Civic Distress Calls for Deep Deliberations and the Commons

Occupy New Haven, upside down flag is international symbol for distress, in this case US civic and economic distress

Here in the U.S., many are already sick to death of the Presidential campaign.  Sadly, our national politics boil down to not much more than lining-up favors and cash for the next election.  The only thing good about the whole spiel is the comedy routines… but one cannot survive on comedy alone.

The United States is in deep civic and economic distress.  The political crisis in Washington, and by contrast what is hopeful at the local level, was compared in a recent article by Arianna Huffington:

We’re now in the midst of a battle to see who will sit atop the pyramid in official Washington. This battle will dominate the media in the year ahead, but what the last year showed is that the more important story is what’s happening outside Washington. It was a year in which Time declared “The Protester” its Person of the Year and “Occupy” was named Word of the Year by the American Dialect Society. It was a year of solutions and energy and activism from the bottom up. And given that top-down thinking not only brought us a Depression-level crisis, but also shows no signs of getting us out of it, it’s bottom-up innovation that will be more relevant…

It’s at the local level where we are still able to fulfill President Obama’s exhortation last year “to sharpen our instincts for empathy” and “constantly widen the circle of our concern so that we bequeath the American Dream to future generations.” It’s increasingly clear that for that circle to be widened nationally it will have to be widened locally first.

Huffington goes on to praise mayors from Portand to New Jersey, on climate change to emergency response, for being willing to work with their citizens and get things done.  It’s wonderful when Government listens to, works with and actually serves the people.  That seems to be only a dream in many places in America.  Portland Oregon’s Mayor evicted their Occupy protesters, saying they hadn’t come out with any clear messages or demands.  Really, Mayor Adams, what are you afraid of?   And what if you’re in New York City, and you have Bloomberg as Mayor?  Is he someone willing to utilize the city police force as an army for hire for corporations against citizens?  I would argue it’s not the national or local government leaders that will solve our difficult problems, it’s up to all of us.  Local people around the globe are learning to work together with government to keep them accountable, transparent and willing to work with all groups to forge the needed solutions.

In New York City and other places where leadership in government is currently uninterested  in democratic debate searching for justice, there is an antidote:  We can claim our sovereignty, our right to local self-determination and true democracy.   The OWS working group called the  Empowerment & Education Committee is exploring this idea of local sovereignty as they set the stage for the upcoming Commons Conference, Feb 16-18, at City University of New York.

The internationally known commons speakers will include  information commons advocate and author, David Bollier and economist and policy analyst, James Quilligan.  Bollier is best known for his books “Brand Name Bullies” and “Viral Sprial” which outline the current day enclosures by corporations as they privatize what was formerly in the public domain and freely available to all.  He discuses some helpful tools such as on-line community production models and the creative commons licensing options to ensure that credit is given and open source access maintained.  A recent Bollier blog encourages the New York Times to start an “enclosure watch column”, because as he says, it’s the story of our times, and the NYT’s already reports on ‘brazen ripoffs of the public by a “free market” system… every day’

Quilligan too has brilliant ideas.  His focus is a global transition away from our debt-based monetary system to a value-based commons economic system, where business would rent the right to use local, regional and global commons under sustainability guidelines set by stakeholders.  Commons rent would go into funds at all scales for restoration and social cohesion.  Quilligan argues that our current unsustainable global system of interest rates and unending debt-service is crippling innovation, and spending critical natural capital that should be preserved for future generations.   He advocates for a global sustainability rate that would be referenced bioregionally to measure regional improvements or degradations on local systems.  In such a system, the monetary incentive to increase the value of your local currency encourages business, government and community decision-making to align with the needs of human and natural communities.

Do you live in a place where deliberative democracy to balance market-state forces is met with scorn and powerful resistance from your government?  Or do you live in a place where government is willing to engage with the people in the hard work of direct deliberative democracy in finding solutions to many challenges we face in these transitional times?  Let us know!  We invite your comments and stories of strife or collaborative solutions.  We can share them in New York at the Commons Conference.

Mary Beth Steisslinger, MS

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Categories: Commons, Direct Democracy, Social Innovation, Thinking Together


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