This is very much a work in progress—with a lot more books, music, art, movies and other genres to be added from all over the world. Especially the non-Western world. We seek your nominations for the best stories and art that convey a sense of the commons. Please share your ideas in the comments below Excerpted from On The Commons' book All That We Share: A Field Guide to the Commons


*Legends of Robin Hood, tales of a principled English bandit who gives to the poor while protecting the commons have been told and retold since the 14th century.

*“Stone Soup”, This French fairy tale reminds us of the rewards of cooperation.

*“Remembrances”, John Clare (1832). An English Romantic poet’s lament for the lost common lands of his youth and the vital way of life they fostered.

*Resurrection, Leo Tolstoy (1899). In his last novel, Tolstoy chronicles a repentant Russian prince who decides to return his vast estate to the peasants.

*Milagro Beanfield War, John Nichols (1974). A tale of magic in northern New Mexico, where community-owned acequia irrigation systems are central to local culture. Later, a great movie by Robert Redford (1988).

*Cannery Row, John Steinbeck (1945). A scruffy band of commoners inhabit vacant lots overlooking the ocean behind Monterey’s cannery.

*Danny, the Champion of the World, Roald Dahl (1975). A plucky nine-year-old prevents a wealthy landowner from destroying a local forest.

*"The Meadow" James Galvin (1992). A poetic portrait of a small patch of Wyoming: “The history of the meadow goes like this: No one owns it, no one ever will.”


*“The Best Things in Life are Free”. Written by Jack Hylton (1925). “The moon belongs to everyone,” sang Frank Sinatra, Sam Cooke, and many others. “Flowers in the spring / The robins that sing / Sunbeams that shine / They’re yours and they’re mine.”

*"Fanfare for the Common Man” Composed by Aaron Copland (1942). A symphonic celebration of everyday people.

*“This Land Is Your Land”, written by Woody Guthrie (1944). Don’t forget the seldom sung lyrics from the original version: “As I went walking, I saw a sign there / And on the sign it said ‘No Trespassing,’ / But on the other side it didn’t say nothing. / That side was made for you and me.”

*“Let’s Work Together”, Canned Heat (1969), Dwight Yoakum (1990). In both the acid-blues Canned Heat version and Yoakum’s honky-tonk rendition, this catchy tune by Wilbert Harrison (who wrote the 1950s R & B hit “Kansas City”) is an ode to commoning: “Together we’ll stand / Divided we’ll fall / C’mon now people / Let’s get on the ball / And work together.”

*“The World Turned Upside Down”, Billy Bragg (1985). Bragg made a hit of Leon Rosselson’s song about England’s seventeenth-century Diggers, who declared: “You poor take courage / You rich take care / This Earth was made a common treasury / For everyone to share.”

*It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, Public Enemy (1988). A landmark recording that loudly declared the political power of hip-hop through the electronic commons of sampling

*“Villanelle for Our Time”, Leonard Cohen (1999). Cohen sings the hopeful lyrics of poet F.R. Scott: “Quickened with passion and with pain / We rise to play a greater part / This is the faith from which we start: / Men shall know commonwealth again.”

*“The Revolution Starts Now”, Steve Earle (2004). “In your own backyard / In your own hometown.”

*The Seeger Sessions & Live in Dublin, Bruce Springsteen (2006 and 2007). One studio and one live album offer a rousing tribute to the folk tradition, both in its great songs (mostly from the public domain) and the tapestry of America’s many musical styles.


*Mexican muralists Diego Rivera, Jose Orozco, David Siqueiros, and others* (1930s). A pioneering public art movement brought sharp social messages to ordinary people throughout Mexico—and eventually the world.

*Free Manifesta and Free Biennial Sal Randolph (2002) Randolph’s work focuses on the importance of gift giving and the promise of economic alternatives, including these two shows open to any artist, which were held in the public spaces of Frankfurt and New York.


*It’s A Wonderful Life, Frank Capra (1946). It’s hard to think of a Hollywood character that embodies the common good more than George Bailey.

*Motor Mania, Walt Disney Studio (1950). A Disney cartoon starring Goofy—now on YouTube—depicts how America’s streets were colonized by automobiles.

*Chinatown, Roman Polanski (1974). A classic Los Angeles film noir about who owns the water.

*Dersu Uzula, Akira Kurosawa (1974). The legendary Japanese director captures the stunning nature and culture of Siberia in a powerful tale about an indigenous man of the forest who saves a Russian survey crew in the early twentieth century.

*Pathfinder, Nils Gaup (1987). A riveting adventure story based on a legend from the indigenous Sami people of Scandinavia, shot entirely in the Sami language.

*Dances with Wolves, Kevin Costner (1990). An “ecological Western” about a U.S. Army lieutenant who adopts the ways of the Lakota Sioux.

*The Navigators, Ken Loach (2002). A harrowing yet humorous British film about what happens to five railway workers when their jobs are privatized.

*The Adventures of Greyfriars, Bobby John Henderson (2006). A terrier that refuses to leave the grave of his deceased master is cared for by the whole community. Based on a true story from Scotland.

*WALL-E, Andrew Stanton (2008). Earth is governed and then abandoned by a huge megacorporation. In this animated adventure, a lonely robot sets in motion a movement to bring life back to the lonely planet.

Jay Walljasper


Jay Walljasper

Jay Walljasper writes and speaks about cities and the commons. He is editor of OnTheCommons.org and author of All That We Share: A Field Guide to the Commons and The