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To Change the System, We Must Start Everywhere at Once

Insights from Commons Solutions Lab participants and Network members on how to advance commons work

| by On the Commons Team

Photo of the inaugural Commons Solutions Lab at Blue Mountain Center by Ben Strader.

To change the system, we must start everywhere at once—and it seems that we’re already well on our way, if the work represented by those who attended the recent Commons Solutions Lab (CSL) is any indication.

Commons catalysts working on a wide variety of issues—from food insecurity to climate justice to water governance, and more—came together to “go deep” and explore solutions for advancing our commons work both collectively, and individually. What resulted was an incredibly exploratory and generative conversation, and we all came away with a sense of optimism about just how much is being done already to protect all that we share.

Below you’ll find a few snippets of conversation overheard at the CSL; observations from CSL participants on our time together at Blue Mountain Center; and keen insights from Commons Network members who joined the conversation from afar. Read on, and enjoy!

A few inspiring ideas overheard at the CSL

Thoughts from CSL participants about our time together

Beverly Bell, Other Worlds:

I love the many ways and levels at which you (the CSL participants) are working to create a better world. I look forward to being unindicted co-conspiraters with you. And I am happy to better understand what ‘commons’ means to many in the US (very different than how I had perceived it) and how to use the points of opening to spread other experiences, analyses, and theories of change…I would like to challenge us all to go beyond our comfort zones and work to defend and restore a commons for those who most need it: groups who face poverty, inequality, and exclusion from democracy and basic services. I invite us to all go deeper to address head-on the unjust structures that underlie so many problems of our society, problems which a healthy, expansive commons could address.

Paula Manley, The Learning Commons and Oregon Commons:

The Commons Solutions Lab at Blue Mountain Center allowed us to see the bigger picture of our work, to think creatively with peers away from day-to-day pressures, to experience connections across diverse fields and disciplines, and to draw strength from the powerful possibilities of living in a world that works for all.

jesikah maria ross, Art of Regional Change and Restore Restory:

The Commons Solutions Lab gave me something quite precious: time away from my day-to-day efforts to connect with new allies, expand my vision, play, and learn more about how people are creating positive change in different corners of the globe. I came away reminded of the importance of “SoulScaping,” that “the world is animate,” and with new appreciation for terms like seedbed, stewardship, and wobbling together. Some favorite new questions include: “What would the future do?” and “What if the hokey pokey IS what it’s all about?”

Camille Gage, Artist:

What strikes me most as I sit here at my dining table in Minneapolis, reflecting on the Commons Solutions Lab, is the optimism I felt in the room, and the passion and tenacity I saw in the eyes of the participants.

Despite the insidiousness of the challenges we face; despite the fact that these challenges often appear nearly insurmountable, everyone at Blue Mountain Center was highly energized and 100% committed to finding new and more efficacious ways to tackle the problems ahead. Our enthusiasm was bolstered by our proximity. Rubbing shoulders with like-minded folk is always inspiring, illuminating and restorative. It’s good to be reminded we are not alone in our concerns, or in our approaches. We have much to learn from each other, and the collective spirit was generous and bold.

Celine Fitzmaurice, Portland State University, and The Oregon Commons:

The commons gathering was wonderful. I so enjoyed meeting commons animators from all over the world who are approaching this work in creative and forward thinking ways. This is a very hopeful movement in the midst of so much despair.

Shayda Naficy, Corporate Accountability International:

We came together as individuals linked into disparate community and commons projects but we are coming away with a sense of ourselves as a part of a greater whole. In this sense, the methodology and outcome of our meeting intimately reflects the project itself of growing the commons, which implies both concrete projects towards strategic goals, but also deep changes at the level of philosophy, way of being and relationships. My favorite summary of this from the weekend is: whole me <-> whole commons.

Jessica Conrad, On the Commons:

I left the Commons Solutions Lab last weekend feeling inspired by a new sense of connection—not only to the individuals who attended the Lab (and to those from the Network who joined the conversation from afar), but also to the work being done across the country to advance the common good. I’m also hopeful that we can continue our rich conversation as we each apply lessons learned at the Lab to our individual work.

Carina Millstone, The London Orchard Project:

I was introduced to, and really taken in by, the idea that we are all Commons animators- the people who bring the commons to life. I would like to see On the Commons create a new vocabulary from words and expressions we collectively made up—soulscaping, weaving, and others—and start working on introducing these into everyday discourse. Favorite moments? Campfire singing, long conversations, sharing each others’ pictures, energetic enthusiasm for offers in needs and offers session.

Insights and questions from the Commons Network

Our intention for the first-ever Commons Solutions Lab (CSL) was to not only provide a context for supporting the work of the commoners who gathered in New York, but also to strengthen our collective capacity as commons catalysts—a capacity that includes members of the Commons Network and anyone else engaged in commoning. To that end, we sent email updates and invited members of the Network to join the conversation from afar. Here are a few of the insightful responses we received while at Blue Mountain Center.

Rich Nymoen, Common Ground USA, in response to our request for a “burning question,” or a situation that could benefit from an influx of ideas:

How did “free market” change from meaning freeing the economy from control of the leisure class to freedom for speculators and manipulators to extract wealth from the 99%?

Thoughts from George Por, School of Commoning, on the historical developments, movements, and trends that shape our commons work today:

In the command-and-control structures of organizing work, the human mind and heart are enslaved to systems that divide us into thinkers and doers and define people as nothing more than “human resources.” The result is that most wage slaves feel disconnected at work from their life, alienated from any meaningful activity. That condition affects millions of working people, yet nobody is speaking about it…It’s time to recognize our creative capacity as common[er]s.

George Por, School of Commoning, poses questions to the wider Commons Network:

How can we not only talk about the commons, but also organize ourselves into commons, where we co-produce and co-governance the resources essential to our livelihood?

Given that most of us don’t yet get our livelihood from working as commoners, how can we start building support structures to enable more of us to give our full attention to the commons?

Thoughts from Garth Rockcastle, School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, on the historical developments, movements, and trends that shape our commons work today:

An effective and experiential commons is possible in the right kinds of spaces and infrastructures in city building. We should develop, then rate or score our existing cities (both in parts and overall) as to how they fail and how they succeed a healthy Commons “Test” (like we now are beginning to be able to with LEED certification).

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