Collaboration & Common Good

by Adam

From: Censored 2012, Chapter 1(Published by Seven Stories Press, October, 2011)



Collaboration & Common Good – Censored News Cluster (2010- 2011)


By Kenn Burrows and Tom Atlee


To address human “collaboration and the common good” is to discuss the power of cooperation and community — the social synergy that shows up as people’s movements when citizens come together to resolve collective issues.  This stands in contrast to the dominant commercial culture that markets fear and worships self interest. In the market-based culture the economy is center story, and problems, obligations, law, and individual achievement are key values. Compare this to a community-based culture, where generosity, empathy, trust, safety, fairness, and the experience of belonging are valued. (1) In community, there is always enough, because sharing is primary. In community, the core question is: what shall we create together?  (2) This is a different model than the commercial market place where competition for scarce resources is primary and the question is: how will I (we) get what I need? Both cultures have value and purpose, and they don’t need to be separate — as you will see from the stories in this cluster. (1)


The bottom-line in community and social networking circles is relationship; business is second in priority and there to serve the common needs of those in relationship. The essential work is to build a social fabric, both for its own sake, and to gather social power to face common dangers and reach shared goals. The vitality and connectedness of our communities also determines the strength of our democracy. When we as citizens find our capacity to come together, we share in creating a safer, saner world. Building a genuine common life and valuing what we share in common is essential to a healthy future.


Yet it is clear from looking at the world and our own lives that collaboration is very challenging. Conflict and relational struggle are commonplace.  Ways of relating to each other and our world have often been more exploitive and punitive than collaborative.

For centuries, modern industrial societies have been living off the capital of the abundant and underpriced resources of nature, and culture. Even with declining resources, increasing populations and multiple global crises… businesses and nation-states still resist collaborating with each other effectively, to resolve many critical problems that transcend national borders. Our global economic system is now in grave crisis, threatening the entire planet, and most leaders continue believing that only central governments and markets are capable of meeting global needs. The great folly of the market-state complex is that it leaves nature and society out of the equation. Such an equation is unsustainable and doomed to fail. (2)


We clearly have a lot to learn about the collective dimensions of our lives. It seems we need new forms of social interaction and institutions that can help us in this stage of human development — becoming more socially and ecologically intelligent with each other and able to integrate individual and collective realities. This cluster explores recent news about the power of people’s movements and cooperation… and why we find in mainstream media relatively little recognition of and support for grassroots democracy building. Chapter Four: Signs of Health & Emerging Culture also offers a variety of additional news stories and commentary about the emerging collaborative culture.


We face three main challenges to gaining media coverage of common needs and media support for collaborative actions on behalf of the common good:


  1. Centralized Power & Media
  2. Escalating Complexity – Interacting Systems: Nature, Culture & Technology
  3. Competing Worldviews & Need for Public Engagement


Challenge I: Centralized Power & Media

Concentrated social power can easily be abused and only tends to be benign when it is transparent, and balanced by other forms of social power (such as unions balancing management, or the three branches of government balancing each other).  (3)


Unless held in check and balanced, power tends to corrupt — concentrating and seeking secrecy and freedom from oversight to maintain and expand itself.  Today we can see fear of terrorism, anti-government “freedom” narratives (including “free market” ideology), the equation of profits with jobs, and the fiction of “corporate personhood” being promoted as primary PR memes to garner public support for the concentration of corporate and elite power which can then be held free of public supervision and accountability.  Media ownership, the dynamics of advertising, and the co-evolution of corporate and journalistic cultures into closely-woven elite mind-sets and networks make it increasingly unlikely that elite-supported “mainstream” media will adequately cover any public challenges to elite power or emerging alternatives to the status quo.  (4) (5)


Ways that collaborative culture can work to balance concentrated power include: (a) funding public, community, and crowd-sourced media; (b) supporting journalistic efforts to report about the positive work of NGOs and grassroots activities; (c) support public conversations about issues that matter; (d) funding websites that enable people to think and work together to realize shared visions and preferred public policies; (e) support strategic actions and public attention to counter efforts by elite interests to undermine or suppress collaborative actions.  Notice a current example in the Censored Story below.


Censored Story: Create a State Bank: Novel Solution to the Budget Crisis

Fourteen states have now introduced bills to form state-owned banks or to study their feasibility. All of these bills were inspired by the Bank of North Dakota (BND), currently the nation’s only state-owned bank. While other states are teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, the state of North Dakota continues to report surpluses. On April 20, the BND reported profits for 2010 of $62 million, setting a record for the seventh straight year. The BND’s profits belong to the citizens and are produced without taxation. The BND partners with local banks in providing much-needed credit for local businesses and homeowners. It also helps with state and local government funding. Now, other states are on track to follow North Dakota’s example, moving their state reserves from Wall Street banks to a bank owned by their own residents.


Readily available credit made America ‘the land of opportunity’ ever since the days of the American colonists. What transformed this credit system into a Ponzi scheme, that must be propped up with bailout money, was a shift to private, conglomerate bankers who always require more money back than they create because they charge high interest rates for maximum profits.


Policymakers in Washington have fundamentally altered the landscape of banking and the new landscape is clearly designed for the multinational Wall Street bank. Yet even after the excesses of our biggest banks produced the near-collapse of our financial system, federal officials doubled down on the “bigger, riskier” strategy. They guided the largest banks through mega-mergers—Wells Fargo’s absorption of Wachovia, JPMorgan Chase’s purchase of Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual, Bank of America’s deals for Merrill Lynch and Countrywide—then nurtured these fragile conglomerates with billions in taxpayer dollars. The result? The top five banks in the U.S. in 2010—Bank of America, Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, and PNC—now control more deposits than the next largest 45 banks combined. Their share of total deposits in the United States has more than doubled since 2000, to 40 percent. Their share of assets is even greater—48 percent—up from 26 percent. Today, just one percent of the country’s banks have more branches than all of the rest combined. For every big bank executive who has gained from this policy, hundreds of local banks—and the communities that depend on them—have lost out.


Overall, state banks differ from private banks by being mandated to serve the public interest, not shareholders or bank executives seeking personal gain. Both state and private banks receive money from the Federal Reserve Bank at low interest and loan this money plus interest. However, interest rates are typically lower from public banks, saving borrowers and making local investments more likely and more profitable. State banks partner with community banks and credit unions giving them greater liquidity, thus supporting them to make loans to small businesses (vs. the current tightening of credit by most banks).


When the state borrows money from the state bank for public projects, it does not have to pay the higher commercial interest rate charged by private banks – saving on state project costs on average of 30-50%.  These savings are returned to the state and eventually to the public at large – in terms of lower taxes, more services, etc. State banks are a win-win for virtually everyone – the whole community benefits. Objections are usually based on misconceptions or a lack of information. Get involved and help this “Game Changer” happen in your state and community.


“A Choice for States: Banks, Not Budget Crises”, Ellen Brown, Yes! Magazine, March 25, 2011.

 “How to Ease the State’s Budget Crises: Own a Bank”, Public Banking Institute, Web Update: April 2011:

“Public Banking and Wall Street Bank Analysis”, Demos, 2010. Web Update: March 2011

“The Public Banking Movement Comes of Age”, Saman Mohammadi, OpEdNews, June 3, 2011:

“What a Public Bank Could Mean for California”, Ellen Brown, Yes! Magazine, May 16, 2011:

“It’s All About Banking”, Mike Krauss, May 17, 2011:


Student Researcher: Allison Gill, San Francisco State University

Faculty Evaluator: Kenn Burrows, San Francisco State University



Challenge II:  Escalating Complexity

In our current century, technology and global economics are weaving us increasingly into each others lives, connecting each one of us to more people (most of whom we won’t ever know) and drawing us into new and expanding streams of information and rapidly increasing complexity. We find ourselves wrestling with a surreal sense of expanding personal choices combined with collective powerlessness, and all of it within a context of life being too much, too fast, too confusing.  (6)


Our reactions to this are quite understandable: We look for simple things to hold on to and simple things we can deal with, turning away from complexity into at least an illusion of clarity and control.  (7) We tune out, let go into distractions, and require entertainment in order to pay attention to anything for very long.  So we find a large percentage of the vastly expanding field of human creativity being channeled not into addressing the complex realities that are actually shaping our lives and our future, but into producing oversimplifications, entertainment, and ever more innovative ways to manipulate (vs. inform) the population.


Our world has become so complex and the time allowed for reporting so limited, that there’s little room for stories about the interactive, systemic nature of problems, only news about the many discrete symptoms, which are numerous.  The public becomes numbed and bewildered by the problems in the news, and increasingly disenchanted with public life.

In such an environment, individuals and families often seek out private solutions or they narrow their associations to a particular subculture and the neglected commons becomes even more ripe for manipulation by special interests.


When journalism is employed primarily to attract readers to advertisements or, worse, to channel our baser desires for enemies and well-targeted certainties, it undermines our ability to muster sufficient collective intelligence to serve our individual and communal benefit.  In fact, it becomes part of the systems through which we are destroying ourselves and our world.


To serve our ability to function as a democracy delivering some modicum of wisdom on behalf of a good society, journalism needs to give us insight into the dynamics of the systems that generate the conditions we live in. It needs to help us shift our attention from the presenting problems to their deeper, systemic causes, and give us the knowledge to take action where it really makes a difference rather than flailing at symptoms that return to haunt us over and over.  (8)


The rising demand to address these issues is part of the evolution of societies and systems into a global civilization that can survive and thrive at more sophisticated levels of complexity and create a more healthy “fit” between humanity, technology, and nature. (9)


Censored Story #23: Worldwide Movement To Ban or Charge Fees For Plastic Bags

Shoppers worldwide are using 500 billion to one trillion single-use plastic bags per year and the average use time of these bags is 12 minutes. Plastic bags pollute our waters, smother wetlands and entangle and kill animals. Plastic is non-biodegradable and is made from a non-renewable resource: oil.  An estimated 3 million barrels of oil are required to produce the 19 billion plastic bags used annually in California. Californians also use 165,000 tons of Styrofoam for take-out food containers. Plastic and Styrofoam pollution not only litters our coast and harms marine life, it also costs California $25 million in cleanup costs each year.


Most plastic also contains harmful chemicals like BPA and phthalates, which can be unsafe for human consumption or use. These can be avoided by using alternative materials like reusable cloth bags, stainless steel water bottles, and paper, wooden, glass, and metal substitutes.


In California, people have responded to this problem: 35 countries have recently banned the use of plastic bags, 9 countries have passed levies and fees on use, 12 countries are considering bans or fees, and 26 states in the US, have introduced a form of legislation curtailing or banning plastic bag use. Californians are increasingly aware of the dangers associated with plastic. The EPA estimates that plastic bag use in the state has dropped by as much as 33 percent in the last three years.


In response to this public concern and efforts by local governments the multi-billion dollar plastic bag industry has tried consistently to block public proposals that reduce plastic bag use and they are suing cities that have voted to ban single-use plastic bags.  It’s time to support local activists and politicians that stand up to such power tactics, and add your efforts to help preserve our environment and reduce plastic use.


“Bay vs. The Bag”: Movie and facts about the impact of plastic bags on SF Bay and efforts by the plastics industry to block local governments from restricting bag use. Save the Bay, Web Update: March 2011.

About the Campaign:


“Got Plastic?”, by Jim Ries, November 29, 2010, One More Generation


“L.A. County Approves Plastic Bag Ban” – Followed by Long Beach, San Jose & Marin County, Environment California – Winter Newsletter, 2010-2011. <


“Plastic Rap: Here Are 10 Ways to Reduce Plastics in Your Home”. Lisa Davis, The, McClatchy Tribune News, January 31, 2010


“The Retail Bags Report Maps and Related Detailed Lists Page | Division of Waste Management | Florida DEP.” Florida Dept. of Environmental Protection.  Web Update: 28 Jan. 2011.


Student Researcher: Robert Usher, San Francisco State University

Faculty Evaluator: Kenn Burrows, San Francisco State University



Challenge III:  Competing Worldviews & Public Engagement

A startling realization: Our “democratic” society is not institutionalized in ways to get people together who represent different sides of an issue and put them to work collaboratively toward a win/win solution. The only institutionalized procedure that encourages — full collaboration or consensus is the jury system. But juries are asked to reach unanimous agreement about yes/no decisions — guilty or not guilty. Juries do not develop win/win solutions; they only pass judgment on pre-structured, win/lose outcomes.


We need social processes/methodologies to involve people in effective collaborative information gathering, problem solving and decision making. In all collaborative efforts, community members can also realize the gifts of diversity by reaching beyond traditional left/right circles to include more citizens — simply as citizens — bringing new people and cultures together for connection and mutual benefit.


One of the most crippling aspects of our current version of democracy is its intrinsic adversarial nature.  Serious dysfunctions arise from the oppositional politics of parties, and the polarization of potentially synergistic views and values into two “sides” that view each other as monolithic enemies, who are blind to nuances, and who cannot imagine alliances with “Them” or engaging in co-creative policy development.  These dynamics waste immense resources in electoral and lobbying battles; create governmental deadlock when different partisans control different branches of government; feed corruption that arises in such environments; and produce compromises and “deals” that satisfy neither the legitimate interests of the partisans involved nor the real needs of the community being “served”. (10)


In short, we are divided and conquered.  A cross-party pioneer, Joseph McCormick remarked: “Those in power are keeping us marching to their drummer — left, right, left, right, left, right — right off a cliff.”  (11). The word “collaborator” takes on a dark meaning in the wartime atmosphere of polarized politics.


Alternative maps and models of the political landscape have been developed to show more complex political realities than left and right, since those polarized formulations simply do not adequately describe the nuanced values and preferences of the population.  One simple model divides voters into Republicans, Democrats, and Independents – the latter category rapidly becoming larger than either of the major parties.  One simple quadrant model from the transpartisan movement suggests a left-right axis as well as a vertical order-freedom axis, with traditional Democrats in the upper left, traditional Republicans in the upper right, Greens in the lower left and Libertarians in the lower right. (11) Twenty years ago, Utne Reader issued a map that had two more axes: centralized-decentralized and liberty-equality.  More recently, Utne described the existence of a massive “radical middle”. (12)


Journalism and activism could both productively step out of the oversimplified and mythic left-right framework and start enabling and reporting on more efforts by citizens to collaboratively work out the best approaches to our collective challenges among their fully diverse selves.


In chapter 4: Signs of Health & Emerging Culture, we will discuss recent news stories about collaborative success, and about emerging social inventions that empower people to get involved and make a real difference in their communities. Here is an example from one of our censored stories of this last year – about opening up municipal budgets to community stakeholders – getting resources to communities whose voices often go unheard, and are often significantly underserved.


Censored Story #22: Participatory Budgeting – Empowering Local Citizens & Communities.  

“Participatory Budgeting” (PB) is a process that allows citizens to decide directly how to allocate all or part of a public budget, typically through a series of meetings, work by community “delegates” or representatives, and ultimately a final vote. It was first implemented in the city of Porto Alegre, Brazil, in 1990, and has since spread.


PB has recently taken root in Canadian and American soils. Chicago’s 49th Ward, for example, uses this process to distribute $1.3 million of annual discretionary funds. The ward’s residents have praised the opportunity to make meaningful decisions, take ownership over the budget process, and win concrete improvements for their neighborhood – from community gardens and sidewalk repairs to street lights and public murals. The initiative proved so popular that the ward’s alderman, Joe Moore, credits PB with helping to reverse his political fortunes.


The wave is not stopping in Chicago, either. Elected officials and community leaders elsewhere – from New York City to San Francisco and from Greensboro, N.C. to Springfield, Mass. – are considering launching similar initiatives.


“Government can’t solve budget battles? Let citizens do it.” Daniel Altschuler and Josh Lerner. April 5, 2011, The Christian Science Monitor.


“Chicago’s Participatory Budgeting Experiment” Nicole Summers, Shareable. April 6, 2011.

Student Researcher: Allison Holt, San Francisco State University

Faculty Evaluator: Kenn Burrows, San Francisco State University



Other Validated News Stories of Collaboration & Common Good


A Social Movement In El Salvador Fights Mass Flooding and Toxic Burning of Cane

Al Jazeera, 15 February 2011, Dahr Jamail


Evaluator: Lourdes Alvarez (WIC Dietician)

Student Researcher: Cynthia Solano, Sonoma State University


Thai & Argentine Textile Workers Stand Up for their Rights

“Thai, Argentine Textile Workers Unite Against Slave Labour.”, by Marcela Valente.

Inter Press Service.


Student Researcher: Camille Avis. Sonoma State University

Faculty Advisor: Jeffery Baldwin, Sonoma State University


The Employability of Autistics
Bennett, Drake. “Thorkil Sonne: Recruit Autistics.” Web. 22 Mar. 2011. .

Khaleel, Zenifer. “Sonne Shines with Company for People with ASD.” Gulf News. Web. 22
Student Researcher: Rachel Lounsbury
Faculty Evaluator: Elliot Cohen, Indian River State College



1. Block, Peter, Community – The Structure of Belonging, p.29-31, Berrett-Kohler Publishers, SF, 2008


2. Quilligan, James B., The Commons and Global Commons Trust, Kosmos Journal, Web: SPR 2011.

3.  Atlee, John S., Democracy: A Social Power Analysis,


4. Jensen, Robert, Journalism and Democracy in a Dead Culture: An Interview with Robert Jensen, March 2011,


5.  Deuze, Mark, Liquid Journalism, Political Communication Report, Vol. 16 No. 1, Winter 2006,


6. Atlee, Tom, Learning to BE Evolution,


7. Ornstein, Robert and Paul Ehrlich, New World, New Mind: Changing the way we think to save our future (Methuen, 1990)


8.  Vehkoo, Johanna, What is Quality Journalism and How It Can Be Saved, Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, University of Oxford,


9. De Rosnay, Joel, The Symbiotic Man: A New Understanding of the Organization of Life and a Vision of the Future (McGraw-Hill, 2000)


10. Atlee, Tom, The Dynamics of Polarization.


11. McCormick, Joseph, From a personal conversation with Tom Atlee, March 1, 2011. Joseph McCormick, co-founder: The Transpartisan Alliance.


12. Utne, Leif, The Radical Middle, Utne Reader, September/October 2004,




Kenn Burrows, consultant and educator, Institute for Holistic Health Studies, Department of Health Education, San Francisco State University and executive board member, Media Freedom Foundation.


Tom Atlee, researcher, author: The Tao of Democracy and founder, The Co-Intelligence Institute: