The Winchester Multicultural Network promotes the recognition, understanding and appreciation of diversity within the affluent town of Winchester, Mass. The organization looks at diversity through a multifaceted lens. But each year, it chooses an issue, as part of the program Winchester in Transition, that it will focus on deeply. Issues have included immigration and other hot topics.
“The organization had been talking about exploring class and classism for a long time,” shares Aba Taylor, WMN executive director (and Class Action board member since 2017). And the members decided in 2015 to begin working with Class Action to create a yearlong, perhaps even multi-year thematic focus on class.
“Being in a town like Winchester, which is very affluent, it does have class issues. There are definitely working-class people and low-income people who live there. And part of our mission is to always focus on the visibility of all of the folks who live in Winchester and wanting to be really explicit about that.”
It was important for us to engage with parts of the community that we had less of ‘a touch’ with. “We really worked hard at looking at all parts of the community, who we had relationships with and who would agree to a workshop on one of the most taboo topics.”
One of the big drivers for finally deciding to take a deep dive on class was that one of the community leaders noticed how people at Town Hall were being treated and talked to. “He was observing that in these public spaces the public employees were being talked down to. That was the motivation for having the Winchester Multicultural Network have a stronger push around class issues, comments Aba. “And, I felt that of the social justice work that everyone does, the less visible layer is class, which manifests itself in all kinds of ways.” Aba felt that Class Action to a unique approach to put class front and center in social justice work.
The first thing that the network did was to have a Class Action trainer come in to do a short workshop with the network’s board, “just to get a feel for what Class Action does.” The board appreciated the national organization’s willingness to shape a program to their needs.
Next steps included a telephone meeting with Class Action’s director, Anne Phillips, and reading on the subjects from books suggested by Anne and written by Class Action’s founders and staff. “I was impressed by the literature coming out of the organization, as well,” states Aba.
The network created a plan to include as many segments of the community as possible in its yearlong focus on class and classism. Acknowledging that the WMN board members are more progressive than some others in Winchester, Aba says, “It was important for us to engage with parts of the community that we had less of ‘a touch’ with. “We really worked hard at looking at all parts of the community, who we had relationships with and who would agree to a workshop on one of the most taboo topics.”
Groups with whom WMN and Class Action worked ranged from the League of Women Voters to the Interfaith Council to youth at the Winchester Youth Center. The process ended phase one with a community-wide full-day workshop that included the town manager, other town administers and participants from varied parts of the community. Since that time, teachers and administrators at the public schools have been brought into the conversation as representatives from the Council on Aging. The latter group was important, as WMN saw this as a way to bring more poor and working-class people into the mix. According to Aba, in a place like Winchester, it is hard to “come out” as poor or working-class.
Aba acknowledges that there is more to do. “A short workshop – even with so many groups – is just scratching the surface,” she says. But the process has raised awareness of class issues and classism in the town. People are talking about and thinking about a topic that was previously taboo. And that is a sign of progress for the community.