Finding Sustainable Solutions by Reclaiming the Global Commons

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The Commons, says Twin Cities visionary Jay Walljasper, includes the parks where we stroll, sidewalks and streets, the sky above us, and our precious water — the Mississippi River, Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes and the Great Lakes. But the Commons also includes The Internet, the airwaves, our right to affordable health care, and even scientific knowledge such as pharmaceutical drugs that are sold today as private products but were often funded with our public money.

According to Walljasper, we can regain what we as citizens have lost during the privatization craze of recent decades by reclaiming the Commons. Walljasper’s book All That We Share, A Field Guide to the Commons: How to save the economy, the environment, the Internet, democracy, our communities, and everything else that belongs to all of us (The New Press, 2010) is an inspirational collection of essays and stories by progressive luminaries such as Winona LaDuke, Robert Reich and Robert Kennedy, Jr.

Reclaiming the Commons, Walljasper suggests, would solve countless problems in our society, and bring our communities together, in the process.

“Unfortunately, we’re losing the Commons in bits and pieces,” he warns. “Over the last 30 years there’s been more and more of an emphasis on privatization. Taking things that were once public and handing them over to private business.”

Key among Walljasper’s quest is a project to re-declare the Great Lakes as a Commons. The Great Lakes belongs to everyone who lives around it, including Native Americans, and poor people in cities like Chicago and Detroit, he maintains, adding that the Great Lakes are currently under assault, from energy exploration in particular.

Walljasper believes that we should borrow from the Native Americans’ Seventh Generation Idea. Every decision we make about the Great Lakes, in other words, we should know how it will affect our great, great, great, great, great grandchildren.

He outlines three tenants — or three legs to stand on — for the Commons: participation, sustainability, and equity. In other words, everyone should be involved in reclaiming the Commons; the decisions we make are not just for the present, or the next quarter’s profit statement; and the Commons should belong to all of us equally.

Jacob Wheeler

In addition to shooting videos for The UpTake, Jacob Wheeler is a contributing editor at the progressive political magazine In These Times, publishes the Glen Arbor Sun in his native Michigan, and authored "Between Light and Shadow," a recent book about the Guatemalan adoption industry. Wheeler's stories have appeared in such magazines as the Utne Reader, Earth Island Journal, Rotarian and Teaching Tolerance magazine, and newspapers including the San Francisco Chronicle and Christian Science Monitor. He speaks fluent Spanish, German and Danish.

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