Commons Currency: an econo-art project across the Great Lakes

The first step for a paradigm shift is imagining new possibilities. Great Lakes Commons is a bioregional community founded by the need to re-imagine our relationship with these waters as a shared and sacred commons.
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During the past few decades, water threats have been met with various interest-groups who mitigate short-term damage within their orphaned political and cultural boundaries. Invasive species, industrial toxins, micro-plastics, pharmaceuticals, oil pipelines, and nuclear waste risk all life in the basin against the rewards of money. Even water diversions for new growth and new products (such as bottled water) are made to keep money flowing upstream to investors and tax collectors, rather than to keep water flowing freely and cleanly.

The optimistic binary we are being sold is growing the economy while creating a healthy environment. Our economy knows no limits because it is a debt-based system needing more at every turn. Democracy and human rights are less important than servicing debt and growth. All value collapses into exchange value. Security and identity are now unhinged from social, ancestral, and ecological relationships and can be bought and surrendered through contract, scarcity, and debt. Decisions for protecting the commons are forced to reckon with the quest of the market, the dollar, and the value of more.

While having money is private affair, the value of money is a commons. Like many other commons, money is a social agreement on what we value and how that value is exchanged and passed on. Let’s imagine for a moment.

Let’s imagine that the value of money is tied to the quality and availability of water to serve life in the Great Lakes basin. Since we are water, the water’s benefit is our benefit. We know economics is a sub-system of ecology and our money system needs to reflect this, not subvert it.

Let’s imagine that watersheds return as the de facto boundaries for trade and treaty making. Canada and the USA are not nations, but settler-states making claims and treaties on Indigenous lands. The Anishinaabek and Haudenosaunee nations have been living with the Great Lakes for over 15,000 years.  A commons-backed currency would promote common peace and prosperity.

Let’s imagine that the people of the Great Lakes co-created their own currency to see and reproduce commons and ancestral values such as: gratitude, reciprocity, fairness, balance, mutualism, cooperation, trust, respect, reverence, and friendship.

The GLC currency project is econo-art intervention into the above problems and possibilities.

With a seed grant from the Kosmos Journal, GLC will run a pilot project to test people’s imagination and commitment for not only a new relationship with water, but with the money system that spoils it.

What would this money look like?

How would this money be used?

What worth would this money have?

In the first two months of the project we will work with graphic designers in our community. One side of the note would be used to explain the need for re-imagining value and ways to connect with the Great Lakes Commons community. It will be approximately the same size as American and Canadian dollar notes and we will print 5,000 copies.

In the third month we will mail packages of 10 notes to 500 of our Great Lakes Commons Charter supporters. These people aspire to be good ancestors to the lakes and try to align their lives with the tenants of this Charter. The mail package will also include strategies for distributing the notes. Ideas include:

give one to somebody who is active in water protection

give one to a store, place of worship, school, local council, or organization that models good water leadership

leave one behind at a coffee shop or library

give one as a gift for a special occasion

share your ideas for exchanging this currency in the comments

The economic value of this new currency is unknown. We will create a new category on our Commons Map so commons currency users can share their experiences and witness the collective impact. At the end of the year we will celebrate these voices and write a story for all interested publications. We will also be exploring grander funding options and developing this currency project to its next level. The imaginative value of this project is a rich investment.

If you would like to be more involved in this project, please get in touch. If you want to get 10 GLC notes mailed to you this summer, please add your name and support to our Great Lakes Commons Charter.

The Great Lakes Commons is a grassroots effort to establish the Great Lakes as a thriving, living commons—shared waters that we all take care of and protect in perpetuity.