Members of Common Security Clubs are honing their mutual support skills. Photo courtesy of Andrée Zaleska
"In the midst of the meltdown, people throughout the U.S. were
joining with their neighbors to weather the economic crisis. Last
winter, more than 50 Common Security Clubs formed in communities around
the country: a mini-movement of people coming together in religious
congregations, community centers, and union halls to help each other
understand and cope with the the collapsing economy. The clubs soon
moved past the goal of simply weathering the crisis and began to work
toward reforms—both nationally and in their communities—that would
prevent a repeat of the devastation."
Chuck Collins, Five Benefits of Common Security Clubs
“I can offer, but I can’t receive,” lamented Barbara to her Common Security Club (CSC) in Portland, Oregon. She was facing a difficult move, alone, and the other members of her group were trying to persuade her to accept their help. She seemed both embarrassed and ashamed of feeling embarrassed.
“It takes all five sessions [of the CSC curriculum] to get to the depth of relationship where we’ll examine a feeling like that,” said their facilitator, Jared Gardner. It's an issue we often hear about from CSC facilitators—people in our culture feel shame about seeming vulnerable financially, unable to “manage on our own.”
Gardner, a busy organizer in Portland, launched four CSCs in his church, two of which were comprised almost entirely of unemployed people. By the time his own group had met five times, they were planning tours of local co-housing projects, organizing to fight locally for progressive taxation, and wondering how to bring the rest of their church into the time bank they had created. All four groups are gathering at the end of this month to connect socially, and then decide how to proceed.
In Boston, another church is experimenting with merging two Common Security Clubs. Both groups have continued long after finishing the curriculum, finding their groups to be a place of refuge in a difficult economy.
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Mutual aid on many levels keeps the groups busy. One member got a lot of advice, as well as ready volunteers, in creating her own business as a personal organizer. Two active seniors have wrangled to keep their needs for more income and their desire to keep working as social workers after retirement in balance with a desire for rest and free time. One of them was persuaded—reluctantly!—to give up her car in favor of a local car-sharing business, saving her $500 each month. Contacts, connections and ideas are abundant. This month, members are getting ready to host a workshop to connect the whole community with a city-wide time bank, to further the reach of a budding “alternative economy” they have helped to create.
In Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Reverend Gail Tapscott brought together church members who were terribly affected by the financial crisis, facing unemployment and loss of their homes, with others for whom the crisis was still mainly abstract. This mix led to some interesting connections, and in one case a comfortable homeowner offered space in his house to a father and son who were in serious financial trouble.
“During one meeting we discussed the starfish story, you know the one, where a man is standing on the beach throwing starfish back into the ocean,” Tapscott related. “Another man, passing by, asks why he’s wasting his time, tells him he can’t possibly make a difference. In response, the man picks up a starfish and throws it back, saying ‘I think I made a difference for that starfish.’ Later that night, the gentleman in our group who had taken in two others told me he was ‘just trying to help a couple of starfish.’”
Andrée Collier Zaleska works as an organizer for the Institute for Policy Studies, where she co-directs the Common Security Club network. She is also a climate activist and the co-founder of the JP Green House, a zero-carbon demonstration home and garden in Boston.