Five Ways to Save the Commons on Your Campus

This article was orginally published by On the Commons and is republished with permission.

The commons is an old idea — the chief organizing principle for human society for most of history — that’s now being rediscovered and reinvigorated all around the world.

The commons means what belongs to all of us — and the many diverse ways we share it equitably and sustainably among each other and coming generations. It describes a sweeping set of practices ranging from the intricate social structures of indigenous people to the ever-evolving networks of connection fostered by the Internet. And everything in between — natural and human made.

The commons touches our lives all day long from the water with which we brush our teeth and brew our coffee in the morning to the fairy tales we tell children late at night. But it means more than just a conceptual theory or cozy sense of togetherness; the commons provides us with practical tools for solving problems and invigorating public life in America.


Most college campuses are rife with commons areas to be enjoyed, shared, and protected. Photo credit: Ricardo Fernandez. Used under Creative Commons license.

Here are five ways you can help save the commons on your campus.

1. Challenge the prevailing myth that all problems have private, individualized solutions. Collaborating with others is more likely to meet your needs for security and happiness than extra money or further possessions.

2. Notice how many of life’s pleasures exist outside the marketplace — playing ball, playing music, exploring online, watching a sunset, cooking a favorite recipe, carrying on a tradition, hanging out with friends.

3. Conduct an inventory of commons on campus and the surrounding community. These are places, resources, and social practices open to everyone. Publicize your findings, and offer suggestions for celebrating and improving these community assets at the same time as making sure they’re available to everyone.

4. Watch where your money goes. How do the stores, companies, and financial institutions you patronize help or hinder the commons? Buy from local, independent businesses that share your values whenever possible. Investigate how stuff you now pay for could be acquired in cooperative ways, ranging from bartering to car sharing, community gardens to the public library.

5. Think of yourself as a commoner and share your enthusiasm. Raise the subject in conversation, classes, online, and with the other networks you are involved. Support causes and movements to protect what we share together.

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