James Quilligan’s talk about why we have to Occupy the Commons

James Quilligan the renowned commons thinker, activist, and founder of the Global Commons Trust, gave the following talk at the Occupy Wall Street Forum on the Commons, February 16, 2012. The event was live-streamed.

In this talk, he encouraged the audience to challenge Garrett Hardin’s definition of the Commons, as found in his 1968 article in Science Journal, ‘Tragedy of the Commons’. He explained that what Hardin described are, in fact, unclaimed and unorganised Common Pool Resources rather than commons. It is only when a group organizes such a Common Pool Resource that it becomes a commons. He said, “commons are inherited or created gifts that we organize, use and store in our lifetime through informal practices and rules which we pass on to future generations. Those rules have to do with preservation of the resource, access to the resource, use of the resource, governance of the resource and also the production of the resource.”

Quilligan reminded us that our job is to roll back the enclosures that deny the rights of people to their means of survival, livelihood and well-being, and which don’t promote life, human dignity, security and peace. In this speech, he also introduced and outlined the important differences between private, public and common goods.

Quilligan then outlined that to begin envisioning these resource boundaries, we need a new way of envisioning society that starts with two essential steps. The first step is to:

…build identity around the fact that we are commoners. Occupy a commons (the green space in the diagram)  and say this is our domain, this is our identity, this is who we are… The red (private) and the blue (public) in the diagram have their place but all discourse has to be around where the boundaries are, where the overlapping areas are between each of these spheres.”

The second step involves negotiations with the private and public sectors around these resource domains:

We have to protest, negotiate and roll back areas like water privatisation, greenhouse gas emissions, fracking or various areas where we are aware that there are commons issues. The world’s financial system which is in crisis won’t be solved until we have a new international monetary system. We won’t have an international monetary system until we solve the ecological and energy crisis. We wont solve the ecological and energy crisis until we have low carbon production and trade. We won’t get to the point of low carbon production and trade until we redefine the boundaries of resource domains. If we are going to transform the economy and government into component parts of the biosphere, we have to redefine the boundaries of resources domains. That means occupy the commons!”


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Categories: Activism, Commons, Direct Democracy


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