Uprooting Classism in the San Francisco Bay Area
The San Francisco Bay Area has one of the nation’s most enormous class divides – and now three exceptional new Class Action Associate Trainers have come together to get local people talking about class and working for class justice: Nelson Myhand, Theo Yang Copley and Davey Shlasko. They have offered four open workshops in recent months, with more to come.
With housing costs out of reach for so many people, homelessness is a visible indication of the class divide. Nelson counted at least 50 homeless people sleeping on the streets on just three blocks. “What could we learn from people living with so little?,” she asked. “If we had more cross-class dialogue, we would have more respect for people living closer to the bottom.”
“I’ve had bizarre conversations about class,” Davey said. “Everyone feels poor.”
He described the proliferation of new hip taxi services like Uber, Lyft and Sidecar. These start-ups cater only to customers with smartphones with expensive mandatory data plans. These services do not pay taxi taxes and are not contributing to the city budget. They make visible who is able to simply opt out of transportation.
“People don’t know the facts about the wealth divide in this country,” said Theo. “By talking about it, that’s the first step toward creating change.”
One percent of America has 40 percent of the nation’s wealth, according to Inequality.org, while the bottom 80 percent has 7 percent. Fortunately, conversations about class have become a lot more common since the Occupy Wall Street movement, said Theo.
She used the prison system as an example of structural racism and classism, with incarceration and longer drug sentences disproportionately hitting low-income men of color.
To all three trainers, Class Action workshops are a crucial ingredient in reducing classism. Theo said, “The more we talk about class, the more we create the ability to talk about solutions and demand them from our leaders.” After the workshops, participants are more able to talk about classism, she added.
Nelson made the point that people don’t have day-to-day experiences in what it’s like to be in a different class groups. “Things can change. They have changed. When social movements pressure leaders, things do change,” she said. Hearing participants’ experiences with the workshops has convinced her that they have a powerful impact.
Class Action workshops bring people together in a safe space to do exercises designed to incite eye-opening conversations. “Class Action workshops don’t change policies.” Davey said, “but they change people’s skill levels and encourage people to take action to make change.”
If you are in the Bay Area and want to invite Nelson, Davey and/or Theo to facilitate a workshop – or if you are in NYC, DC, Philadelphia, New England, Manitoba, Montreal or Seattle, where other Class Action trainers are based — please contact us at email@example.com or check out our workshops here.
Can We Have a Fairer Economy and a Sustainable Environment?
“… a great way to begin thinking about how we may perpetuate classism and begin thinking about how we have to change our way of organizing to prevent that”
– Climate Justice Hub participant
Class Action helps activists build cross-class alliances for change
In earlier eras, environmentalists were mostly white conservationists with degrees from elite colleges; and unions and grassroots community groups were the champions of fair wages and economic justice – a class division within the social justice movement.
But today, in the face of dual crises – a stalled economy and an overheating climate – those old lines are blurring. Some organizations are reaching across traditional boundaries to organize for a healthier society, economically and environmentally — and Class Action is playing a crucial bridge-building role.
- • At a workshop for Climate Justice Hub in July, facilitated by Outreach Director Anne Phillips and associate trainer Liz Padgett, activists did a problem-solving exercise with scenarios drawn from real-life cross-class dilemmas and clashes in the environmental justice movement
- • As a sponsor of “New Economy Week” in October, Class Action offered a webinar in cross-class alliance building for the New Economics Institute, a coalition that promotes the well-being of people and the planet.
- • At the ReRoute “Building Youth and Student Power for a New Economy” conference in New York in July, a project of the New Economics Institute, CA trainers Tanya Williams and Theo Yang Copley gave activists for a sustainable economy an opportunity to discuss ways to reduce classism and racism in their organizations. Every participant left with specific action steps for being a cross-class ally.
- • Grant-makers from all over the US attended a workshop in September sponsored by The Funders’ Network for Smart Growth and Livable Communities, facilitated by CA Board President Jerry Koch-Gonzalez and Program Director Betsy Leondar-Wright, on how to have difficult race and class conversations with donors, colleagues and grantees while funding sustainability and prosperity initiatives.
- • On the Classism Exposed blog, a series of three recent posts spotlighted class dynamics within the environmental movement and offered a vision of an environmental movement with working-class and low-income people and people of color front and center. As one of the bloggers wrote, “Climate issues are class issues!”
“The workshop was extremely insightful… class is an important theme to consider when discussing a progressive society and a new economy.”
These are just the most recent examples of Class Action’s work on bridging environmental and economic justice. Since 2010, Class Action has facilitated workshops for several environmental justice organizations, and we have tailored our materials to the cross-class dynamics and dilemmas specific to EJ groups. To learn more about these workshops customized for the environmental justice movement, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our vision is a united movement, multiracial and cross-class, bringing together the full diversity of the 99% to confront the big corporations and unaccountable politicians who are harming our livelihood, our health and the natural systems that sustain us.
Class Matters in Mediation
Differences in communication norms are often the culprit for class culture clashes. How we handle arguments and solve problems is no exception.
Because mediation is not immune from class dynamics in how the parties interact with one another and with the mediator(s), Class Action recently began to work with student mediators at Brown University and at the New England Association for Conflict Resolution regional conference. Together we are exploring how class plays out in the field of mediation and conflict resolution.
“As a practice, mediation is a very middle-class normative way of solving problems,” said Shane Lloyd, Class Action Associate Trainer and certified mediator. “If we as mediators cannot meet our clients where they’re at, or cannot facilitate respectful communication between parties, then we are doing a great disservice to the practice of alternative dispute resolution.”
If you are involved in mediation and would like to get involved in bringing a class perspective to mediation, please email us at email@example.com.
Making “Classism” a Household Word via the Media
Our ideas and work are getting into the mainstream media. Just last month, the Boston Globe covered our work with first generation college students, the LA Times quoted Betsy Leondar-Wright in their report that more poeple are using the term “lower-class,” and Betsy was also interviewed for a segment about the income gap for the Gill Gross show on KKSF in the Bay Area. Check these stories out here.
Where We’ve Been
•Climate Justice Hub
•Goddard College Education Program
•Macalester College & St. Thomas University
•Massachusetts Institute of Technology
•National Conference on Race and Ethnicity
•National Federation of Just Communities
•New Economics Institute, reRoute Conference
•New England Alternative Conflict Resolution Regional Conference
•PLACES Programs of the Funders Network
•Solid Ground – Washington Reading Corps
•The Food Project
•Third Sector New England
•Tufts University’s Tisch Active Citizenship Program
•Unitarian Universalist College of Social Justice
•Inited Methodist Women
How We’ve Grown, By the Numbers…
In the past year, we’ve more than doubled our Facebook fans – up to almost 1,200; our listserve has grown to over 4,000; our Twitter just exceeded 500 followers; and one of our most popular Classism Exposed blogs, “Doing the Math: Student Loan Debt and the Adjunct Equation”, had nearly 1,000 views. Check it out here.
“I think more people need to think about where they fit in the ‘class’ system more and see how they can help others.” – Class Action workshop participant
Betsy Leondar-Wright, Editor
Bethanny George, Contributor
Miki Onwudinjo, Contributor
Anne Phillips, Contributor
Dee Moore, Designer