Class Matters Workshops

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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:

Classism from our Mouths

We've all learned classist prejudices, and none of us has completely eradicated them from our minds, or from our speech.

Few middle-class people would say we have prejudices against working class or low-income people, of course. Our classism is often disguised in the form of disdain for southerners or midwesterners, religious people, patriotic people, employees of big corporations, fat or non-athletic people, straight people with conventional gender presentation (feminine women wearing make-up, tough burly guys), country music fans, or gun users.

And we all make mistakes. There's not a middle-class person alive who hasn't said dumb, insensitive things that step on working-class toes. Hiding our classist mistakes or defending ourselves ("I didn't mean it that way") doesn't do any good. The only thing for it is to 'fess up, apologize, laugh at ourselves, and commit to learning how do better in the future.

As we talk, working-class people notice how oblivious or how aware of class issues we seem, and make decisions about how much to collaborate with us based on those evaluations, among other factors. The goal of reducing the classism in our speech is not to keep ourselves out of trouble by avoiding angering working-class people, and it's not to reach some kind of perfect non-classist purity. The goal is to make ourselves more trustworthy and to alienate working-class people less, so that we can work together for economic justice and other common goals.

As I interviewed people about the classism they had seen in the movement, it began to seem like all the examples could be summed up in these two phrases: overlooking intelligence, and overlooking necessity. Here are some examples of each:

Overlooking intelligence

"As our [peace] group started growing, more college-educated men came in ... .I remember feeling that I was slowly becoming invisible. In a discussion about who should be the speakers in community churches ... I volunteered to speak ... Someone said, "Well, you know, I think Ken might be a better person to speak to this group because people will listen to a doctor more." I felt I wanted to crawl inside myself and disappear. Before this incident, I had been afraid to speak but I had thought I had a lot to contribute to the peace movement. Afterwards I thought I had nothing to say that anyone would want to hear."

—Linda Stout, Bridging the Class Divide

"Growing up, I attached 'stupid' to workers and 'smart' to executives. This didn't happen because of a weird personal quirk. It resulted from force-fed images and words of TV shows, newspapers, magazines, and movies. Any TV show with working-class characters, first The Honeymooners and I Love Lucy, the All in the Family, covertly and overtly highlighted the stupidity of bus drivers, factory workers, and plumbers. Movies, books, and comics followed suit. At school, middle-class kids called us stupid; we hurled back 'stuck up', but never 'stupid'.

—Joanna Kadi, Thinking Class

"Not long ago, I gave a presentation to an environmental group about simplicity study circles, a small-group, peer-led form of education and social change. When I finished, a man spoke up: 'Your ideas are all well and good, but most people out there are intellectually challenged!' ...

But to believe in democracy, you need to believe in the power of people to find answers to the problems they're facing. You must commit to the idea that people have the wisdom they need. Our job as activists is to help them discover that wisdom."

—Cecile Andrews, "Study Circle Democracy" in Yes! A Journal of Positive Futures, Winter 2003

Overlooking necessity

An activist said that he heard other antinuclear activists say, "Construction workers must hate their babies or they wouldn't work in a nuke."

—David Croteau interview

Visitors to the Piedmont Peace Project would talk about vacations and sick days, assuming that everyone gets them, which mill workers didn't.

—Linda Stout

A peace activist working to turn defense jobs into non-military manufacturing jobs, heard someone at a town meeting say to a member of a defense union, "You guys don't deserve a penny." Some in the peace movement argued that the defense workers shouldn't have taken those jobs, saying, "They should have known that it was wrong and they shouldn't have done it, and we don't owe them anything."

—Interview by Fred Rose in
Coalitions Across the Class Divide