There are many people who are already hard at work building connections based on partnership and sustainability. In the fall of 2010 I had the opportunity to participate in a facilitator training for “Resilience Circles.” Resilience Circles are groups of ten to twenty people who gather together in regular meetings to support each other through economic and ecological changes.
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.
The three main functions of Resilience Circles are to increase our understanding of the larger economic forces on our lives, to open up opportunities for mutual aid and support for local economic challenges, and finally, to engage in social action to create changes that can bring about a more secure and sustainable future.
We explored questions like: Why is the economy in distress? What is our vision for a healthy, sustainable economy? What are the sources of real security in our lives? What can we do together to increase our economic security at the local level? How can we help our neighbors facing foreclosure or economic insecurity? What public policies would make our communities more secure?
Social scientists say that the stronger our social networks, the more resilient we will be in a crisis. When I was working in direct support of homeless people, I noticed how often someone became homeless because of isolation—they did not have a strong social support system, and so a crisis became a catastrophe.
There are many ways that working together can enhance our economic well-being. The Resilience Circles begin with small mutual aid projects. For example, one idea was a weatherization round robin—a team of five people agree to help each other get ready for the winter. Each host buys materials such as caulk and plastic sheeting, and then the group spends a few weekends getting all their homes ready. Another idea was a babysitting coop, where parents take turns watching each other’s children, keeping track with tokens for hours of childcare. Tool sharing, job swapping, meal exchanges, bartering—the resources we have among us are many, and the options are only limited by our collective creativity.
The underlying principle of Resilience Circles is that our greatest source of security and wealth is in our connection to each other, and our shared stewardship of the earth.