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:

Class and Other Identities

White Middle-Class Activists

I do "good government" organizing work. This subset of the progressive community is almost exclusively middle and upper-middle class. I grew up in a middle class home and my experience professionally and socially has largely been with others in the middle class.

So what does that mean for the organizing I do? I'm not sure except that I can say that it strikes me at times just how middle class our organization and allies are (and heavily white to boot.) Why is that? Because the issues we work on are not bread and butter issues? — they are a step (or several steps) removed from someone's daily life. Not many people get out of bed in the morning thinking about campaign finance reform while plenty of people start their day worrying about their kids or putting food on the table or getting or hanging onto a job.

Of course, we also do a remarkably poor job of trying to connect with working class communities — because that is not where the money is nor the political power. Don't get me wrong, that's not an acceptable excuse but it's too often the reality, the political calculus, that guides us.

Ultimately, we will be a far stronger movement if we make a commitment to organizing across class lines — on issues that are core to us and on issues that may be more tangential to our mission but are bread and butter issues for working class folks.

— Anonymous

One of the most harmful ways in which the class difference shows up is that middle class professionals (MCPs) want to talk in paragraphs and come up with conclusions thick with hedging. Coming from the same group myself, I can understand why they prefer that. Life is more fluid and ill defined in professional circles, so they naturally project it on to politics, taking it to mean they hold the high moral ground for being "honest." They simply cannot can't come to grips with the fact that people can't and won't think in such fuzzy terms in politics.

When I organized for a while with Jill Stein's group, an MCP stronghold, it was very frustrating to try to put together a decent poster or brochure because people didn't want to say anything definite and clear. The right, of course, makes fun of this characteristic all the time — and they successfully take advantage of it to malign the left.

There is also the issue of uniqueness and vocabulary. MCP life is organized much more around uniqueness of perspective and a rich vocabulary to describe it. Cleverness, an important value, is judged in part by how unique a person's perspective is. Again, this comes very much from the MCP lifeways. But it doesn't work in politics. You have to stay on message, and the message has to be simple. And messages have to be prioritized. From a strategic perspective, there are all sorts of reasons why one message might be more important than another in a campaign. But they take as their basic assumption that no messages can be prioritized. So they can never run a coherent compaign unless it is one issue — like anti-war — which is why they have a huge preference for the anti-war issue.

I was trained as a cultural anthropologist, so I am quite sensitive to class differences. I could name a lot more cultural differences which come from the MCP way of life. But that's for another day. I would like to think that your work could be very helpful in giving MCPs more self consciousness of their problems of communicating between classes. Fairness In Taxes for Everyone (FITE) is a small group of people who do grass roots as much as possible, but we are hampered because we can't recruit more MCPs to do organizing outside of their class.

By "broader middle class" we really mean the middle three quintiles. Yes, it includes the bottom end of MCPs and decent — or semi decent paying WC jobs. I really love your class classification. It's right on. Of course there are fuzzy boundaries as with any classification. But it's pretty easy to see how a person might have a mixture.

FITE only deals with the one overarching issue of the broad middle class (which includes at the upper end some MCPs), their embezzlement by the super rich. There is broad agreement in this class that the super rich do indeed embezzle, and they don't pay their fair share of taxes. (65% believe the rich don't pay their fair share of taxes. It would probably go up even more if asked about the super rich.) We don't use embezzle lightly. The majority of their earnings comes from this. It amounts to trillions.

We constantly emphasize to MCP activists and others that this issue is the one issue that touches every other issue. We say that including it as an integral part of their message actually gives their issue(s) more power. Most agree with this, but the old habit of seeing each issue as unique and separate dies hard.

— Chuck Palson

I founded a county wide group last year after the war in Iraq began. After the war was underway, those of us who protested the war and found each other through formed our group. We now have three task forces, one of them going voter registration, and we've decided to focus on low income housing projects. Most of us our computer literate and highly educated. We do have Hispanic members and allies doing this same work so we're not all whites going into the poorer nabes. However, we find such a mix of responses. Our prejudice was that folks would be easy to convince to vote. Some are ready and see the urgency. Others are jaded because the Dems are not radical enough. Many of the elderly are eager or are already registered. But many are completely disenfranchised and don't see the point.

It makes me realize that if we ever want change to happen in a fundamental way, we have to figure out how to build cross class communication and trust so we can win! Just as we try to build alliances across race, gender, sexual identity.

How sad to see how much work we have to do and how little has been done, at least in our nabe.

I also work in a multi-class organization and the cultural assumptions I have as a peace oriented and globally traveled minister are so different from those I work with who do not share my convictions. We're all lovely people but I'm for gun control, they are not. I'm for non-violence but many of them have family in the military. Our assumptions about what constitutes good food are not the same. There is so much and we constantly have to bridge the gap—predictably, I'm the boss and they are the workers but the people we serve at our retreat center are professional class. So the differences abound. We are gentle with each other and I'm sure they roll their eyes at me and those they serve. But it's friendly, at least.

I try hard to work for just wages and benefits. The economy and health care industry are working against me and my board seems intent that I should continue to make lots more than my coworkers which frustrates me no end. But we have closed the gap some over ten years. And our benefits are great — but we can't afford them in this economy.

I just wanted to register because I believe what you are doing is so important. We talk about race and gender and sexual orientation but the class issue seems to be missing in our analyses.

— Anonymous