The only way out of this pandemic is committing to the safety of all of us. The more we equip one another to get tested, get treatment and safely socially distant, the quicker we contain the virus.

Unfortunately, the dog-eat-dog paradigm of capitalism undermines this necessity. The more that we can elevate commons-based responses, the safer we all are.

The fight against the pandemic is a fight to transition to the commons. Here are a few aspects of the pandemic response where a commons-based approach would greatly improve our lives.


Right now in the US we have a patchwork system of testing. The type of test you receive depends on the state you live in. My friend Jess just got tested in New York City with one of those painful "tickle the brain" tests. Meanwhile, here in Denver, it's a simple swab around the inside of the nostril. At the moment there's a combination of private-run labs and state-run labs. Unsurprisingly, some of the private labs are experiencing a backlog with slow turnaround times for results because they've taken in more tests than they can process. In the private sector there is an incentive to bid and sign contracts for as many tests as possible, in order to maximize profits.

A commons-based approach could instead be a multistakeholder cooperative which takes into account the needs of people seeking tests, the testers and the test processors. Funding would come from the government, just as they are currently with private labs. By structuring the labs with those most affected as the stakeholders, the needs and capacity of the labs would be communicated honestly and focus on accuracy, safety and efficiency - not profits.

Also, by working cooperatively, labs can rally around the most beneficial methods, reducing disparities in approaches and lifting all tests up to industry best practices.


If our economy ran primarily as the commons, we would temporarily shift resources to address the pandemic head on. Those working in the service industry and other areas not essential and high risk could temporarily be employed as contact tracers, testers, and community enforcers of social distancing mandates. Rent and mortgage payments would be put on pause, or better yet - housing would be decommodified and converted to community land trusts, so that the profit motive of shelter was removed entirely.

If we reallocated resources in this way and our economy supported each other materially to stay at home, the virus would be contained in a relatively short amount of time.

The other thing that is frustrating is the mixed messaging. Set aside the intentional disinformation coming from the Trump regime, even well-intended educational efforts are contradictory.

There are two infographics making the rounds:

It's impossible to reach a single, definitive guide that can accurately convey risk associated with each activity. Each activity depends on the situation of the individual, plus take eating at a restaurant - that will depend on the number of cases near that restaurant, the layout, the diligence with which employees are cleaning etc.

Still, a commons-based approach to information would have experts coordinating messaging together and using tools like Creative Commons licenses to collaborate on infographics and resources together. Instead we have a plethora of competing websites, pamphlets and other tools that can leave us in decision paralysis.


There are companies and governments all across the world working on vaccines. Some initiatives are sharing information with one another. In fact, one is called the Solidarity Initiative. The more this knowledge sharing happens, the sooner we will develop vaccines that are effective and safe.

Already we are learning about countries protecting their "intellectual property" from each other - even when the pandemic is global and the only way to ensure all of our safety, is a vaccine that can be administered across the world. There are also predictions that even when a vaccine is available, that it could be made available only to those who can afford it.

The Insanity White Supremacist, Patriarchal Capitalism

We are seeing, especially in the US, the brutality of the systems of oppression at work here. This system has always used racial and gender constructs as a tool to divide people in order to exploit the majority of people. Now its violence is on full display as even many white folks (men in particular) are being sacrificed to keep the capitalist machinery humming. And of course, those falling sick and dying fall exactly along those division lines: indigenous, black, immigrant, gender non-conforming, poor, disabled.

The Commons Exit Strategy

The only way out of this insanity is to shift to an intersectional commons-based society.

The rumblings of this world are turning to chants in the streets, redistribution of city budgets (defund the police!), online fundraisers, grocery runs for family members, mutual aid networks and community health clinics.  

As the old world flails in attempt at holding power, the contrast of what is and what should be grows. Let's continue to push our collective safety forward and topple the systems that weaponize the virus against us.

Defending and Growing the Commons to Care for Ourselves in the COVID-19 Pandemic