We have argued the case for a Commons Transition, presented its existing components and strategies to get there. If you agree with these proposals and feel inspired to be part of the Commons Transition, you may wonder, “what can I do as an individual?”.
The dominant system trains us to look away from the Commons while favouring neat categories such as “producer”, “consumer”, “politician”, etc. It is difficult to become a commoner from one day to the other, most of us have simply never learned ways of creating and distributing value together. This generalized omission reminds us why care, support and equitable access are essential components of any Commons-based process, from the smallest to the planetary scales. We recommend that individuals reflect on this material, discuss it with friends and — parallel to finding support — come to their own conclusions.
Etymologically, “Commons” comes from the latin munus, which means both “gift” and “duty”. From this definition we find a wholly different way of relating and caring for the gifts of nature and our cultural heritage. Our responsibility as part of nature and as commoners, is to take care of our gifts. What gifts do you see or sense? What do you feel are your responsibilities? These are major reflections which cannot be rushed. In short, the Commons Transition begins with you… but always continues with others.
Once you feel you understand the logic of the Commons as a process that applies to a wide variety of places, groups and situations, you can begin applying the act of commoning to some of its most natural expressions such as care work, capacity building, community action, building and stewarding shared resources etc. No matter how it happens, we want to help. What follows is a list of suggestions and resources to get you started (or, if you’re already familiar, to continue your path).
Find the others
As Commons scholar David Bollier tells it “a commons arises whenever a given community decides it wishes to manage a resource in a collective manner, with special regard for equitable access, use and sustainability.” Simply put, commoning by nature is a community act, however small or large the community. We often find groups practicing the act of commoning without being conscious of what a commons framework implies. It is important to explain the Commons and P2P not as something to memorize and parrot, but as lived experiences which can lead to meaningful outcomes. Where can you find the others? Following the logic of “Design Global, Manufacturer Local” we suggest that you relate to commoners both online and in your own locality.
All of these groups have their own social media platforms, but we also favour more federated social media ventures, such as social.coop. Some of our favourite discussions take place on Loomio, the Open Source discussion and decision making platform built by Enspiral, one of the Open Coops described in the previous sections. Recommended commons-oriented Loomio groups include the Commons Transition discussion group, the Open App Ecosystem, European Commons Assembly. Contact us with your interests and we’ll suggest groups to get in touch with.
Online resources for finding commoners and commons-oriented project in your community include the P2P Foundation’s and Commons Transition’s wikis country category pages. For more precise location-based alternatives, try Transformap, an online mapping platform visualizing alternative economic projects and communities.
Once you’ve found one (or various) communities, ask yourself what you’d like to do. You can involve yourself through plenty of actions: environmental work, open source software, reclamation of urban spaces, political coalition building, restorative agriculture… There’s no shortage of activities to get involved in. The important factor is applying and communicating the logic of commoning to the social process in which you may take part.
A fun way to asses this is by co-creating “user stories” around acts of commoning. This method (pioneered by our friends at Platoniq) is useful for brainstorming ways to involve yourself and others in getting involved in the Commons Transition:
What if, as a ____, I could _____, with (or, using) ______, in order to ______. Result: In doing so I am (we are) co-creating a_______ commons.
“What if, as a resident of a village, I could influence my municipal government with case studies and policy recommendations in order to legally gain open access for local people to viable lands and/or buildings presently in dis-use.“
Result: In doing so, I am (we are) co-creating a commons of public access.”
“What if, as a research student, I could request shared access to (controversially) paywall-protected academic publications online, using a hashtag on Twitter #icanhazpdf, in order to alert others with access to that material that I would like them to share those .pdf files.“
Result: In doing so I am co-creating a digital commons of knowledge.
Keep Reading, watching, listening
We are blessed with abundant materials than can be read and shared on the Commons. If you want to dig in deep, we recommend starting with books such as David Bollier and Silke Helfrich’s The Wealth of the Commons and Patterns of Commoning, David Bollier’s Think Like a Commoner, Silvia Federicis’s Caliban and the Witch, Yochai Benkler’s The Wealth of Networks, or Dmytri Kleiner’s Telekommunist Manifesto, as well as Network Society and Future Scenarios for a Collaborative Economy authored by the P2P Foundation’s Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis. You can find a list of P2P and Commons related books here.
The Library section of this website features downloadable versions of the P2P Foundation’s publications and, in the following section (Longs) we feature five of our most important articles so you can explore these topics more in-depth. We also highly recommend reading our sister organization, the Commons Strategies Group’s, essays and reports, as well as those of our colleagues in Commons Network.
Day to day, we suggest reading or subscribing to our own P2P Foundation blog, which features daily content on P2P, Commons and other changemaking initiatives. Complementary to the daily blog the Commons Transition Stories site highlights original material by members of the P2PF, including Special Reports, alongside selected, narrative and longform articles.
Other closely affiliated websites featuring regular stories on P2P and the Commons include Shareable, ROAR Magazine, Connected Action for the Commons, Stir to Action, the Sustainable Economies Law Center blog, the Journal of Peer Production, On the Commons and the International Journal of the Commons.
For more in-depth learning and research, the P2P Foundation Wiki is the world’s largest database on P2P and Commons initiatives. You can find information and resources about all aspects of life, work, and culture with a P2P orientation. Hit a random page and go down the rabbit hole! Among others, we recommend the P2P Education, Cooperation, and Peer Production categories to start with.
If you also like to watch and listen, the P2P Foundation blog has dedicated video and audio sections. Apart from the audio and video material featured in this site we recommend checking out Remix the Commons’ staggering media collection and the CommonSense online documentary, as well as the Upstream and Extraenviromentalist Podcasts.
Build Knowledge Commons
We’ve spoken about wikis and mapping before. Both are excellent ways to build common-pool resources. For wiki work, feel free to contact us to contribute in the P2P Foundation or Commons Transition wikis. The P2P Foundation Wiki is pluralistic and expansive, with many types of categories and contributions and reflecting the work of many movements. Meanwhile, the Commons Transition Wiki is our specialised knowledge repository for change makers. Focusing on policies and ideas for change, it is more tightly curated than the main wiki and features semantic categorization. For mapping, having a look around Transformap is a great start and, if you want to do something more explicitly local, Shareable has a great guide on hosting a MapJam in your city.
In reality, we encourage everyone who is building and maintaining to Commons to document and open-source the processes online — good and bad! Whether as part of your website, or in Github or our wikis, we can all benefit from the knowledge. As a complement to the better known Creative Commons Licenses, we recommend having a look at the Peer Production License and the logic behind Commons-based reciprocity (or “CopyFair”) licensing in general.
Build Material Commons
After making contact with people in your community, see if there are any existing community workshops in your area, or gauge whether there is interest in creating one. Mutualizing productive infrastructure and face to face collaboration are rewarding ways of commoning. From shared or community kitchens, to self-managed spaces and hackerspaces and fablabs, it’s worth getting involved in creating tangible stuff through commons-based peer production processes.
Makerspaces, hackerspaces and fablabs are in a flux: there is no single definition that perfectly captures all such spaces. A rather simple and inclusive description would be “community-run physical places where people can utilize local manufacturing technologies”.
As of writing, 2,186 makerspaces are listed in the hackerspaces.org wiki. Among these, 1,355 are marked as active, 351 as planned, while the rest appears to be inactive or closed. Although the majority of makerspaces are situated in the North-Western world with a recent expansion to the East and South, the phenomenon has a global spread, as depicted below.
Live, work and consume differently
Some people may be able to carry out part or all of the actions described above in their spare time; others may simply not have the time or the social conditions to do so. What we propose is to make time and change conditions, where possible, to stop being complicit in the profit-accumulation scheme of peak hierarchy. This isn’t a simple or rapid process and it will largely depend on the networks you have connected to through the previous steps, but it’s important to think about and see how to apply to your own circumstances.
The first way to withdraw power from market-accumulation is by depriving it of your labor power. The capitalist market requires wage labour as commodity: you are forced to sell your labor in order to keep the accumulation and destruction machine going for the benefit of the few. Look for ways to refuse, not just by “dropping out” (although that’s also a respectable option) but by pro-actively building alternatives to provide for your sustenance — and that of others. The key is finding your passion and analysing how this could be framed within the patterns of Open Cooperativism. In reality, most generative forms of market organizations can be reimagined as such. What will be given up? Profit and hierarchy. But what will found in return will be infinitely more rewarding, and safer in the long run.
A second way is to remove your cooperation as a consumer. Follow the trend of decommodification and mutualize your consumption. Some examples include community-supported agriculture, solar energy coops, and platform and open coops. Better yet, blur the line and become a prosumer — it’s cheaper and more fun.
Without our contributions as workers and consumers, capital cannot reproduce itself. We must however ensure our own social reproduction through solidarity mechanisms, such as Meta-Economic Networks (check out the Mutual Aid Network’s resources section for information on how to start one), trasvestment strategies and reciprocity licensing, as explained in the previous sections.
As we have argued, in order for a Commons Transition to take place, commoners need to build economic and political power. By “political” here we refer not only to political representation but also to the actionable rights of all who are affected by political decisions. How do we increase the credibility and influence of the P2P/Commons movement in the political sphere?
Any of the actions described above and, in fact, any act of commoning is political, as it challenges established power structures and their associated systems of oppression. But, as we have argued in “What are P2P Politics” (and, at more length in “Commons in the Time of Monsters”) it is not enough to hope that change will come about exclusively through prefigurative strategies. The Commons movement has to engage with existing political structures and reimagine them in commons-oriented ways.
Is this up to you as an individual? Perhaps not, maybe your calling drives you more towards the prefigurative aspects, like building extitutions. Whether you choose to express your politics outside the system or engage within it, the keys are to communicate transparently, build bridges and foster mutual support.
If you decide to engage with the currently existing political system, it’s useful to imagine a P2P political strategy under the logic of transvestment. If, in economics, transvestment means leeching power from extractive production towards the Commons, in politics it implies the “commonification” of municipal, regional, state or transnational institutions. The goal is to enable our autonomy as citizens, individuals, and groups to create and steward common resources, quite different from being a passive consumer of state services.
There are many ways of doing this depending on the place you reside and the local political options available. We’ve spoken about building bridges between Pirates, New Left and Green parties through the logic of the Commons. A particularly inspiring example is that of the citizen-driven municipal coalitions in Spain which, while being inclusive of existing parties, opened the field of politics to a much larger public. One of the best resources on this new wave of municipalism include Barcelona en Comú’s guide to taking back the City. You can read stories about municipalism on Commons Transition and the P2P Foundation Blog and invent ways of replicating such initiatives in your town.
Map by Fearless Cities
For a wider view, see the policy sections of the P2P Foundation and Commons Transition Wikis, as well as our P2P Policy blog category. Also, check the Commons Transition Plans which expand upon the work done for the FLOK Society/Buen Conocer project in Ecuador, and also the recent Commons Transition Plan for the City of Ghent. Help us develop and spread these policy positions. If they are to succeed, a wide section of the public needs to understand and demand such policies, while those working within the system need to steadfastly advocate for their adoption at the institutional level.
If you’re in Europe and interested in commons-oriented political advocacy, we strongly recommend joining the European Commons Assembly. Not in Europe? Time to think about creating your own Commons Assembly, which brings us back to…
Find the others (again)
We’ve shared plenty of ideas and directions to get you started. You may choose to follow some of these recommendations or, better still, create your own and share with others. But the greatest lessons about the Commons cannot be taught, they must be experienced in their depth and complexity.
Once you begin to think and act like a commoner, you can find the others, share your views, experiences, failures successes and surprises. Giving and sharing are at the heart of commoning. Treating our relationships and the environment as gifts and responsibilities in the context of commoning leads to new behaviours, values and thoughts. Create new commons, and help drive the Commons Transition forward.
If you agree with these proposals and feel inspired to be part of the Commons Transition, you may wonder, “what can I do as an individual?” It is difficult to become a commoner from one day to the other. Most of us have not been educated in ways of creating and distributing value together. In short, the Commons Transition begins with you… but always continues with others.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this article, and its linked resources. Let us know what you think and if you have any questions, please get in touch.