouraged to examine the magazine before sending a manuscript. To subscribe, click “here”:http://org2.salsalabs.com/o/5475/p/salsa/web/common/public/signup?signup_page_KEY=7885.


What kind of work is Commons Magazine looking for?

Participate in the Great Lakes Commons Initiative

April 24, 2013 | By On the Commons Team

The Great Lakes are a gift we all share, a gift we are all responsible for.


If you’re invested in the health and well-being of these waters, please add your voice to the Great Lakes Commons Charter by answering the questions below.

  • Why do the Great Lakes matter to you?
  • What is our responsibility to and for them?
  • How can we best protect them?

An Update on the Great Lakes Tour

April 24, 2013 | By On the Commons Team

Council of Canadians Chairperson Maude Barlow, a longtime collaborator and a leader of the Great Lakes Commons Initiative, just visited the first five cities in a tour of seven.

I AM WATER

April 24, 2013 | By On the Commons Team

I AM WATER is a public art project created by Camille Gage, a Minnesota artist. It is an artful vehicle for lending your voice to the Great Lakes Charter and will result in a large, moveable, indoor/outdoor sculpture consisting of hundreds—perhaps even thousands—of paper ‘ripples.’ Each ripple will represent a voice added to the Charter and an individual who has pledged to be a steward of the Lakes. There are two ways to participate: online and by mail.

A Social Charter for the Great Lakes

April 24, 2013 | By On the Commons Team

What is a social charter, and how does it apply to the Great Lakes?


Historically, a social charter is a tool that communities have used to define norms, rules, boundaries, claims, and practices for protecting the commons. A social charter is a process that results in a living document.


We’re calling the social charter for the Great Lakes the “Great Lakes Commons Charter.”


The Great Lakes Commons Charter process

A Woman Ahead of Her Time

April 22, 2013 | By Jay Walljasper

Not many people have the imagination, intellectual depth and sheer courage to take on an entire profession and demonstrate how it is wrong. Jane Jacobs did. The renegade author and activist — who died in 2006 at age 89 — not only took on many such “impossible” challenges, she often prevailed. In her devotion to humanistic, small-scale solutions to big problems, Jacobs can be rightly understood as an early champion of what we now call the commons.

The Great American Commons

April 21, 2013 | By Jay Walljasper

From my home in Missoula, Montana I can walk north 120 miles or so to the Canadian border. I do not need a permit, nor will I have to pay any fees. I can stay as long as I like, hike, camp, forage for food, fish (with a state license), marvel at the scenery, and drink straight from unpolluted mountain streams. Other than a couple of road crossings I will be on public land the whole time. I can do the same thing after a short drive, heading south, again walking for 100 or more miles well into central Idaho, without needing a permission slip or paying for the privilege.

Good News for the Common Good

April 17, 2013 | By David Morris

I’m not saying it’s time to break out the champagne and start chanting, “The people united will never be defeated”. But the past few weeks have brought us some heartwarming demonstrations that the popular will still has a bite.


February 22: Public Access to Publicly-Funded Research
After a major public outcry, the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) directed federal agencies to make published results freely available to the public. Director John Holdren declared, “Americans should have easy access to the results of research they help support.”

Take the Commons Quiz

April 15, 2013

The commons is more than just natural resources or a set of theories and policies about how to improve society—it’s also about how we lead our lives day-to-day.


Are you a commoner? CLICK HERE to take our simple quiz and find out!

Commons Has Expanded, Not Shrunk, Over Past 200 Years

April 14, 2013 | By Jay Walljasper

If you had asked the person next to you in New York or virtually any other city for a drink of water in 1825,they would have had a predictable response: go buy your own. It would be like today asking the person next to you for a Coke.


Water, safe and dependable water, was a private responsibility. Sure there may have been some public fountains or known springs, but the burden was on the individual or the family to obtain such a thing.