Thinking About the Commons – Why Should Portland Care?

Our next speaker, David Bollier (Wednesday, May 11th), is the first of Illahee’s two lecturers this month examining the commons. We’ve highlighted his past projects and achievements on our website, but look forward to maybe hearing more about his latest project, “A Short Introduction to the Commons,” an attempt to distill much of his knowledge about the commons into a 150-page book.  It will be less of a popularization than a critical overview and argument for the value of the commons paradigm in contemporary politics, policy and culture.

But what exactly is the commons? And why should Portland care?

According to Onthecommons.org, of which Bollier was founding editor, “the commons are the things that we inherit and create jointly, and that will (hopefully) last for generations to come.” If you’ve walked through a park, checked out a book at the library, taken medication, or listened to the radio, you’ve benefited from the commons. But you know this already, Portland is very aware of its common assets — our public library system has one of the highest circulation rates in the country and we voted this past November to allow a library taxing district that could provide a funding source to keep it running. So, it’s surprising when funding measures arise to support a public good that cause tempers to flare and purse strings to tighten.

It’s likely that a large number of you have received your ballots for the May 17th special election on education. On the ballot are Measures 26-121 and 26-122, a construction bond to repair schools and operations levy to support school programs. The financial burden for these two measures fall on the shoulders of local taxpayers. We’re not here to argue the merits of the proposed measures (okay, well, maybe a little), but to ask the question: if we, the public, are not willing to pay for this common good, who will?

David Bollier has discovered one answer: the private market. In school districts around the country, administrators are finding themselves grasping for pennies by selling advertising space on just about anything — permission slips, class calendars and school buses. Don’t worry, they’re making sure it’s age-appropriate by targeting pizza and ice cream shops. Granted, some of you may not be as invested as others. Perhaps you don’t have kids, or yours are grown and out in the world. Maybe you’re not even a property owner. But we’d like to think that you’re invested in your community. Those kids are your neighbors, may be your future employers/employees, and will determine the future of our local economy and the richness of our community. On a more simple level, those kids might just take care of you in the old folks home; would you rather have their education sponsored by your peers, or Channel One?

So, before you drop off your ballots, stop by the First Congregational Church on Wednesday night to hear Bollier in person. His interest in the commons and the breadth of study are quite impressive and inspiring.

Tickets & Info: www.illahee.org/lectures

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