Friday, May 28, 2010

Building Community

cross posted at MainSt./

Isolation is a problem for folks who are unemployed for long periods of time:

The jobless in the United States lose far more than their paychecks; they also lose precious social support. Research has found that the health of those who lose jobs is likely to decline and the risk of dying rises. Many not only lose daily contact with factory and office friends, they also retreat from other social interaction. Compared with the employed, the jobless are less likely to vote, volunteer, see friends and talk to family. Even on weekends, the jobless spend more time alone than those with jobs.

Chuck Collins, co-founder of Business for Shared Prosperity, decided that that this kind of isolation required action, and so, he created the Common Security Clubs, as a way to build connections, share skills, and cut costs.

The groups help people cut costs through swapping skills. "A woman who works five hours caring for an elderly person in the group gets it back in repairs to her kitchen sink, transportation and computer lessons," Collins explained. "We organize it through time banks."

Members share things too - baby strollers, clothes, a wheelchair, a guitar, a TV, dining-room chairs, a shovel, a battery charger - anything that one person needs and another has. One elderly woman swapped her late husband's truck for yard and garden work. Members of her Common Security Club saved money on vacations by taking turns staying in a borrowed cabin in the New England woods. Some groups save money by buying local vegetables, fish and poultry in bulk.

There is another, important aspect to the Common Security Clubs, as Chuck Collins points out:

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.”

In addition to learning about how the economic crisis happened, groups also engage in mutual support, local action, and social action:

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.

Many folks who have been unemployed for a long time feel a sense of shame; shame that they lost their jobs, and even more shame that they can't find another. They become isolated, because they don't want to be a burden to their friends, and don't want to admit that they can no longer afford many activities they were once involved in. Staying home alone only serves to reinforce the feelings of shame and sadness. To be able to share that burden with people who are experiencing the same thing is important - but to use all of that common experience to help others, and to begin to take action could be a way out of depression and isolation.

Common Security Club website

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