RC Belongs to the Working Class

It's exciting and supportive to see a lead article in Present Time on working-class oppression at workshops. The Worcester, Massachusetts, USA Area working-class support group used the article as the focus of its last class. The article was read aloud, and then each of us took a turn to talk about and then discharge on the feelings brought up by the article. Here are some of the observations and conclusions we came to:

All members of the group identified with the feelings of being excluded and lonely at workshops, and we agreed that we felt stupid and incompetent compared to our middle-class counterparts. We all thought it was our fault somehow, and that if we could only figure out the right way to be and behave (that is, like the middle-class folks), the workshop would go great for us. For some of us the isolation and loneliness got so bad that we had to leave workshops.

Since we live in New England and the New England Co-Counseling leadership is mostly middle class, we had always assumed that the dichotomy between working-class and middle-class Co-Counselors at workshops was a New England phenomenon. It was therefore reassuring to hear that it is country wide.

We also all agreed with the observation that middle-class Co-Counselors seem to get more than their fair share of time being counseled in front of the workshop. One of our members thought that the reason this happens is that middle-class workshop leaders understand and are more comfortable with middle-class distress and thus are better able to give the kinds of directions which elicit discharge. This makes their job much easier and leads to a better demonstration.

Our hunch is that another reason why middle-class Co-Counselors get more time in front of the workshop is that they are usually the ones who can be counted on to take on leadership roles and to be in the forefront of change, whereas working-class Co-Counselors, because of the way we have been hurt around our thinking, and because we believe no one will follow us, tend to hang back and do not lead. Middle-class workshop leaders naturally see it as a better investment of their time to pay attention to the folks who can be counted on to do the work.

We all agreed that it is important for middle-class workshop leaders to become more sensitive to us working-class folks, pay more attention to us, and help us to become more visible at the workshop. However, we felt that we had a responsibility to take charge of our own distress and work at making the workshop ours, and that to sit back and expect middle-class leaders and Co-Counselors to do it for us would play into our feelings of helplessness, powerlessness, and negativity.

One of the ways we can take charge at a workshop is to seek other working-class workshop attendees for our support base. What often happens to us at workshops is that we define the middle- and owning-class Co-Counselors as the "good ones," the "smart ones," the ones we want to emulate, be around, and be recognized by. When we aren't recognized, we assume it is because we are not good enough to be noticed. If we could look past our distress, we would see that there are many wonderful, intelligent, and loving working-class Co-Counselors at the workshop, and they are scared and waiting for us to reach out to them and help them make the workshop a joyous experience. Reaching out to working-class Co-Counselors does not mean that we should huddle and spend our time exclusively with the people we feel safest with, but that we should use our working-class constituency as our base of operation from which to venture forth, flourish, grow, and make the workshop our own. What is true for all other types of oppression is also true for working-class oppression-that it is better to work on the oppression with other members of the oppressed group before working on it with people outside the group. Spending a good chunk of our workshop time with working-class Co-Counselors will give us the opportunity to do so.

Thank you so much for writing the article, raising this issue, and allowing us to look at this particular area of our difficulties.

Yael Savage
Worcester, Massachusetts, USA
originally printed in Present Time Vol 104, p. 81

Last modified: 2022-12-25 10:17:04+00