On April 1, I sat down with a group of my neighbors — members of a newly formed Common Security Club in our Boston neighborhood — to watch Inside Job, the Academy Award-winning documentary about the 2008 economic meltdown. We were going for an April Fools Day theme: “Don’t get fooled again” by the bankers and executives who caused the crash.
For a lot of us, the theme hit home: “I have a feeling they are going to fool us again,” one person said. “We have the same CEOs, the same regulators. Are we just going to go around and around, from crash to a mild recovery to the next crash?”
It’s a level of vulnerability many of us just can’t feel comfortable with. In community centers, living rooms, and churches around the country, more than forty other groups gathered to view and discuss the documentary that day, seeking to better understand why the economic crisis happened—and how to make their communities more resilient in the future.
Inside Job exposes devastating greed and incompetence at the highest levels of government and the private sector. With a relentless barrage of facts, it shows how the “smartest people in the room” created theconditions for a huge economic collapse that they had no idea how to stop—but never paid a price for the destruction they caused in the lives of millions of Americans.
After the film, my neighbors and I talked about how difficult it is to be hopeful when the same exact people who caused the crash are still running the economy. We’re also concerned that the story we tell ourselves about the economy hasn’t fundamentally changed. So many of us expect things to go back to the way they were: an economy based on cheap oil and unbridled consumption.
But many others know that’s not an option. At my club the following Sunday, we talked about whether or not we want a “recovery.” People were clear that we want more jobs, fewer foreclosures, and less debt. But: “I don’t think we can go backwards to get what we want,” said one participant, the pastor of the church. “We need to take stock of our reality now, and figure out how to make it better.”
We have been told that the experts know best, and that even though they crashed the economy, they’re still the experts. We’re told that we should be patient, not question things we don’t understand, and by all means, keep shopping. “These kinds of messages work to keep us paralyzed and isolated, and keep us from seeing other possibilities,” says Linda Schmoldt, a Common Security Circle facilitator in Portland, Oregon. “We must envision a new economy and society based on real wealth, and create a new story about what is possible.”
Still, though my club knew things needed to change, it was hard to imagine a large-scale vision of something different.
But it was easy to imagine how we could begin to change things in our own neighborhood: “What if we had a garden here at the church?” asked the pastor. “It would be something else for people to do, besides watch TV and shop. I’d need help, but we could do it. We could involve the teenagers at the community center and share all the food.” Others chimed in: “Let’s use Freecycle to find old things instead of buying new ones.” “Let’s set up a website to list recipe ideas and grocery saving tips and things we can share.”
What’s your vision for the new economy? What are you doing to turn it into a reality? There’s so much to do: you can help organize a Common Security Club for your community; get involved in a Transition Initiative; build local resilience alongside your neighbors; take steps to increase your independence from Wall Street’s phantom wealth traps by buying and investing locally.
One way to get the conversation started is with your own Inside Job screening — the movie is now available for online screening. The experts got it wrong; we can kiss their old story goodbye and start writing our own.