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 Responses 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.

“We can’t be a bank for each other,” said club participant Paul Monroe of Boston. “But there are so many things we can do to support one another and increase our economic security.”

One group, convened by a group of Haitian women in the Boston neighborhood of Dorchester, decided to push back against their credit card companies. “Everyone was paying really high fees,” observed Charlotte Desire, who coordinated the group. “One of our best moments was when everyone in our group called their credit card company and threatened to cut up their cards unless fees were waived and interest rates were cut.” Almost everyone in the group was able to save hundreds of dollars in interest payments and fees.

Gerald Taylor, a veteran congregation-based organizer in Charlotte, North Carolina, has led discussions with several groups about what a healthy and democratic debt system would require. “All our religious traditions have prohibitions on usury for a reason,” said Taylor. “So what would a fair and transparent credit system look like?”

“We are piloting about a dozen common security clubs in different places and with very different groups,” said Zaleska, describing the efforts in her region. “We’re testing out several different curricula. Some clubs are pressing members of Congress to reform the casino economy, stop foreclosures, and pass an economic stimulus package.”

Whatever shape or focus members choose to take, common security clubs are pushing against the social isolation that may accompany a recession or depression. “I see the hurt and anxiety in my congregation—and how people privatize their pain,” says Cecilia Kingman. “This is a chance for us to be real with each other.”

These clubs are also one of many building blocks that can move us toward a “solidarity economy” that affirms our true interconnection with one another. Coming together is a way to remind ourselves of the abundance we have, the wealth of our relationships and networks, and the mutuality of our economic security.

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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