With many Americans only recently recovered from extreme weather, transportation challenges, and power and communications outages, some explore ways to strengthen local circles of support
Washington DC – The wind storms and heat waves of the past few weeks have left a lot of Americans more aware of their vulnerability to transportation challenges, power and communications outages, and other impacts of extreme weather events. But a strategy has emerged to adapt to an uncertain climate and hard times: groups of people helping each other.
Many Americans are choosing to form “Resilience Circles,” also called “Common Security Clubs,” which are groups of 10-20 people who bond together to increase their personal security. Groups are focused on joint learning, mutual aid, and social action, with members often providing valuable assistance to one another in times of need. Resilience Circles are meeting in over 30 cities across the United States, and people in dozens of other cities are forming groups. Free online tools and guides are available through the Resilience Circle Network, supported in part by the Institute for Policy Studies.
“As weather events like the recent micro-burst become harder to predict, people feel a need to connect with their neighbors, friends, and local community,” said Sarah Byrnes, coordinator of the Resilience Circle Network. “There is no one better than local community members to burn candles with when the lights go out or lend a hand when a tree falls on your car. We need each other to help adapt, and we have to prepare ourselves and our communities for change. Resilience Circles are one way people can help prepare for uncertain times. More extreme weather events are likely to come our way, but a Resilience Circle says that we’re in this together, that we care about each other. Together, we can ensure a more secure future.
Someone Has “Got Your Back”
Members of Resilience Circles help each other in a variety of ways. Members of a Portland, Oregon Resilience Circle have set up local emergency prep groups to respond to earthquakes and other disasters, in their neighborhood and beyond. In many circles, members are ready for whatever crisis comes their way. In order to overcome the economic crisis, many have tried out new business ventures, bartered skills and learned new skills, brainstormed job opportunities and networking possibilities, and shared tips for saving money. In Fort Lauderdale, Florida, an elderly couple offered their in-law apartment to a father and son who were in financial distress. In South Paris, Maine, group members used a collective “emergency jar” for their spare change. “The money didn’t get used very often,” said group member Connie Allen, “but much like the group itself, it provided a sense of security just in knowing it was there.”
“The dominant message around disasters is often ‘you are on your own.’ Disaster preparedness often focuses on what products to buy, not how to work with your friends and neighbors to build a support network. But with a local circle of support, you know that someone has got your back,” said Chuck Collins, director of the Inequality and the Common Good program at the Institute for Policy Studies. “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.”
Help During Economic Hardship
In addition to helping prepare for weather-related disasters, many Resilience Circles also provide support for those who may be out of work, crucial at a time when the unemployment rate is holding steady at 8.2 percent, according to Labor Department numbers, and many have given up hope of finding a job.
“These are hard times for a lot of people the country,” said Wendee Crofoot, 42, who is unemployed in Mountainview, CA. Before she was laid off, Crofoot was an office and development manager for a local community organization. “My Resilience Circle makes me feel like I have a network of people who I can rely on,” she said.
Crofoot was laid off in late May. When she lost her job, she turned to members of her Resilience Circle for support. The group has created a “time bank” to exchange time, skills, and goods.
“I’m still devastated that I lost my job,” said Crofoot. “But I’m so delighted to be connected to the people in my circle. My connections with them are helping me feel more hopeful about the future.”
Cities that have their own Resilience Circle include: Redwood City, CA; Albany, CA; San Jose, CA; Palo Alto, CA; Boulder, CO; Denver, CO; Ft. Lauderdale, FL; Hobart, IN; Greenfield, MA; Newburyport, MA; Marlborough, MA; Boston, MA; Ellicott City, MD; Greenbelt, MD; Baltimore, MD; Takoma Park, MD; Portland, ME; South Paris, ME; Ann Arbor, MI; St. Paul, MN; Concord, NH; Manchester, NH; Morristown, NJ; Broadwell Hill, OH; Youngstown, OH; Columbus, OH; Portland, OR; Silverton, OR; Bainbridge Island, WA; Seattle, WA; Edmonds, WA; Suquamash, WA.
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Institute for Policy Studies (www.ips-dc.org) is a community of public scholars and organizers linking peace, justice, and the environment in the U.S. and globally. We work with social movements to promote true democracy and challenge concentrated wealth, corporate influence, and military power.
For more information on Resilience Circles, visit http://localcircles.org/