The Communities are Our Cast Members

Community is the ‘unit of action.’ Commons live through their communities: more effectiveness, larger projects, more money, more wisdom, more legal standing, and more durability over time. While filming The Commons, it became clear: people often speak as a member of a community. They care about their communities; their personal context is often that of their community.

Cooperatives: the employees are the owners

We found the benefits of Co-ops to be incredible – at every stage they empower people and support their communities. Gael Orr describes how Cooperatives and ESOPs like Once Again Nut Butter in Nunda, New York make the employees the owners. By measures such as building schools and financing Guatemalan supplier Co-ops, and by capping executive salary, and by adding employee-owners to every level of decision-making, Once Again provides high-quality jobs in manufacturing – in a rural area.


Losing their Common Lands to Sea Level Rise

Penelise Alofa spoke to us for the commons of the Banabans, one of the Kiribati Islander peoples. She describes first-hand how her people are losing their country itself. Twice before they were forced off their islands – once for mining, and again during World War II. Now they are losing their lands permanently, as they are slowly submerged by sea level rise. Recorded at the UNFCCC COP16 negotiations at Cancun, Mexico.

Pelenise Alofa is Executive Director, Kiribati Climate Action Network, and is also known as ‘Maike Pilitati.’

Community Banking: Alternatives Federal Credit Union

Karl Graham at Alternatives Federal Credit Union describes the incredible benefits to communities of non-profit credit unions – especially for community development. Money stays inside the community. Projects happen because the community wants them to happen. With community support, wonderful projects are led by Alternatives FCU itself: loans to people with inspired local projects; housing for community members outside of conventional banking – so many attractive benefits. AFCU is a living testament to why credit unions have shown fast growth since the 2008-2009 financial crisis.

All local. All owned by the members of the community itself. Learn more at:

Commons Education: How do Communities Learn to ‘Common’?

Professor Leo Burke teaches Commoning as a training course – one of the only such courses. Professor Burke is Director of the Global Commons Initiative at the University of Notre Dame in the U.S.

For more about the educators and experts who can help learn about starting and running Commons, and their history, see our Commons Resources page.

300+ Years as Stewards of their Commons

Chris Castagno – a long-time Trustee of New Castle Commons – carries the legacy of William Penn, who in the early 1700’s established 1000 acres of common lands around the City of New Castle, Delaware in the U.S. to provide for the needs of the citizens of New Castle. Still vibrant after 300 years, the Trustees of New Castle Commons in New Castle, Delaware, in the U.S. are an excellent example of working Commons.

For more about how the Trustees of New Castle Commons make it happen, see our Commons Resources page.

Ancient Peoples, Indigenous Peoples

Domingo (his Portuguese name) and his family show us how they live with the land, as his people have for thousands of years. The Dessana People of the Amazon Basin share resources with many others – including the natural world. This Daily Mail article about the Dessana People shows more – although it cannot fully capture these beautiful people.


Liz Walker is Executive Director and a Co-Founder of Ecovillage at Ithaca. She shares how for more than 20 years, this Ecovillage has served as an example of sustainable living through a ‘Co-Housing’ style village.

Around their Commons, Ecovillage has built three intentional communities: FROG, SONG, and most recently TREE. Each community came together on the Ecovillage lands. The three separately organized communities are joined – yet individual – communities. Each tightly knit community has its own character. Each community at Ecovillage shares a lot – while working to maintain individual identity. All of this happens on lands providing local food, energy, water and resources .

Re-Occupying their Commons: The Occupy Movement

Why aren’t young people excited about their future? Conventional society was unprepared for the outpouring of desire embodied in the Occupy protests. The Occupiers were very clear: injustice, corruption, legalized destruction and disenfranchisement were everywhere, and had to stop – despite media that routinely ignored the underlying issues.

For us, the Occupy movements were critical revealings of the underlying loss of Commons in the world – we dug in deep to find what we and they have, together, in Common.

Teachers of a New Generation of Commoners

Kathryn Panula is devoted to the community. As Farm Director for Historic Penn Farm in New Castle, Delaware in the U.S., part of the New Castle Commons Trust lands, Kathryn shares her knowledge of the land every day.

Sustainable Farmers

How does knowledge about shared lands, farming and community values get passed to a new generation? Mike McGrath is a farmer and educator at Historic Penn Farm who teaches young people about their Commons – held in trust for thousands of years by native peoples before European settlements.

Mike McGrath is the retired Director of Agricultural Land Preservation for the Delaware Department of Agriculture, in the U.S.

Protecting the Sky Commons: Global Climate Activists

Bill McKibben – a key founder of the huge global climate organization describes why we have treated our atmosphere as a free, open sewer, into which we could dump unlimited amounts of carbon and pollutants. A true ‘Global Commons,’ protecting our atmospheric Commons is one of the great fights of our time.

Commons Experts and Activists

Almost overnight, Commons activists have surged forward with great ideas, writings and demonstrations that Commons still work, are active now, and offer a way forward for people tired of waiting for governments and businesses to ‘get it right.’ David Bollier, James Quilligan, Silke Helfrich, and Michel Bauwens are becoming familiar names to the thousands intent on organizing a movement.

For more about the leading thinkers, authors and activists in the Commons movement, see our Commons Resources page.

Commons Lawyers: Using Public Trust Doctrine to Protect the Commons

At the front edge of protecting Commons resources, lawyers like Jim Olson, Esq., of Flow for Water, in Traverse City, Michigan, in the U.S., have challenged corporations and governments’ taking of what are truly public, community resources: water, access to beaches, fishing rights, indigenous hunting privileges. The Public Trust Doctrine has emerged as a fundamentally important tool for these attorneys.

For more about the legal tools communities can use to protect their Commons, see our Commons Resources page.

Keepers of the Mountains

Elise Keaton, Esq. is one of the Keepers of the Mountains in West Virginia in the U.S. An attorney and native West Virginian, she is one of a large group of activists working to keep people in control of the mountains they love, protecting them from the incredibly destructive – and new – technology called “Mountain Top Removal” mining.. The top of the mountain is simply exploded, and dumped into the nearby streams, causing extensive – and permanent – destruction.

To add insult, hydraulic fracturing to produce shale gas (or so-called ‘tight oil’) is rapidly growing across many of the same lands, using the poverty of many West Virginians to divide communities over promises of jobs and economic gain – often false promises, when carefully examined.

Internet Commoners: Creative Development Communities

Bursting with creativity, Sudo Room is part of a huge movement to re/create newly vibrant creative communities: in this case combining dozens of community improvement, artistic and inventive projects with a social place where young/old people can make, test and improve anything – literally, anything. This is the leading edge of Commoners developing their own spaces and places to work, sharing everything.

Jenny Ryan and other members of Sudo Room show what is possible when we share creative spaces and ideas. Sudo Room is a Creative Community and hackerspace, now located at the Omni Commons in Oakland, California, in the U.S.

They see the incredible power of sharing resources – all people have access to anything they need.


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