Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Sharing the (Common)Wealth

The District government has announced that all city libraries will be open seven days a week and remain open for more hours, beginning October 1st! The DC Council approved Mayor Gray’s fiscal year 2014 budget, including an increase in library hours and funding for books and other library materials. The new hours will be Monday through Thursday, 9:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; and Sunday, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Great!! That's the way to share the wealth, or actually let everyone keep the wealth that they collectively create making DC great. This is our commonwealth.

Speaking of the commons, MLK Library just opened its new Digital Commons: a huge room with spaces for meet ups and collaborative creation, smart boards, 50 workstations with outlets for laptops, a 3D printer, a self-publishing book machine, and the latest eReader devices.

Everyone is talking about the commons these days. Business schools long ago realized that networking and collaboration across businesses and other organizations (like universities) is what makes successes like Silicon Valley, as opposed to the usual image a big corporations competing with each other like along Route 128. Activists around the world have also turned to the commons as a solution to many problems.

Here is one interpretation of why so many people are turning to the commons, by David Bollier:
Let me start by giving a brief speculation about why people from so many backgrounds are embracing the commons. First of all, it is a way for people to assert the integrity of their existing communities, or to try to reclaim that integrity. The commons also provides a way to assert a moral relationship to certain resources and people that are endangered by market forces. It’s a way of saying, “That _________ (water, air, software code, cultural tradition) belongs to me. It is part of my life and identity.”

Many people are embracing the commons, too, because it provides a powerful critique of neoliberal capitalism. But it is much more than that. It is a pro-active set of alternatives that work. And therefore it provides a positive, constructive scaffolding for practical alternatives to the prevailing market economy and corrupt political process. But the commons is still more than this. It is not just a policy critique or political philosophy, but equally a distinctive worldview, language and social ethic.
That's a rather non-sociological interpretation, but I think that you can see that DC is part of an evolving global conversation about the commons.

P.S. This view of the commonwealth moves away from the (rather aristocratic) model of "helping" others through charity towards recognizing that everyone is creating wealth together all the time and that DC and other places depend on all this wealth creation, known as commonwealth. Cities are particularly important places of commonwealth generation, since so many people are brought together in different ways. 

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