ONE EVENING LAST NOVEMBER, Connie Borbeau encouraged several people gathered in a church parlor to talk about what, for many, is a frightening and deeply isolating topic.
“How is the economic crisis personally touching you?” Borbeau asked.
Borbeau was facilitating the first gathering of a “common security club” at her church in Concord, New Hampshire. These clubs, a cross between a study circle, mutual aid association, and social action affinity group, are a concept being piloted cooperatively by a loose coalition of organizations that includes the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) and On the Commons.
After 20 minutes of talking in pairs, Borbeau asked if anyone was willing to share with the larger group.
“I work in elder services,” said a woman in her 30s. “My agency is about to eliminate 20 jobs because of state budget cuts. I live alone and I’m afraid I might lose my job and my apartment.”
“I’m afraid to open my mail,” nervously laughed a woman who worked as a middle-school teacher for three decades. “I don’t want to see how much my retirement savings have evaporated.”
“Winter is coming and I haven’t insulated my attic,” said a man in his mid-50s. “I hurt my back and can’t do the work. It would save me hundreds of dollars.”
“They foreclosed on the building my sister was living in—and she’s about to be evicted,” shared a man in his 20s. “She’s coming to live with me!”
From the dozen anxious stories, it was apparent that the economic crisis was touching everyone in some way.
The dominant messages in the U.S. economy are “you are on your own” and “some people are going to be left behind.” Countering this isn’t easy. For many, talking about their economic anxiety and asking for help is difficult and shaming. But to survive the coming period of uncertainty, we must regain use of our mutual-aid muscles, many of which have atrophied from lack of use.
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I took my 11-year-old daughter to the Cheetah Girls concert a week after Election Day. Stood in line for 20 minutes with other moms to buy her overpriced popcorn and soda. Forked over the rest of the money in my pocket for a poster and some laminated thing dangling from a lanyard. Sat through throngs of tweens screaming "girl power" in upper octaves.