To be the person who receives Class Action’s phone calls and e-mails is very exciting. Almost every day someone new reaches out to us with a classism dilemma, a workshop inquiry, a literature order, a reprint request, or an appreciation for our work. It makes me realize how many people around the US are worrying about class inequities – and how unique Class Action is in making classism our one focus.
Read on for highlights of our recent work – small but steady steps towards a world without classism.
~~ Betsy Leondar-Wright
Youth Tackle CLASSISM
TEENAGERS are surrounded by class inequities – who has a smart-phone, who goes where on vacation, who has what opportunities for higher education – but few get chances to learn about class or take action for fairness. Class Action has been steadily increasing our work with high school students.
Teen Inspires ANOTHER TEEN
Youth Organizing FOR FAIRNESS
Class Action’s next publication, the K-12 curriculum Class in the Classroom, expanded by curriculum designers Pamela Freeman and Phyllis Labanowski, will feature inspiring stories of youth activism against class injustice. For example, middle-school and high-school students will read the story of Harriet Hanson, a 10-year-old cotton mill worker in Lowell, MA, who led other spinners out on strike over a pay cut in 1835.
Students will also learn about more recent youth activism for a fairer economy, for example a group of Bronx teenagers who helped keep their neighborhood affordable. And as more contemporary youth actions unfold – such as the students who filled the Wisconsin State House to defend public workers this spring – these stories can be added to the curriculum.
If you know a historic or recent story of high-school-aged kids taking a stand against classism, or a classroom where the newly revised curriculum could be piloted, please email us at email@example.com. We’re also seeking donations to promote the curriculum to more schools.
Getting Real About Class: WORKSHOPS
In 2011 Class Action has had more workshop requests than our 13 trainers could fulfill, leading us to start fund-raising for aTraining of Trainers (ToT) Institute. A ToT could draw in some kindred spirits as new trainers, and extend the legacy of our late co-founder Felice Yeskel, who was a gifted trainer. A few notable notable highlights from the spring’s workshops include:
- Pamela Freeman and Jenny Ladd led an interactive plenary on power dynamics at the Emerging Practitionersin Philanthropy conference. Below, Jenny describes a powerful Theater of the Oppressed exercise they led.
- Student Affairs professionals at Rutgers University worked on expanding diversity work to include classism oncampus with Nicole Brown and Betsy Leondar-Wright.
“The entire university should have this training! Both Betsy and Nicole are well-versed on issues of class and its intersections.” ~~ Rutgers Participants
- Two progressive non-profits asked Class Action for workshops on environmental justice (EJ). Participants created new endings to real-life botched coalition stories, envisioning cross-class alliances of middle-class environmentalists and grassroots EJ activists making change together.
|“A wonderful – and interactive – presentation! Thank you for makingthis an excellent program – and a great foray into issues of classand environmental justice for all of us.” ~~ Nonprofit Director|
The Experience of POWER IMBALANCE
By Jenny Ladd
To start a plenary session on Power Dynamics in Philanthropy for Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy, Pamela Freeman and I led 225 people through the following exercise, the Columbian Hypnosis, from Games for Actors and Non-actors by Augusto Boal, Brazilian colleague of Paulo Freire. Here’s how it goes:
We have everyone stand up and find a partner. One player holds her open hand, fingers upward, about 2 to 6 inches from her partner’s face. She then starts moving her hand slowly, walking, bending, going up and down, while her partner tries to keep his face at exactly the same distance from her hand, as though her hand is pulling or pushing his face about. After a couple of minutes the partners switch roles.
We then give partners a chance to debrief. Then in the whole group, we ask questions like these: How did it feel to be the leader? How did it feel to be the follower? We get both positive and negative feelings; sometimes people will admit to the pleasure of having or not having power. Then we ask, “How do you relate what went on in the exercise to your work? In this case, to being a young staffperson in a philanthropic institution.”
Exercises like this, in which people experience power differences in their bodies, can bring a deep level of truth to discussion and learning.
Dear Class Action, What Should I say? DEBUNKING MYTHS ABOUT THE PUBLIC SECTOR
Dangerous people, intent on stripping away the safety nets from seniors and low-income families, have reached some powerful positions. It was a watershed moment in US politics when the House approved Rep. Paul Ryan’s extremist budget proposal to end the Medicare and Medicaid guarantees.
They wouldn’t have been able to get away with something so drastic without a propaganda campaign demonizing those who rely on public health benefits. Recently we got two blogposts from people concerned about hateful emails they had received from usually sensible friends. (See the other one by Joan Nikelsky on Classism Exposed.) Lena Rothman asked for Class Action’s advice about an email full of classist myths (see above).
If you have suggestions for how Lena could respond to her neighbor, please post a comment on her Classism Exposed blog post at www.classism.org/blog.
Dear Class Action,
My neighbor in my conservative rural town emailed me this racist/classist piece of junk [see above]. I need some advice on what to do next.
I asked her if she had any interest in coming to my houseand watching the documentary on low-wage workers called “Waging a Living.” She said that she’s open to anything that will enlighten her. I may get up to 10 such people to come, here in rural USA. There is a real need to talk about class.
Could you help me form questions that will lead to a good discussion? I’m just not good at it. I get choked up or emotional. I’m learning a whole new language to communicate about these issues, instead of calling names or separating that individual from myself. I find I avoid the “R” word and the “C” word to not shut down discussion. I think if questions are more open-ended, people will get less defensive. In the 80’s we banged people over the head, and that sure didn’t work! Any advice?
Four Ways you can Support Class Action WITHOUT SPENDING A DIME
LIBRARY USERS: Check to see whether your local library carries our publications – the Enough DVD, the manual Talking Across the Class Divide, and Class Matters – and if not, put in a request asking the library to order them from our website store: www.classism.org/store
BLOG SURFERS: Do you have friends who might enjoy the Classism Exposed blog? Email them the link to your favorite post and ask them to sign up to get our alerts. www.classism.org/blog
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JOINERS: Are you connected with a religious congregation, school, union, social service agency or other group that sometimes hosts workshops? Ask them to invite Class Action to do a workshop on Exploring Class, The Color of Class, Cross-Class Alliance Building, or Communicating Respectfully Across Class Differences. www.classism.org/about/what-we-do
WHO IS CLASS ACTION?
PROJECT DIRECTOR & CLASSISM EXPOSED EDITOR
WOMEN BUILDING BRIDGES PROJECT DIRECTOR
OTHER ADVISORY BOARD MEMBERS
CLASS ACTION WORKSHOP TRAINERS
SUMMER 2011 INTERNS
Lindsey Tate (newsletter designer)
Class Action is now part of the Institute for Policy Studies Program on Inequality and the Common Good Their new, one-stop-shopping website on extreme inequality is now live http://www.inequality.org/.
Class Action depends on individual donations to spread our vision of a world without classism. Online donations are easy and tax-deductible at www.classismorg/donate.