Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Class Conversation Starters

Last Sunday I had the privilege to co-facilitate a wonderful discussion about how class affects interpersonal relationships. I hope it was only the beginning of a wonderful, challenging, and healing process for everyone involved. Several of those who participated asked for a copy of some of the conversation prompts. So, here they are.

These were intended as prompts for "Common Ground," a popular workshop game. In Common Ground, participants stand in a circle. For each prompt, they take one step in and then back out if the statement applies to them. If it doesn't apply, they stay put. Then the group discusses whatever thoughts, feelings, and questions came up.

Feel free to use these as Common Ground prompts or in any other way that makes sense for you. If you use the whole list, or a significant part of it, then a polite facilitator would cite us as the authors of the activity. (Since we're not using real names here, citing "us" might be awkward. So, if you intend to cite us, and don't already know our names, please post a comment including a way I can contact you off the blog. I'll send you our names, or the name of our group, when it has one, and feel very tickled that people are making good use of these ideas.)

Common Ground If ...

  1. you’ve ever had a close friendship across class
  2. you’ve ever had a romantic relationship across class
  3. you’ve ever had a relationship end because of class differences
  4. there are class differences within your own family
  5. you yourself have changed class over your lifetime
  6. most of your friends are people you go to school with, or went to school with
  7. most of your friends are people you work with
  8. you’ve ever been in a situation where your friends could afford something you could not
  9. you’ve ever been in a situation where you could afford something your friends could not
  10. when you were a kid, shopping for clothes was a special event
  11. being presentable was taught as an important value growing up
  12. being practical was taught as an important value growing up
  13. you were told that growing up to have a job that earned money was important
  14. you were told that growing up to do something interesting or important was important
  15. you ever don’t buy something because you could make it at home
  16. you’ve ever argued about money
  17. you’ve ever felt left out because of class
  18. you’ve ever felt self-conscious or embarrassed because of class
  19. you’ve ever felt guilty because of class
  20. you’ve ever felt proud because of class
  21. you’ve ever not invited someone over because you didn’t want them to see your home
  22. you’ve ever felt like you had to explain or justify something about your class
  23. anyone’s ever assumed something about your class which isn’t true


dlhoratio said...

Today I went to my first union rally. Except it wasn't about a specific union, and it wasn't really a protest. Smith's going to build a new science building starting sometime next year, and the social justice group teamed up with a group of unions in the valley to do teach-ins and awareness. They want Smith to sign a PLA - Project Labor Agreement - that would basically ensure that Smith only uses union labor to build the building.

They've been doing a good job. Everyone's been getting stuff in their mailboxes, and I haven't found anyone who doesn't know what's going on yet. And today was the culmination of their outreach efforts - a rally at 3:00, students and local workers unite to march across campus to the administration building, and speak out.

I'm still confused by what happened. I mean, it was a good march and all, with some good speakers. The woman who gets to make the decision whether or not to sign a PLA was there, and thanked everyone for showing support for fair labor practices.

But the Smithies who were running it...just weren't very good at protests. The labor guys were fabulous - they should've been running things, but they made it clear that their role was just a supporting one.

Still, I kept getting annoyed at simple things - any veteran protester *knows* you don't ever stop chanting while you're marching. It doesn't really matter which chant you wanna use, but just keep people together and yelling. Also, if you're gonna have speakers, make sure your megaphone works ahead of time. And if the person with the most power is *standing right there*, don't ignore her! Ask her if she wants to address the crowd (one of the locals finaly spoke up and said "Hey, are you gonna talk?")!

And yet, the union guys (there were exactly 3 union women, and probably somewhere around 20 men) seemed to think we were really great. They kept saying thank you, and praised the students' effort. But it was a weird kind of solidarity, let me tell you. I was embarrassed, hearing some guy who'd done construction for 20 years talk about how great it was that we all cared. "That's it?" I thought. It's like he thinks that's all he can ask for - is a handful of Smith's *most* radical students to show up to yell outside the President's door so he and his fellow workers can have a decent quality of life.

That should not be all he's asking for. I want him to imagine more. I want *me* to imagine more. But I'm stuck.

Davey said...

many thoughts on this one ...
-who are you to say what he should imagine? who are you to say what he /does/ imagine?
-frankly, i'm pleasantly surprised that smithies did anything about workers' rights. i'll be ecstatically surprised if they do anything beyond hold a rally.
-maybe (my hopeful imagination) he's bored of union politics and actually imagining something so entirely more radical that the smith protest is irrelevant to him.
-asking isn't the same as imagining. it's possible he does imagine more - but the expectations he /expresses/ are realistically low. that's how you keep your sort-of-allies on board.
-if he /asked/ for much more, would he get it? or would smithies as a group think, "gosh, he works for /smith/, and gets paid more than /i/ do, as a federal work study employee, so what's he complaining about?"

Davey said...

and also:
the first time my union held an action, i was torn. on one hand, who doesn't want to get treated well and paid fairly? on the other hand, i was already making nearly twice what i had made in any previous job. i was not convinced that we actually deserved more (internalized classism) and i was not convinced we would actually be able to get more (realistic pessimism). i didn't know if i wanted to put energy into the union action, but then, i sure didn't know what /else/ to put energy into.
hmm. much to think about.

dlhoratio said...

More on union stuff:

The last thing Smithies did before the end of the semester was to hold a "study-in", taking over a corridor of college hall and inviting local media to cover it, hoping to pressure the administration into signing the PLA (see above).

What actaully happened was the most polite piece of civil disobedience. The organizers made sure everyone was respectfully quiet, had access to a power strip for their laptops, and even made people move their feet for passing administrators.

It kind of looked like a cardboard camp - there were people taking naps behind signs that said "Private College! Public Conscience?" and "The Good Of Smith is Our Cause Too"
among others. I stayed for a few hours, trying to write a paper without internet access to get to the articles I needed. I finally left after about three and a half hours, completely unconvinced that my presence had done anything.