Class Matters Workshops

Download this brochure for more information on 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 ClassMatters.org visitors answered those questions:

And answers from the Class Matters book:

Middle-Class Counterculture Activists Doubly at Odds with Workers

"Most activists I spoke with did not see their organization's informal culture as a barrier to class diversity … [T]he total package of middle-class cultural bias adds up to what can be a foreign, if not hostile, environment for anyone but members of the middle class. In fact, the production of collective 'identity' associated with [new social movements] is often an identity that is distinctly alien to working people.

But what may appear to be alien and uncomfortable for working people can seem familiar and reassuring for activists from the middle class …

Adam, a Central America activist, agreed, conceding, 'When you get right down to it, it's hard to work with people who are different from you. It's a lot easier to support people who are different if they live a couple thousand miles away in Central America or South Africa or somewhere'. Thus, the very cultural characteristics that may make an organization a comfortable 'home' for middle-class activists may serve to alienate potential working-class supporters. This sense of insularity has of course been noted in relation to race and gender issues. It should also be recognized in terms of class.

Rather than class, the cultural diversity issue most cited by activists in my interviews might be described as the debate between the 'straights' and the 'radicals' both contingents firmly rooted in the middle class. A 'straight' approach is described as presenting an organization as a middle-class, mainstream group in an attempt to appeal to a broader spectrum of moderate citizens. The 'radical' approach is to simply acknowledge the progressive nature of an organization and its politics and to accept the often 'countercultural' aspect of its middle-class members whose appearance and politics may be outside of the mainstream. The latter strategy has the advantage has the advantage of providing a comfortable cultural home for middle-class members who are challenging mainstream political and cultural conventions. At the same time, though, it carries the danger of exacerbating the Left's isolation from the more mainstream middle class and from many working people …

The consideration of diversity, then, is too often limited to discussing diversity within the middle class …

In 'rejecting' their middle-class backgrounds, committed activists often give up the possibility of substantial material affluence (though few embrace truly modest lifestyles and nearly all maintain a 'safety net' of associations with family and friends who have middle-class means). What they do not — and indeed cannot — renounce, however, is the cultural heritage of their middle-class status. The education, cultural skills, and expectations of middle-class life are a legacy that cannot simply be denied at will. These are the benchmarks that make activists forever middle class, even in the midst of voluntary material modesty.

The rejection of the material component of middle-class life, coupled with the retention of the cultural elements (often with a middle-class 'countercultural' slant), puts activists at double odds with workers. First, activists often do not recognize the cultural/knowledge gap of which workers are painfully aware, and second, activists sometimes reject the material comforts for which most workers are adamantly striving. The positioning of middle-class activists who are critical of their class background, then, seems very peculiar indeed from the perspective of many workers."