An alternative to capitalism working its way into every corner of society – the story of the commons

October 29, 2010 | By | Reply More

Media Education Foundation recently released a new documentary titled “This Land is Our Land.” The video is critical of fair market fundamentalism, arguing that the idea of “the public commons” is fundamental to America’s past successes. “We forget what the commons is and why it matters.” Air, water, government research, community garden, public forests, public libraries, the G.I. Bill, material protected by only limited copyright and the public airwaves. Some states named themselves “commonwealths.” The idea of the commons has been with us forever. Even Babylon had nature preserves.

“This Land is Our Land,” narrated by David Bollier, offers dozens of examples of the importance of the commons. The idea of public property is critically important: “We have a moral personal connection with it.” Yet those who dare to honor this age-old idea of the commons now face blistering allegations that they are communists, or at least socialists.  Bollier runs a website titled “On the Commons.”   At that site you can read a well written article titled, “Why the Commons Matters Right Now.”

What is hard to miss is that recognizing the importance of the commons is often not convenient to corporate interests. Especially amazing is the section of the documentary discussing the fact that, according to a law from the mid-1800s, companies have, with out any payment reaped great profits from public lands. What we have today is the “enclosure of the commons,” the process by which the commons is clawed back from The People. A prime example is the fact that huge telecoms are currently working hard to gain control over the Internet, incrementally winning the battle over those who are fighting for net neutrality (And see this speech by Senator Al Franken).

Perhaps the most salient part of the documentary is the opening story about Jonas Salk, who refused to apply for a patent on his polio vaccine. When Edward Murrow asked him, “Who owns this patent?”, Salk replied, “No one. Could you patent the sun?.”

Those with possible interest in purchasing,”The Land is Our Land,” can view a low-res version of the entire documentary here.


Category: American Culture, Films and Videos, Politics, Social justice

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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