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Community Development and the Commons

Community Development and the Commons

The commons offers a framework and a process for effectively and equitably stewarding the resources communities need to live in dignity.

Last August, 200 people from across Oakland, California came together to envision and design a development plan for a small parcel of public land. For months leading up to that day, community members and neighborhood coalitions had been organizing against a controversial – and possibly illegal – plan to develop a luxury high-rise apartment complex on land owned by the City of Oakland, in a neighborhood where 75% of residents are low or very-low income and 75% are renters. Having succeeded in pressuring the City to back out of the initially proposed deal with UrbanCore Development through creative direct action and sophisticated community organizing, organizers with the E12th St Coalition wanted to create a visionary community-driven alternative – and the E12th WishList People’s Planning Forum was convened. On a sunny Sunday afternoon near Oakland’s Lake Merritt, hundreds of people shared their visions for what could be done with this public land – and not a single person envisioned a market-rate housing complex on that site.

The result of this community planning process: The E12th St. People’s Proposal. This visionary plan, compiled by the E12 St. Coalition in partnership with nonprofit developer Satellite Affordable Housing Associates, includes a 100% affordable housing complex, a public park, commercial space for local businesses, and more. (The grassroots coalition has formally submitted the People’s Proposal to the City of Oakland for consideration and is currently competing against two other proposals, neither of which include anything close to 100% affordable housing.) All of this has been motivated by the radical idea that public land should be used for public good. Radical indeed in a region with one of the fastest increasing land values in the country.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Making, adapting, sharing: fabricating open-source agricultural tools

This is a story about people who build their own machines. It’s a story about people who, due to necessity and/or conscious choice, do not buy commercial equipment to work their lands or animals, but who invent, create and adapt machines to their specific needs: for harvesting legumes, for hammering poles, for hitching tools onto tractors.

The machines are just one part of our story, and this article will talk about encounters between people, tools and knowledge and it will take us to various places: Paris and Renage in France, Pyrgos and Kalentzi in Greece, and Tallinn in Estonia.

Let us begin our journey in Greece. In Pyrgos (southern Crete), there is a small group of people called Melitakes (the Cretan word for ants) interested in seed sovereignty and agroecology. It is a group that cares about organic farming and that tries to form a small cooperative. One of the things the group does is to plant legumes in between olive-trees or grapes. While olive trees are abundant in Greece, the land in between individual trees is usually not cultivated due to the distance necessary to avoid shading and foster the growth of the trees. So the idea was quite simple: use the unused land. However, the members of the group soon faced a specific problem: it’s hard to harvest legumes by hand and there are no available tools to do this arduous job in a narrow line between olive trees. On the market, there are only big tractor accessories, suitable for such a job, and only for large crops. That is why the group sought the help of a friend in a nearby village, a machinist, to help them out. He liked the idea. He saw it as a challenge and started to develop a tool (see picture 1).

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Our Economy is a Degenerative System

Impacts of resource hungry exploitative economies

“What is 120 times the size of London? The answer: the land or ecological footprint required to supply London’s needs.” — Herbert Giradet

Our ecological footprint exceeds the Earth’s capacity to regenerate. A number of useful indicators and frameworks have been developed to measure the ecological impact that humanity and its dominant economic system with its patterns of production, consumption and waste-disposal are having on the planet and its ecosystems. The measure and methodology for ecological footprinting translates the resource use and the generation of waste of a given population (eg: community, city, or nation) into the common denominator of bio-productive land per person, measured in Global Hectares (Gha), that are needed to provide these resources and absorb those wastes.

Much of the educational power of this tool is its capacity to compare between how much bio-productive land exists on the planet with how much bio-productive land would be needed to sustain current levels of consumption. In addition it also helps us to highlight the stark inequalities in ecological impact that exists between different countries.

Source: Global Footprint Network

Ecological Footprinting is basically an accounting tool that compares how much nature we have and how much nature we use. He are currently using about 50% more ecological resources than nature is regenerating naturally every year.

This point of spending more than is coming in every year — or living of the capital rather than the interest — was reached by humanity in the late-1960s. It is called Ecological Overshoot and every year since Earth Overshoot Day — the day when humanity as a whole has already used up the bio-productivity of Earth in that year — is a little earlier. Here is a little video (3:30 min.) to explain the concepts of ecological overshoot and footprint.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…


Rethinking the balance between equality and hierarchy: 2) New insights into the evolution of hierarchy and inequality throughout the ages

This is a follow up on our earlier article on finding techniques for ‘reverse dominance’, i.e. avoiding the concentration of power.

More indications of how to restore a new balance towards egalitarian (or rather ‘equipotential’) outcomes come from David Graeber, who wrote a very important article summarizing the last 3 decades of findings from archaeology and anthropology, which have overturned many of our insights:

1) In the excerpt on Seasonal Reversals of Hierarchical Structures‎‎ he shows several examples of tribes and societies which combined more egalitarian and more hierarchical arrangements, according to context.

2) In the excerpt on the Transition from Foraging to Farming Societies‎‎, he shows that this was by no means a universal transition towards more hierarchy ; in fact, many agricultural societies and their cities had deep democratic structures (sometimes more egalitarian than their earlier tribal forms)

3) Finally in the last one, Top-Down Structures of Rule Are Not the Necessary Consequence of Large-Scale Organization, he gives several examples showing ‘size does not matter’

All this should give us hope, that the evolution towards the current hierarchical models are not written in stone, and that societies can be more flexible than they appear.

Seasonal Reversals of Hierarchical Structures

David Graeber: “From the very beginning, human beings were self-consciously experimenting with different social possibilities. Anthropologists describe societies of this sort as possessing a ‘double morphology’. Marcel Mauss, writing in the early twentieth century, observed that the circumpolar Inuit, ‘and likewise many other societies . . . have two social structures, one in summer and one in winter, and that in parallel they have two systems of law and religion’. In the summer months, Inuit dispersed into small patriarchal bands in pursuit of freshwater fish, caribou, and reindeer, each under the authority of a single male elder. Property was possessively marked and patriarchs exercised coercive, sometimes even tyrannical power over their kin. But in the long winter months, when seals and walrus flocked to the Arctic shore, another social structure entirely took over as Inuit gathered together to build great meeting houses of wood, whale-rib, and stone. Within them, the virtues of equality, altruism, and collective life prevailed; wealth was shared; husbands and wives exchanged partners under the aegis of Sedna, the Goddess of the Seals.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…


Beet the System! A Dialogue on Food Sovereignty, Inclusivity and Healing the Rural/Urban Divide.


Can food and food sovereignty be the catalyst for a Commons Transition? For over 30 years, FIAN International has been advocating for the right to food sovereignty. Their work unites bottom-up grassroots movements and local administrations, with a special focus on inclusivity and enfranchising those who are most often left out. Mirroring some of the developments in the Ghent Commons Transition Plan and the ongoing work on Food as Commons, we felt that their ongoing work warranted a deeper exploration from a P2P/Commons perspective. To find out more Michel Bauwens from the P2P Foundation interviewed Astrid Bouchedor, Manuel Eggen, and Hanne Flachet from FIAN Belgium and Emily Mattheisen from FIAN International.

Dear Astrid and colleagues: first of all, can you introduce your work, i.e. what is FIAN, and what is the philosophy behind your publication Beet the System? Personal details about your individual engagements are also welcome.

FIAN Belgium is part of FIAN International, a human rights organisation advocating for the right to food and nutrition (RtFN) worldwide since 1986. FIAN consists of national sections and individual members in over 50 countries around the world.

Our mission is to expose violations of people’s right to food wherever they may occur. We stand up against unjust and oppressive practices that prevent people from feeding themselves and we support the struggle of individuals and groups who are determined to defend their rights.

FIAN is also collaborating with the peasants movements and other social movements to advocate for a transition towards sustainable food systems and food sovereignty.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Mapping the Emerging Post-Capitalist Paradigm and Its Main Thinkers


“We do not live in an era of change, but in a change of eras” is the way Jan Rotmans from the University Rotterdam describes the structural changes impacting our societies. This is also the phrase Michel Bauwens chose to open his latest book yet to be published in English which title is likely to be close to “Towards a post-capitalist society with the Peer-to-Peer”.

For thinkers like Jan Rotmans and Michel Bauwens this change of eras is akin to the Industrial Revolution in the second half of the 19th century, and characterized by transitions in various fields. In a nutshell, our societies face 3 major tipping points:

  • A change in social order from a central, hierarchically-controlled society to a horizontal, decentralized, and bottom-up working unit.
  • A changing economic structure: where in the past large, bureaucratic organizations were necessary to produce cheap products, in the new digital economy it is possible to develop products and services locally on a small scale.
  • A change in power relations: where once political influence and economies of scale determined access to resources, access to knowledge and information is now also accessible outside of political and social institutions.

Following this analysis, it is to gain further insights that we at blaqswans.org wanted to paint a big picture of the emerging post-capitalist paradigm, underpinned by peer-to-peer and collaborative dimensions. We started mapping various domains to go beyond the anecdotal evidence that such or such initiative is venturing into car-sharing or house swapping.

(click on the images for higher resolution)

Alternatives - roue 0.2 - P2PFoundation BW

Alternatives - roue 0.2 - 2P2Foundation Color

We confirmed a few things as we drew this map:

  • There is much more to this transition that the greenwashing offered by Uber and Airbnb, which are actually not peer-to-peer. This is precisely why we deliberately reused the shape of a honeycomb popularised by the “Collaborative Economy Honeycomb” infographic. It lists startup companies claiming to be part of that ‘sharing economy’, when many really are unbridled capitalism trying to further optimise the existing ‘selling economy’ – nothing wrong with selling but let’s not call it ‘sharing’ with the ethical claims usually attached to it.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Seeing the Forest

Seeing the ForestSeeing the Forest

Seeing the Forest tells the story of the Siuslaw National Forest in Oregon — how it made a successful transition from timber extraction to ecosystem restoration.

Once the epicenter of conflict, the Siuslaw today is an exemplar of cooperation and collaboration.

They harvest wood sustainably by thinning overly dense monoculture stands that are a legacy of the earlier days of unrestrained clearcutting. This not only improves the health of the forest by providing better habitat, but also creates local jobs and provides revenue to fund other restoration activities.

These activities include stream and watershed restoration, installing large culverts for aquatic organism passage, road maintenance, and road closures. All of these activities create more local jobs, in a virtuous circle that benefits the people, the forest, and salmon.

This is the story of how one national forest evolved from seeing trees as its primary resource, to seeing the forest as a whole.

Seeing the Forest from Alan Honick on Vimeo.

Text by David Bollier

In the 1990s, many communities in central Oregon were torn asunder by the “War of the Woods.” Environmentalists had brought lawsuits against the U.S. Forest Service for violating its own governing statutes. For decades, timber companies had been allowed to clear-cut public forests, re-seed with tree monocultures, and build ecologically harmful roads on mountain landscapes.

Environmentalists won their lawsuit in 1991 when a federal judge issued an injunction that in effect shut down timber operations in the Pacific Northwest of the US. While the endangered northern spotted owl was the focus of much of the debate, the health of the entire ecosystem was at risk, including the Pacific salmon, which swim upstream to spawn.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

P2P Revolution and Commons Phase Transition

P2P Revolution and Commons Phase Transition

P2P Revolution and Commons Phase Transition

At the P2P Foundation, we don’t use the moniker ‘revolution’ with much frequency, preferring the concept of phase transition.

In this article, we would like to elucidate the relation between the two concepts.

In my experience, revolution is used in two quite different senses; in a generic sense, it just means a ‘big change’, like for example when we speak about the Industrial Revolution, this was a long and drawn out process, with many aspects and it would be really difficult to identify with one particular event. Yet at the same time, there is clearly a time when industrial changes emerged in a mostly agrarian context, and a time when it is the industrial processes and forms of organisation which are dominant, and the agrarian aspects subsumed under that domination. Clearly, between these two moments, a ‘phase transition’ has occurred.

Revolution is also used in a much more narrow fashion, which usually refers to a momentous series of concrete events, in which the very organisation of power in society changed fundamentally, leading to a wholesale replacement of human personnel, a new different balance of power between social classes, and the like. Paradigmatic examples would be the French and Russian revolutions.

Both types of revolutions occur throughout history, but for many people, at least for those that live more comfortably, the second notion is less attractive. Indeed, it is most often associated with violence, often directed against the very ‘leaders’ of the first phases of such revolutions, and to boot, usually leads to counter-revolutions.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Andrianna Natsoulas on Food Sovereignty and the Commons

Andrianna Natsoulas on Food Sovereignty and the CommonsAndrianna Natsoulas on Food Sovereignty and the Commons

As part of our series on the 100 Women Who Are Co-Creating the P2P Societythe P2P Foundation’s Michel Bauwens interviews Andrianna Natsoulas from FoodSources.org

Q:  You are mostly known for your work around food sovereignty, can you tell us a bit of personal history and how you decided to get engaged on that issue; then, how do think your work is related to the concept of the commons?

A: From a very early age I questioned the injustices of the world and looked towards collective movements for solutions. When I started university, I believed the only logical path was to study biology – the study of life. I then melded that into the local food, environmental and peace movements, all of which I was an active member in. I continued to approach solutions through a wide lens. For example, I studied fishing cooperatives to explore whether they could not only market fish, but also organize and represent small-scale fishermen in the policy arena. As I concentrated on fisheries policy, I saw global problems that were common to both fishing and farming communities. Then, I had the opportunity to collaborate with La Via Campesina, the movement that coined the phrase “food sovereignty” in 1996. And that was it. We all depend on food. Food is life. Food sovereignty is relevant in every corner of the world, and resonates with a common fundamental right.

Food sovereignty is a holistic approach to a global need. The seven principles of food sovereignty are as follows: Food: A Basic Human Right, Agrarian Reform, Protecting Natural Resources, Reorganizing Food Trade, Ending the Globalization of Hunger, and Social Peace and Democratic Control. Farmers are at the heart of the dialogue to actualize food sovereignty, yet its essence is inclusive, bringing together many sectors of society to protect a common good.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai IV: Courage
In progress...

Olduvai II: Exodus
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