The Commoner’s Catalog for Changemaking collects vibrant examples of commoning: groups of people applying their imaginations and collective power to build new socio-economic possibilities. The following is an excerpt from the Introduction, written by David Bollier:
The Commoner’s Catalog was born of a simple realization: the world we have inherited is no longer working. It’s bad enough that the future of the planet and civilization as we know it is threatened. And yet there are hopeful signs. Countless experimental projects and committed social movements are pioneering important pathways forward.
The cry heard during the pandemic and Black Lives Matter protests was “I can’t breathe.” The aspiration of this Catalog is to help us breathe more fully and deeply: to show how we can engage constructively with each other, honor the miracle of aliveness, and grow a new type of political culture, society, and economy.
“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way.
On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”
– Arundhati Roy, author
A pre-pandemic normal is obviously impossible. We must imagine new and better ways of being, doing, and knowing. This requires that we first acknowledge and move beyond fraying narratives about capitalist progress and benign state power. With climate change, species extinctions, economic inequality, and racial and gender othering, among many other ills, we must face up to the structural problems of the system.
This Catalog provides tools for the inevitable transitions ahead.
“A commons… gives community life a clear focus. It depends on democracy in its truest form…It provides an incentive to protect the living world. It creates, in sum, a politics of belonging.”
– George Monbiot, environmentalist
In the pages of The Commoner’s Catalog for Changemaking, we showcase the art, culture, and politics of commoning—the practices of talking with each other, coordinating work, experimenting, and figuring out solutions to shared challenges that are local, distributed, and fair. It turns out that building a better future does not necessarily require that we go through the narrow channel of conventional politics and policy. Commons-based solutions can originate right now, with us, where we live.
Far from a vague utopian fantasy, the Commons encompasses a social universe of real projects meeting the needs of ordinary people. Instead of looking to markets or to state institutions, it urges the building of alternative systems at appropriate scales.
Commons are generally bottom-up, prioritizing people’s needs over profit and accumulation. They stress the importance of stewarding the earth and its ecosystems. Whenever a community decides it wants to treat a certain resource as shared wealth, the seeds of commoning begin to germinate.
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality.
To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
– Buckminster Fuller, systems theorist
Beyond the gaze of mainstream media, commons are contemporary, robust and expanding. This global movement encompasses everything form open source software and wikis, the stewardship of forests and coastal fisheries, agroecology and local food systems, artistic collectives, cosmo-local production, and collectively owned and managed housing. Commoning is a force that drives makerspaces and open access scholarly journals. It propels cooperatives, alternative currencies, and the Creative Commons license.
A loosely connected network of distributed, collaborative projects and movements—the Commonsverse—is self-coordinated, resourceful, animated by shared intentions. It represents the kernel of a different type of society.
Please accept the invitation made by The Commoner’s Catalog and apply your talents and imagination to the challenges of commoning. We have much to learn from each other and a new world to build!
“The next big thing will be a lot of small things.”
— Thomas Lommée, designer
The Commoner’s Catalog was written by David Bollier, Program Director for Reinventing the Commons, and published by The Schumacher Center. We hope you’ll find ample inspiration within the catalog’s pages and that you’ll share it with those looking for signs of hope in uncertain times.
The book is available through Chelsea Green Publishing, Bookshop.org, and other online outlets.
The Staff of Schumacher Center