How To Include The Poor in Community Events
It is not enough to say you would like more class diversity in whatever political group you affiliate with. The growth of the class chasm has gotten so precarious, that a reactive stance to classism is not enough. A proactive stance of class inclusion is required. Below are a few things that I think should always be done to try to include the widest range of economic classes, when it comes to organizing and participating in community events. "Community events" that constructively and effectively lock out the poor from participation are not really "community events," they are "exclusive" events. I think 5 things should always be in focus when organizing any event, if class diversity is truly desired. 1) The organizing meetings and events must take place on bus lines. 2) The organizing meetings must not take place at restaurants. 3) The organizing meetings and events must be kid-friendly or offer free childcare on premises. 4) There must be no membership fee to participate. 5) Charity may not be used as a way to skirt the first four rules.
November 15 2004
Although the first rule, that all organizing meetings and events need to take place *on bus lines,* is obvious, many people are oblivious to this. So many middle class people drive, that they do not even think about buses. It is very important that the organizing meetings, not just the events themselves, take place on bus lines. If people cannot get to the organizing meetings due to no buses available, less people will participate in the event, as well. And rule 5 applies here as well. Do not try to offer rides to individual people because someone did not care enough to plan the meetings on bus lines. People will not participate if they cannot get there in an autonomous fashion. It just is a showing of dignity, that you recognize those taking buses are an important part of the congregation as well. Once my son was in a boy scout troop that was off the bus line. We had to walk forever in winter rain and sleet to get there at night! I hated it. Every now and then one of them would offer us a ride, but it was a constant hassle to arrange rides with these people I did not know or share much of anything with, other than our kids were in the same classroom at school together. They were middle class, home owning, Christian Republicans, and I was *not.* So it was uncomfortable for me to ride with them, I preferred walking in the rain. But it would have been cool if they had thought about people who walk and ride buses when choosing where to hold the meetings.
Rule two, do not have meetings and events at restaurants is essential, yet so often overlooked. I cannot tell you how many times I have not gone to meetings as soon as I found out they would be held at restaurants, as I did not have money for a restaurant. I would be counting my last $3 for the month and the idea of a restaurant was crazy. I also did not want to go through that weird awkward thing of telling them I could not go due to money, then them saying they would pitch in and buy my lunch. I would rather we just all met at a place where we all could have a pot luck lunch and all could easily participate without identifying our economic class. You never know who you are losing if you are doing organizing and events at restaurants, as the poor will not come, and they will not explain why either. Usually I just said my son was sick if I needed to get out of such a meeting. I remember a lot of that in law school. I was going to a club meeting, only to find out it was going to be at an expensive restaurant, and there went my participation. I remember not going to an LEIU protest wrap-up meeting last year because it was at a pizza place and I had no money.
Rule three, that the event must be kid-friendly or have childcare on premises, is also essential if you want a diverse class pool of women. Since I have rarely seen men hauling around babies full time, but often see women doing so, I can tell you from personal experience that one of the things that isolated me as a mom was this childcare issue. Many single moms need more social interaction. They are living in poverty, they are working endlessly just to make survival, and there were many times I was interested in getting involved in things when I was a single mom, from musicals at my college, to political action, and I could not, due to childcare. Hell, when I was an early mom, you could not even work out or swim with a toddler. They finally caught on and put childcare in gyms and health clubs. There are even childcare areas at grocery stores and malls now, but in 1984, when I became a mom, no one had that together yet. Very few places were kid-friendly when I was a young mom. It has gotten better, but it is still a lonely world for single moms. Go to a library on a weekday in the children's section. You will see almost all women and children. Go to your local *food bank.* Now, *THAT* is where you will see almost all women and children exclusively. Those may be the women you will see show up if you include free childcare or make your events child friendly.
Rule four is do not collect membership fees. I mean that. I have not participated in many an organization due to membership fees. I did not participate in the Public Interest Law Foundation (PILF), which is Ralph Nader's baby, for public interest law work in law schools. It had a membership fee I could not afford. I asked Ralph directly if he could create something where low income people could join without the membership fee and he said he was not interested in that. He would come to my law school and PILF would sponsor $50 a plate dinners with Ralph. So even if I had raised the PILF membership fee, it seems I would not be able to participate in most of their events anyway! Another example is the PTA. At Northgate Elementary in Seattle, Wa., when we were there, they charged membership fees to join the PTA, an organization which made all the decisions about what went on at the school, such as fund raisers, events, etc. So they told low income people that we could *watch* the PTA meetings, and come to the meetings, but we just could not *vote* on anything there! At a public school! I still find this to be outrageous! They then wanted to violate rule number 5, and try to hand pick who they would give PTA memberships to, etc., forcing the poor to identify themselves, it was a mess. Avoid all this. Just do not charge membership fees. Get outside funding, if you must. Do an extra fundraiser. But do not charge membership fees. And do not charge membership fees and then try to feign equality by saying if people identify themselves as low income you will give them a waiver. They should not have to identify themselves as poor to participate. Just avoid the fee altogether.
Rule five may not be deemed as important by the non-poor as it actually is. In 3 of the above 4 scenarios, people will try to violate those rules, in deference to charity. Charity is not dignity. Inclusion is dignity. Setting up an exclusive situation, then making people identify their income level if they cannot afford to participate at the exclusive level, but would still like to, is humiliating for the poor. Most poor folks would just not participate instead of making a fuss that they are poor and cannot afford a restaurant meeting or a membership fee. Most folks value autonomy, and if they cannot get there themselves, they will not go. If they cannot pay their way while there, they will not go. If you want to include the poor, meetings and events need mass transit accessibility, childcare or kid-friendly environments, no membership fees, and meeting places where paying for food is not involved. And those conditions need to be met without exception, without charity as a means to try to avoid them. The charity is demeaning. Just include the poor in the planning instead.
(You can receive Kirsten's articles, as they are written, via an email list called "Eat the Press." Go to http://lists.riseup.net/www/info/eatthepress to join the list.)
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