Avainsana-arkisto: commoning

European Commons Assembly

by Sunna Kovanen & Ruby van der Wekken

Spring 2016 a Berlin-based Commonsnetwork, among others, called some 30 practitioners and researchers of commons all over Europe to meet for the first time and to build European-wide cooperation. The meeting took place on May 2016 at an organic farm in Villarceaux, some 40km outside of Paris. The next step was to call up a meeting of 120 Commoners all over Europe 15-17th November in Brussels and at the European Parliament, to strengthen the transnational movement for commons both at the grassroots as well as at the heights of international policy. Here is the report of our travels.

Building the knowledge from the nodes into action at the core

A first activity of the European Commons Assembly starting from the Villarceaux meetings in which also Ruby participated, was to amend a Call for the process, which is now hosted on the website of the commons assembly and open for signatures (Welcome to sign on!).

The objective was to bring together a trans-local coalition of action groups and processes of commoning in different spheres and to build a bottom-up movement to support commons-enforcing policies.Villarceaux.jpg

Over the following months, the assembly grew in numbers on its e-list and online working space whilst the organisatory team was also discussing with the European Parliament intergroup on public services and common goods, founded on 2015 and chaired by Marisa Mattias (Left bloque, Portugal). This led to the calling together of a larger network-meeting for all the practitioners in the field of commons their invitation to meet and discuss with to the European Parliament.

To collect the experiences of the current pressing challenges in the local level, we were asked to draft policy proposals online, before ever having worked together or met each other live. Sunna was working with policy on welfare services and social protection, Ruby started up on Currency as a commons, and we were both involved with a group on Solidarity economy & the Commons, which merged finally with other proposals into a paper on territorial commons.

For someone coming to the themes mainly from studies and activism, the policy drafting process was a really empowering experience of co-work beyond major differences in age, status or professional background. As a result we gained over 25 policy proposals with strong overlaps. Many had contributed things that they anyway worked with, but did not have the time or experience to adapt their work to the work of others or to existing EU-policies.

This shows how massive resource of knowledge and support we could have for the local actions, but that it needs also a lot of work to bring it all coherent usefully together. Finally 10 proposals were finalized, from which three dealing with energy, territories (including land & food), as well as democracy were presented at the parliament.

mapping

Before heading to the Parliament Ruby participated in a session on mapping, giving rise to its own host of questions. Different mapping initiatives and their objectives were shared, as also we did with our envisioning of wanting to map solidarity economy actors and promote further cooperation between solidarity economy actors and a strengthening of our  commons and commoning. TransforMap on which also we map, will be sharing soon a manifesto for the mapping of the commons for us to comment on. Sunna, on the other hand, met with her group on social protection, and got once again convinced on the importance of general welfare policies and social rights for flourishing of active local production.

Supporting the local commons in the shadows of the institutions

commonsasemb1

The first evening’s meeting took place in northern Brussels, more prominent from the news on police actions than postcards. Walking past impressive skyscrapers and small retailers from all corners of earth we reached one of the old industrial buildings, now used by Zinneke, a parade celebrating the cultural mix in Brussels once a year, and in other times a space for neighbourhood activities.

We got to meet at the “dance floor”, in the basement of Zinneke, and enjoyed the contrast of the location to the coming meetings within the EU and sensed some kind of pride of the colourful self-organization in these leftover areas of industrial era.

We heard from local initiatives, Commons Josaphat and Community Land Trust Brussels, promoting the public ownership and collaborative planning of urban space. The following discussion was maybe the most inspiring one of the whole meeting, as people with very diverse backgrounds and experiences  threw out their advices and contacts to the Brussels group to support them in their local political campaign and asked critical questions.

Is the governance or the ownership of a commons the most important  for commoning? Or is perhaps access even more important than ownership? Or do we want to actually come to real legal forms for the Commons? In addition it was commented that the whole categorization into Right and Left, practitioners and theorists, or the framing between different commons (public or civil society or yet something else), as thinking and speaking in categories produces the modern mindset we want to challenge.

In the everyday life of the network there is surely no need to define one “most important” identifying border or practise, because both ownership and governance, both institutional and grassroots processes are running forth simultaneously. What defines and fixes the element that makes commoning to rise or fall, is the concrete political conflict. For example in the case of Commons Josaphat in Brussels and Aikapankki´s tax case at home, there will be neither access to the resource nor chance to learn better governance models,  if legal structure prevents the commons from working.

DIEM25.jpg

Political (party) action Encounter with local Diem 25

The Democracy in Europe Movement 2025 (DiEM25), is a Pan-European political movement launched in 2015 by former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, wanting to reform the EU’s existing institutions to become a union of people governed by consent. Local Diem25 activists explained that Diem25 must not be too much seen as a new kid on the block – it is part of a longer process, which has build up a momentum to claim that the system is bankrupt.  They told also that Diem25 is working on a pan European agenda, which would also include a European charter on the commons. Participants discussed, whether  the  commons discussion could perhaps be a better tool for advocating the objectives of the movement than DIEM´s current emphasis on democracy & transparency.

A recurring point coming up in the discussion with DIEM25, as also on other instances, was the current perceived rise in Fascism, and the question, if commons & commoning can stand against Fascism and appeal also to the people that voted for “Trump“. For some any future for Europe lies beyond political parties, beyond state nationalism and market fundamentalism – and one slogan heard was “We need to make the commons great again” However, some days after the meetings, the discussion still went on whether it makes sense to use such slogans of imperial domination and primitive logic as the opponent.

ep

European Commons Assembly at the European Parliament

It was challenging, naturally, to step into the european parliament straight on with our diverging views, before having determined what do we actually stand for. Alone the hierarchical and formal seating and the heaviness of the institution brought feelings of frustration for many, but going in was the only way to reach the MEPs in the first place.

At the end, however, some real debate arose as well, as the MEPs present at the session spoke on the ”European agenda for collaborative economy”, which had come out in June 2016, as part of the Digital Single Market strategy. One participant voiced out strong criticism of  the emphasis on  centralised platforms in the policy framework  which pays attention neither to democratic participation, social issues nor ecological concerns. This criticism highlights the importance of combining the values of solidarity economy with the policy work for commoning.

According to the  MEPs they are trying to introduce amendments on common goods into legislation, and that they would wish to create a regular channel to reach the field, to monitor and to introduce commons-favouring policies step by step. One proposed communication opportunity was www.commonseurope.eu; and in addition ECA was suggested to define certain focal points which could have an effect on the institutional work. Some participants commented critically, though, that it is not the objective of the ECA to put forward some experts, but that it is exactly the assembly process which should brought to the forefront

zinneke

Content & structure of the ECA process

There was good energy in Zinneke cellar dance floor room the morning after the EP parliament session. The debrief following the session at the EP brought up, that some really wanted to further the policy work and for instance address the Common Agricultural Policy, which mentions nothing on the Commons. Others then again said, they wished to concentrate on the exchange of practices at the local level instead. The general agreement was that both practises will continue.

The Assembly broke out into different working groups, as for instance around financing the Commons where Ruby joined. It already had its first debate regarding the need for redistribution of money or/and alternative financial system creation. Another working group was on communications, whilst Sunna joined the large table on the organisation of the actual Assembly process itself, which will cover at least the exchange of information and support between different localities. The working groups will be continuing on the ECA’s working space (for now) on Loomio.

Besides the assembly process continuing on-line, important is of course the question of the next milestone, as it will not be at the European Parliament. One idea was to awake a big buzz via a huge commons festival, It was great to hear of the different suggestions already made for the next ECA : at the Tate modern, Madrid November 2017, RIPESS SE annual meeting possibly in Athens and so on.. At least there is a lot of positive energy and futures to enliven if such a cultural event would take place.

In these times such meetings with inspiring people and learning from long-standing but creative, value-based and positive examples gives a great bunch of energy to go on the work at home. Welcome to join! Commons.fi at any of the upcoming commons assembly meetings (follow the website and facebook group).

Ethical and practical steps to community economies

taking

Liisa Horelli, Aalto University. Liisa is working with the commoning of gendered urban planning within a network of female planners in Europe.

Reframing the economy as a space for ethical action and decision-making is the compelling argument that J.K. Gibson-Graham and her team make at the beginning of their book Taking Back the Economy, an ethical guide for transforming our communities. Their aim is to direct people´s activities toward a more sustainable, equitable and just economy.

Economy is not seen in the traditional way as a machine to be obeyed, but as a set of diverse day-to-day processes and practices, which can be modified and consequently changed. Economy is described, like Hazel Henderson´s layered cake in the 1980´s, as an iceberg. It comprises, above the waterline, mainstream economic accounts that are visible, such as wage labour producing for a market in a capitalist firm. Below the waterline are a variety of activities that are indispensable for our daily life and well-being, such as participating in unpaid community activities or taking care of children and the household. The iceberg, besides being the symbol of diverse economies and its varying characteristics, can be used as a tool for making an inventory of the diverse economic activities that exist in the community or region.

The ethics of community economy is tied to the core questions: How do we survive well? How do we distribute surplus? How do we encounter others as we seek to survive well? What do we consume? How do we care for our commons? And, how do we invest for the future? The answer is that it is urgent to take back work, business, markets, property and finance. Each theme has been dealt with in a specific chapter with a systematic methodology, by first defining and describing the problem in context, after which tools for solutions are provided with examples from different parts of the world.

Taking back the work, surviving well

Work is what we do for a living. Thus, the key concern for community economy is to survive well individually, collectively and in terms of the planet. The authors argue that a mix of Paid work, Alternatively paid (self-employed, cooperative, in-kind) and Unpaid work can enhance the attainment of balanced well-being. The different types of well-being – material, occupational, social, community and physical – can be monitored and analyzed by a variety of tools. For example, the 24-hour clock, the well-being score-card or the balance scale indicate the proportion of time that is spent on different activities (paid work, recreation, volunteering, care etc.), with varying degrees of satisfaction. Decisions can then be made, whether to increase or decrease work or to downshift it. In addition, individual and national ecological footprints enable the monitoring of the impact of work on the planet.

Take back the business, distributing surplus

Business is about problem-solving at a profit. Businesses are organizations in which goods and services are produced and exchanged. Because many businesses cause global inequity and the new wealth is not geared towards planetary well-being, the community economy has an eye on who makes decisions about the production and distribution of the wealth. The key concern is the survival – surplus (left over, etra) nexus. How is surplus produced, who owns it and who decides how it can be used for the benefit of people and the planet? These questions can be analyzed by special tools. A prime example is the Mondragon Cooperative Corporation (MCC), which is a network of worker–owned coops in Spain, with an annual increase in job creation and educational programs.

The tools for taking back the business involve the encouragement of a wide range of enterprise types, especially those that enhance the collective and environmental well-being. In addition to the Capitalist firm, there are Alternative capitalist (socially responsible and green firms, state-run enterprises) and Noncapitalist ones (cooperatives, social enterprises, self-employed business). The surplus can be claimed as private, collective or social wealth. For example, the Homebody Industries in Los Angeles, whose core business is “gang rehab”, is producing social wealth which is composed of surplus value (keeping the youngsters out of misfit, even jail) and social surplus (services for young people). The authors list several collective actions how to distribute surplus, such as participatory forms of enterprize, worker-owned coops, ethical negotiations within capitalism, collective support for the self-employed etc.

Take back the market, encountering others

Markets are seen as the ideal system for coordinating complex transactions between producers and consumers. However, the price does not tell us about the working conditions of, for example, the children or adolescents involved in the production. The markets are just one way to connect with others to obtain things that we cannot produce ourselves. Therefore, it is a key concern for community economy to encounter (distant) others in the process of surviving well together on this earth. This means that ethics cannot be erased from the market.

The authors provide many tools, such as the Ethical shopper´s checklist, for the analysis of the transactions, which disclose the cost, utility, sensory response and connections with people and the planet. There are a variety of ways to transact goods and services, such as the Capitalist market, Alternative markets (fair and direct trade, reciprocal exchange, alternative currency, local trading systems etc.) and Nonmarkets (household flows, gift giving, gleaning etc.). Markets in which the well-being of others have been built in the encounter, can be supported by fair-trade networks, local campaigns, ethical consumer guides, coops and by bringing gleaning to the 21st century.

Take back property, commoning

Property refers to all the things we own and use in order to survive well. Private property is seen as the founding stone of democracies, as well as that of economy. Although private property provides a sense of security, it also means exclusion, by keeping people out. Thus, the authors describe diverse types of properties that comprise Private, Alternative private (state-owned, tenanted, customary, community-managed) and Open access property (atmosphere, water, ocean, ecosystem services).

The key concern of community economy deals with the commons, which cut across the different types of properties. A commons is a property, a practice or a knowledge that is shared by a community. Our survival depends on different kinds of commons: biophysical (sun light, air, rocks), cultural (language, religion, art), social (health, education, administration) and knowledge (indigenous, scientific, technological). Consequently, without a commons, there is no community and vice versa. This means that a loss of commons is a loss of community and consequent well-being, like the shutting of a village school.

The management of the commons requires that access to property must be widely shared, its use negotiated by a community, its benefits distributed to the community and beyond, and the care and responsibility for the property performed by the community members. The tools comprise identity kits that help to analyze the characteristics of different kinds of commons which enhance the individual and collective management and the practice of commoning (producing and reproducing resources) with an ethic of care. Commoning can take place with any type of property. The tragedy of the commons (Hardin,1968), such as the declining atmosphere, is an example of a globally unmanaged commons. The Commons yardstick helps to imagine and connect with seven generations forward, for example in the case of the Creative commons, open-source software Linux. Other tools for commoning comprise protecting open and accessible spaces in urban areas, human genes, new frontiers in space, commoning abandoned private land, collective private housing, as ell as natural and intellectual resources.

Take back finance. Investing in futures.

The term finance variously refers to money, savings, investment, taxation, risk management and financial instruments. The sector operates more like a giant casino than the society´s guardian of wealth. Therefore, the finance has to be reclaimed as an enabler of futures, not as an end in itself. Investing in futures means taking action now so that the descendants can survive as well or better than we. There are many forms of investments, not just money, in community economy. The diverse finances comprise, in addition to Mainstream market finance, Alternative market finance (state banks, credit unions, microfinance, friendly societies, community-based financial institutions, crowdfunding) and Nonmarket finance (sweat equity, community-supported business, rotating credit funds, family lending, donations, interest-free loans).

In community economy, the monetary and nonmonetary investments are both transparent and directed toward a better and more sustainable future. Investment stocktaking is a key concern. The pertinent question are: how is the wealth pooled, safeguarded and dispersed to worthwhile ends, and what is the social return that can be shared in a transparent and ethical manner. The tools comprise a method to tap the social return on investment (SROI) and even a CEROI, Community economy return on investment. Thus, the “growth” can be targeted at vital commons and ethical exchange relations that ensure quality of life. The CEROI can be seen as increased well-being, smaller ecological footprints, augmented ethical trade and as an expansion of the commons. Additional tools are Do-it-yourself finance, supporting community finance institutions, promoting ethical investments and redirecting government revenues toward life-sustaining activities.

Conclusions

The authors have painted an interesting picture with concrete examples of what is ment by the economy as a space of negotiated interdependence around everyday life practices. Although the authors do not define diverse economies as part of the broad class of sharing economy, their examples, such as the Mondragon coop, which emerge as spaces of opportunities and hope, represent participatory, peer-to-peer, civic and solidarity economies. Nevertheless, the book lacks a final chapter that would tie the different themes together from the perspective of the local community. There is no account of how the chosen themes together contribute to the transforming of our communities (cf. the subtitle of the book). In addition to economic activities, community development requires dealing with other structural issues that are the substance of expanded urban planning. This does not mean that planners, developers, activists and gender researchers would not benefit from the book, on the contrary, its message about diverse economies as a source of possibilities and hope is seminal. It is urgent that the themes of ´Taking back the economy` will be studied from a holistic perspective in different local communities, all over the world. This will hopefully lead to a new book.

Gibson-Graham, J.K. , Cameron, J. & Healy, S. (2013)Take back the economy. An ethical guide for transforming our communities. London: University of Minneapolis Press.