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Looking for Support in Hard Economic Times?

Part mutual aid association and part social action group, common security clubs offer a great way to take action.
 
 
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This is part of a special AlterNet series on Obama's latest plans for a rescue of the bankers and Wall Street's toxic assets.
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The common security club model was born out of work done in the last few years by people struggling with overwhelming indebtedness. Participants spend some time discussing the root causes of the economic crisis, drawing on readings and materials provided by the network. But they mostly focus on what they can do together to increase their economic security and press for policy changes.

“What becomes clear to participants is we are facing some major economic and ecological changes,” said Andree Zaleska from the Boston office of Institute for Policy Studies, who is coordinating clubs in the Northeast. “We are not going back to some golden age of economic growth based on empire, unfettered capitalism, and cheap energy -- nor do we want to! We have to prepare ourselves and our communities for transformation.”

As theologian Walter Brueggemann writes we need to shift from “autonomy to covenantal existence, from anxiety to divine abundance, and from acquisitive greed to neighborly generosity.” Common security club participants are experimenting with ways to make the practical, political, and spiritual changes this entails.

The three main functions of the clubs are:

1) Learn and reflect
Through popular education tools, videos, Bible study, and shared readings, participants increase their understanding of the larger economic forces on our lives. Why is the economy in distress? How did these changes happen? What are the historical factors? How does this connect to the global economy? What are the ecological factors contributing to the changes? What is our vision for a healthy, sustainable economy? What are the sources of real security in my life?

2) Mutual aid and local action
Through stories, examples, Web-based resources, a workbook, and mutual support, participants reflect on what makes them secure. What can we do together to increase our economic security at the local level? What would it mean to respond to my economic challenges in community? How can I reduce my economic vulnerability in conjunction with others? How can I get out of debt? How can I help my neighbor facing foreclosure or economic insecurity? Can I downscale and reduce my consumption and ecological footprint and save money?

3) Social action
The economic crisis is in part the result of an unengaged citizenry and government. What can we do together to build an economy based on building healthy communities rather than shoring up the casino economy? What public policies would make our communities more secure? Through discussion and education, participants might find ways to engage in a larger program of change around the financial system, economic development, tax policy, and other elements of our shared economic life.

Clubs can be autonomous or affiliated with an existing institution, secular or religious. The ideal size is 10 to 20 adults who make a commitment to an initial five meetings with a facilitator. Clubs then decide whether to continue meeting and self-manage. Starter sessions have been developed and include “The Roots of the Economic Crisis,” “Personal Re sponses to Economic and Ecological Change,” “Things We Can Do Together,” and “Actions to Transform the Economy.”

Among the things “we can do together,” the clubs examine stories and examples of various economic and mutual aid activities. These have included teaming up to help each other weatherize their homes, helping each other rework their personal budgets and reduce debt, and forming food-buying clubs. Faith-based groups weave together reflection, prayer, and action.

 
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