|After the Quilligan Seminars|
The School of Commoning recently coordinated a series of 12 seminars on the commons, hosted in London by the renowned commons theorist James B. Quilligan. Here George Pór and Quilligan share some thoughts on what happened during this unique event, and where next for the commons community.
28th May 2012
24th May 2012 - By George Pór, The School of Commoning
James Quilligan conducted a 12-day seminar series on the Commons, in London, May 2012. The launch event was hosted by Michael Meacher, Member of the Parliament, in the House of Commons, under the title: “Political Economy and the Inclusive Commons”. Whether you were present at the opening or not, expect to hear more about that event and what happened afterwards if you’re involved with the commons movement. Not only to hear about, but also draw on, return to, and gain strength and wisdom from it in our common work.
Quilligan emphasized that the “commons are not just resources but the set of relationships they create, including the communities that use them, and the cultural and social practices and property regimes that manage them. Through the co-production and co-governance of a commons, resource users become the producers of their own resources, allowing the traditional model of property ownership (utility, self-interest, profit) to be eclipsed by a new framework of trusteeship (sustainability, quality of life and well-being).”
At the end of the presentation we heard this remarkable comment from Michael Meacher, MP:
"I thought that was very really inspirational. I have been in politics for a very long time. I don't think I have been challenged by such radicalism as long as I can remember, a radicalism that is not just a fantasy but a radicalism tied down with quite specific concepts that are going to be difficult to actually bring about but which are, in the long term, inevitable because I don't think the world can go on in the way it does... I have learned a huge amount. It is one of those occasions where I feel we are just starting."
Meacher’s feeling was shared by many of us, who participated in the last day of the series, which was advertised as Convergence for a Commons-based Economy. Unlike what the title may suggest, we did not establish any organization, didn’t even try it, but that last day became the first day of learning-by-doing to build a commons for the Commons (c4C). Just what exactly is a c4C is not clear yet. The concept will need to be formed by our practice. What happened at the closing event of the series may be indicative of it.
First, Quilligan talked about some commons that develop their social charter through a multi-stakeholder deliberation process to decide whether or not to create a legal and fiduciary trust to maintain their community’s resources for the future. He mentioned the example of “the WANA Forum that has been discussing cross-border water and energy sharing agreements in the Middle East for the past four years. This will lead to a social charter for these resources at the non-governmental levels in the region, contributing greatly to economic and political stability.”
He suggested our community may also decide to create a social charter and eventually, a trust since it is already in the process of identifying its unique mission as a knowledge commons, as well as a social and cultural commons.
We realized that crafting a social charter deserves an in-depth discussion that should be informed by our understanding of what kind of resources we want to develop for ourselves and the rest of the world of commons. So we decided not to rush into starting to work on the charter, but instead, identify a set of action opportunities. Different participants of the seminar championed actions related to various commons-related projects, about which they felt passionate. In the Open Space sessions we formed groups working on some of them, for example: community currencies, mapping and visual images of the commons, health-wellbeing-gardens-housing, outreach, Occupy and commoning, and developing a “Commons Rising” knowledge ecology of resources for commons builders and activists.
I coordinate the work of the last group, and its core idea is to develop and share knowledge essential to commons formation and cultivation (initially from the Quilligan seminars), as a commons activity itself. The how and when will be the subject of another blog.
The “Emergence of a Commons-based Economy” that became also known as the “Quilligan Seminars on the Commons,” triggered a new beginning for the commons movement in the UK and probably, beyond. We will meet again in our working groups and as the whole community, both face-to-face and online. Stay tuned with this blog to receive further news as things unfold. Or in a couple of days, visit Commons Rising, our virtual home, to get first-hand information by reading the online conversations that will take place there. If what you want is not only to be informed but also actively engage in reclaiming/building commons, natural or intellectual, then let me know and we’ll send you an invitation the Commons Rising community.
All in all, there were close to 400 participants in the seminars. Together we have stirred hearts and minds of people across all sectors of society. We had greetings from the US cheering us on from across the pond, and commoners from all over the world expressed their appreciation for this watershed series of events. They are impatiently waiting for us to organize the rich harvest from the seminars and making available to all the films, the companion e-book, and Debategraph documenting them. That’s exactly what we plan to do but we cannot do it without your support. If you believe that you and others like you may benefit from those well-organised resources that you will be able to call into action when you need them, then visit the Commons Rising peer-funding page and help with what you can.
25th May 2012 - By James B. Quilligan, Bollier.org
To judge from James B. Quilligan's recent series of talks in London, Brits are more receptive to, and interested in, the idea of a commons-based economy than ever. Below, James reflects on his many encounters and dialogues over the course of two weeks. - David Bollier
Twelve seminars in twelve days? Each on a different topic?
Imagine the angst I felt last winter when organizers in London approached me to make this demanding array of presentations on consecutive days.
They explained that each of the sponsoring groups had a unique perspective on the commons, ranging from economics, business, politics, democracy, culture and technology to land reform, private property, trusteeship, interest rates, systems theory and spirituality.
Once I’d grasped the constellation of issues, I welcomed the challenge of integrating them with the commons. It sounded like real fun. After extensive preparations, the Quilligan Seminars were held from May 7 - 18 at various locations in London. (For reference, my talking points on all the sessions are included here.)
Co-hosts of the seminars included the House of Commons, Institute for Public Policy Research, New Economics Foundation, Finance Innovation Lab, St. James’s Piccadilly, Synthesis, Civil Society Forum, Working in Trust, Gaia Network, Initiatives of Change, SimPol, School of Economic Science, Henry George Foundation and Hub Westminster.
Sheepishly, I’d wondered how reintroducing the topic of commons in the nation which invented the name "commons" would go over. Yet what better place to launch the seminars than at the House of Commons?
On a rainy morning at Parliament, I spoke to seventy people on ‘Political Economy and the Inclusive Commons’. Michael Meacher, Member of Parliament and former Minister for the Environment, chaired the session.
Over the course of twenty minutes, I described how commons trusts could place a preservation cap on particular commons and determine the proportion of these resources which could be rented to businesses for extraction, production and commerce. In turn, businesses would pay taxes on their profits to government, which would then channel these funds into social dividends and the replenishment of depleted commons.
“That was really very inspirational,” exclaimed Meacher following the talk. “I have been in politics for a very long time. I don’t think I have been challenged by such radicalism as long as I can remember, a radicalism that is not just a fantasy but a radicalism tied down with specific concepts which are, in the long term, inevitable. I have just learned a huge amount. It is one of those occasions where I feel we are just starting.”
Many others shared this spirit. Lord Maurice Glasman, the Blue Labour Member of Parliament, confided to me, “This is the House of Commons. It’s high time that our leaders live up to that name.”
All of the seminars were enthusiastically received. They were also well attended, with audiences ranging from thirty to one hundred. Most came for one or two presentations. About twenty people attended six or more of the seminars.
Along the way, I met with politicos and financiers, lawyers and academics, members of charities and think-and-do tanks, crowdfunders and technological entrepreneurs, advocates for cyber-democracy and global governance, land reform organizers and land trustees, environmentalists and anti-usury campaigners, religious congregations and clergy, neighborhood groups and Occupiers, and a large contingent of activists from Greater London’s civil society.
I had many memorable dialogues with seminar conveners and colleagues. Some of the most brilliant moments occurred with Lord Glasman on the new economics of replenishment; with Inderpaul Johar on innovative directions in social technology; with Esther Ridsdale on horizontal decison-making in business; with Tim Jenkins on the political salience of trusteeships; with Joseph Milne on the history of property ownership; with Rector Lucy Winkett on sustainability and religious covenant; and with Greg Fisher on complexity theory in economics. All of which were centered on the commons.
Many people approached me to say how much they had learned and grown from the seminars. But the sessions were really a learning experience for me as well.
It was mind-stretching to talk with so many different kinds of audiences. The wide variety of people, presentations and questions generated an immersion experience that was highly creative and inspirational.
To realize how quickly the commons is becoming part of the Western zeitgeist was also deeply humbling and encouraging. When I first spoke in London three years ago, my audience was a bit fuzzy on the significance of the commons. Now Londoners clearly get it and are eager to take action.
At our final event, working groups organized around many of the issues which emerged from the seminars. These groups are now focused on examining community currencies; designing maps and visual images of the commons; developing commons for health, well-being, gardens and housing; generating outreach for the commons; linking Occupy and commoning; and creating a knowledge ecology of resources through the website Commons Rising, which was recently launched by the School of Commoning.
The seminars were superbly organized by my colleagues Anna Betz and George Por at the School of Commoning and Peter Challen of the Christian Council for Monetary Justice, with the support of Nancy Roof from Kosmos Journal and many individual donors.
All of the sessions were videotaped and will eventually be available through Commons Rising, as well as You Tube clips. A datagraph and an e-book of the presentations are also being developed. You can help us meet these goals with a donation at http://www.indiegogo.com/CommonsEconomyRising. You can also follow Commons Rising for updates or to get involved with the London working groups at http://commonsrising.ning.com.
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