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Tackling Classism Together

Our RC Region 1 has tried a few things to challenge classism. One of our Areas in Chicago (Illinois, USA) has a support group for people raised working class. A support group of middle-class people from both Chicago Areas also meets. In my leaders’ meetings, I’ve noticed that a lot of us feel like we don’t have any more time or money for RC, regardless of how much time or money we actually have. So when I led our Regional workshop this fall, I was thinking about other things we could try to get more attention in this area.

It seems difficult for many of us—no matter what our class background is—to talk about our current situation. Telling someone how much money we earn, how much we have, and what we do with it (including how much we pay for RC workshops) seems difficult. It’s hard for us to remember to discharge on it, or to ask each other about it. Our economic system keeps us extremely isolated around these issues. We feel bad if we can’t “make it work,” believing we are personally to blame for a big, oppressive system.

At our workshop, I asked people, “What is the group of people you could talk with about your financial and economic situation?” We took a lot of time proposing groups and helping people think about them. They included the following:

• Want to retire but scared to stop working

• Younger people trying to navigate capitalism

• Having more money than our parents

• Self-employed

• Raised poor or working class but working in middle-class jobs

• Raised middle class and working in middle-class jobs

• Owning class, trust funds, and unearned income

A lot of people said these groups were a highlight of the workshop. Below are some responses and some additional thoughts on our work on classism.

Alysia Tate
Regional Reference Person
for Illinois, USA

Chicago, Illinois, USA

 

Our last several Regional workshops have spurred me into action2 on classism. Last year I led a table at which I asked everyone to discharge about what to pay for workshops and to look at the connection between racism and wealth. Since then I have pushed way3 outside my comfort zone to lead a raised-working-class support group. I had noticed that many of our Region’s working-class leaders spent a lot of time rehearsing complaints about middle- and owning-class patterns and I wanted to point us toward a more powerful response. The class system is complex, and we are often pulled to look at things from the targeted end. We need to discharge our oppressor material4 as well. It would also be great if we could gain better attention for our middle- and owning-class sisters and brothers. We might even choose to counsel them.

In the support group, we noticed that everyone there had a bachelor’s degree or higher, including those of us who were raised poor, and that our Region has had difficulty attracting and retaining individuals who haven’t had access to that kind of education. Since we are in the United States, that means we are missing out on sixty-eight percent of the adult population. We also noticed that there are few (if any) active Co-Counselors in our Community currently doing working-class jobs.

Many of us who make it to RC were labeled early on as “gifted” or “smart” and were tracked differently from our peers. We have had sessions about working-class people we loved in our childhood, ways we got separated, and what it would take to make friends with more working-class people in our current lives. We have looked at Harvey’s5 idea of serving as “secret agents” of the working class and how we could make that a reality.

A raised-middle-class support group has also been meeting regularly, and at our last Regional workshop everyone worked on money. Things are starting to happen.

Jason Rasmussen
Chicago, Illinois, USA

 

My mom was a single parent who was over forty years of age when I was born. I had two brothers, both about twenty years older than I. One was challenged by alcoholism and the other by a mental condition. Mom graduated from a practical nursing school but couldn’t get a job as a nurse. We lived in a second-floor rear apartment heated by a coal stove. There were two tiny bedrooms. During the great migration of African Americans from the Southern United States, seven relatives came to live with us in that two-bedroom apartment. I suppose this is why I feel penniless and on the brink of starvation. I always carry food in my purse, and plastic bags in which to take home food from any reception I attend.

The workshop helped me realize my present reality. I now live in one of Chicago’s nicest neighborhoods, one of my offspring is a city planner for a major city, and another is the manager of a post office in a major city. I have travelled to India, Israel, Brazil, Korea, and many countries in Africa and have cruised the islands of Hawaii. I have spoken to many audiences in cities around the United States. Because I’ve had a small business for the past ten years, at the workshop I joined the group for people who were in business. The workshop helped me begin to work on the fact that I am not penniless and on the brink of starvation.

Anonymous

  

I have been discovering how closely self-worth is tied to “making money.” I counseled about that and found fear at the bottom of it all. Not working (being retired) has me scared into feeling that I am worthless.

Madeline Talbott
Chicago, Illinois, USA

  

I was shocked when we were told to do sessions and have groups about money. Money has seemed like a taboo subject, even in RC. The people in my group all seemed “comfortable,” bordering on rich. Lots of early feelings came up for me about not fitting in. I connected with one person and did my session with him on money. I made a commitment to follow-up with him and put the date in my phone calendar. While I never did check in with him, having it written down encouraged me to look at it, and several weeks after the date I took care of the money business hanging over me. I felt proud that I did it!

Joy Aaronson
Oak Park, Illinois, USA

  

Working on class and money in constituency groups was incredibly helpful for me as a young adult. I have worked on class and money with young adults before, but having Alysia’s leadership and a room full of people all working on different pieces of related material created safety and a space to work. Just hearing people list the things they wanted to work on was helpful. It was reassuring to see that we (adults included) don’t have it all figured out already and also that we are making progress.

As a young adult I am trying to navigate an unreasonable and oppressive system, but I am constantly given messages to the contrary. The message I’ve gotten as a middle-class U.S. woman is that I have a good life—and the tools to keep it that way and improve other people’s lives as well—and that I’d better learn how to “do it right” or I’ll be left behind or be humiliated. As a young person, there was a lot of pressure to go to the “right” schools and do the “right” things to eventually get the “right” job.

 “It is not a rational system. There is no ‘right way’ in an oppressive system” was a powerful contradiction.6 There are no “winners” in capitalism, because we are all hurt by such an irrational system, so trying to be a “winner,” or trying to win just a little—not too much, and in the “right” way—is not logical.

Discharging with the other young adults was a contradiction to the sudden isolation we face when we transition from being young people to being young adults. When we were young people (mostly in school), we got to spend a lot of time together and be close. That was a contradiction to competition patterns. As we became young adults and started entering the workforce, we were separated from each other by competition for work. That’s why it was such a great experience to openly show our struggles around work and money. It is a myth that there are certain jobs that will allow us to escape capitalism entirely, but we get to look for a way to work without being overly hooked by or entangled in the oppressive society.

I loved seeing how my fellow young adults were working hard to live lives of integrity in an oppressive society. Working on it together reminded me that I’m not alone and that it isn’t my job, by myself, to make sure that we all thrive. It is crucial that we do this work, and get supported by our Communities to do it, because then we will be able to think so much better about the future of RC and our society.

Madeline Cronin
Chicago, Illinois, USA

  

I joined the group entitled “Owning Class, Trust Funds, and Unearned Income.” It was a first for me to be in a group like that. It was so nice to have a group to belong to. The safety was a contradiction and allowed me to discharge my confusions about money.

Cindy Dimmitt
Chicago, Illinois, USA

  

I found it interesting to watch our minds work as we proposed the groups we wanted to be in to discharge about money and class. People kept coming up with7 more and more specific categories (raised poor but now middle class, raised working class but now not sure, and so on). It demonstrated that one can have a mixed class background or move from one class to another. Seeing all the different combinations made it safe to discharge about current income and debt and all the feelings attached.

Patrick Zylka
Chicago, Illinois, USA

 

For the first time since arriving in this country, I was able to talk about money without fear of offending someone. Since the distribution of wealth is so far from fair in this society, talking about how much one makes is a taboo. It was refreshing to be liberated from it during the three-way mini-session.

Katya Rehak
Oak Park, Illinois, USA
(originally from Russia)


1 A Region is a subdivision of the International RC Community, usually consisting of several Areas (local RC Communities).
2 “Spurred me into action” means motivated me to take action.
3 “Way” means far.
4 “Material” means distress.
5 Harvey Jackins’
6 Contradiction to the distress
7 “Coming up with” means thinking of.


Last modified: 2020-07-02 14:27:35+00