The commons in the USA
Dans la collection : Commons Space
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|Commons Space (FSM 2016, Montréal)
|Remix the commons
|LÉONARD Nicole, LESSARD-BÉRUBÉ Stéphanie
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Bernie Sanders Campaign
Audio issues with interviewer, Alain Ambrosi (AA)
Alain Ambrosi (AA): "Does the commons sound something? "...
CL: Well I remember being introduced to that concept after the WTO protests in Seattle in 1999, so I come with just a little bit of familiarity with the concept and seeing people talk about it over the years. It often comes attached with things like the solidarity economy, and trying to figure out how to make more.... how to pre-figure out what we want in the future by getting people used to what the future might be, but starting today.
AA: So I told you that we insist that the Americans have these different initiatives that could be under this meme of the commons. Do you personally know such initiatives?
CL: Well I don’t know how many use that language but I give as an example one of the most important movements in NYC, was turning a lot of abandoned lots into community gardens and it had some celebrity support from um.. Bette Midler. And as a result you have these properties all over the city, but especially in places that were the subject of a lot of inattention, followed by gentrification, and then communities came together to protect these empty spaces because they engaged in a lot of free labor to make them nice places. And you can see evidence of that all over the city, it’s a kind of visual reminder.
Another more recent example is the growth of the participatory budgeting movement. Now in NYC, I don’t know what the number is exactly, but it could be a majority of the city council districts in the city all have participatory budgeting, um, and it reminds me that I first learned about that concept attending the first WSF in Porto Alegre, where I think it spread from there. And I also know that the city is now - and this is interesting to talk about our government doing this - the city is now investing in coops, trying to encourage people to run their own businesses cooperatively as worker co-ops, in part to raise the incomes of people who otherwise might be stuck in service jobs that have no capacity for growth.
AA: I understand that you’ve been very active in the Bernie Sanders campaign. You are very very .... How do you relate this kind of thing with this new narrative of another way?
CL: I’d love to mention my friend Rapi Castillo who is a volunteer from the campaign, and he is behind Coders for Progress which emerged as a group of volunteers who actually built many of the tools that helped the campaign do as well as it did, in particular at maps.berniesanders.com, where you can see 100,000s of events taking place in real time. And he’s now taking that energy trying to make political tools that would not just be open software in the sense that anyone can replicate it, but to actually run services that are accessible to political campaigns at no cost, because it would be good for democracy for these things ot exist. That would be one point of connection.
But at an even broader level, the way the campaign was organized, it was mostly volunteers, doing what they thought was right at the local level without much direction from the staffers. You could argue the campaign was mostly crowdsourced and that was one of the keys to its success.
AA: In your background as an activist you talked about ____ you talked about Porto Alegre, etc... Were are the members of the Sanders campaign the same ... ?
CL: No, I would actually say that one misconception is that... Bernie Sanders is a very progressive political figure. But as a politician running a campaign he used very traditional methodologies. His initial staff to decide his strategy and the way he engaged in it... you know, media heavy, television, top-down, focusing on one state as a time - this is the normal way of doing things. I would say that the innovation to a large extent was coming from outside the campaign. And in there wisdom I would say that they often found a way to relate to it and form that relationship. But he is not of and with the social movements, he is a politician from Vermont, which is a different thing.
AA: And do you think that if you ask Bernie what he thinks about the commons he would know what you’re talking about?
CL: (laughs) He’s very smart and he probably does, but if I had to give you advice I would say talk to his policy staff and his Senate office, and there you will find people who are experts in everything from new monetary theory to whatever, and they will probably be able to, you know, package that in the right way sot hat Bernie will be able to say, you know YES that’s what I meant.
AA: And personally do you think that the commons could be a meme that could serve the objectives that have been spread from the Sanders campaign?
CL: I think that what I like behind the commoning idea is that, politics in the US, even more so I think than in other countries, is a very specialized, technical profession, and it makes a huge difference what access a person has to resources, not just money, but expertise and relationships. So I think about how do you democratize politics - what kinds of tools are at our disposal to make achieving political change more accessible to more people and less conditional on what a more sophisticated operation is able to provide. And I think that the hundreds of thousands of super volunteers would love to find out more about that, love to hear about tools, resources, training that could be made available to anyone so that they can move up the ladder of being experts in their own right.
AA: Have you heard about Chicago commons assembly?
CL: I haven’t! But I’m friendly with some activists there so I’m wondering ... tell me more.
AA: There is a route for a strategy for what they call the post-Capitalist transition, by the Peer to Peer Foundation, and one of the steps is to create local, regional chambers of commons and assemblies of commons. And they say that... in Chicago _____
CL: I think that dovetails well with the folks thinking about climate change transition. And there are some many systems at risk that we believe can’t possibly continue as they are, ranging from our food, our water, our housing systems, transportation... they just can’t continue as they are. And there is an urgent need to get more people involved in figuring that out. What I would say is in New York it might be much more difficult because of the scarcity of housing. Real estate is such a dominant concern, being able to pay one’s rent, I think in some ways that drives out so much potential energy that might otherwise exist.
And finally what do you think the the WSF - how do you see the World Social Forum could help in promoting this kind of new meme of the commons?
I love the WSF, it’s great, but I think about the entire process of me traveling here and finding housing and feeding myself and deciding what to do... I don’t know that the WSF has figured out mechanisms to integrate my consumption of those things with a collective process for providing them. I don’t even have solid advice for how that might happen. But that might be an avenue... 50,000 people descending on Montreal - if each person spends a certain amount per day, you have a vast amount of resources, if there was a way to make it a teaching moment for people to experience the commons because of how we’re going about it - shared rides services, different ways of bypassing Air BnB for housing, that might be a very concrete way of advancing those ideas.
What do you think is ______(the reason Bernie Sanders didn’t end up attending the WSF)?
I’m sure it was a scheduling conflict to some extent but I would also pose just a troubling question for anyone wondering about the US which is: sadly, people in other countries have no votes in our system, and at the end of the day whether or not you can get some support from the people you are spending time with is a determining factor in what politicians decide to do, so, you know, I feel like it is a better strategy to find the people in the United States who are not politicians necessarily but movement activists and to use them as the intermediary to the Bernie Sanders phenomena.
- Entrevue réalisée à l'occasion du 12ème Forum Social Mondial tenu à Montréal du 9 au 14 août 2016. Pour la première fois dans l'histoire du FSM un Espace des Communs offrait différents ateliers et activités culturelles avec la participation de « commoners » théoriciens et praticiens de nombreux pays.
- Entrevista realizada en ocasion del 12mo Foro social Mundial realizado en Montreal del 9 al 14 de agosto de 2016. Por primera vez en la historia del FSM un Espacio de los Comunes ofrecia varios talleres y actividades culturales con la participacion de « commoners » teoricos y activistas de numerosos paises.
- Interview taped at the 12 th World Social Forum in Montreal August 9th to 14th 2016. For the first time in the history of WSF a Commons Space held various workshops and cultural activities with the participation of commoners, both theoreticians and practitioners, from numerous countries.