Class Matters Workshops

Download this brochure for more information on Class Matters workshops.

If you're interested in hosting a workshop, please click here for a brochure, or contact me about booking an event.

Order Class Matters

Class Matters book cover

Order Class Matters: Cross-Class Alliance Building for Middle-Class Activists by Betsy Leondar-Wright (New Society Publishers, 2005).

Press Coverage of CM

Classist Comments

What's the most classist thing you ever heard someone say?

(I'm not talking about someone like Bill O'Reilly or your right-wing uncle. More specifically, what's the most classist thing you ever heard a liberal or progressive person say?)

Read five interviewees' answers — and my own.

Class and Other Identities

How do you experience class differently because of your race, ethnic group, religion, gender, age, or other identity? What class dynamics do you notice within your identity groups?

Here's how a few visitors answered those questions:

And answers from the Class Matters book:

Dilemmas of Community Organizers

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Often the paid organizers in low-income communities come from professional middle-class backgrounds. I worked as a community organizer for many years, and the class dynamics can be tricky. Nearly everything I know about poverty and urban politics, I learned from members of groups I staffed. I loved the relationships I built with people on their stoops and around their kitchen tables.

Seeing people move from less to more powerful was exhilarating. Here's one story. I was trying to persuade tenants at an apartment complex to come to a City Council hearing. Knocking on doors, I asked one woman, Donna, to come, she said no, I pleaded. Finally she said she would attend but she absolutely wouldn't say a word, because she was terrified of public speaking. She sat at the hearing listening to testimony, until a tenant leader mentioned the lack of sidewalks between their apartment complex and the shopping area. At that point Donna leapt up, saying, "Ooh! I have something to say about that road!" She took the mic and told a hair-raising story about how a car came within an inch of hitting her child while she was pushing a stroller and trying to get 3 kids down to the bus stop. The City Council voted on the spot to appropriate money for a sidewalk — something that wasn't even on their docket of proposals. Last time I visited that city, I walked that sidewalk, grinning the whole way.

And of the five tenant groups I organized, three now own and run their own apartment complexes as permanently affordable housing, so I feel I made a real difference.

But it's a tricky relationship with many pitfalls, the relationship of middle-class organizer to working-class community.

I've encountered groups that were basically fronts for one staff person, usually a leftist white man. The low-income members were basically his mouthpieces. All their speeches were written by him, using their legitimacy as low-income people to spread his ideas. In the power balance between the staff's expertise and the members' knowledge of the community, those groups were way off balance.

Grassroots members get crucial information funneled through the organizer, information they need to make decisions. The staff can convey their biases either consciously or unconsciously in how the information is presented. I remember presenting choices to tenant groups about models of tenant buy-outs — decisions that would make all the difference in the future of their homes — and trying not to let my own opinions show. If I had concrete information about why one option would be better for them, that seemed fair to share, but if it was just my own preference, I tried not to betray it. No doubt I didn't always succeed, as my doubts and enthusiasm crept into my tone of voice.

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