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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Grassroots groups usually have an open door for membership, and all kinds of people walk in. How to deal with flakes, racists, and people with axes to grind is a sensitive issue. Often there's an informal staff role in encouraging the people with leadership potential and discouraging problematic people. But it's a judgment call about which is which, and the staff's power in encouraging and discouraging people is unacknowledged and sometimes misused. It's healthier to have the whole group decide on standards of behavior that new members have to agree to. But community people have to go on seeing each other around the neighborhood, and explicit rejections can make things too uncomfortable. It's easier to have the staff person be the "bad cop."

One tenant group elected as treasurer a white woman, "Janet," who I felt was bad news, but of course I had to support whoever the group elected. She used to hang around the management office, and when the manager went out to lunch, she'd sit in his chair and say to tenants who came by, "Can I help you?" She seemed to look for every opportunity to set herself above other tenants. One day a nun was making a site visit for a funder. One tenant leader mentioned her neighbor "Mary." Janet exclaimed, "Mary? She's got a colored man living in her apartment!" I was very hopeful that this racist outburst, which jeopardized our funding, would be the last straw that would lead people to choose another treasurer. But to my despair, she was re-elected, and even some tenants of color and tenants who had been in the meeting with the nun voted for her. What could I have done?

Sometimes the first thing an empowered group does is to fire the organizer. Turning brand new empowerment against the nearest target is a time-honored tradition. And sometimes it's appropriate, if there's a real difference of goals, or a real problem with a particular organizer. But it doesn't happen only for those reasons. The one time I was dismissed by a tenant group I had organized, their complaint against me was that I had pushed them to open up key decisions to the democratic vote of all the tenants, instead of letting the steering committee decide everything. And I know people who dropped out of community organizing entirely after being mistreated by the grassroots people they organized.

In the last decade, more organizations have tried to fill organizing jobs with grassroots people from the same community. This is most feasible for bigger, better-funded groups that can do intensive staff training, so working-class people can develop the needed skills and knowledge. Working-class people from the same or a similar community, who've gotten college education and/or other organizational skills and then come back to a community organizing job can be great bridge people.

What middle-class gifts did I bring? In terms of organizing skills and the specific issues I was organizing around, of course, all my years of college taught me nothing. Yet my class background did give me things to contribute that were in short supply within the community. Research skills came in very handy, as did knowledge of how the political system worked, computer experience, and project coordination skills. Personal growth workshops had strengthened my traditionally female skills of empathetic active listening and conflict resolution. Speaking the language of management enabled me to be a go-between. Probably the most helpful things I brought were historical images of grassroots uprisings, and ideas about diversity. Informed idealism, in short.

Given this idealism, one of the hardest aspects of being an organizer is to realize that we can't make the community be different than it is. We dream of grassroots people uniting across their differences, envisioning collective solutions to community problems, and rising up to take action for change. But sometimes that's just not where people are. Many factors influence a community's political state. Both objective political and economic obstacles and the hopelessness of internalized classism may not be within our power to change. Sadly, our organizing efforts are not magic.

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