Class and Movement-Building

At this political moment, we hear urgent calls to organize cross-class, multiracial progressive movements to press for fundamental change. Since activism looks different among people of different classes, the challenges of organizing progressive movements vary by class.

College-educated professional-middle-class (PMC) and wealthy activists are more likely to make an individual commitment to an issue and then seek out a group with a compatible ideology and mission. Today millions of them want to be part of a resistance movement, but to the extent that some PMC-led organizations have an individualistic and ideological inner culture, they may repel some working-class potential recruits. How can PMC activists’ solidarity muscles and cross-class alliance-building skills be strengthened? Conversely, working-class and poor activists tend to get involved through preexisting affiliations, whether with a workplace, a religious congregation, a neighborhood, or through invitations from family members or friends. It’s a challenge to expand locally rooted working-class efforts beyond a trusted circle to wield more power in a wider sphere. How can the scope of working-class activism be widened? Also, working-class and poor people may be biographically unavailable due to being low-wage, undocumented, single parents, etc., yet many working-class, poor, and multiply marginalized people have been powerful activists. What processes of empowerment have enabled them to take on public leadership, and how can those be replicated in other communities?

Special thanks to Guest Editor Betsy Leondar-Wright, who organized this exciting dialogue.

Thanks also to our wonderful contributors.

Juhi TyagiMax Weber Center for Advanced Cultural and Social Studies (essay)
Andrea Voyer, University of Connecticut (essay)
Daniel Laurison, Swarthmore College (essay)

Editors in Chief,
Grace Yukich, David Ortiz, Rory McVeigh, Guillermo Trejo

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The Grounded Logics of Everyday Inequality

By Andrea Voyer

For the past two and a half years I have been studying everyday inequality between people in three cross-class civic communities. I’ve been a participant observer among and conducted interviews with the parents of a public school, the members of a church, and the participants in a neighborhood council.

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Women in Resistance: What Women’s Organizations can do for Class Building

By Juhi Tyagi

“We, as Adivasi [tribal] women, could collect all men from the village and speak to them about women’s issues—at first, only when we were accompanied by the dalam [squad], since we were afraid to address men on our own. But as time went by and men realized we were associated with the women’s squad, we started to address them on our own. The biggest problem in every village was men getting drunk and hitting women. So, we would tell men not to drink. We then mobilized men to shut liquor depots with us, which were owned by economically powerful groups. Men became involved in this way.”

-Akhila, 39, Former Maoist Deputy Platoon Commander and Former Women’s Committee member.

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Class and Movement-Building: How does Class Shape Participation in Movements?

At this political moment, we hear urgent calls to organize cross-class, multiracial progressive movements to press for fundamental change. Since activism looks different among people of different classes, the challenges of organizing progressive movements vary by class.

 College-educated professional-middle-class (PMC) and wealthy activists are more likely to make an individual commitment to an issue and then seek out a group with a compatible ideology and mission. Today millions of them want to be part of a resistance movement, but to the extent that some PMC-led organizations have an individualistic and ideological inner culture, they may repel some working-class potential recruits. How can PMC activists’ solidarity muscles and cross-class alliance-building skills be strengthened? Conversely, working-class and poor activists tend to get involved through preexisting affiliations, whether with a workplace, a religious congregation, a neighborhood, or through invitations from family members or friends. It’s a challenge to expand locally rooted working-class efforts beyond a trusted circle to wield more power in a wider sphere. How can the scope of working-class activism be widened? Also, working-class and poor people may be biographically unavailable due to being low-wage, undocumented, single parents, etc., yet many working-class, poor, and multiply marginalized people have been powerful activists. What processes of empowerment have enabled them to take on public leadership, and how can those be replicated in other communities?

Special thanks to Guest Editor Betsy Leondar-Wright, who curated this exciting dialogue.

Thanks also to our wonderful group of contributors.

Frederic Rose, University of Massachusetts, Amherst (essay)
Hahrie Han, University of California, Santa Barbara (essay)
Linda Stout, Spirit in Action (essay)

Editors in Chief,
Grace Yukich, David Ortiz, Rory McVeigh, Guillermo Trejo

 

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Understanding Power Dynamics in Cross-Class Coalitions

By Hahrie Han

As the daughter of Korean immigrants in Texas, I grew up knowing that to get what I wanted, I often had to find a way to translate across difference. Cultural, racial, linguistic, and socio-economic differences distinguished my family from the families of most of my classmates. Although I did not have the words to articulate it at the time, I implicitly recognized that the meanings and sensibilities I had were not always legible to my peers. Although I studied their world, they did not study mine. To fit in and negotiate the social dynamics of high school, I had to find ways to either make my world legible to them, or assimilate into theirs. In most cases, because they were many and I was one, because they were the norm and I was the outsider, because they had the weight of history behind them and I was a callow teenager, I assimilated.

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Reviving Democracy: Prospects for a National Cross-Class Politics

By Frederic Rose

The fault lines of class, race, geography and party played out dramatically in the 2016 election,  demonstrating how polarized and dysfunctional our politics has become.  Our political system seems unable to address the long litany of crises facing us from climate change to extreme inequality to perpetual wars to gun violence.  Politics is being fought as a zero sum game in which we are forced to choose between competing goods like growing the economy vs. fighting climate change, or immigrant rights versus the rule of law.  These seemingly unresolvable policy fights reflect a deeper failure of our political system to realize the promise of democracy, where people from different points of view and persuasions are forced to recognize and negotiate their differences through public dialogue and debate. While segmented media bubbles and segregated social circles feed this kind of polarization and paralysis, organizing and coalition building especially across diverse social and class lines can reinvigorate our democratic process and develop more sophisticated policy agendas that integrate social and economic goods.  This is the promise of cross-class and multi-sector coalition building that has been successful at the local level and that needs to be brought into our national politics.

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Bridging the Class Divide

By Linda Stout

When I first became involved in social justice movements in the 70’s, classism was a major barrier to people like me.  As a low-income, rural woman, I found that when I joined the social justice movements of my time… the peace, women’s, and environmental movements, I lost my voice.  People just assumed if you were part of these movements, you had a college education, spoke with “accepted” grammar, and looked like their idea of a “leader.”  Without any of that, I was often ignored and overlooked.  People would make reference to those stupid southerners, white trash, and trailer trash, meaning people like myself.

It was only from the women who were in the civil rights movement, often critical of the classism and sexism within that movement, that I found a home, a place of acceptance.

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