Working Together to End Classism

This March I had the privilege of attending a Working Together to End Classism Workshop led by Gwen Brown, the International Liberation Reference Person for People Raised Poor. Her leadership on a difficult and usually “heavy” topic was outstanding on so many levels.

From the beginning, she created safety for all of us—whether we were raised-poor, working class, middle class, or owning class. She held out a clear vision of how classism affects all of us and gave us practical strategies for reaching for each other.

These were some of the highlights of the weekend for me:

In each of her talks Gwen came back to our basic goodness as children and our blamelessness regarding classism. We came into the world with no choice about which class-based distresses we would get. None of us received enough attention or respect, which left us confused, discouraged, and vulnerable to the “better than, less than” messages at the core of all oppressions. It was reassuring to hear Gwen’s opening words: “It’s good to be who we are. Our preciousness is still intact, no matter what distresses we carry.” And she maintained this non-blaming tone throughout the workshop.

She said that many of our chronic distresses are universal, whatever our class background. We all carry humiliation, shame, and discouragement. We are not as different as we often believe; we just wear our distress patterns differently. She repeatedly encouraged us to not be discouraged by outward appearances, particularly of people who seem self-sufficient and confident, but to keep trying to get closer. To do this we have to work on where we were left not trusting. “Who do we not trust?” was a question she challenged us to discharge on.

To illustrate some of the features of global capitalism, we looked at ads from a high-end women’s fashion magazine. Within global capitalism, we become numb to the exploitation of the many for the profit and “benefit” of the few; it is in the air we breathe, so it is hard to notice. We are constantly pressured to imitate an “ideal” of owning-class privilege and to try to be upwardly mobile. We are led to believe that it’s okay for some children to have resources and privileges while most of the world’s children grow up poor.

Our discussion of the educational system gave me space to work on early feelings of not being smart. The educational system is not a human place, in which children get listened to. It is a competitive place, in which young people (especially of the middle class) are pressured to “be somebody” in order to be noticed enough to get resource. As a working-class female, it made me doubt myself and my thinking.

Gwen worked with people from all the constituencies and began each demonstration by having the group, and herself, appreciate the client.

She shared some strategies for challenging classism:

Middle- and owning-class Co-Counselors and leaders can

* ask their working-class and raised-poor Co-Counselors, “What would make it safe for you in our Community?” “What could I do that would be more respectful?”

* provide space for working-class and raised-poor people to speak; take the thinking of working-class and raised-poor people seriously;

* when challenged, resist defending or explaining motives and instead say, “Thank you, I’ll work on that”;

We working-class and raised-poor Co-Counselors and leaders can

* speak up about classism when we see it: “Do you know that sounded classist?”

* have a goal of being excellent counselors for owning- and middle-class people (this will speed our own re-emergence);

* assume that our thinking is central to change, that we have an important role to play;

* choose to build working-class and raised-poor RC as a personal project.

I was reassured by Gwen’s leadership, counseling, and brilliance in Community building and how she has made RC her own. She held out that we can each take our mind seriously as a “world-changing mind.” We can choose to build RC for ourselves. We can forgive ourselves for what we can’t do yet. We can step up to our bigness and play a role with all people we have relationships with, even when disrespect comes our way. Gwen modeled all of this for me, which gives me so much hope as a raised-working-class woman!

Carla Macchello

Sunnyvale, California, USA

(Present Time 184, July 2016)

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