"The commons", a public space of solidarity from history to modernity

Openspace - March 2019 Vol. 11 coverMarch 29, 2019 — In its most recent issue, the newsletter Open Space of the Jesuit Forum for Social Faith and Justice invites us to develop new forms of solidarity with the help of a very old idea, straight out of the Middle Ages: that of the commons. Let's take a closer look at what it's all about, and try to get out of... common places!

Wikipedia's definition is simple: "A common is a resource shared, managed and maintained collectively by a community; it establishes rules in order to preserve and sustain this resource while providing the right to use it by all". However, the commons are much more than that.

The commons, from yesterday to today

Anyone who has ever stopped in the old city of Boston has probably walked through this huge green space called the Boston Common. Anyone who has travelled to France or taken an interest in its history has sooner or later read or heard the word "common". This term sometimes refers to a village or a municipality, or sometimes to the revolutionary and socialist utopia that was the Paris Commune in 1871. What are we talking about here?

The word "common" takes us back to the Middle Ages and to what were then called communal goods, i.e. those meadows and pastures that belonged to the entire peasant community, thus escaping the control and taxation of the lord. Each farmer entrusted a shepherd with his few cows or sheep. Responsible for feeding this collective herd, the shepherd had to escort them to the mountain pastures or communal meadows, then bring them back safely, but fat and fulsome, to each peasant. For peasant communities crushed by seigneurial royalties and starved, access to these common goods was a matter of life and death. This was until agrarian capitalism and the movement of enclosures sounded the death warrant for these communal goods. They were transformed into private property, surrounded by fences and guard dogs....

The contemporary commons movement emerged in the wake of the Occupy movement, in the wake of the 2008 economic and financial crisis. It invites citizens to regain control of their collective destiny. How? Sometimes by peacefully occupying public squares in protest against social injustices, sometimes by engaging in local and municipal politics in order to fight against the prevailing neoliberalism. Why? To rebuild links between citizens and put in place alternatives to capitalism, individualism and every man for himself. Let us think here of the spontaneous occupation and citizen mobilization in Notre-Dame des Landes, France. Or to the outpourings of solidarity between migrants and French citizens in the infamous "jungle" of Calais - this temporary camp where desperate African and Middle Eastern refugees have crowded in, fleeing violence and misery. The peaceful Sioux resistance in Standing Rock, South Dakota, and the pacific resistance of the Wet'suwet'en Nation in British Columbia are also good examples.

This issue of Open Space therefore explores the prophetic potential of these commons, as well as their ability to create alternatives to neoliberal capitalism, from one end of the planet to the other. This issue has been frequently addressed by Relations magazine, including Jonathan Durand-Folco, a professor at Saint Paul University and a member of the journal's editorial board. But also by the French economist and Jesuit Gaël Giraud SJ.

Recent News

July 11, 2019 — This year, the Manresa Spiritual Center is celebrating its 70th anniversary. Many things have changed since the first laymen retreats in Toronto in 1925 and the foundation of Manresa in 1949, including the addition of retreats for women and for members of Alcoholics Anonymous.

July 9, 2019 — This second part of the Praying With the Preferences series focuses on the first two Apostolic Preferences: showing the way to God through the Spiritual Exercises and discernment; as well as walking with the poor and the outcasts of this world.

July 9, 2019 — On July 31, we will celebrate two special masses in honor of the Feast of Saint Ignatius, founder of the Society of Jesus.

July 8, 2019 — The Jesuit Forum for Social Faith and Justice is very pleased to welcome two new, full-time staff members: Mark Hathaway as Associate Director and Victoria Blanco as Office and Program Manager.

July 1, 2019 — The Jesuits in Honduras are denouncing the Honduran government’s repression of protests over the past two months.

June 28, 2019 — This week is the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This feast, whose origins date back to the XVIIth century, gives us the opportunity to meditate on how Jesus expressed his love. It was also an occasion for the Jesuits of Canada to consecrate their Toronto offices on June 25.  

June 28, 2019 — Last week, Pope Francis reiterated the importance of inclusion in the world of education, using the Fe y Alegría model as an example. This exhortation is a recurring theme in the Pope's speeches and is in line with a call for renewal in education which dates back to 1965.

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