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Class 1A

Kim Wood, Bexhill-on-Sea

Thank you for the article ‘Facing up to classism can help build stronger groups and stronger movements’ (PN 2586-2587). I found the interview with Betsy Leondar-Wright really interesting. It shows how group process without awareness of classism can keep people away, how we self-segregate within groups and how difficulties can arise.

I have been in groups where the poor and working class people were more dominant, and they were wary or dismissive of the middle and upper class people, and vice versa. I want to increase my understanding of classism so that I can avoid alienating and offending people by being unaware. I think Betsy gives a good example of owning up to mistakes and always being open to learning more about others’ class stories. The part about humour really resonated with me - I definitely like to hang out with people who laugh at the same things as me!

There were really interesting points made in the article around the importance of having mixed training teams. I think that having speak-outs could be really useful and also discussions around cost-sharing. I appreciate discussion of the difference between being poor or working class, and being voluntarily-downwardly-mobile.

Betsy says she wants a better world and says that looking at class can have a transformative effect. I have taken part in the exercise of getting into class background caucuses, where we sat down in groups of people whose parents had about the same amount of education as them, the same kind of occupation. In our group we discussed the strengths and challenges that we got from our working-class background and I found it surprisingly comforting and empowering!

I look forward to the cross-class dialogue that Mil will be facilitating in Hastings.

Class 1B

John Donaldson, London

Thanks for the article on Betsy.

One of the reasons working class people may be reluctant to become involved in stuff like ‘Activist Class Culture’ besides being too busy scratching a living, is because they have a highly-developed bullshit detector. ‘If in doubt, don’t’, my lot used to say. Betsy’s right – people who laugh at the same jokes do hang out together – it’s to do with where you come from rather than where you’re at, I think. It is to do with feeling safe and comfortable in what is familiar.

Her research about how many words the middle class use (139) on average compared to the working class (51) sounds right. Working class people frequently like to check things out before opening their mouths, and then get to the point. They may lack confidence due to not being encouraged to speak out growing up or not having those kind of role models. However, typically, it is the workers who are clued in and have an accurate picture of what is going on.

When referring to the working class list of self-identified strengths, she says these are pretty consistent: ‘We’re resilient, we know how to stretch a dollar, we have intense loyalty to our family, our people, our neighbours; we’re straightshooters, we hate bullshit’. And as she says ‘every institution in our society and every group in our movements need these strengths....’

Amen to that!

Class 1C

Steve Whiting, Stevenage

I got a lot from your feature with Betsy Leondar-Wright (PN 2587) – so much that I’m reading her current book Missing Class, which I agree is brilliant (even though it does seem directed at a professional-middle-class readership!). This focus on class is for me long overdue in social change discussion – a big ‘ism’ that still needs to be opened up and worked with.

Coming from a working-class background, living in a working-class town, and working in a professional-middle-class environment, I guess Betsy would categorise me as a ‘straddler’. This enables me to recognise a lot of what she’s talking about – group behaviours and priorities, levels of confidence, throwaway remarks that reveal so much, amount of ‘air space’ in discussions, differences in humour, approaches to conflict, and attitudes to process, leadership and decision-making. I think that much of what she observes in US social justice groups applies similarly in the UK.

If we are serious about building effective social change movements, we know we must reach across our divisions of ethnicity, nationality, gender, faith/non-faith and the rest. Please let’s bring class into this, and link it to power within our groups and more generally.

We still have much to learn, and we’ve barely started. But first step is to name it, and this is what you’ve done with Betsy and class awareness. Hooray! Thank you for opening this up… and please keep her talking!