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Bridging Class Divides to Create Community Resilience Betsy Leondar-Wright Class Action May 13, 2014.

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Presentation on theme: "Bridging Class Divides to Create Community Resilience Betsy Leondar-Wright Class Action May 13, 2014."— Presentation transcript:

1 Bridging Class Divides to Create Community Resilience Betsy Leondar-Wright Class Action May 13, 2014

2 Class e-survey Please answer the questions about: Your class background – when you were 12 years old Your adult/current class How does this group compare with the US population as a whole? How much class diversity in this webinar?

3 4 CLASS IDENTITY GROUPS: 1. Persistent poverty: Less than high school education; outside mainstream labor market, relying on public assistance; low-income so unmet basic needs; public or substandard housing or homeless. (5% of US) 2. Working class or lower-middle-class: High school degree and maybe vocational education; supervised wage jobs or hands-on small business; renting or modest homeownership. (60% of US) 3. Professional-middle class: 4-year college degree or more; professional/managerial jobs with relatively more autonomy and often higher income and security; homeownership trading up to bigger homes. (30%) 4. Owning class: Elite private schools and colleges; enough income from investments to not need to work; multiple or luxury homes. (5% of US)

4 CLASS MOBILITY: 5. Upwardly mobile straddler: Working-class background; first-generation college grad; professional/managerial jobs; homeownership (if over 35) 6. Voluntarily downwardly mobile: Professional-middle-class background; 4-year college degree; then choices to not maximize income or pursue a professional career, going off the grid or freeing up time for activism or art 7. Involuntarily downwardly mobile: Professional-middle-class background; derailed by health crises, disability, war PTSD, addiction, or economic crash, so working-class or in poverty now. 8. Mixed class: Many people have complicated stories that don’t fit into one of these categories.

5 Are you organizing across class and race lines? When working-class and poor are underrepresented: … groups can’t solve problems without hearing diverse voices of most affected; … groups are too small to have clout without cross-class and multiracial coalition. Why is cross-class unity rare? Social segregation by class Class cultural differences – the focus of Missing Class

6 25 progressive US social movement organizations in 5 states Focused on varied progressive issues: Globalization, anti-war, anti-poverty, welfare rights, immigrant rights, affordable housing, education reform, youth empowerment, labor, criminal justice, etc. 37 meetings in 2007 & 2008 observed, most taped 362 demographic surveys 61 interviews Missing Class research overview

7 362 activists, diverse in race, gender and age, assigned to classes based on survey data: Class background: Current class: Parents’ income source Occupation Parents’ education Education 303 fell into one of four class trajectory categories: lifelong working-class / poor/ LMC (N=88); lifelong professional-middle-class** (N=140); upwardly mobile straddlers** (N=53); voluntarily downwardly mobile** (N=22). ** shorthanded as the 3 college-educated trajectories It’s amazing how many things correlated with class! Categorizing survey respondents by class

8 Community organizing Labor Working-class-majority groups in 2 movement traditions

9 Staff advocacy & other nonprofits College-educated-majority groups were mostly in these movement traditions Protest groups on global causes, self-described as “progressive” or “anti-imperialist” Voluntarily-downwardly-mobile-majority groups were mostly anarchist

10 Exercise: NOTICING CLASS SPEECH-STYLE DIFFERENCES Two members of the same group answered the same question. Both are middle-aged African Americans and experienced activists. What differences do you notice? ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Interviewer: What are the goals of your group? Laverne: We don't want to see the war in Iraq, we want to see that come to an end. We don't want to see the recruiters harassing the kids in the high school, which they do. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Interviewer: What are the goals of your group? Rodney: One, we want to end the war, two is to become a multi-racial, multi-class, multi-ethnic peace movement for social and economic justice. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

11 Their class stories line up with their speech styles ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Laverne’s parents have high-school educations. She still rents in the working-class neighborhood where she grew up. Her jobs have mostly been direct-care human services. After years of one course at a time, she finally got a vocational 4-year degree after age 40. Class identity: Working-class for most of her life, now a recent straddler ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Rodney is a third-generation college graduate. He works as a top manager at a national nonprofit. He is a homeowner in a suburban town. Class identity: Upper-middle-class

12 How do working-class activists tend to talk? More negative humor (Teasing, self-deprecating, SNAFU) Make political points via story- telling, metaphors or analogies Analogy: “Say you were in the hospital…,” Metaphor: “I’m a pebble in their shoe.” Working-class activists use (and prefer) more concrete specific language (names, places, objects, amounts, events).

13 How do college-educated activists tend to talk? Teasing taboo among some white professional women – so less negative humor; more wordplay (eg puns) in professional-middle- class-majority groups More abstract generalizations

14 Words said more often per 10,000 words by interviewees of all college- educated trajectories than by working-class interviewees: “Strategy” / “strategize” (8.1 times as often) “Principle” (7.4x) “Connection” (5.7x) “Perspective” (5.5x) “Network” (6.3 times as often) “Outreach” (5.4x) “Activist” / “Activism” (5.1x) “Context” / “Contextualize” (4.7x) “Socialism” / “Socialist” (20x) “Nonviolence”/”nonviolent” (35.5x) “Oppress(-ion/-ive)” (6.5x) “Solidarity” (14x) Abstract vocabulary used by college-educated

15 “Coalition” “Goal” “Issue” “Community” “Situation” “Conflict” “Decision” “Power” “Story” “Task” “Recruit” Terms used by activists of all classes

16 Zoe*, PMC outside facilitator at Tricity Labor Coalition’s goal-setting meeting: “That's a whole big category of developing a plan in order to achieve a number of these goals.” Words she said in instructions to small groups that no union members used in reporting back: キ Benchmark キ Mobilization キ Strategic キ Process Story about speaking in generalizations & why it matters Instead, members made concrete suggestions, e.g., “Let’s call Al to see if he has a firefighters’ retiree list.” Zoe and PMC union leaders frustrated by not getting the input they wanted.

17 A common problem: Where is everybody? Low turn-out almost a universal problem in voluntary groups But ideas of what works to recruit varied sharply by class

18 How do working-class activists tend to recruit? Expect ‘selective incentives’ to draw new people : Food at all meetings; entertainment Mutual aid and member-only benefits Realistic plan for short-term victory improving recruits’ lives

19 How do college-educated activists tend to recruit? Expect issues and political ideas to recruit So more discussions of framing and sub-issue options to match constituencies Often overlook food and other short-term incentives

20 How do college-educated activists tend to recruit? Many voluntarily downwardly mobile anarchists expect ideology to draw kindred spirits Some actually opposed recruiting as coercive Quote from young white VDM anarchist, Dallas: “We're not a recruiting organization. I want people to associate with us because they feel similar. We don't want to evangelize! … All these forces that want to convince [you]: religion, politics—someone's always pushing something!” * Note: All names of activists and groups are pseudonyms.

21 Drawing strengths from all class cultures: City Life / Vida Urbana A positive example Vivid, accessible language, story- telling – and big idea terms introduced when useful Food, mutual aid, tangible wins and other selective incentives – and message-strategy discussion of what frames appeal to what constituencies More class-privileged people naming their cultural differences without implying superiority

22 To raise your own class consciousness: ‘Like’ Class Action on Facebook ( Sign up for e-newsletters at To start class conversations in your organization: Host a Class Action workshop ( Get discussion questions from Talking Across the Class Divide ( Help us spread the word about activist class cultures Read Missing Class, then write an Amazon review Ask your library to buy a copy Share the link to Next steps

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