Neighbors for a New Economy
Sandra Boston remembers the day four years ago when she watched a movie about climate change.
“It wasn't the first presentation I’d seen about our changing climate, but it finally sank in,” said Boston, who turned 69 this year. “I thought: I want to do something about this every day for the rest of my life.”
Boston lives in Greenfield, Massachusetts, a former mill town in a largely rural county in the western part of the state. She talked to a neighbor about forming a support group to face the changing ecology and economy. “We figured we were going to do this work with people who were in walking distance. So we brainstormed 22 people within a mile of our street and sent them a letter inviting them to meet on a Sunday night. They all came.”
They call themselves “The Neighbors,” and they’ve been meeting one Sunday night a month for over three years. The group has grown to 28, which is the maximum that can fit in Sandra’s living room.
The Neighbors formed before the emergence of the Common Security Club movement, but like newer clubs they incorporate fun and food into their meetings. They spend time learning together, engaging in mutual aid, and inspiring one another to learn new habits in order to live in a new economy with ecological limits.
“We start every meeting by singing,” said Boston. “Then we have a check-in and discussion.” The Neighbors have read books together, watched documentaries, and generally helped each other out. When members have faced health challenges, they’ve taken turns cooking and accompanying one another to the hospital.
Several members started or expanded gardens. “We had a work weekend for one member when she wanted to clear land for a garden plot. We all showed up with saws and shovels to clear the plot.”
In addition to their monthly meeting, The Neighbors have a monthly game night usually attended by half the members. “This is fun and affordable entertainment,” said Boston.
“Early on we created a list,” said Tom MacLean, a member of The Neighbors. At 82, he is the oldest member and lives in elder housing in an apartment building. “We identified things we could share and things we needed. These included tools, skills, copy machines, kayaks, and other services.”
“The spirit of our exchanges are gifting and sharing,” reflected MacLean. “We admire the time bank and time dollars approach, but don’t want to spend all the time keeping score.”
MacLean encouraged the group to deepen their story sharing, inspired by the series “This I Believe" on National Public Radio. “We reflect on how we became who we are. There is a wealth of life experience in our group and this has really deepened our connections.”
The Neighbors are a great example of strengthening community ties and sharing with each another. “We don’t do a lot of action within The Neighbors,” said Boston. “But our internal support feeds us to be active in other places like our local Greening Greenfield. The action announcements section of our meetings usually takes about 15 minutes!”
The Neighbors of Greenfield, Mass. are all over 60 years old and mostly women. “We have this limitation,” observed Boston, “which is we’re isolated from people of other ages. We can take care of each other for the next ten or twenty years, but that’s it.”
Others in the community have approached them with envy, asking for help starting new organizations. The group has discussed helping form other support groups in the Greenfield Area. “We want to share what we’ve learned without turning it into a huge project. But we want to help.”
It is stories like these that have inspired the Common Security Club network. Many clubs are deliberately multi-generational, so that members can share stories and skills across the age spectrum. Over a hundred such clubs are now in existence, with many convened at religious congregations. The network provides tools to new and existing groups.
Chuck Collins is a senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies where he directs the Program on Inequality and the Common Good.
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