"The risk of this economic crisis is that people stay isolated, hunkered down and afraid," Collins says. "What’s different from the serious economic crises of the past is the much greater potential for fragmentation and isolation–because we’ve lived through a couple generations of ‘you are on your own’ economics. So the idea that we can trust any kind of shared response is broken."
That’s why in January 2009 the Institute for Policy Studies piloted Common Security Clubs to break through the isolation, and bring people together to learn, help one another increase their economic security, and ultimately take political action. The clubs are not an effort to turn away from government, in fact they are in part an effort to develop the skills and solidarity needed to advocate for a government that work for the common good.
"It’s a way to organize the vast, anxious, unconnected public," Collins says. "It’s really important to get people together, away from their isolation, and the sense that they should figure this out on their own. Learning together–people learn the economy is not a weathered even there, people caused this economic crisis, this could have been prevented. Now we have to get active to make sure this doesn’t happen again."
There are now over one hundred clubs, averaging fifteen to twenty people, across the nation–with clusters in Oregon, Washington, Michigan, Maine, Massachusetts, and North Carolina. Over 900 groups or individuals have requested the facilitator guide and other club materials but IPS doesn’t have the resources to track everyone. Some religious and community groups have used the materials to go in their own direction.
"It’s sort of taken off and has a life of it’s own," Collins says.
The clubs are all founded on three key principles: learning together, mutual aid, and social action. Every two weeks a round-up of good learning resources is circulated to participating clubs. It might include anything from agood Bill Moyers’ interviewor a Jonathan Schell piece in The Nation, to a story of a rent party with a band or an effort to weatherize one another’s homes to cut fuel costs, to ideas for political action. Members have helped one another network for jobs, strategize personal budgets, and find ways to be more frugal. They barter services–for example,swapping yard work for childcare or computer skills for language lessons. They have lobbied Congress on legislation to stop foreclosures, protect consumers, and rein in Wall Street.