Remembering Ways of Knowing | HowlRound Theatre Commons

Javiera: The practice of deep listening is essential if we’re going to strive towards a practice of commoning, which I would define as a practice of being in relation to one another and really attending and attuning to our collective needs and desires in all of its complexity . When we’re attending to collective needs and desires, we’re also needing to attune to the fact that sometimes our needs and desires are in conflict with one another.

I think maybe one of the dangers of this idea of ​​the commons is that it’s almost too utopian, as if it resolves everything, but we’re literally sitting on sites of so much conflict and harm. If we’re going to aspire towards a practice of commoning, we must reach for that deep listening with humility, with an acknowledgment that there is so much we don’t know, and with an understanding that there are things that others bring to the table that just aren’t available to us but are essential.

I don’t think it’s the framework that’s going to make sense for everybody. I actually think that there are other frameworks that support relational and reciprocal ways of being in the world that precede this concept of common. Why are we going to put sharing on top of that?

Stockly: Right.

Javiera: It could feel like an imposition and actually a colonial move in a way. In some places and spaces, it really resonates and is activating in a good way. Commoning is it can be a powerful framework, but I feel like it’s not one that can be imposed. Let’s move with care.

What’s your relationship to these ideas of common and the commons, and does it inspire something in you or does it feel like a useful framework?

The practice of deep listening is essential if we’re going to strive towards a practice of commoning, which I would define as a practice of being in relation to one another and really attending and attuning to our collective needs and desires in all of its complexity .

Stockly: What feels useful is the fact that common feels like it’s defined by the needs of the community that’s present, and I feel that in the work that I do. I really believe in that because it allows for change and for a belief in process and not forcing and imposing some sort of structure onto a community. I hear what you’re saying about this question of both “Is it too utopian?” and also “Is it too colonial?” at the same time. The thing that I’ve been struggling with is when I hear the word commons, I think about property—even some sort of collective ownership or governance. Is that even the right language of what we want to do?

Back to what you said so beautifully about us, our nature, our relatives… Who are we to think that we can own nature in that way? I think particularly because so much of the work I’m doing is looking at Black people in America—even the thing about that story of those two men who were considered property—this idea of ​​ownership is so uncomfortable to me. I feel like I’m sitting within that conflict about “commoning” as a word. I wonder what other words there are to describe commons because I feel like I’ve also been in the magic of commons-based gatherings and have felt that deep commitment to the community and to change. Commons is not even a word that I share with my collective. As a person who’s a part of the Arts, Culture, and Commoning group, it’s something I feel committed to exploring, but it feels so removed from the language that we use to talk about the work that we’re doing.

Javiera: I share this with you. I have questions about the commons, and yet it has offered me something that is really valuable in these times. I’m originally from Chile, and I came to the United States when I was a kid. But Chile always occupied a really important place in my imagination as a young person living in the United States. I learned about the political history of Chile, which was very much alive; my parents had been local, and we left Chile for political reasons. So, I felt like a connection to that history even though I wasn’t living it directly as a child in the United States. I always look to it as a model for how change could happen in the world. When I looked at that history, I saw people coming together in ways that seemed incredible to me, especially as somebody growing up in a small Midwestern college town in the 1980s. There weren’t parallels.

When I was in college, I went back to Chile to do a semester-long internship, and I worked with this women’s collective that did political organizing and also community organizing in the spirit of really trying to collectively meet community needs, and they were also a collective of really deep friends. It was one of my first experiences of like, “Oh, this is a community.” I had experienced community before, but this felt like a much deeper level of community with so many different layers of relationship and such deep commitment. Later, when I came across this framework of the commons, I was like, “Wow. These friends of mine, these mentors of mine, this was their life. They lived a life of commoning, and they didn’t use that language. ” They used the language of solidarity and of just political campaigning, but the way they practiced political campaigning was very much resonant with sharing because they were creating their own community infrastructures to meet their needs that weren’t dependent on the state or on the market. I think that’s why, when I came across the framework, I recognized myself and important parts of my life in it.

Also, right now, there’s a big, political, transformational story unfolding in Chile that relates in some to the common framework. It’s been several years of public protest and organizing that involved occupying public space for community gatherings for deep discussions about what we want this country to look like. One of the outcomes of all of that in Chile is in the process of rewriting its constitution. The constitution that we’ve been living under was written during a dictatorship and was imposed during a dictatorship as a way also to privatize a lot of “natural resources” and manage political dissent. But Chile is not only rewriting its constitution; they’ve created this congress that was elected by the people, and a lot of the people in this congress are political and organizers. There’s been a lot of participatory elements to this process that feels related to this idea of ​​common. So, I guess I see that it’s reflected in the world and there’s something alive in it, and I have questions.

Stockly: I’m just curious about what other words people use for this practice. I don’t necessarily know if I want commons or commoning to be the umbrella which we all are under, as much as I want us to be another little connection in the web of people who are doing similar work.

Javiera: I recently learned about the four R’s of Indigeneity from another teacher of mine Ms. Vivette Jeffries-Logan, and an article written by LaDonna Harris and Jacqueline Wasilewski called “Indigeneity, an Alternative World View.” So, the four R’s of Indigeneity are relationship, responsibility, reciprocity, and redistribution. These four R’s are an interrelated set of obligations to the community that keep energy flowing and in balance within the community. Reading this article, I was like, “Wow. This is another framework for thinking about what we’re talking about in so many ways.” I was also struck by how this framework came out of a process of dialogue and participation that included several North American tribes who engaged in a series of meetings over two decades to identify and articulate a set of shared core values.

Stockly: Another R word is ritual. I think about ritual as something that encompasses all of those things.

Javiera: What power is found in ritual? Do you have thoughts about what ritual creates or makes possible?

Stockly: A ritual that I attended that I thought was so beautiful and so powerful was a play by Aleshea Harris called What To Send Up When It Goes Down. It was talking about making space for Black people to mourn the deaths of Black folks by state violence. It didn’t mean that it was an all-Black audience, but it was definitely a piece that was for Black people. The performance started with the audience, all of us, doing ritual together—speaking into the space, collective yelling, collective singing, writing intentions and naming people who have died—then watching a piece, and then ending again on this other ritual. So, the power of that piece, for me, was like adding my voice into the space whether it was in the saying of George Floyd’s name, whether it was in a yelling, whether it was in a laughing… I don’t know. I wasn’t leading the ritual, right? So I only had these small moments of adding my voice. But I felt like just by being there, my presence was helping feed into this vibration of healing or liberation that we were all putting our intention into. I think that the power of ritual is change. I definitely left that ritual—and all the rituals that my collective do—feeling changed.

I don’t necessarily know if I want commons or commoning to be the umbrella which we all are under, as much as I want us to be another little connection in the web of people who are doing similar work.

Javiera: Yeah, it’s like the connection to the alchemical. I’m also wondering about the role of the imagination in all of this because the group that we are a part of is Art, Culture, and Commoning. I feel like a really important part of art is imagination. I’m starting to think about imagination in relation to remembering. Some of the work I’m doing is about remembering things that have been forgotten, remembering things that have been lost or made invisible and denied in different ways. Knowing that imagination has a powerful role to play, I want to talk about what role imagination plays in our work.

I’ve been on a very personal level really reflecting on the parts of my own lineage and heritage that really have been erased. There’s maybe a couple remnants, but it doesn’t amount to a lot of information. But still, there’s a felt sense of knowing. That, to me, has been a portal into remembering. Because I know so little, it’s this fertile ground for reconnecting through my own imagination. So, in that way, I feel like remembering and imagination, as a looking back practice, feel really interconnected. The imagination is like “Where do we go from here? How do I pass this on? What do I create with it?” Because I’m not remembering just to remember.

Stockly: Yeah, it’s like a world-building practice.

Javiera: Where I’m headed is what that looks like in a collective, right? Like how do we engage our collective imagination in that way and in a way that also brings us back to this idea of ​​common as a creative practice?

Stockly: That feels like a beautiful place to stop.

Javiera: Yeah, that sounds right. Thank you so much, Stokely.

Stockly: Yeah, thank you.

Leave a Comment