In July, Senior Trainer Shane Lloyd and Interim Executive Director Rachel Rybaczuk co-led an Exploring Class workshop for members of Glide Church in San Francisco. The training was in support of Bridging The Divide (BTD), a project bringing people from across the political spectrum into dialogue on a monthly basis. Bridging The Divide is a powerful example of the cross-class solidarity-building central to Class Action’s mission. The workshop contained material from our Activist Class Cultures framework and provided insight into the ways class norms may influence BTD. Chris Collins, Bridging The Divide organizer, shared his thoughts about the class issues that inspired him to invite Class Action to Glide and the workshop’s immediate outcomes.
How do you see class issues showing up in San Francisco?
If you’ve ever visited San Francisco, you’ve seen that it’s a diverse place, both racially and culturally. We often live in the same neighborhoods and ride the same buses, but there’s not a lot of interaction outside of our social comfort zones. We’re living amongst each other, but we’re really not living with each other. In this beautiful, multicultural city with a rich history of fighting for equality, class divisions are very visible and they keep us from knowing one another.
What about at Glide Memorial Church?
In our divided country, Glide is a beacon of hope. I invited my friend Regina to Glide for the first time, and she immediately noticed the congregation and choir’s incredible diversity of race, class, gender, and sexuality. My friend had to wipe the tears from her eyes before the celebration even started. This is not an unusual reaction to Glide. It’s a powerfully spiritual experience to gather with people who look different and live differently, for the common purpose of celebrating life by welcoming, respecting and loving everyone.
What inspired you to bring in a Class Action training?
Since the beginning of Bridging The Divide, I’ve been doing a lot of research on political and social division. Classism kept coming up again and again. I discovered the book Class Lives at the San Francisco Public Library and learned about the work Class Action is doing. I also had recently read White Trash by Nancy Isenberg, which argues that contempt toward poor and working classes is a 400-year-old American story. I’ve come to realize that we can’t talk about political, racial and religious division without talking about classism. Glide has a unique opportunity to confront classism, and it just made sense to ignite this conversation with training by Class Action.
What did participants gain from the training?
We had about 40 people from the Glide community participate in the workshop. Many of us had never asked ourselves how class had impacted our upbringing. There’s so much value in asking that simple question and reflecting on our answers in a group setting. We heard the stories of working class kids going to college and struggling with the feeling of not belonging. We heard from a woman who had struggled with homelessness, and how she now sells shots of liquor on the sidewalk after the bars close to make ends meet. We also heard from people who grew up middle class, who actually felt a bit embarrassed that they were able play in their neighborhoods without any fear of danger. Across the class spectrum, people feel both pain and pride. We have that in common. We can connect on that.
Was there any particular exercise that you found impactful?
We did an exercise that focused on how people from different classes communicate. I learned that it’s too easy to dismiss statements from people who do not have the same training in writing and speaking as I do. It also made me realize that we should look at some of the BTD promotional language to see if it is inadvertently excluding people.
Overall, the workshop really helped me develop the skill to better hear the values being communicated, rather than getting distracted by the differences in communication style. It’s energizing to realize that I can meaningfully connect with people of different classes, if I can get past these technicalities and really and truly hear what is being said. After all, that’s the point of all of this. I imagine a world of diverse people connected through love and compassion, and that keeps me going.