schools, trespassing rules, and power

March 21st, 2010

Just imagine any school in Europe during break time (admitting they still have some breaks) , the kids pouring in the yard and playing with that typical noise of children crowd run loose. Just imagine some strange kids wanting to enter from the outside, together with a couple of adults . . .what is the chance the kids  — and the adults — are let in to play? I guess the chance is higher that school “security” call the police, and the police arrives accompanied by social services to check on the parents behavior.

My two-year old son was banging his head against the closed gates of the school complex in Misahualli, in the Napo region of the Amazon forest.

He loves playing balls and he saw quite a few of them on the other side of the gate, together with kids from  5 to about 14  screaming, running and having fun.  His 6 years old brother was a bit more cautious, but clearly would have also loved to share some fun time with the other kids on the other side. My partner and I instead were boringly hushing him away from the gate, telling him the “right thing” : no, come away love, they are at school, we cannot enter, and all the sweet bla bla to transmit to him the “no trespassing rules” that we are accustomed to. Only a couple of months before, our six years old could not play with his own school mates because he missed school in the morning, and this was sufficient to make him an outcast during play time in the afternoon! So, while we were talking and he kept banging his head, a young woman approached the other side of the gate, undid the chain and opened the gate. Unlike us, Ncola did not hesitate and run in. We looked at her and ask with some wonder: “can we get in?”: “Claro que si’” she said.

On what authority could the woman  open the gate for us? She was nothing less that one of the two woman traders who get in the school for half an hour a day during recreation, break time, selling kandies and ice creams.

But her action was subscribed by a care taker who greeted us as nothing had happened, and a couple of teachers walking about the yard and nodding  with a smile to acknowledge our presence. We wandered around the large yard during  break time, the kids playing basketball, handball, and running up and down the slides.

Nicola was a bit puzzled when the couple of hundreds kids around him started to disappear after the bell rang, and kept running after the last kids until the end.

When all have disappeared, he turned the corner to find out that an older boy was still hiding away playing basketball . .we all joined in for a while, until he felt he really had to go and run towards his class. . . .

Transpassing rules are rules that filter access to commons, that define the porosity of borders and therefore the type of relation with the outside world. Without some type of transpassing rules, there would not be any commons, because commons are not open access, but involve some community working out, governing and defining the rules of access. In the nature of these rules as it is revealed when they are implemented, the community show what type of commons they have built, or, which is pretty much the same thing, what types of human beings  they are in relation to “the other”.  This little episode has shown to us how a gate-less school where any body from outside could get in and out is not necessarily the answer to a closed school where nobody from the outside could get in an out. The answer is the power to open the gate exercised by  people of the community, the power of individual judgement (the woman who opened the gate) and  the power of collective control (the caretaker and the teachers observing and, in this case, agreeing with the action). This shared power is really what ultimately enhance our sense of security without at the same time undermining our common sense.

The market as a commons: thoughts after a visit to Saquisili

March 15th, 2010

We travelled to Saquisili the other day, a small town 80 km South of Quito, where we were promised we would have found an impressive indigenous market, with little stuff for tourists. On the way, we got lost in a small  mountain village, Bolivar, and run across the first example of what in Quechua is called Minga, the work that  communities  put together for a common purpose without being paid for.

My grandfather was doing Minga all the time in the mountains of the Italian Appenines, without calling it that way — and I am not sure whether this working together to build dams and walls, maintaining the country’s roads or harvesting wheat had a special name. The group  of men and women we encountered in Bolivar where moving stones, digging holes and mixing cement to build a community house in the main  square of the village, so as the people could store stuff without being afraid of the “ladrones”. They put us back on the right track toward Saquisili.

We finally arrived in Saquisili and parked our rented car right in front of the market.

There were actually two markets, quite similar to one another, at two ends of the town. They were held under large roofs, and as expected  they were bubbling with life. the first thing we noticed after a while walking around the stalls was that virtually all market traders  were women selling fruits and vegetables and other food — meat, sugar, cheese, bread, fat, lard, ecc.

Most men, on the other hands, where hanging around and talk and eat. Some of them wandered around and sell “junks”: picture frames, household stuff, small toys, etc, while few others where loading heavy stuff on trucks. The other thing we noticed is that nothing is wasted: the fat of the cooked meet is collected in small plastic bags to be sold separately  . . .the crumbles that fall on the wood cutter when the big barrel of sugar is cut in smaller pieces (as large as a bread loaf) are offered to passer by  . . .some are even directly taken without being offered  . . . a man with fish-heads goes around selling them from a bucket  80 cents — they are huge fish heads and they promise a great soup . . .

Few hours in this market makes you realise that the market as a place is definitively a commons, i.e. there is a commons resource, a process of commoning and a community of commoners. There is a common resource, for example the covered square where all the stalls are located. Whether it is actually owned directly by the people or by the municipal council defines the type of filtering mechanism through which use-access of the facilities is configured. This filtering is obviously a site of conflict and power.  In Baños I asked the people selling food in the municipal market there, and they have told me a painful tale to get access to the licence, permits and authorisation to be able to sell in the market building. (It is a similar process in many European towns). But once they got in as individuals, they joined the other small sellers in an association to increase their power vis-a-vis the council, as if once the use-access rights are dealt with, what is left is the battle ground of control powers.

Thus, the precondition of the common resource, is a filtering of some type, which defines use-accss.  Obviously, a lot one can say about the type of filtering mechanism, the processes of inclusion and exclusion, the networks of clients, the powers of control that are exercised in this place, the extent to which the cleaning, or infrastructure maintenance are delegated to the outside world (council or private contractors) or are part of the distribution of tasks within the commons. Then there is the second element of the commons, the commoning. Being in Saquisili, once cannot fail to observe a continuous flow of productive and relational interaction to make the market as it is: like a woman helping another woman to put the bag of potato on her shoulders; like the children buzzing around as if they where a main means of communication among stall tenders. And much of the structure of the market cannot be but the result of past commoning. For example, the fact that al the bread sellers (and makers), and all the cheese sellers (and makers), and all the food makers (and sellers), are clustered together, cannot be but  the result of some decision in the past, even if this decision is the result of some spontaneous process. Because it is obvious to the economically trained eye, that one rationale of this clustering is in the limitation of competition among the sellers, another aspect of market place as a commons. Bread makers and cheese makers for example are all selling the same product — virtually indistinguishable — and the price is the same. A wheel of cheese $1.10. A horizontally split sixth of the wheel $0.25. The price at the beginning of the line of cheese makers, is the same as the price at the end. The same for bread seller. A bag of sweet bread for $1, all along the line.

Competition still exists, as the traders where trying to get my attention making eye contact and waving their products in order to sell their bread or cheese, and not that of their competitors. When I approached one and concluded a deal, the others seemed to talk to one another as if commenting on the ability of that woman to cut a deal, to gossip about it.

The third element of commons, that of community, is thus also evident  as the commnoning in particular forms build relations, waves solidarities but also reproduce hierarchies, and gives form to conflict and to the ways in which the community deals with it.

The Saquisili market has a lot in common to many other markets in Europe I am more familiar with. The key element is obvious: there are buyers and sellers, and prices, and transactions. But because there is so much more that these basic elements, and this much more is so much unfamiliar to me that hits my eyes (the range of goods, the customs, the smell and colour of the buzz), then few hours in Saquisili markets  helps me to understand  there is an important point to make in the difference between the market as commons and the market as abstract mechanism of resource allocation as it is envisioned in the model of orthodox economics.  The  presupposition of this market as commons is not only the type of filtering mechanism that allows these traders to access the market. Also, it is the sphere of the household economy within which the vast majority of these products are produced. And since the sphere of household economy is a commons — indeed, one of the commons at the smallest scale, the market place is a commons at a higher  scale, that is one that has  articulating elements and — as all commons at higher scales –  allow communities to mesh, commoning to weave norms and rules and resources to be pooled. If, at a general approximation, we understand commons as the productive sphere of non market transaction, then the market as a commons is not an oxymoron, but an expression that serves us to point out that the types of measures of market transactions presuppose a lot of non-market life.  It is not in the market in general that we see the disappearance of the commons. It is capitalist markets, and not market in general, that reduce the commons of the markets to only one, what is common between buyers and sellers, that is to be the participant of a valuing process that reduces everything — and I mean, everything — to the common measure of money.

Yasuni, Commons, Pachamama

March 8th, 2010


Yasuni

I am in Ecuador at the moment, where I arrived with my family 6 days ago for a three months trip in Latin America. I have just came back from a conference on the Yasuni area of the Amazon, where  in the last 30 years, petroleum enclosures have been threatening the common land of the Waorani and some of the last indigenous peoples still living in isolation in the Amazon. We learn that there is no clean oil exploration, that the amount of toxic by-product — even in the case of no spillage — is enormous and very difficult to handle, with toxic consequences for sources of fresh water and all forms of life depending on it. Around the wells used to search for oil,  the percentage of oil in the land was so high to be 20 or 30 thousands times above the maximum level for safe agricultural production.

The aim of the encuentro was to try to counter the ambiguity of the Ecuador president Correa who in 2007 has offered a plan that Ecuador will not allow extraction of the ITT oil fields in Yasuní, if the “world community” can create a compensation trust to leave the oil permanently in the ground and fund Ecuador’s “sustainable development” into the future. I leave aside here the fact that in the recent versions of the proposal this “compensation trust”  was substituted with a marketisation of the Yasuni in terms of carbon credit bonds, a mechanism highly criticizable not only because carbon credit markets have been found ineffective to meet the need of carbon reduction and because they tie the resources destined for social and ecological ends to speculation, but also because they threaten the autonomy of the indigenous people over their territory, since carbon bonds requires the local indigenous to act in the interest of the “monetary value” of the Yasuni carbon bond in competition to all carbon bonds issued around the world.

However, a part from the carbon market replacing the trust, Correa seems to want to master an incredible juggling exercise. On one hand, declared that no further oil exploration will be undertaken in the Yasuni area, while on the other hand and at the same time, he is signing  permits for further exploration. I asked people around, and the reasons given to me  for this contradiction are various, ranging from the fact that he is a very whimsical man, passing through the effect of the oil lobby, and arriving to the fact that the plan was never his in the first place, but of economist Alberto Acosta, who originally proposed the plan and since then he left the government.  (Acosta was at the encuentro, and a very critical voice, calling for a moratoria of all oil exploration, invoking the new constitution,  claiming the movement project as a life project not only for the indigenous or the Ecuador people, but for the entire planet, since Amazonia is the source of water for the rest of Ecuador and Yasuni has the greatest biodiversity in the world). But maybe this juggling is really the manifestation of the fact that to coopt the commons one needs to leave the options open, so as to navigate the contradictions and jump in the moment when opportunity arises.

“The country is yours, power is yours”

The project of commons-cooptation seems to me quite evident walking around the city of the encuentro — Orellana — and the nearby city of Coca — a dusty oil town, the gateway of the Yasuni park. They are both covered in posters that invite citizens to think of their city, their country and their resources as theirs. Posters like “your resources, we handle them well”, or “the country is yours, you have the power” seem to show that wanting to instil a sense of “common ownership” is clearly important from the state/oil companies propaganda’s side. A different sense of “common ownership” instead came up in the Yasuni encuentro, where I have been hearing several indigenous voices speaking, all demanding for an uncompromising end of oil exploration and an end of oil activities in the Yasuni. One after another these voices gave different illustrations of the reasons for this, but all repeated different versions of the same tune: Pachamama.

Pachamama is the deity of Andean origin and refers to “mother earth”, not just as geological earth or nature but also as a set of relations, a deity of reproduction, a protective rather than creative deity or perhaps better, a deity for which human creation is just a moment of a reproduction cycle. In this sense, the discourse is quite distinct from Western environmentalism, that — a part from the gaya hypothesis — sees earth  as simply the context of human activity. It seems to me that paradoxically, the insistence on Pachamana, as the sacred mother earth from which we depend on, is, quite amazingly, a materialist  approach to nature. The idea that “mother earth” is a precondition of our existence  echoes Marx’s notion that earth is the mother of value, that is the precondition for all human activity, an insight often left out in the compendia of Marxist thought.
The deity of Pachamama is a deity of protection, but as all religions, is a reflection of a human cosmological vision that grounds action. It is man and women who must protect earth, if earth must deliver the means for human survival. Otherwise, “la Pachamama tiene hambre frecuente y si no se la nutre con las ofrendas o si casualmente se la ofende, ella provoca enfermedades.” (wikipedia) The story of climate change seems to fit quite well this narrative.

In the Encuentro on the Yasuni, Pachamama is evoked endlessly in all different ways, until one realises there is little mysticism in Pachamama, or at least, the rational kernel of mysticism is grounded on solid material reality, the reality of property relations, of clashing idea of “common ownership”. The indignation of the people whose land is threatened with petrol leaks and toxic waste find in Pochamama a value discourse that clashes with the value discourse of the oil companies and the state, but at the same time enable them to compete with this discourse in terms of seeking alliances and building up the scale of the movement.

Standing on Pachamama allows this rebellious indigenous discourse to reveal three elements of conflct:

First, the question of use and access of land, of who has access and who can use it, the question of the community of commoners.  This claim is made in terms of a basic bipolarism between who will promote life in the Yasuni, and who will promote death in the Yasuni: as it is mentioned in the large banner of the encuentro, Yasuni is between life and death, and speech after speech remind us that the coalition of the Yasuni movement is a coalition that has embraced the project of life. The project of life find its political actors, its “commons entrepreneurs” in those who recognise a basic truth, and that is that the precondition for the reproduction of human life, of human creativity, of human existence, is our relation to Earth, because we and everything depend on Earth. As one man said “we cannot live  without Pachamama, we have to eat, we have to dress ourselves, so we need Pachamama.” That is, we need not just “resources” as things to extract, but the processes that reproduce these resources, because we have also to eat and drink and dress tomorrow and for generations to come. From the recognition of the basic dependence, to the identification of the clash, there is a simple step: “those who do not believe in Pachamama, are sucking the blood of Pachamama”, that is oil and water, and thus also threatening the survival of the people. And since the river connects the various communities, and Pachamama is Pachamama for all, Pachamama also represents also the condition for the preservation of all communities. As put it by another intervention:

“we are here for life of Pachamama, for the life of all nationalities.”

This discourse is actually extended, as around the Yasumi there is a discursive recomposition that exceeds the struggle and the preservation of the indigenous communities, and begin to involve “planetary Pachamama”. Yasuni after all is a planetary lung of crucial importance for global climate and biodiversity, as all the rest of the Amazon rain forest.

The claim over the Yasuni is thus in the first instance a claim over use and access: the people who recognise the importance of the Yasuni for their preservation must have use access to the forest.

The second element that emerge as a clash in ownership is the question of control. Who control the destiny of the forest? Those who have secular knowledge on how to preserve it, to maintain its life while reproducing theirs, or the government? One man pointed this out:

“The government cannot negotiate on matters of the Amazons behind our back”

another one said:

“the territories are autonomous and the companeros tiene da administrar el territorio [the comrades must administrate the territory]”

Autonomous control of the territory by the indigenous community is crucial for the maintenance of the use appropriate use.

Finally there is the question of the overall value system that is able to articulate use/access and define the whats and hows of control, the value system that gives a particular form of property and ownership life and sustenance.  This is a clash between Pachamama (and communal man) vs homo economicus (and earth as a mine).  As a Quechi from Peru told us :

“Pachamama: this is what we drink, we eat, we dress.  . .. It is a lie that we need to work, to earn money, in order to raise children. It is by defending the land that we do this.”

The lie is of course a lie to the extend we see it from outside, from a different value system and value practices, in the case of the speaker, from the value system captured in Pachamama. In our daily life within capital’s loops, the lie of having to run the race to acquire money to get by is a very potent reality, one that blur our vision and hide our ultimate dependence to the eco-system. Thus, this third conflictual element is the most difficult to deal with and recognise in a politically effective way, because in the course of the reproduction of daily life as “homo economicus”, our true “dependence to Pachamama” is structured in such a way that we see only our dependence on money and, therefore, on the social mechanisms that reproduce and accumulate money. How we do disentangle from this is one of the most important question we face. And obviously is not only a question of “false consciousness”, because the dependence on money is real ..

Thus,  we have here a clash between two claims of ownership and the politics of “alliances” around these two claims. One, by the state and oil companies as “representative” of the ecuadorians, for which they administrate their oil resources while preserving the forest (sic — an impossibility). On the other by the Waorani as “representative” not only of ecuadorian, but of humanity as a whole, since the Waorani commoning on the Yasuni is the only way to sustain the Yasuni as planetary commons.  To to put in another way  we have the following points: 1) earth provides food, clothing and all we need — it cannot come from anywhere else! Hence to the community of the Yasuni, the preservation of the forest is of crucial importance. 2) therefore the indigenous claim common *ownership* to the part of earth that give them sustenance, the yasuni - to the jungle, the river, the bio-physical relations therein.   3) a claim of common ownership that almost naturally turns into a claim of autonomy in terms of the administration of the territory, since the *preservation* of the Waorani is one with the preservation of the Yasuni, and 4) Pachamama and homo economicus reveal two distinct and clashing valuing and measuring rationalities upon which notion of ownership (use access + control) are built. Yet, Pachamama is not lack of recognition of pay offs. The indigenous commons ownership also translate in pay offs to the Ecuadorian people (preservation of water sources for the entire country) and the world (through preservation of Amazon sink), thus the Yasuni is also a commons to them, at a different scale, and with different modalities of use-access and control, yet a common nevertheless. Hence, the struggle here also provides a basic general framework within which to devise schemes of compensation and reparation through which not only the Yasuni stay without oil and trash, but also without poverty.

Self-organization and self-government in Haiti to deal with the crisis

February 2nd, 2010


Haitians in makeshift camps organize ‘platoons’ to provide services

By Howard LaFranchi Staff writer posted January 31, 2010 at 11:41 am EST

Small groups have taken it upon themselves to establish security, organize aid deliveries, and maintain a minimum of sanitation in the sprawling ‘tent cities’ that cropped up in the wake of the Jan. 12 earthquake.

Temp Headline Image


 

Port-au-Prince, Haiti —As Haitians have accepted the stark reality that the camps that sprang up after the horrific Jan. 12 earthquake will be their home indefinitely, people have moved to get their new communities organized.Enter any camp here, from the sprawling, stewing expanse of perhaps 10,000 people in the capital’s central Champ de Mars, to others on soccer fields and golf courses and inside the security barriers of now-crumbled public buildings, and in most cases you’ll find “the committee” – the small group of men and women who have taken it upon themselves to establish security, organize aid deliveries, and maintain a minimum of sanitation.< ..more..!>

Behind these spontaneous and often basic attempts at self-government is a very human desire to put some order – and maybe even a bit of hope – into disrupted and disoriented lives.

“The first distributions of food here were complete chaos. The groups got out of here before emptying their trucks because it was such a mess,” says Ben Constant, president of the “committee” at the Sylvio Cator soccer stadium camp, a few blocks west of the collapsed presidential palace in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince. “That’s when we knew we had to get this thing organized.”

Mr. Constant, a well-known Port-au-Prince DJ who before the quake managed the stadium for the Haitian Federation of Football, sat down to figure out who was living in the camp – about 700 families, more than 2,500 people – what was needed, and who could do what.

Clean-up ‘platoons’

Clean-up and security “platoons” were established – the word “platoon” harking back to Constant’s years serving in the US Army and Vietnam (he’s a Haitian citizen who lived in the US for a number of years). A clinic with what he claims is now some of the best emergency pediatric care in the city was set up – open not just to the camp population but to all Haitian kids in need.

And families were assigned a number – it’s all written down by hand on a neat ledger – so that numbers are called when aid arrives, and the distribution is more orderly.

Constant says he felt compelled to organize day-to-day living at the camp because frustration was building “and something bad was going to happen.” The fact he and his family live at the stadium as well was another motivation. “We lost everything like everybody else,” he says. “We’re just trying to make what we can of this situation.”

In some cases, the camp committee members were involved in neighborhood governing boards before the quake, and simply transferred their skills and social-organizing abilities to their new residence.

Kermly Hermé is one of those people. Active in the Bel Air neighborhood before the quake, she is now the doyenne of at least a section of the sprawling Champ de Mars camp.

A large woman with a colorful muumuu and a massive bun fashioned of tight braids, Ms. Herme says the “committee” of nine she sits on has assigned itself such tasks as keeping the nearby port-a-johns “orderly” and getting the sick and wounded to clinics.

She herself has taken on the job of going to market to buy provisions – with the small “dues” the committee collects of camp residents – to prepare a daily hot meal.

Indeed, Herme suddenly excuses herself from an interview and moves to the bubbling pots a few steps away, where a rather forlorn-looking man holds out a Styrofoam takeout container. Without a word she scoops rice onto the plate and then ladles chicken in chickpea sauce over it. The man thanks her and walks on.

Camps outside of Port-au-Prince

The camp organizing is not limited to Port-au-Prince, but appears to have sprung up wherever Haitians find themselves without a house and obliged to join others in makeshift communities.

In Jacmel on Haiti’s southern coast, the 13 individuals attempting to put some order into the lives of 600 homeless people in the crushed center city have even given themselves a fancy title: Management Committee of the Victims at Toussaint Louverture Square.

As was the case with the stadium camp, impending anarchy prompted the committee’s formation.

“A truck from Doctors without Borders came with kits of supplies to hand out, but it was such terrible disorder they left in a hurry,” says Michelet Jerôme. “That got us going.”

The committee now has a security team – petty theft by “outsiders” was becoming a problem – and food, shelter, and health subcommittees.

Another important committee function is to advocate for the camp with the dozens of international assistance organizations that are bringing supplies and services into the city. “We have a serious lack of tents, but if you go into some of the streets in the higher [up the hill] neighborhoods, you’ll see them lined with red tents because they had good contact with the organization that provided tents,” Mr. Jerôme says. “We need a committee to establish relations with these groups.”

Longer-term housing needs

The camp organizing is taking hold just as the Haitian government plans for the longer-term housing needs of perhaps 1 million Haitians during the country’s reconstruction period. Last week Haitian officials said they had already secured 400,000 tents from international donors, and had so far selected sites in Port-au-Prince for two large camps.

Some of the camp organizers say they expect many of the makeshift camps to remain, in part because they are often close to people’s neighborhoods. Others say they will be happy to turn over management to the government. Some, however, fear any attempt to build camps of several thousand families make things worse. Among the concerns: The new camps will be located far from the city center, transportation won’t be adequate, and distribution of food and other needs – still a problem in the makeshift camps – will deteriorate in camps with more people.

Hermé of the Champ de Mars says she can understand that 10,000 people can’t continue living in the city’s central public space, but she also says that past experience suggests to her that the government will have a hard time getting the new camps right.

“If they organize things well from the beginning, with good services and transportation, it can work,” she says. “But already we only find out about their plans on the radio, so it’s not a good start.”

And at the stadium camp, Constant is even less hopeful. “They’re going to try to do something that is impossible,” he says. “I know what we’re going through here with 800 people,” he says. “Can you imagine what it will take to succeed with 5,000 people living in the same camp?”

Pirates, commons and finance

December 11th, 2009

A friend alerted me about this news about Somali pirates establishing a stock exchange and I thought it is worth posting it in a day in which President Obama — in his Nobel prise acceptance speech — referred to the pirates along the coast of Somalia as if they were among the world scum bags justifying the US use of force to promote world peace

“I believe that force can be justified on humanitarian grounds, as it was in the Balkans, or in other places that have been scarred by war. Inaction tears at our conscience and can lead to more costly intervention later. That is why all responsible nations must embrace the role that militaries with a clear mandate can play to keep the peace.

America’s commitment to global security will never waiver. But in a world in which threats are more diffuse, and missions more complex, America cannot act alone. This is true in Afghanistan. This is true in failed states like Somalia, where terrorism and piracy is joined by famine and human suffering. And sadly, it will continue to be true in unstable regions for years to come. (Obama)

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Somali pirates show instead to be quite sophisticated, they establish a stock exchange so communities and expatriots can pool resources to sponsor their policing of their waters/piracy against foreign exploitation. As my friend argues,

“this is a community using a financial logic to articulate a common agenda (sponsoring their unofficial “security” against foreign exploitation) and using an exchange market to reclaim value from the transnational pirate cartels of capital. On the other, this is primitive accumulation and high finance rolled into one. I suspect the ROI here is very high, partly because the “costs” of this extremely dangerous labour are so minimal - investors do not have to compensate workers for the dangers of piracy, especially where there is such competition for the positions! Of course, I don’t expect Berkshire-Hathaway to make a big investment in this piracy market quite yet, but there is something deeply allegorical here.”

It is not only traditional finance they use. It looks like the stock exchange they set up is a means to pull all types of resources, and not only monetary and financial. Incidentally resource pulling is the first moment of a constitution of commons. As the articles says

“The shares are open to all and everybody can take part, whether personally at sea or on land by providing cash, weapons or useful materials … we’ve made piracy a community activity.”

so, you do not need liquidity to be part of the business . . . it would be interesting to see what conversions and weights exist — I read a great novel in Italian last summer by Valerio Evangelisti about story of old pirates at sea, which illustrated the negotiation/struggle within the community to measure ones contribution in kind … Melvin’s Moby Dick had some similar illustration of measuring of labour in the cooperative and hierarchical structure of the whale ship.

In any case, not bad return for a donated rocket propelled granade:

“I am waiting for my share after I contributed a rocket-propelled grenade for the operation,” she said, adding that she got the weapon from her ex-husband in alimony.
“I am really happy and lucky. I have made $75,000 in only 38 days since I joined the ‘company’.”

Atmospheric commons and social justice

December 11th, 2009

Literature on commons is abounding, and the term is increasingly seen as referring to practices that are alternative to both states and markets. The case of the “atmospheric commons” shows that states and markets are not alternatives to commons, but modalities of its management. Very problematic modalities to be sure, since the result of state and market access to the “atmospheric commons” in the context of capitalist production create hierarchies of power, reproduce social injustice and is leading us all to environmental catastrophe.

This interview with Angelica Navarro on Democracy Now!, the chief climate negotiator for Bolivia at the Copenhagen climate summit, makes the point very clear when she says:

“developed countries have over-consumed atmospheric—common atmospheric space. Twenty percent of the population have actually emitted more than two-thirds of the emissions, and as a result, they have caused more than 90 percent of the increase in temperatures. As a result, developing countries, we are suffering. Bolivia’s glaciers are melting between 40 to 55 percent. We have extended droughts. We have in the lowlands more flooding. And we are losing between four to 17 percent of our GDP in the worst years. That is climate debt.

And what we are asking is repayment. We are not asking for aid. We are not asking—we are not begging for aid. We want developed countries to comply with their obligation and pay their debt. “

Commons are not a substitute for justice. Injustice, and the struggle for justice, also occurs within commons. In the “atmospheric commons”, as in any commons, justice involves taking responsibility, and this is the basics for a relation of trust. Memories of past injustices can be put aside in moving on to a new terrain of commoning only after they have been truly recognized as injustices.
Instead, the idea that the North owes to the South a “climate debt” has been rejected at the COP-15 meeting by Todd Stern, the U.S. Special Envoy on Climate Change. As if he was pleading insanity in a court of law, he defended himself by saying industrial countries did not know that CO2 emissions since the industrial revolution would provoke climate change (but theoretical knowledge of this exists since 1824).

Furthermore, the recently secret draft agreement leaked to The Guardian newspaper known as the “Danish text,” and worked on by a group of individuals known as the “circle of commitment” to include Britain, the United States and Denmark and a handful of countries — shows world leaders next week will be asked to sign an agreement that both in terms of decision making process among “commoners” and in terms of the projected outcome is quite problematic. In terms of process, it hands more power to rich countries and sidelines the UN’s role in all future climate change negotiations. In terms of outcome, is sets unequal limits on per capita carbon emissions for rich and poor countries in 2050, meaning that people in the former would be permitted to emit nearly twice as much as those in the latter countries.

Atmospheric commons is a commons, but the relation among the “commoners” — which at this scale and in the given political configuration is mediated by governments — is one in which equity and justice are foregone principles.

This is well captured by  Angelina Navarro

“What the Danish text seems to do is . . . [to] impose new obligations to developing countries. So we are the ones who are supposed now to be mitigating. And I’m asking, what will a developing country, rural men or women—indigenous women in Bolivia doesn’t even have electricity—will mitigate? And for what? So that developed countries can even have still have two, three cars? Or just like four times change their clothes in a year? What are they asking? Do they want all us to finance the problems they are causing? Why should I pay for them? But on top of that, why should we choose between building a school, a bridge or a hospital, and adapt? So that is what we think.

Why should a “commoner” pay for the abuses of another, especially when this other has far more means than the victims of these abuses?
Discourses on commons are often discourses that highlight the important questions of “responsibility”, “stewardship”, “trust” and “community”, but with a little or no preoccupation with the underlying power relations and hierarchies that construct these questions in the real world. I would go as far as to say that without making the questions of power relations and hierarchies as central to the issue of commons constitution in terms of both process and outcome, we risk to make of commons what previous generations have ended up making of democracy: ineffective in terms of outcomes and corrupted by money and power in terms of means.  And the catastrophic indication is already there. To put it again with Angelina Navarro:

“the level of ambition that was what is proposed in the Danish leaked text is definitely not enough. It will not solve the problem. It will not solve the climate change.”

Climate migration: Bangladesh

December 1st, 2009


“Climate migration has already begun in Bangladesh. In the first of two films, two families struggle to cope with their new environmental reality - one abandoning the village, the other struggling on against the tides”

Here on The Guardian

Work for the poor, commons put to work: the next market wave.

November 20th, 2009

The next disciplinary market wave — if it will come at all — will likely be greatly dependent on commons at every scale of social action. For this reason, a reasonably strong political recomposition wave around commons to contrast this market wave is the minimum that is necessary for social justice and for saving the planet,

. . . if only . . . .

Take this account on venture capital drying up and web companies start-ups looking somewhere else for their development. As the financial crisis intensifies, small start-ups companies mobilise circles of friends to type up code. If they are not able to mobilise enough commoners to turn into social capital, they will then subcontract to the poor. Non profit companies like samasource are devoted to this task, with an incredible zeal, self-confidence, creative-corporate cool image, and conviction of doing good. Just check them out for what a friend has defined an “unbelievable hubris.” They go out and train refugees, poor women and youth into microwork. This is part of a growing phenomenon quite interesting and scary at the same time. Like in those cases, in which reproduction services like reading bed time stories or helping children in their homework can be subcontracted to poor workers on the other side of the world, eager women- and men-fridays mobilised by www.getfriday.com. With some strong coordinated policy commitment this stuff could be part of a possible way forward for capital: the mobilisation of commons either directly (through the production of commodities), or indirectly (through cheapening of reproduction of labour) for the expansion of markets and diffusion of capitalist work. In this sense, microwork would complement microcredit as a strategy to put the planet to work masked as “war against poverty” . (By the way, on microcredit, it is crucial to remind of the riots it provoked in Nicaragua not long ago.

In short, innovation will be either “financed” by commoning — in the hope to reap a reward through creation of a competitive advantage — or it will be subcontracted to the poor, who in turn depends heavily on commons circuits for their livelihoods, something that gives them the “competitive advantage” vis others cyber workers. But not all is lost. Here an interesting hint on a spill-over affect of this training of the poor for microwork: the discovery of facebook.

Raj Patel on America’s Growing Hunger Crisis and the UN Summit to Fight Hunger in Rome

November 17th, 2009

From Democracy Now!: “More than 49 million Americans—or one in seven—struggled to find enough to eat last year, according to a report from the US Department of Agriculture released Monday. That’s the highest total since the federal government began keeping track of food insecurity. Meanwhile, leaders from most of the world are gathered in Rome to tackle hunger on a global scale at the UN World Food Summit, but leaders of the world’s richest countries were largely absent from the summit. We speak with Raj Patel, author of Stuffed and Starved: Markets, Power and the Hidden Battle for the World’s Food System.”

Trust the bank.

November 10th, 2009

in 2006 and 2007 Goldman Sachs sold more than $40 billion in securities backed by at least 200,000 risky home mortgages. These were bought by all sort of investors, including pension funds. At the same time, Goldman Sachs was betting that a sharp drop in US housing price would send the value of those securies to the floor. Of course, Goldman’s reason is straightforward: they were “hedging”!.

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