What if one of the largest community centers and venue spaces in the Bay Area was run by a volunteer collective where everybody is a leader, where people give what they can and take what they need? We are trying to do just that, at the Omni Commons.
The Omni Commons is made up of twelve Bay Area collectives with a shared political vision of more equitable commoning of resources and meeting human needs over private interests or corporate profit.
The Omni is an ongoing experiment in creating a shared Common Space.
A shared Common Space is different in some ways from a Public Space. Public spaces are typically maintained by Someone Else. Someone Else cleans the bathrooms, Someone Else picks up the trash and Someone Else makes decisions about who Public Spaces are for and how Public Spaces are used. In a shared Common Space, everyone can participate in deciding how space will be used, and everyone is expected to contribute to the kinds of labor and decision-making processes that are largely invisible in Public Spaces.
It’s important to state upfront that this project is political: The Omni is not a Social Services provider or a Community Space in the traditional sense. As we seek to rebuild the sense of individual responsibility towards the stewardship of common spaces, we also wish to challenge assumptions embedded within the dominant culture and within ourselves. We want those who are interested in participating in this space to understand these aims and engage in these efforts in ways they find meaningful. Instead of deepening the divide between those-in-need and those-who provide, we rely on one another, we help one another and we encourage participation from everyone who is a part of our community to identify and enact problems and solutions. This means taking the time to develop relationships and trust amongst members of our community. Sometimes, this process can be difficult and time-consuming, but we’re not interested in efficiency – we’re seeking to develop a new way of being together in the world.
We anticipate this project will always be in flux, constantly evolving to meet the needs of those who use and care for it. We know that we do not have all of the answers. But we also know that without active experimentation with alternatives, we’ll never know what’s really possible. These may be lofty if not impossible goals to accomplish within the Capitalist system, but this project is firmly grounded in the belief that real alternatives must be born through practical experimentation. The Omni is where theory meets the real world.
The Omni is intended to be a place to organize, to collaborate, to learn, to celebrate and to develop networks of mutual aid. We don’t want reforms, we want to build relationships and networks. We don’t want to reproduce workers, we want to abolish work. We don’t want to establish hierarchies, we want to encourage self-determination. We’re not looking to provide services, we’re advocating for mutual aid with the belief that all people have valuable contributions to make.
We aspire to pair our experimentation with serious ongoing reflection. What are we doing now and why? How are we doing it? What’s working and not working? How are people experiencing and talking about the project? What are our limits, challenges and constraints? How may conversations about the Omni open up the potentiality of not just this space, but others like it?