It was a brisk, crisp walk to the Schloss Berg in Graz where the last in a series of public discussions on the commons was being held. The venue, Dom in Berg, a theatre carved out of a mountain (the Schloss Berg itself), actually in the mountain, provided an inspired setting for what turned out to be a pivotal, necessary and invaluable exchange of ideas and debate.
The focus of these discussions were towards Reclaiming the Commons – struggles, strategies, visions. David Bollier wrote about the first session, which I had regrettably missed, but captured the tone of it through David’s article. The panel was comprised of farmer and winner of the Right Livelihood Award 2007 Percy Schmeiser (CA); leader of Creative Commons Brazil, author and professor of law, Ronaldo Lemo (BR); author and Commons expert, David Bollier (US); founder of the Free Knowledge Network, Petra Buhr (DE); Commons activist and blogger Silke Helfrich (DE); political scientist and economist Massimo De Angelis (UK); and, Stefan Meretz (DE), who studies the political economy of the free software movement.
The following is based on notes I had taken during the discussions and as such, are not indicative of the depth and extent of the forum that took place. At the outset of the discussion, the moderator Silke Helfrich and David Bollier, keynote presenter, it set out two primary objectives, 1) Reclaiming the commons, 2) Building the commons.
Key to both objectives are the need for new kinds of institutions, entirely different governance models, cooperation as the means to add value to the making of things, that the means to the end is in the day to day practice of living and participating in the commons, not in policy spaces. Public policy may no doubt be involved, but it is daily engagement the commons themes and practices where change takes place.
David reiterated, we need to be less dependent on ideology and far more focused on daily practice – “unleashing diversity, creativity and energy from the bottom-up”. Moreover, the need for a commons sector defined as a distinguishing political movement is not only necessary, but is in fact emerging and has been for some time as Massimo De Angelis pointed out. Examples of new forms of governance can be modelled on open source development communities and within the civil society sector.
Ronaldo Lemo cited the example of civil society’s involvement in WIPO as evidence of new forms of engagement that are producing results, at least within the creation of important and, as Lemo described, powerful documents.
I raised the concern that despite the claim, these documents have not prevented the more restrictive measures imposed on freedom of speech in South Korea and more recently in the net filter debate taking place in Australia. That said, it is the potential for the kind of engagement civil society is making in these spaces, from WIPO to IGF, that is significant despite the fact, as some pointed out, we are yet to move beyond ideology in many respects.
Perry Schmeiser discussed the need for what is of the commons must stay in the commons, that what is removed undoubtedly effects other commons resources (e.g.. patents on life forms). He also pointed out the need for the reclamation of both social wealth and importantly, communication. He felt that we are losing communications as a commons right.
The thoughtful and quietly considered Stefan Meretz proposed three principles largely based on an understanding that we need to break free of the language of enclosure, the language of markets towards a commons orientated perspective. Fro example, his first principle states we are to develop modes of contribution instead of exchange. That is, collective effort towards a common goal such as the creation of a utility and its improvement.
The commons relises the full potential of the individual which is defined through collective effort. “We are not ants.” Massimo De Angelis
Recommendation to panelists and audience to read From Exchange to Contributions by Christian Siefkes (published by Edition C. Siefkes, 2007, ISBN 9783940736000). Stefan Meretz
Scale of plenty against the scale of scarcity. The internet is described as a new form of commons founded in a limitless environment. David Bollier
The internet may provide endless, boundless opportunity, but it is entirely reliant on finite resources. From the stuff that computers are made from to that which powers data centres the world over. We are still, no matter which way we look at it, living within a model of scarcity. Andrew Garton
Scarcity is a social notion of limitlessness. We need to understand limits, not scarcity. Stefan Meretz Commons is a means to an end result – human freedom. Massimo De Angelis
Commons – reframing richness. Silke Helfrich
On closing, I thought I heard Sikle use the term, “commonism”!