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After the Quilligan Seminars: how to bring the Commons alive in our life and work

on Thu, 05/24/2012 - 22:02

Dear supporters of the Commons,

James Quilligan conducted a 12-day seminar series on the Commons, in London, May 2012. The launch event was hosted by Michael Meacher, Member of the Parliament, in the House of Commons, under the title: “Political Economy and the Inclusive Commons”. Whether you were present at the opening or not, expect to hear more about that event and what happened afterwards if you’re involved with the commons movement. Not only to hear about, but also draw on, return to, and gain strength and wisdom from it in our common work.

Quilligan emphasized that the “commons are not just resources but the set of relationships they create, including the communities that use them, and the cultural and social practices and property regimes that manage them. Through the co-production and co-governance of a commons, resource users become the producers of their own resources, allowing the traditional model of property ownership (utility, self-interest, profit) to be eclipsed by a new framework of trusteeship (sustainability, quality of life and well-being).”At the end of the presentation we heard this remarkable comment from Michael Meacher, MP:


"I thought that was really very inspirational. I have been in politics for a very long time. I don't think I have been challenged by such radicalism as long as I can remember, a radicalism that is not just a fantasy but a radicalism tied down with quite specific concepts that are going to be difficult to actually bring about but which are, in the long term, inevitable because I don't think the world can go on in the way it does... I have learned a huge amount. It is one of those occasions where I feel we are just starting."

Meacher’s feeling was shared by many of us, who participated in the last day of the series, which was advertised as Convergence for a Commons-based Economy. Unlike what the title may suggest, we did not establish any organization, didn’t even try it, but that last day became the first day of learning-by-doing to build a commons for the Commons (c4C). Just what exactly is a c4C is not clear yet. The concept will need to be formed by our practice. What happened at the closing event of the series may be indicative of it.

First, Quilligan talked about some commons that develop their social charter through a multi-stakeholder deliberation process to decide whether or not to create a legal and fiduciary trust to maintain their community’s resources for the future. He mentioned the example of “the WANA Forum that has been discussing cross-border water and energy sharing agreements in the Middle East for the past four years. This will lead to a social charter for these resources at the non-governmental levels in the region, contributing greatly to economic and political stability.”

He suggested our community may also decide to create a social charter and eventually, a trust since it is already in the process of identifying its unique mission as a knowledge commons, as well as a social and cultural commons.

We realized that crafting a social charter deserves an in-depth discussion that should be informed by our understanding of what kind of resources we want to develop for ourselves and the rest of the world of commons. So we decided not to rush into starting to work on the charter, but instead, identify a set of action opportunities. Different participants of the seminar championed actions related to various commons-related projects, about which they felt passionate.  In the Open Space sessions we formed groups working on some of them, for example: community currencies, mapping and visual images of the commons, health-wellbeing-gardens-housing, outreach, Occupy and commoning, and developing a “Commons Rising” knowledge ecology of resources for commons builders and activists.

I coordinate the work of the last group, and its core idea is to develop and share knowledge essential to commons formation and cultivation (initially from the Quilligan seminars), as a commons activity itself. The how and when will be the subject of another blog.

The “Emergence of a Commons-based Economy” that became also known as the “Quilligan Seminars on the Commons,” triggered a new beginning for the commons movement in the UK and probably, beyond. We will meet again in our working groups and as the whole community, both face-to-face and online. Stay tuned with this blog to receive further news as things unfold. Or in a couple of days, visit Commons Rising, our virtual home, to get first-hand information by reading the online conversations that will take place there. If what you want is not only to be informed but also actively engage in reclaiming/building commons, natural or intellectual, then let me know and we’ll send you an invitation the Commons Rising community.

All in all, there were close to 400 participants in the seminars. Together we have stirred hearts and minds of people across all sectors of society. We had greetings from the US cheering us on from across the pond, and commoners from all over the world expressed their appreciation for this watershed series of events. They are impatiently waiting for us to organize the rich harvest from the seminars and making available to all the films, the companion e-book, and Debategraph documenting them. That’s exactly what we plan to do but we cannot do it without your support. If you believe that you and others like you may benefit from those well-organised resources that you will be able to call into action when you need them, then visit the Commons Rising peer-funding page and help with what you can.

In the spirit of commoning,