The Common Good

Five Benefits of Common Security Clubs' Economic Solidarity

Earlier this year, I wrote an article in Sojourners about Common Security Clubs: a mini-movement of people coming together in churches, community centers, and union halls to help each other understand and cope with the economic crisis.

After it was published, more than 50 clubs immediately formed in congregations around the U.S. Organizers said they were responding to the flood of fear and isolation. They used the free facilitator's guide developed by the Common Security Club network to design mutual aid exchanges, educational events, and worship services as a pastoral response to financial instability.

One pastor told me that facilitating a club was the "most meaningful thing she had ever done" as a minister to respond to the pastoral and economic needs of her congregation and promote a sense of agency to personally respond. "There is something powerful when people [feel] they are in charge and facing the economic and ecological future with open eyes."

The three central purposes of these clubs have been to learn together about the economic crisis, offer one another mutual aid, and engage in social action together to press for changes in economic policy to prevent future economic meltdowns. Six months later, existing clubs are reporting a number of benefits.

1. Overcoming isolation and shame: We can't underestimate the pastoral value of breaking down the isolation and shame many of us feel facing this economic upheaval alone. Even though there has been a widely shared experience of economic meltdown, many people still blame themselves for circumstances beyond their control. In this hyper-digital age, coming together for a face-to-face discussion is one of the most important things we can do.

2. We need "Reality Support Groups": Recent news coverage about the economic crisis includes rosy predictions that the economy is rebounding. One member of a Common Security Club described her club as a "reality support group" because they unflinchingly look at the real signs of the times. Unemployment is still climbing; people are losing their houses; poverty is deepening. The economic meltdown wasn't just the result of a few bad actors, but the result of a deeper system failure. The experts, politicians, and media all failed to keep a critical eye on the economy. For many members of Common Security Clubs, this is one of the reasons why it is important that we learn together. We ceded too much power to the experts -- and now it is time for us to think for ourselves: What is real in the economy? What is real wealth and what is phantom wealth? We don't need to be experts to begin to trust our common sense judgment about what will be good for the economy.

3. Our mutual aid muscles are out of shape: After two generations of "you are on your own" economics, it is really hard for people to ask for and receive help from their neighbors. We understand charity, but genuine reciprocity is harder. This is less true in the historically Black churches and among new immigrant congregations that have strong mutual aid networks. But for many congregations, we've lost our mutual aid practice. One lesson is to start small with bartering exchanges, unemployment support groups, and "get out of debt" pacts.

4. National action: Once people start looking at things they can do together, there is tremendous energy for local and community responses. Yet we can't ignore how larger economic policy failures wrecked the economy -- and the need for ordinary citizens to weigh in on the direction of future economic policy. How can we ensure that stimulus funds will reach our communities and create good jobs? How can we push back against the powerful Wall Street interests that are limiting health care or trying to undermine basic financial oversight? We need a support group to take action.

5. Once there is trust, there are few limits: For clubs that have been together for several months, there are wonderful benefits. People are able to share financial information and challenges at a deeper and useful level. The group develops a shared understanding of the economic crisis that informs social action.

From a pastoral perspective, these clubs have been a place where we hold each other as we face change together. It is a place where we both take responsibility for our own complicity in the economic crisis -- perhaps with blind trust in experts or borrowing beyond our means. But perhaps these clubs are also a foundation for increased social action to press for a solidarity economy that works for everyone.

Chuck Collins is co-author of The Moral Measure of the Economy (Orbis). He 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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