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economic justice

Building Stronger Cross-Class Alliances

Two Portland events in June with Betsy Leondar-Wright, author of "Class Matters: Cross-Class Alliance Building for Middle-Class Activists."
Our efforts for social change will be stronger if we learn to build bridges across differences in social class, as well as other differences. Organizations vary by class culture, and groups come to coalitions with varied resources and clout, creating tricky class dynamics. This workshop will build on our own class experiences to sharpen our cross-class alliance building skills.

I hope you'll join me at one of these Portland events:

Thursday June 23, 7:30 pm
Annie Bloom's Books, 7834 SW Capitol Hwy
Free and open to the public

Saturday June 25, 11 am to 3 pm
Location: First Unitarian Church, 1011 SW 12th Ave. (between Main and Salmon)
Co-sponsors: Oregon Action, the Economic Justice Action Group of First Unitarian Church, Class Action
and United for a Fair Economy
Pre-registration required: Contact Pat Gorman, 503-528-9797,  pggorman@earthlink.net
Sliding scale fee: Working people, $5 to $25.
For involuntarily low-income people, no fee; transportation and childcare subsidies available.
Wealthy people, please consider paying $50 to $100 to subsidize low-income participants.

Betsy Leondar-Wright, the Communications Director at United for a Fair Economy, is a long-time economic justice activist from a middle-class background. Her new book, "Class Matters: Cross-Class Alliance Building for Middle-Class Activists" (New Society Publishers, April 2005), is excerpted on the web at  http://classmatters.org/

homepage: homepage: http://www.ClassMatters.org

Working class 30.May.2005 21:21

George Bender

I'm glad to see attention being paid to class. It's what everyone is trying not to talk about, even though it determines most of what we do. Yes it does. Good website. Below is a short article from the website that I liked.


The Forgotten Majority
By Betsy Leondar-Wright

In America's Forgotten Majority: Why the White Working Class Still Matters, Ruy Teixeira and Joel Rogers break down voting records by gender, race and class. They find that the bulk of the Republican resurgence from the 1980s to the 2000 election was due to non-union white working-class men abandoning the Democratic party, with over 20 percent of them switching from Democrats to non-voters or third party supporters or Republicans between 1960 to 2000.

By using polling data, they debunk the myth that this represented a swing towards rightwing, conservative values. Polls show that on issues such as abortion, gay rights and the environment, these voters, like most of the country, became slightly more liberal in the 1980s and 1990s. Nor did working-class white men become more anti-government. They did, however, become more disappointed in government, feeling that public programs had done little for them. Jack Metzgar characterizes white non-union men as those "not protected by a union, a bachelor's degree or affirmative action [who have] lost much ground in wages and benefits over the past quarter-century, while often being culturally and politically lumped into the 'white male' power structure with whom they share little but the color of their genitalia."

When income trends are broken down, working-class white men are the only group for which median income actually fell from 1979 to 1998. College-educated people surged ahead. Non-college-educated people of color and white women gained ground, although from a much lower starting point. Hope for the future and belief in the redistributive powers of government programs have made more sense to other working-class and low-income people than to white men, who actually saw a new generation earn less than their fathers. Deindustrialization, globalization and de-unionization meant good jobs disappearing. Teixeira and Rogers attribute the change in voting patterns to bitterness at falling behind economically. They recommend that the Democratic party take up a platform that would help working-class white men as well as other working-class people universal health care, retirement security, and access to education.

When I told one long-time progressive activist I was writing a cross-class alliance building manual, this reply popped out of her mouth: "We don't have to worry about those red parts of the country anymore, now that people of color are a majority." She was referring to the color code of the 2000 Bush/Gore election map, in which the middle and south of the country tended to vote red Republican and the northern coasts and northern midwest tended to vote blue Democrat, labeled Red America and Blue America by David Brooks in "One Nation, Slightly Divisible" (Atlantic Monthly, Dec. 2001). She was also referring to a recent Census announcement that people of color are now over 30 percent of the US population, but would be over 50 percent by 2050. I had not specified white working class people in my description of the project; it's interesting how often the words "working class" evoke a white image, and usually a white male image. And her image was not only white, but middle American and conservative. Her voice was full of scorn for white working class people, and relief that she now didn't need to work with them to keep the Republicans out of office. She was imagining a voting bloc made up of people of color and white middle-class liberals like herself.

Teixeira and Rogers respond to such hopes by saying that "the Democrats may be able to wait out the forgotten majority [i.e. white working class people], as inexorable demographic trends attenuate their political influence. It could be a long wait. Extrapolating from current educational attainment trends and Bureau of the Census population projections, the forgotten majority might dip under 50 percent of voters by the year 2020. That's two decades from now and even then, we estimate they'll still comprise 48 percent of voters a huge group that would be difficult, if not impossible, for the Democrats to work around."

Similarly, we need lots of working class white men in our "rainbow coalition" if it's going to have clout. But beyond pragmatic political reasons, the financial worries of millions of white working class people belong on the movement's radar screen as any urgent unmet human needs do.

No! 31.May.2005 01:12


Your "cross-class" alliance is doomed because the people in the upper classes will stifle creativity and try to take control. Instead, we should build cross-border alliances with other poor people around the world. I know that some middle class people can generally help but we most not let them take control.

"Those who don't remember the past are doomed to repeat it."

think first, respond second 31.May.2005 21:21


Hey Ben,

You ought to go back and read the post. They aren't talking about economic classes here, their
talking about social classes.

Here is a great example of how much time leftist spend in intellectual ruts. This person responded
to the word "class", not to the actual article. I see this sort of reactionary thought process far
to much.

Ben 31.May.2005 22:04

George Bender

You're probably right. If any organization has middle-class and poor people in it, the middle-class people will run things. I believe that poor people need their own organization, with no one who makes $10 an hour or more allowed to join.

The only problem is that poor people's organizations, I've read, have a history of not lasting long. Not surprising, since we have to spend most of our energy on survival. A book I read recommended mobilizing poor people rather than organizing them. Which I take to mean something like an email list, and skip the meetings where nothing gets decided and everyone goes home frustrated. I think we need to start collecting email addresses. Keep it simple.

Think again 01.Jun.2005 00:59

George Bender

B: You're wrong. They are talking about economic class. Economic and social class are pretty much the same thing in the United States. Where there is a difference, economic class is the most important factor. It's rooted in reality -- how much money we make. Too bad that you're blind to this reality while Ben, who I believe is a teenager, has already understood it. So does the rest of the American left.

wake up to the conflict of classes 01.Jun.2005 08:34


why would the working class want to build bridges with those who exploit them? Poor people understand class-conflict much better then those above them. The middle and upper-class are often-times blinded by this very real phenomenom, while the poor understand that their bosses and landlords are on the other side of the fence.