Building Resilience: The New Economy in the Shell of the Old

This article was written for Shareable.net.

On a Thursday night around 6 p.m., people gathered for the fourth meeting of my Resilience Circle. We were in the social hall of the local Congregational Church, a big churchy room with folding tables and chairs. The meeting started with a potluck. The Clearys arrived with some pickles and olives they’d preserved themselves. In her softly unassuming way, Sarah Cleary began talking about how easy it is to can some of your own food.

Luka, the facilitator, called everyone together and kicked off the session with the exchanging of “Gifts and Needs.” Participants had written their gifts – things they could offer – on one set of note-cards and their needs on another. Luka himself started. “I can give bike tune-ups,” he said, placing a note card into the center of the circle. “And I’d love to learn how to hem my own pants.”

A few moments later, after two others also said that they’d like to learn to sew, Sharon offered to run a sewing class for the group. And moments after that, I was somehow scheduling a time for the pastor of the church to cut my hair, a skill she had learned around the edges of her divine pursuits. A dog-sitting/child-care exchange began to bud. People began brainstorming about how to find and share a 20-foot ladder. Lots of folks offered to help Sarah weed her garden in exchange for veggies. I asked her if she could help us organize a community-wide canning workshop.

Exchanges like this are popping up in Resilience Circles around the country, sometimes known as common security clubs. We like to say we’re slowly “flexing our mutual aid muscles” since they’ve gotten so badly out of shape.

I began working as the Resilience Circle Organizer about six months ago, having just ended a job in a non-profit focused on policy change. At that job, we worked ruthlessly and relentlessly for financial reform and, ultimately, saw the passage of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. We were in the midst of the perfect opportunity to start creating a new economy through federal policy. Wall Street had just crashed our economy. There was widespread agreement that the banking sector should be reined in. What better moment to end the practices that drove us off the economic cliff?

But as most people know, this didn’t happen.

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