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Reclaiming the Commons: Forging a New Political Language
by Starhawk
Tuesday Jun 1st, 2004 5:56 PM
The schedule of events is ambitious, even for the
progressive Bay Area, a solid week of activities designed to highlight the
corporate takeover of our economies, governments, and public life. But
beyond the events and actions that are planned, the mobilization is an
attempt to forge a new political language, that can help us focus not on any
single issue or list of issues, but on the links and connections between
them, a language to express what we want, not just what we don¹t want.

Reclaiming the Commons: Forging a New Political Language
By Starhawk

The Commons are the universal heritage of people and all living things. They
are everything needed to support healthy life on earth: air,
water, food, shelter, health care, energy sources and our genetic heritage.
They are what is needed to sustain culture: our multicultural heritages,
education, information and the means to disseminate it, essential human
services, public spaces, the air waves, and political space. They are
equally the land, its forests, the oceans, and all ecosystems.

From the Statement of Unity
Reclaim the Commons Mobilization

Over the next ten days, June 3-9 in San Francisco, while the biotechnology
industry meets in its annual convention, the streets of the city will be
filled with marches, demonstrations and actions organized by the Reclaim the
Commons Mobilization. The schedule of events is ambitious, even for the
progressive Bay Area, a solid week of activities designed to highlight the
corporate takeover of our economies, governments, and public life. But
beyond the events and actions that are planned, the mobilization is an
attempt to forge a new political language, that can help us focus not on any
single issue or list of issues, but on the links and connections between
them, a language to express what we want, not just what we don¹t want.

What we don¹t want is clear and overwhelming: the whole laundry list of
exploitations, corporate takeovers and Œisms¹‹racism, sexism, classism and
all the others. We can easily become exhausted trying to keep up a decent
level of protest on all those issues. Here in the Bay Area, a determined
activist could go to two or three protests on most days. Add a few meetings
into the mix, and you¹d need to forego gainful employment, family life and
all other meaningful human relationships just to stay abreast.

What we do want is less defined. We don¹t have a consensus on the specific
form of economics or the ten-year plan that we are pushing for. Nor should
we. What we want is a shift in worldview, a move away from the model of
reality that sees the universe as a giant machine, and toward an
understanding of the world as organic, alive, dynamic and changing. That
view doesn¹t lead to monolithic solutions or imposed programs, but rather to
experimentation and to a multiplicity of proposed solutions. It¹s a dynamic
view, that understands that any solution, any form, must continuously
dissolve itself and reform if it is to remain alive and liberating.

Biotechnology is only one of the many ways in which corporate profiteering
imposes on the commons, but it is perhaps especially offensive, as it
privatizes the very building blocks of life itself. The patenting of life
forms has allowed corporations to claim the rights to and profits on
everything from traditional healing herbs and food plants to the genomes of
indigenous cultures. Once released into the environment, altered genes
cannot be recalled. While many negative effects have already been
documented, the true scope of their impact is still unknown. We are being
subjected to a massive, global scale, uncontrolled scientific experiment
that could have potentially devastating consequences for our ability to
sustain life. While biotech corporations claim to be feeding the poor,
corporate driven research is directed at designing crops to be used with
heavy doses of the herbicides produced by those same corporations. Biotech
claims to heal the sick, and has produced some effective drugs for
diseases‹but corporations have also managed to skew research efforts away
from investigating the environmental causes of cancer and ill health. The
same corporations that produce the pesticides that give you cancer then
claim your gratitude for profiting from the drugs that offer a cure.

Biotech, for all its high-tech gloss, represents the old mechanistic model
of the universe, nineteenth century science. Its basic premise is that one
gene equals one trait, and that they can be switched and matched from
organism to organism as similar screws can be switched between large and
small machines. The mechanistic model assumes that the universe is entirely
knowable and controllable. One cause equals one effect‹and unintended
effects somehow do not count. It¹s a very good model for isolating single
causes and effects, but it does not help us understand complex sets of

The mechanistic model has brought us many advances. I¹m not proposing to
give up the electric light bulb or modern telecommunications. But widely
applied over the earth, this model can also cause extreme damage, not least
because of its tendency to not count unintended consequences or hold
accountable those who create them. It makes us literally unable to see or
comprehend the vast impact of our policies, or to notice when they are not
working. So we douse our agricultural crops with 3300 times more pesticides
than before World War II, and suffer a 20% greater loss to insect pests,
plus uncountable cancers and related diseases, habitat loss, degradation of
soil and streams and loss of many other species. Yet somehow we are unable
to notice that this approach to agriculture is simply not working.

The concept of the Commons arises out of a different world view, one more
akin to the twenty-first century sciences of complexity and systems and
chaos theories. It sees reality as a web of relationships, of complex,
intertwined causes and effects, linked in multiple ways and cycles that may
maintain or disrupt equilibriums. It acknowledges that reality contains
mystery, huge areas that we don¹t yet understand and can¹t control, and that
mystery asks from us reverence and humility: at the least, a long pause to
observe before tinkering with what we do not fully understand.

What links the issues of biotech, racial justice, war, the environment, and
police brutality? The Commons gives us a language to talk about the
connections, how corporate control of scientific research, corporate
ownership of our very genes, is linked to an agenda which must always keep
some people oppressed so that others must profit, and must ultimately use
force to maintain that repression. And it gives us a language and an
imagery to talk about what we want: a world of rooted abundance, in which
enterprises are part of a web of relationships that constitute community and
are accountable to those communities, a world in which the integrity of all
those commons that support life takes precedence over profit, a world of
real democracy, where all people have a voice in the decisions that affect
them, a world that cherishes creativity and nurtures intelligence and vision
in all human beings.

When we say, Reclaiming the Commons,² people ask, ³What is the Commons?²
And in explaining what the Commons is, we create a new frame, one that
assumes that there are and should be areas of life which have a value beyond
their value as commodities. ³Commons¹ implies that community is a value, not
just individual gain, Moreover, those commons we cherish are being eroded
and taken from us, and we need to take them back. And we ally ourselves
with the Œcommoners¹, not the princes or kings, the emperors or empire
builders, but the ordinary people upon whose backs the world is built, and
whose rights any true democracy must safeguard. Air, water, seed,, a poem,
a public space, a conversation, a healing herb, a tree, a flower, a healthy
child‹all of them are common as dirt, and yet beyond price, like healthy
dirt, earth itself, the common ground that sustains our lives.

Reclaim the Commons Mobilization: Rough Schedule of Events
(for details, see <>

June 3-5 Teach-in
June 5 Form a contingent in the peace march called by ANSWER to oppose the
occupation in Iraq.. Establish a temporary autonomous zone in Golden Gate
June 6 join the vigil against the occupation of Palestine, march by the
Biotech Conference to the Really, Really Free Market, where everything is
free. Finish up with a Food Fight outside the Biotech gala.
June 7 Racial Justice Day, rally and march that links the torture in Abu
Ghraib with the torture at home in the California Youth Authority. In the
evening, the Biotech World Café, a process of dialogue.
June 8 Day of direct actions to disrupt the Biotech Conference, in
solidarity with sister actions against the G8 meeting in Georgia.
June 9 Day of EcoActions, transforming asphalt streets into gardens, a
Really, Really Free Clothing Market at the Gap. <>
Starhawk is an activist, organizer, and author of Webs of Power:
Notes from the Global Uprising and eight other books on feminism, politics
and earth-based spirituality. She teaches Earth Activist Trainings that
combine permaculture design and activist skills, and works with the RANT
trainer¹s collective,
<> that offers training and support for
mobilizations around global justice and peace issues. To get her periodic
posts of her writings, email Starhawk-subscribe [at]
<mailto:Starhawk-subscribe [at]> and put Œsubscribe¹ in the
subject heading. If you¹re on that list and don¹t want any more of these
writings, email Starhawk-unsubscribe [at]
<mailto:Starhawk-unsubscribe [at]> and put Œunsubscribe¹ in the
subject heading.

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