Reclaiming the Commons: Black, White, and Indigenous Peoples Reconstructing Community

Spring Open
Class Standing
Zoltan Grossman
Prita Lal

This program examines the Commons (land or resources belonging to or affecting the whole of a community) to gain insights into relationships among human beings and with the natural world.

Historically, most of the land between villages was common space for gathering, hunting, and fishing, based on a cooperative and “organic” view of nature as living. Starting in the 16th century, European gentry elites began to enclose and privatize the Commons for profit, and repress peasant rebels and women healers, to impose a “mechanical” view of nature as a capitalist commodity. They later exported the “enclosure of the Commons” to the Americas, to serve settler colonialism, plantation labor exploitation, and natural resource extraction.

The legacies of these dispossessions continue today, as do Native and Black resistance to them. Native nations have used their tribal sovereignty and treaty rights to defend and restore the natural gifts in their ancestral territories, and Indigenous movements seek territorial powers and “land back” to revitalize local economies and food traditions. Black movements seek to defend and create public space, reallocate funds away from policing and toward reparations, and encourage a more cooperative local economy based on solidarity.

Settler and recent immigrant communities likewise have joined a myriad of movements to reclaim public space from corporate capitalist structures, build resilient economies, and redefine land, water, energy, and food as the Commons. These include initiatives for community rights, the rights of nature, community gardening and food forests, land trusts, watershed restoration, mutual aid projects of gifting and bartering, houseless communities, community-based learning, decentralized renewable energies, community art projects, park and refuge development, protest encampments, workers’ cooperatives, digital commons, liberated zones of self-governance, and “reclaiming the streets.”

These and other steps to envision “a world beyond market and state” will be the subject of student academic work, including student case study research presentations, faculty lectures, guest speakers, workshops, films, book and article seminars, and field trips to community gardens and Native nations in our Salish Sea region.

The program will be divided into approximately 8 credits of academic work and 8 credits of applied community-based learning (roughly 10 hours a week plus an integrative final project). The community-based learning will involve volunteer or in-program internship work with a local organization or agency pertinent to program themes, or completing community-based research on a community organization or project.

Faculty will support students in getting placed with a community project and/or completing a research project. Students will keep a weekly log of their community-based work to compile an integrative final paper. They will present their experiences and integrative findings in a community forum at the end of the quarter, celebrating their own learning community as a living example of reclaiming education as the Commons.

Students are expected to complete pre-reading for discussion in Week 1. Registered students will receive a list from the faculty. If you would like to see the list before registering, please email the faculty at and


Course Reference Numbers
So - Sr (16): 30207
Fr (16): 30210

Academic Details

Careers in: cooperative development, planning, social work, policy, community development, community organizing, nonprofit management. Graduate studies in: public policy, history, sociology, geography, food studies, cooperative management, Native studies, Black studies.


$50 required fee for supplies and entrance fees.

Students will present a case study research project in the course of the program. They will also carry out an applied community-based project, involving an in-program internship or volunteer opportunity with a community organization, or applied research on an organization or project, and showcase their learning at the end of the quarter in a community forum, which students will help organize. 


In Person (S)

See definition of Hybrid, Remote, and In-Person instruction

Schedule Details
LONGHOUSE 1007A - Workshop