Stuck on hard times? Join the club

Chuck Collins, founder of the Common Security Clubs - Courtesy Photo
Chuck Collins, founder of the Common Security Clubs
— image credit: Courtesy Photo

In an era when it is possible to stay in touch with friends through the click of a social media button, one in four Americans say they have no one to talk to about their personal problems. That figure is double the number of people who felt equally isolated in 1985, according to a Duke University study.

Yet many who are still reeling from the economic recession may need more human interaction today than they ever have before.

“It is impossible to sit at home, click a mouse and read articles alone and be able to change things,” said Chuck Collins, a speaker at last Tuesday’s Sustainable Bainbridge meeting. “It’s a group of people, together, who will be able to change things.”

During the current recession, many Americans have faced the reality of their own vulnerability. Either through their own experience or a friend, the consequences of insurmountable debt, foreclosure, unemployment and job insecurity have taken a tragic toll.

Collins has a simple remedy: get together and talk about it.

Collins is one of the founders of the Common Security Club, an upbeat approach to encouraging people to gather, learn, provide mutual aid and spur social action. Over a hundred clubs have started around the country, and Collins’ speech at the Island School last week generated an audible buzz and inspiration to the packed house of attendees.

Collins is a champion of the modern-day Robin Hood approach. He wrote from experience when he co-authored a book with William Gates Sr. called, “Wealth and Our Commonwealth: Why America Should Tax Accumulated Fortunes.” When Collins was 26 he gave away an inheritance to several organizations, and honed his mantra “We are wealthy, and we need to be taxed more.”

The Boston native has dedicated his life to speaking out against corporate practices and economic policies that further economic disparity. He serves as a senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C., where he directs the Program on Inequality and the Common Good, and continues to work with other wealthy individuals to speak out against draconian budget cuts at the federal and state level without reversing tax cuts for the wealthy and tax-dodging corporations.

The idea behind the Common Security Clubs started as the economic crisis began to blossom in the fall of 2008. Talking with a friend who was struggling to pay the bills, Collins realized how isolated and alone people had become, even within his own circle.

“We are no longer connected to a web, or equipped with the language to talk about our issues,” said Collins. “Shame wraps us up and keeps us disconnected.”

Through the platform of his church, Collins began meeting with a group to create an avenue for sharing knowledge, basic goods, services, companionship and support during hard times.

Through an environment of education the group worked to understand the forces behind the larger economic problems, the global economy and ways to reduce their own economic vulnerability and increase their personal security. By connecting as a group they could exchange goods and services, absent monetary value, to help each other. Ideas were basic, like round-robin home-weatherization parties, or sharing vehicles.

The third-approach the club takes is to take a look at the bigger picture and work together to press for larger state, national and even global changes using the knowledge they learned as a group.

Now there are more than 100 groups in nine states. Through the website anyone can use a free, downloadable six-month curriculum. Collins encourages anyone to create and organize their own clubs within their community.

Collins encourages a group between 15 to 25 people, and encourages groups to create their own names, such as “Resilience Circles” or “Worker Groups for the Unemployed and Anxiously Employed.” Groups can consist of friends, strangers, young and old.

Tuesday’s attendees were struck with both the simplicity and the genuine need for groups on the island.

“For many of us, this is the first time we’ve ever needed help in our lives. As a baby boomer, times were great and I felt like I had to turn down the jobs because I had enough,” said one man. “Now we are struck with hard times, stunned and lost. It’s hard to talk about because there is certainly shame that takes root.”

Island-based YES! Magazine partnered with Sustainable Bainbridge and The Suquamish United Church of Christ to bring Collins to the island.

“When things go wrong in our culture we tend to think there is something wrong with me,” said Fran Korten, executive director of YES!. “But really the system is screwing such a huge percentage of people.”

For more information, visit or attend a free introduction at the Bainbridge Public Library from 10-11 a.m. June 11 or contact the Suquamish Church at (360) 598-4434 to learn about forming a group.

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