Missing Class

I recently had the pleasure and privilege of participating a training held by Class Action and sponsored in part by Line Break Media, titled: “Both/And Communications: Tapping Class Cultures for Community Outreach.”

Class Action is an organization dedicated to ending classism, and providing a safe space for people of all classes to connect and identify issues of class and classism. Betsy Leondar-Wright, Class Action’s program director, recently published a book entitled “Missing Class: Strengthening Social Movement Groups by Seeing Class Cultures.” Class Action developed several workshop modules based on the lessons of this book, including Both/And Communications.

Being both a communications professional and someone who grew up lower class, I was very excited about this workshop—and I wasn’t let down. Betsy and two co-facilitators focused on unmasking class cultures in communications about events and issues, and shared the fascinating results of the research from the Missing Class book.

One insight that hit me in particular was that, during her course of studying 25 different social change groups across the country, Betsy was able to identify a common vocabulary shared by professional middle class activists, crossing race, gender, and issue area lines. This list of a few dozen words included such social change favorites as “hierarchy,” “autonomy,” and even “activism.” However, Betsy was unable to identify a similar common vocabulary for working class activists, even those within the same organizations as professional middle class activists. Again, this held true across lines of race, gender, and issue area. Why was there no common vocabulary? It turns out that working class activists’ language patterns when speaking about their work is so based on personal story and individualized to particular community situations that no such common catalogue can be generated from their speech.

There is a powerful lesson here, which Class Action made sure to impart: professional middle class activists tended to have strong language around systems and societal patterns, while working class activists tended to have compelling and moving stories that connected with other individuals on the ground. Thus Class Action’s emphasis on “Both/And,” a perspective much shared by Line Break Media: both the systemic view and the personal story need to be harnessed, together, to produce the most persuasive communications for social change.