Race 2012: The Commons

What are the Commons and why are they important to civil society? We don’t speak of our public sector too often as The Commons anymore so many citizens don’t understand the term or what is included or why The Commons are such a vital part of our society. One of the keys to understanding The Commons, is first understanding the framework of our nation, the Constitution and its key structures, this is seen first in the Preamble;

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

And then next in Article 1, Section 8:

The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States; but all duties, imposts and excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;

With this in mind, what are The Commons? I suspect if I asked ten people I would get very different answers, these would be tinged by their political leanings, their understanding of history maybe even their age. We have forgotten though, truly failed in our memory in the past forty some odd years the meaning of the gift of The Commons we give to ourselves. We have failed to preserve the community that is The Commons and failed to

Boston Common, 1848

preserve the meaning of nation that is also The Commons. In this forgetting, we fail both what is the illustriousness of our past and sustainability of our future.

What are The Commons? These are what I think and in many cases what our Founders thought and earlier, greater presidents thought.

  1. National Parks, I do believe the preservation of great swaths of our nation is indeed vital to our heritage in our future. Some of these wonders of the our nation house also wonders of the world, worth our care for our children and their children; Theodore Roosevelt
  2. Food & Drug Administration, indeed I want the food I eat to be safe. I want there to be standards for cleanliness, packaging, distribution and telling me what any food product contains. I want these standards to be across the board and not-for-profit. I also want them to be up on the latest scientific knowledge not years behind! Similarly, I want pharmaceutical companies to have to follow tight guidelines when putting new drugs on the market, I don’t want them to be able to put just anything on the shelf with a warning label so long and in such small print even my glasses can’t help read it; Theodore Roosevelt
  3. Social Security, oh yeah I know it’s an ENTITLEMENT. No, no it is not unless you are thinking of an Entitlement as something you or I have paid into for our entire working lives and are now ENTITLED to collect in our retirement. Should we consider some reforms? Yes, we should but those reforms should not include anything even faintly smelling of privatization, this is part of The Commons, something we gift ourselves with to make our own and our fellow citizens lives better for: Franklin D. Roosevelt
  4. Roads, Interstate Highways, these are important not just for our driving pleasure but as a means of moving goods across the country. The Interstate Highway system not only provided a massive works program, it connects us to this day despite its terrible disrepair; Dwight Eisenhower
  5. Endowment of the Arts, no nation can call itself civilized that does not support the arts, that does not provide for theater, museums, music, writers to flourish. History tells us no civilization has ever flourished without art; Lyndon Johnson
  6. Medicare / Medicaid, one of the most despised but necessary of The Commons, especially needful for our aged and our young where the programs are most focused; Lyndon Johnson
  7. Environment Protection Agency, there was a time we held a first Earth Day. Many understood with rivers on fire, children dying of strange cancers and city skies black with smoke we had to do something to change our direction, to take care of our world. We didn’t call it Climate Change back then, we simply called it pollution and despaired; Richard Nixon
  8. FEMA, recognizing the need for federal intervention and support where Blood Drives, volunteers and the local first responders could not cover all the needs this agency was created and funded; Jimmy Carter

These are just a few that have recently been in the news mostly because they have been under fire. There are those who believe they should either be privatized or simply eliminated entirely. Here are some others though,

Privacy Wall

some you may not have considered;

  1. Privatization of Local, State and Federal Jails and Prisons:
    1. This is already underway in many states, the privatization of the prison system leads to fraud. Private systems will only build or take over systems with a guarantee of 90% occupancy rate. The Drug War and the crackdown on Illegal Immigration has been a boon for the private prison profit margins.
  2. Privatization of Voting Machines:
    1. This one is frightening but the states buy their voting machines from private industry. They are programed in closed source, the states cannot service them and do not understand the operating system or the programming that counts YOUR vote. There are no random spot checks, there is no validation there is no Transparency and SCOTUS determined in 2000 in Bush v. Gore, “The individual citizen has no federal constitutional right to vote”.
  3. Privatization of Education:
    1. Public education and schools have been a cornerstone of our Commons since 1647 when the Puritans established the first schools, albeit these were primarily for the teaching of Puritan values and the reading of the Bible. Beginning in 1785 the first land grant schools (University) were being established, open to all. In 1790 public education was being offered to all families who could not afford to send their children to private schools in Pennsylvania. By 1820, public education was the standard in all US cities and in 1851 Massachusetts is the first state to make education mandatory.
  4. Privatization of City Water Utilities / Supplies:
    1. It has been predicted by 2025 Water will be the new oil, with shortfalls worldwide. With this in mind it shouldn’t be a surprise the private sector is looking to privatize city water utilities. What does this mean to you or I? This would depend on where we live and how much we can afford to pay for our water I would suppose. My recommendation would be if your city is planning to privatize plan on rate hikes, degraded water quality and parts of your city with little to no service as infrastructure also degrades through ‘structural adjustment’.

Those are just a few, there are many more. The one thing the first list shared, there was a benefit to all citizens with their implementation, no person was left out. The one thing the second list shares, those who are already living in poverty, already struggling just to get by are far and away more harmed by their implementation. Is this a race issue? Only so far as today poverty and race remains closely linked in many areas of the nation. To ignore this is to turn a blind eye on facts. We cannot ignore where benefits are gained and who is harmed by any action or by our failure to act.

Tomorrow is our last day to vote in this election cycle. Tomorrow some will stand in very long lines and hopefully say NO to the dreams and hopes of the PRIVATIZATION crowd. Tomorrow perhaps, if enough people say no,

Florida, Saturday lining up to vote

we can begin to heal some of the wounds this election season has opened and begin what I think will be a slog through the muck toward a more civilized social dialog about how to fix what is broken. Tomorrow we elect our next President, several Senators and House members; all I can say I hope it is President Obama and enough new members in both houses of Congress to break the log jam of the past four years.

What is The Commons? It is the gift we give to ourselves to maintain a civilized society. I personally like paying taxes for the benefit of a civilized society that includes good roads, great art and a government that actually functions properly.

I leave you with this thought, voter suppression and repression isn’t this years fancy it was a long time in the making, listen to what Paul Weyrich said in 1980. Don’t know who he is? Mr. Weyrich is the founder of the Heritage Foundation, Alec and several other far right organizations.


  1. Voting is obviously over, but I did vote. Great post. “The Commons”, very interesting read indeed.

  2. WordsFallFromMyEyes says:

    You genuinely do enlighten me you know, Valentine, and I appreciate it very much. You teach in your writing in a very accessible way by your simple to understand, down to earth language. I do admit I thought the Commons were the likes of me, but I read it now from the USA POV. I am sure we have a “House of Commons” in our parliament, but I could not be sure what they do. Actually, I thought it was related to England/Monarchism.

    I didn’t quite understand what no. 8 FEMA is though, if you don’t mind me saying.

    This is an excellent article Valentine. To be honest, all the stuff you write is excellently expressed, and timely spoken.


    • Noleen, Good Morning

      FEMA is the acronym for Federal Emergency Management Agency. They respond to any or all emergencies, such as the recent storm that wrecked such devastation across our eastern seaborne. They are federally funded through our taxes.

      Thank you for reading Noleen. The Commons are real whether you are in the US or elsewhere in the world. How any of us and our nations treat those functions that should be part of what is held for ‘the common good’ in my mind is a sign of civil society. I had this conversation recently with someone, taxes are part of civil society also they should not cripple us but they should be fair.

      I am so glad you read and my writing is accessible. Thank you for you kind words.


      • WordsFallFromMyEyes says:

        Thank you for that, Val. FEMA must be like our ‘State Emergency Service’, or SES. Thank mercy for them, too.

        I appreciate you explaining 🙂

  3. I’m going to miss your inspirational, informative, well-written political posts, Valentine (unless you keep them coming as I’m sure there will be much more to talk about even though the election has been won.) So well-done. =)

  4. Oh I am just back in catching up. I hadn’t heard the term “The Commons” before. But it’s much better than “general welfare” because it has that awful word “welfare” in it which sends GOP leaning folks into apoplexy. But let’s start a movement to protect the Commons. That might just work!

  5. That video is amazing! No one would dare say something like that today! Can you imagine? I’m a card carrying liberal, and I am SHOCKED by parents who preach their children should share share share…and yet they seem unable to understand in America 2012 adults may need to do a little sharing, too. When everyone is fed and clothed and educated, we will all be in a better America. Why is everyone so afraid of this?

  6. frigginloon says:

    The Australian Government has slowly and without much fanfare privatized just about everything….health, electricity, transport, gas. The result ? Most of our basic needs are unaffordable. Many services are now being run by foreign owners, who are only interested in profit and making their shareholders happy. Electricy charges in the last year have risen 400%. but the response of the Government is to shrug its shoulders and says it is no longer our responsibilty. Private health care is virtually impossible to afford and fails to cover the basics like dental.

    Privatization is simply the removal of the government’s responisbility and accountability,

  7. Another exceptional post, Valentine. People often don’t realize the chaos that would result if government stepped out of these programs and processes. Given my background in public health, I shudder to think what might happen if some of these areas were privatized: namely the unequal distribution of goods. No, government programs aren’t perfect. There is much waste and too much bureaucracy. But in my opinion, these are the areas on which we should focus, not seeking ways to privatize these basic needs.

    • That Carrie is also my opinion, improve the processes and strip out the bureaucracy. The response to the latest storm is a perfect example of how we do this. The facts though are proven time and again, Medicare runs at approximately 12% overhead while private insurance is significantly more. Where Water Utility has been privatized millionaires are made, overhead goes through the roof and costs skyrocket.

      My feeling has been and remains the government would do themselves a huge service by contracting some of us from the private sector on short contracts with bonuses to improve delivery of services and goods. To look at some of the programs and find savings. I would bet you within 12 months we could find billions. We could eliminate duplication of services, red tape and overhead.


  8. Instead of referring to “the commons”, I have similar thoughts around “promoting the general welfare.” Many good thoughts here, Val. Well done!

  9. Valentine, I’m so glad you wrote this. I hadn’t heard of the term, The Commons, or what it meant. Good timing, too, because, with all the talk about FEMA, and how Romney wants to disband it and give the money to the states to handle (which is the dumbest thing ever) I started wondering when exactly was it created. Didn’t realize Carter set it up. Thanks for posting this.

    • Monica, Good Morning. The Commons is a very old term and one that I love. Each time we talk about taking something away from The Commons and turning it to for-profit we do harm, that harm always to those who can least afford it. What is most frightening to me is we have history to rely on for this, first there is the build-up of how terrible the function is while within the commons, demonized until the people are convinced, then we have the introduction of the idea of how much better private industry can perform the job, then the benefit to the city/state when industry buys the system then the actual fact.

      The truth is private industry serves itself, its stockholders and the bottom line. It has no master but profit.

      So today we have Fire and Police as ‘Union Thugs’. We have City Water supplies as poorly managed. We have school teachers as over-paid and entitled. That has been going on for quite some time now. People are growing convinced this is true. Next we will have the media wave of how much better privatization will be, this is already happening actually.

      Who will be harmed? Which parts of the cities won’t be serviced? Whose houses will burn? Where will schools not be built?

      Today is so important!


  1. […] Commons, back prior to the second election of our current president it was with some hopefulness ( backstory). Truthfully, most Americans do not refer to the Public Sector, the services and systems provided […]

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