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Reclaiming the commons for the common good

Author Heather Menzies speaks at Dalhousie

by Kashmala Fida

Photo Kashmala Fida
Photo Kashmala Fida

(K'JIPUKTUK) HALIFAX -The word common means together as one. The ancient notion of land being shared by its inhabitants was the main idea behind the book “Reclaiming the Commons for the Common Good” by award winning author, teacher and social activist Heather Menzies.

Yesterday evening Menzies spoke about her book at Dalhousie University.

The idea of this latest book originated with a previous book, “No time” which is about the crisis of “disconnect,” Menzies explained. The disconnect of society from our bodies, from one another and from the community. But in that earlier book she suggested no concrete solutions on how to reconnect.

Her latest book is about how she started to look for solutions, Menzies told the audience. She began by revisiting her ancestral past. Hailing from Montreal she knew she had to go deeper, so she went to the Highlands of Scotland.

It was there that she discovered the heritage of the commons. After doing academic research and actually walking the land of her ancestors, she recognized the importance of the principle of self-organizing, self-governing and self-informing and how it’s missing from this day and age.

She described the spiritual nature of this relationship between the land and its people from personal experience. How the use of incantation, prayer and even poetry was very important, stemming from an oral culture that has been passed on from generation to generation, and remnants of which are still found today.

One such prayer she recited and remarked, “When I let those words sink into me, the prayer fits like a glove over my worked rough hands, blessing me and somehow making my relationship more spirited.”

This spirituality is now lost, Menzies feels. After being displaced from land, we are not only disfranchised from the opportunity to govern and run the local economy but also dispossessed of the traditional way of knowing things.

The relationship with one another, doing things together, sharing the knowledge, sharing decision making is a legacy of the commons which aligns with modern notions of sustainability, she said.

Menzies mentioned current initiatives, like the 350.org and the Common Roots Urban Farm as being much in the spirit of the commons.

Even individuals can bring about the change, make an effort to connect, Menzies said. In fact many have started. In the cities some people built shared balcony gardens and vertical gardens. Community kitchens combine skills and resources that exist in any community.

The fact that people are doing these things and breaking their isolation is a huge step forward, she said.

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Topics: Ideas
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