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What Makes Us Secure?

It’s not about deadbolts and surveillance cameras—it’s about having people you can turn to for help.
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Security Camera by Thomas Hawk

The word security for many people conjures up images of surveillance cameras and deadbolt locks, when it should evoke a sense of mutual aid and support.

Photo by Thomas Hawk.

We’ve recently had an interesting debate over whether we should change the name of “Common Security Clubs.” These are small groups that build resilience by learning together, supporting one another through mutual aid, and taking social action together.

We even had a naming survey to ask people who’ve been involved in these local support groups what they recommend. The results were interesting.

One thing is certain: the word “security” has been co-opted by nefarious forces.

Overwhelmingly, respondents to our survey pointed out that this word conjures up images that are totally contrary to our work—security cameras, locked doors, repression, paranoia, even violence and weapons.

There may no longer be such a thing as individual security. For most of us, real security is becoming a matter of being tied to a thriving community.

The question of what makes us secure in an increasingly insecure world is on many people’s minds. A Washington Post editorial by environmental activist Mike Tidwell described his personal decision to brace for the future with some new, surprising steps:

Today, underneath [my house’s] solar panels, there's a new set of deadbolt locks on all my doors. There's a new Honda GX390 portable power generator in my garage, ready to provide backup electricity ... I even took my first-ever lesson in firearms use.

Many readers challenged Tidwell’s conclusions that a generator and a shotgun are really what’s necessary. Here at the network supporting Common Security Clubs, we thought about that other word in our name, “common.” “Common security” is quite different from the “you’re on your own” (yo-yo) mentality that dominates most of our discourse, especially when it comes to security.

Although Mike Tidwell doesn’t mention it, there may no longer be such a thing as individual security. For most of us, real security is becoming more and more a matter of being tied to a thriving community.

In fact, a few survey respondents appreciated our attempt to re-appropriate this term. “I really like putting security in the name as a move to redefine security as a shared community effort,” said one respondent. Another added: “The top-of-mind answer to the question ‘What makes you feel secure?’ needs to change, from global military and economic dominance to vibrant communities, living wage jobs that are stable over the long run, and freedom to make informed decisions.”

It’s a big job to change the meaning of a word like ‘security,’ and an even bigger one to create new language to fill this gap. But this lack of language is a problem movements have faced before.

One thing that’s certain is that our current economy does not promote real, widespread security.

“One of the analogies that we discussed briefly at our circle’s first meeting was that of the early ‘consciousness raising’ groups in the 1970's women's movement,” says Debbie Mytels, a Common Security Circle facilitator in California. “We talked about ‘the problem that has no name’—i.e., women's feelings of disempowerment and frustration, and how that is similar to today’s unnamed feelings of economic and civic disempowerment.”

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When women started meeting in small groups to talk about their common experiences, they ended up creating and re-appropriating words for their experiences. Debbie notes, “Out of the consciousness raising groups came the ‘click’ experience (an ‘Ah, I get it!’ moment) and phrases such as sexism and male chauvinism.”

The debate about security—both the word and the concept—is far from over. We’re conducting a second round of our naming survey, this time whittled down to only a few options, including Resiliency Circles, Connection Circles, Mutual Aid Circles, and Economic Security Circles.

We welcome your thoughts—click here to take the survey and here to participate in our online conversation.

One thing that’s certain is that our current economy does not promote real, widespread security. Even worse, the future is likely to undermine the sources of security that are left. We need to create a new economy where a security that has nothing to do with bunkers, paranoia, or shotguns is widely shared.

Sarah ByrnesSarah Byrnes wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Sarah is the organizer for the Common Security Clubs at the Institute for Policy Studies. She has worked with Americans for Fairness in Lending, Americans for Financial Reform, and the Thomas Merton Center. 


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