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Occupy Wall Street Forum on the Commons, Feb. 16-18, 2012

Making Worlds: An OWS Forum on the Commons
February 16-18, 2012

An Invitation

The Occupy movement is entering a new phase, one in which many of us feel the need of combining a renewed engagement with direct actions and mobilizations with a deep reflection on the strategic objectives of our movement. In order to fulfill this need, the organizing committee of Making Worlds* is inviting all the Occupy supporters and sympathizers as well as other organizations to participate in this Forum on the politics of the commons. In particular, we are interested in understanding how groups and communities working on housing, health care, education, food, water, energy, information, communication and knowledge resources can develop a vision of these resources as commons, that is, as an alternative form of social organization to the state and corporate capitalism. Making Worlds has the ambitious goal of articulating a strategic vision from and for the movement as well as specific political initiatives aiming at its realization.

The Forum

The departure point of Making Worlds is to deepen our knowledge about existing forms and practices of the commons in the United States and abroad. For the purpose of this discussion, we provisionally define the commons in two main ways:
1) As a resource whose mode of disposition and usage is determined by the community of its users and producers. Examples of commons may include the air and the oceans, water sources managed by local communities, self-managed factories and agricultural lands, (squatted) community centers and houses, community gardens, free and open source software, and users-run repositories of knowledge such as Wikipedia.
2) As a way of organizing social practices, living experiences, community relationships and pathways for our collective reproduction. These activities may include cooperative strategies such as reciprocal caring, self-education, and workers cooperatives.

We believe that the organizational forms developed by our movement are already functioning, in many ways, as institutions of the commons. We also think that there are plenty of existing initiatives in New York and beyond from which important lessons can be learnt. Securing the commons for the collective good, protecting it from private appropriation as well as from over-use takes ingenuity, cooperation, and planning. Making Worlds will provide a common space and framework for such cooperation and planning to take place. Starting from these considerations we pose three broad, overarching questions:

1) What are the examples of existing commons we can draw inspiration from and how are they governed?
2) How can new commons be created and expanded in our society?; and
3) How can we think of social and political relationships as a commons in its own right?

Your Contribution

Making Worlds is open to every sympathizer and participant in the Occupy movement as well as to other independent activist groups. If you are interested in participating in Making Worlds, we ask you to approach it by posing questions related to your field of interest or activity. For instance, if you are part of the kitchen committee or any other group working on and with food how can you tackle the question of food production and consumption as commons? How is the food we eat every day produced (or not produced) in common? And how can we extend the common production and distribution of food? If you work in a sustainability group you may ask similar questions in relation to drinkable water or the atmosphere. What kinds of initiatives and actions can be taken at a local and regional level to protect and build a commons? And what kind of coordination could make feasible a national campaign to make the ground waters a common good? Would it be possible to link such a campaign to the anti-fracking movement? Similar questions can be explored in relation to education, health care, the production of energy, the reproduction of the labor force, medical and scientific knowledge, and communication infrastructures. After your group has explored these preliminary questions, we ask you to reach out to us with a proposed title for a workshop and speakers who can help you facilitate it. Please email your idea to makingworldsows at gmail dot com no later than January 7.

Structure of the Forum

Making Worlds will evolve in the upcoming weeks with those who involve themselves, the invited speakers, and your own proposals. As of now we envision the Forum will be divided into three days:

1) The first day will be dedicated to the introduction of broad themes regarding the commons. Notable speakers and activists who have been studying the commons and struggling for it will be invited to share their perspectives and experiences.

2) The second day will be managed directly by the working groups that have participated in the preparatory phases of the Forum. The groups will run their own workshops as they want. Our suggestion is to divide the workshops in two sections: the first part will serve to flesh out the research questions and foster a debate around them; the second part will be dedicated to the production of a short document containing ideas and pragmatic suggestions that will be posted the Forum's web site by the end of the second day.

3) The third day will be dedicated to bring all these perspectives together. Ideally, by the end of the Forum we will have drafted a charter and a set of documents and materials envisioning concrete initiatives, lines of action, and intervention.

Timeline

We ask you to email us a workshop title and a short description no later than January 7. If you are interested in inviting specific speakers who can help you facilitate the workshop feel free to do so. The workshops descriptions will be uploaded to the Wiki makingworlds.wikispaces.com to which you will be granted access so that you will be able to update your announcement over time.

* The organizing committee of Making Worlds is part of the Empowerment & Education Committee of OWS. You can contact us at makingworldsows at gmail dot com.