Fall 2014 Newsletter
- First Gen Summit
- Felice’s Dream Realized
- Honoring Cross-Class Pioneers
- Missing Class Hits the Road
- Tackling Class Among Unitarian Universalists
- A Class Action Impact Story
- Meet Class Action’s Newest Trainers
3rd Annual First Generation College Student Summit
Save the Date: March 7th, 2015
Wellesley College | Wellesley, MA
More info here
Since 2004, Class Action has worked with first generation (first-gen) students to ease their transition to college. Through consultations and workshops on and within many campuses throughout the northeastern region of the United States, Class Action has offered first gen students access to the materials, tools and networking opportunities necessary to thrive in a college environment. Class Action also works with campus administrations to identify obstacles to first-gen and low-income students.
In 2012 , Adj Marshall, a graduate student at Brown University, took on organizing Class Action’s inaugural First Generation College Student Summit. The First Gen Student Summit serves as a site for the ‘meeting of the minds.’ First gen students and their allies come together to identify problems, discuss grassroots solutions and share what’s working on other campuses. First and foremost, we want to find solutions identified by students who can work with their staff, administrator and faculty allies. Class Action offers spaces where students can both identify these problems and build grassroots solutions to them.
Nearly 40 people from seven colleges were represented at the inaugural Summit. In 2014, the summit attracted 120 people from 23 institutions. We look forward to expanding the diversity of institutions represented by region and institution type. We hope you will join us for our 3rd!
Felice’s Dream Realized
Class Action’s co-founder, Felice Yeskel, worked with thousands of individuals across the class spectrum. She saw how powerful it can be to hear others’ stories: how validating to hear stories like one’s own, and how bridge-building to hear stories that are different. In 2008, she embarked on a journey to collect written first-person stories and share them with countless others, to help us all make sense of the class system we live in.
Sadly, Felice did not live to see the final publication, but her spirit and passion live on in the anthology Class Lives: Stories from Across Our Economic Divide (forthcoming from Cornell University Press).
With our title, Class Lives, we see “lives” as a verb as well as a noun. As a verb, it speaks to the power of class to impinge on all of us, whether we are aware of it or not. As a noun, it speaks to the goal of this anthology, to illuminate the lived experience of class inequity through the stories of 40 diverse individuals from across the class spectrum. Some funny, some tragic, some angry, some heart-warming, each piece is unique, yet each writer is very aware of the impact of class on all our lives.
Release date: December 2, 2014
Preorder now: classism-dev-4-15-20.mystagingwebsite.com/store
Honoring Cross-Class Pioneersby: Emma Israel
Do you know of non-profit organizations that:
- actively pursue participation by people of diverse classes and races
- raise the voices and support the leadership of working class and poor people
- have an organizational culture that draws on the strengths of all class cultures
These are the criteria for Class Action’s Cross-ClassBridge Builder Award.
As part of the Missing Class book tour, ProgramDirector Betsy Leondar-Wright has presented local organizations in 8 cities with little red bridges on a plaque honoring their work.
Before we come to each city, we ask our local contacts to nominate organizations that exemplify the three ideals above. Then we ask local people to spread a ballot around the community, and the nominee with the most votes wins. At the bookstores or other public book talks where they get the award, representatives of the organization describe their work and get applauded.
The 9 awardees to date vary a lot-from youth groups to faith-based groups to community organizing groups–but they all share the understanding that effective social justice work must be cross-class.
Congratulations to the winners:
Boston, MA | The City School and Sub/Urban Justice
Western, MA | Haydenville Congregational Church
Minneapolis, MN | Neighborhoods Organizing for Change
Philadelphia, PA | Put People First! PA
New York, NY | Jews for Racial and Economic Justice
Durham, NC | Student Action with Farmworkers
Oakland, CA | East Bay Meditation Center
Seattle, WA | Real Change Homeless Empowerment Project
Madison, WI | Madison Area Urban Ministry
Missing Class Hits the Road
by: Liz Padgett
Betsy Leondar-Wright has been on the road since April promoting her new book, Missing Class: Strengthening Social Movement Groups by Seeing Class Cultures. She has done book talks and workshops from Durham, NC, to Oakland, CA, attended by social justice activists, union members, sociologists and students.
She’s been tireless – spending weeks on the road – but Betsy can’t get enough book tour. “You meet strangers and you’re already in the middle of a conversation that you’re interested in,” she said. “I just love that.” She described the people who attended the events as very engaged and ready to talk about their own experience.
Many people have asked Betsy how she was able to pull off such a comprehensive tour. The Missing Class tour would not have happened without the generosity and hard work of the wonderful people who hosted Betsy in her travels or helped organize events; Anne Phillips and Emma Israel of Class Action and her spouse Gail, a progressive book publicist; Cornell University Press’s publicists; and of course the donors who contributed to the special appeal for the Activist Class Cultures Project. (For personal and in-depth appreciations, visit bit.ly/mcthanks)
Betsy developed five new workshop modules for the Activist Class Cultures Project. Erika Thorne of Training for Change helped Betsy turn the ideas in the book into popular education exercises; then Class Action trainers and friends piloted the workshops. Overall, more than a dozen Class Action trainers were involved in the creation, customization and co-facilitation of the new workshops.
To date there have been 32 Missing Class events, including a weekend retreat for Appalachian organizers at the Highlander Center. They have ranged from one tiny 5-person mini-workshop to lively crowds of 50 to 85 people at Pendle Hill, Porter Square Books and Busboys and Poets.
“Book tour is an opportunity to learn,” Betsy says. “My brain is bigger, my questions are broader.” One such question came out of the new Diversity Ironies module, which deals with class bias in anti-racism work: what does working-class anti-racism work look like? “I heard from very savvy anti-racist activists, ‘OK, so you’re asking us what’s the solution, but what do you think? What are the best practices?’” So Betsy has begun gathering Class Action trainers and friends together to tackle this next phase of Class Action’s work on race/class intersections.
“Building understanding happens in all ways: it happens through academic research, and it happens through practitioners putting their heads together to reflect.”
Tackling Class: Unitarian Universalistsby: Denise Moorehead
When two longtime social justice stalwarts reconnected at Class Action’s 2013 East Coast Training of Trainers, we never envisioned that we would start a new organization focused on ending classism. But with assistance from Class Action, the new organization is making a difference in Unitarian Universalist (UU) circles across the US.
Rev. Dr. Dorothy Emerson and I met years ago through the UU Service Committee. Each of us had worked on social justice issues ranging from civil rights to gay rights to income equality. When we met again last year, we began exploring how we might bring class and classism into clearer focus within the UU faith community.
Working closely with Class Action’s program director, Betsy Leondar-Wright, we launched UU Class Conversations. In its first year, with funding from the Fund for Unitarian Universalism, the project offered a series of workshops to help congregations and organizations explore class — and address classism.
To date, nearly 300 people have come to workshops, and several hundred more have connected through our website, spiritual and educational events, and social media.
Now in its second year, UU Class Conversations has an Advisory Board and Steering Committee, and plans to hold an early 2015 Training of Trainers. Significantly, an organizing strategy has been developed to move congregations and UU organizations toward a long-term, sustainable commitment to eradicate classism.
A Class Action Impact Story
Transforming Leadership Structure as Social Change Catalyst
by the TSNE Leadership Team
“Leadership, like a piece of cloth, is strongest when its different parts are woven closely together, when there is a seat for everybody at the table.” – Trina Jackson, Leadership Team Member
After a year of working with Class Action on organizational classism and power, the regional non-profit Third Sector New England has changed our leadership structure to give more voice to non-management staff.
TSNE’s story has always been one of transformation. Since 1959, we have evolved into a multi-faceted organization with a unique mix of services for nonprofits – but we’ve also evolved our social justice aspirations, for example by developing the NonProfit Center building, launching the Nonprofit Quarterly, and giving grants for diversity and inclusion.
Our commitment to creating a more democratic society starts with our own staff, who have working groups on diversity and inclusion and on facilitating difficult staff conversations.
TSNE’s diversity work became critical in 2011 when external factors unexpectedly intervened, and some of our long-time staff colleagues were laid off. The cutbacks left our senior leadership team composed of only white, long-tenured senior managers.
Thinking differently about leadership
TSNE’s Diversity Committee proposed to work with Class Action for a year to help facilitate the difficult conversations about power and class within the organization. After two all-staff workshops, staff gave the senior management team a powerful message that the leadership structure did not reflect TSNE’s core values of equity and diversity.
It was a call to action for the senior team. Our executive director, Jonathan Spack, embraced this as an opportunity to creatively explore how TSNE might be more equitably structured.
TSNE’s new leadership team now includes staff at all levels of the organization and from diverse backgrounds. Thanks to our work with Class Action, the newly composed leadership team was able to explore various dimensions of diversity in its selection process.
The new leadership team includes one member of the Diversity Committee and two at-large staff members, as well as 5 senior managers. It is now more diverse than ever before in terms of gender, race, abilities, socioeconomic class, sexual orientation, marital and parental status.
Working together as a team
The new leadership team’s first organization-wide task – after two meetings laying the groundwork for ‘how we will work together’ – was to set the organizational budget. Four members of the team had never participated in TSNE-wide level budgetary discussions.
As one new member shared, “It was intimidating, scary, exciting and fun. We asked a lot of questions, and no one made us feel as if our questions were not relevant.” Jumping right into a high stakes task was a good way for the newly formed leadership team to put into practice its agreements about how to deliberate and make decisions together.
Progress toward social transformation is a journey of many steps. At TSNE, we acknowledge our steps forward, while recognizing how much further we still have to go. We can start to shift power in society by partnering with many great organizations, such as Class Action, and by looking for ways to walk our talk.
Meet Class Action’s Newest Trainers
Montreal, QB & Boston, MA
San Francisco, CA
To read more about all of our facilitators, visit the “Who We Are” section of our website.