Posted by: Gray | March 9, 2017

Funding Change and Sustaining the Commons: A Common Sense Proposal

Funding Change and Sustaining the Commons

A Common Sense Proposal

(A draft shared at the Hancock County Assembly on 3/4/17)


It would be nice to live in a world in which our federal government would gather taxes and make policies to, as the Constitution puts it: “form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity,” But that is not our world. The people in control of all three branches of government are bent on abandoning its key functions in order to reduce taxes on the wealthy and restrictions on their methods of acquiring great private wealth. The securing of the commons – of shared justice, health, education, environmental quality, and community well being – falls to us, to We the People.

This calls for massive efforts. How can we fund them? Our own traditions of fundraising provide one set of models and revolutionaries like Gandhi provide another that can build on them systematically.

The traditional ways of raising money include getting folks together to contribute while doing things they want to do anyway – meals, parties, danceathons, runathons, et cetera. We should incorporate this in all the activities we are undertaking for protest, organizing and change. Every march can be a march-athon. If we are rallying to protest cutting funds for Planned Parenthood we should be asking each person coming to get ten other supporters to pledge at least as much as their travel costs to Planned Parenthood. If a million people at the Women’s March in DC had each gotten ten folks to contribute the equivalent of a hundred dollar bus ticket, that would have raised ten times one hundred times one million – which is exactly one billion dollars. We should make this kind of fundraising a basic part of our practice as activists.

Further, when a special event comes like Valentines Day or Easter, what if some of the money we would otherwise spend on cards, sweets and gifts was pledged in gifts to local food pantries, the global Green Climate Fund or other worthy organizations that will make the world a better place for our loved ones? We could say “I love you” to our nearest and dearest by showing our love for their world. Instead of buying them some stuff from China we could give them a blank check and invite them to make it out to whatever organization they feel would best promote the world in which they would love to live. Our gift to loved ones can be the opportunity for them to give a gift. This practice of “giving the gift of gifts” could become a central part of the way we celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, graduations or even Christmas. We might turn every holiday into a celebration of life for all – and make every protest we attend an opportunity for pledging funds to do something about the causes of our concern.

How far might we be led to go in taking on such pledges? It will depend of course on our individual life circumstances. But a majority of Americans live on well over twice the level of consumption that our Earth can sustainably afford if everyone else on this planet were to share an equal ecological footprint. So perhaps, over the next few years, most of us should aim to cut our carbon footprint in half. To do so, we should consider cutting our personal consumption in half — and redirect the other half of our income to acts of charitable solidarity, socially responsible investment, and political/social change. We may not be ready to wear loin cloths and live like Gandhi or Saint Teresa, but we could meet them halfway.

Of course it is not easy to redirect income all at once. And, I emphasize, those of us who are living anywhere near the poverty line in the US should not be called on to do it at all. But those of us who are living well on two, four or more times the sustainable level of individual material consumption for this planet should feel called to take up this challenge. It may take us a while to meet it. But we all know and live with folks who are living on ten percent less than we are right now. And over the course of a year, we should be able to shift to their level of consumption. And in the following year then shift another ten percent. So that at the end of five years it would be quite realistic to aim to have cut our personal material consumption in half and be taking action with the other half to shared in solidarity with those in need, invest in socially responsible ways, and fund political and social change on the kind of scale that these times demand.

As we move to this, we will be able to fund a parallel set of institutions to safeguard our commons – the commons that are being abandoned by our government. We will be able to fund education, health, environmental stewardship, the defense of human rights and work for global peace — doing the work that national security states have proved incompetent at.

As we do this we will come to live in a different reality. It will be a reality in which we identify ourselves primarily not as capitalist consumers fueling a growing GNP. Instead, we will be ethical agents of sustainable change who are taking ownership of the planet through our investments and empowering the people through political change.

Gandhi sought to liberate India from the violent rule of the British through the development of a whole culture of parallel institutions grounded in non-violence. He called it Indian “swaraj”. It is time for an “Earth swaraj” in which we take the care for the commons and for our planet into our own hands. The political extremists in this country have said they are trying to “shrink the government down to the size in which they can drag it into the bathtub and drown it.” Currently they have the national security state of the United States in their hands. It is time to affirm that the real government by the people, of the people and for the people is in our hands and we will secure prenatal care by paying for it and secure health care for all by providing it and secure our rivers by planting ourselves firmly beside the waters and paying the costs to be sure that “We shall not be moved.”

This will be a long journey. But it can start with small steps that can rally allies and fund larger initiatives. For your next anniversary, holiday or protest rally, help someone to start moving forward on it. Hold a march-athon. Give the gift of gifts. Show someone you love just how much you love their world and the commons on which their life so fully depends by committing yourself and seeking others to pledge as well.


For more information on this basic model of funding see:


For some creative ideas on how to move to living on half your income see:


If you have any criticisms, suggestions or other comments on these ideas, please be sure to share them with me, Gray Cox, at: or #207-460-1163



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