Cross Class Dialogue Circles

Fall 2017 Cross Class Dialogue Circle

Saturdays Nov 4th, Nov 18th & Dec 2nd – 9am-3pm at The Root Social Justice Center in Brattleboro, VT. SIGN-UP HERE

In 2018 we plan to have circles in Bellows Falls, VT and in the Upper Valley, VT. We are looking into options for virtual participation.

DONATE HERE  Your contribution is essential to the continuation of this community education opportunity.

CONTACT US to find out more.

Childcare, transportation, light refreshments & lunch provided. Wheelchair accessible. Fragrance free. Nut free.

Cost: There is no up-front cost to participate. Instead, we fund the dialogues through a cost-sharing process. During the second session, and drawing on everything we’ll have learned and discussed up until that point, we will do some structured reflection and sharing in order for each person to decide how they will contribute to the total cost of the program through personal contributions, fundraising efforts, and/or donation of time/skills. In past circles, contributions have ranged from $0-$1000 and 0-30 hours of work. The most important contribution everyone will make is their active participation – those who do not contribute money or additional time (beyond participation) are contributing just as much, just as fairly, just as significantly as those who have the resources to contribute financially. You will decide the contribution that feels right to you, and no one will be asked to contribute more than they can afford. The cost sharing process not only funds the circles, but also helps deepen the dialogue by inviting us to grapple honestly with ideas of sharing, fairness, and mutual responsibility.

Break the Silence About Class! “The realities of class are so pervasive and yet so taboo to talk about and expose. It is so valuable to learn more about its structures and roots and feel empowered to break the silence.” ~ age 36, raised middle class, currently poverty class

“Everyone in our community should participate in Cross Class Dialogue. Our community would be a better place.” ~ age 30 something, raised upper class, currently middle-class

“I do feel totally inspired and empowered to get involved in the community in terms of economic justice work because of the group. It feels so exciting to be thinking about engaging rather than just being crushed and watching others crushed around me. The last session really brought that together and that feeling is sinking in today and especially in light of Jeremiah Crompton’s suicide and talking about the town valuing vendors over spaces for community to gather. Anyway, that is to say, good job and thanks!” ~ Jess Cox, raised working class, currently working class

participants in an activity to better understand economic inequality in the US

Cross-Class Dialogue Circles are a powerful way for people across the class spectrum to come together to talk about their experiences with class, listen to each other’s stories and perspectives, and then work together as change makers for economic justice. Engaging with each other across class is empowering, healing and liberating.

People of all class backgrounds have a role to play in movements for social and economic justice. As we’ve seen before, during, and after the most recent presidential election, disconnection and isolation between people from different classes hurts our communities and movements. We in Southern VT can be better equipped to work effectively for the just society we want and need when we can create trust and understanding across differences of class and power (including how class intersects with race, gender, disability, etc.), and use all our different strengths in bending the arc of history towards justice.

Cross Class Dialogue Circles bring together 8-12 community members with a diversity of class experiences, ranging from being homeless, to managing family foundations, and everything in between. Our goals in meeting together are to better understand class as part of an economic system, and our own experience with class and how it shows up in our daily life and communication; to learn and practice strategies for engaging with each other about difficult subjects; to learn and share practical tools for contributing to economic justice; and to build stronger community ties for economic justice. We meet these goals with courage, depth, humor, and sincerity.

Themes that often come up in the discussion are: class rage, guilt about having too much, being overwhelmed by all the memories and experiences that now have a name, how much is “enough”, exploring “needs” vs. “wants,” how class intersects with race/ mental illness/ religion/ gender. Many people express relief at finally being in a place where it is ok to talk about their life experience related to money and class identity.  It is a powerful experience to be able to talk about class, both as a system, and as something that has impacted each of us personally. There are so few spaces where people can do this. We are breaking the silence about class. It is messy. It is complicated. And it is freeing.

We will meet 3 times over the course of two months. Here are the components of the dialogue circles:

  • Assignments that people complete before they come to the Dialogue Circle: filling out a class survey, watching short film clips about wealth inequality or actions for economic justice, readings about the economy, cross-class communication, and cost-sharing. This assignment isn’t always directly discussed but contributes to how each person is preparing for the session.
  • Activities that inspire dialogue – a film clip, expressing vision through art, an activity that illustrates inequality, etc.
  • “Tools” – a mental model or a specific communication technique that participants can try out in order to support caring and productive conversation.
  • A series of questions about class, depending on the topic, and the group discusses them (along with other questions that participants may raise), in pairs, small groups, and/or all together.  The topics covered are:
    1. Recognizing and naming your class background (experiences up until around age 12).
    2. Understanding the root cause of class and economic inequality.
    3. Recognizing and communicating about your current class position, and practicing tools for communicating about class or across-class.
    4. Envisioning economic justice on both the macro and micro level.
    5. Practicing cost-sharing, a tool for evening out the playing field.
    6. Making a plan for how we show up for economic justice
    7. Wrapping up loose ends and planning a Cross Class event.
  • After about an hour of discussion we spend 15 minutes talking about how the Dialogue felt and identifying how class may play out in our communication with each other.
  • We weave somatic exercises like stretching, breathing, visioning throughout the sessions.

Participants use art to envision economic justice

Examples of the powerful learning and sharing that happens in the circles …

“I never knew why I felt so awkward growing up – we were working class, but were trying to fit into middle-class culture. That realization helped free me from shame.” – Matt Miller, age 32, working class

“Participating in this group felt like a huge veil was lifted and I could see the world more clearly.” – Elizabeth Johnson, age 32, poverty class

“Because of this course I’m more frank about money and it feels good. People often say, ‘We’re in the same boat.’ Now I can say, ‘No, actually we’re not. I still like you, but we’re not in the same boat.’ ” – age 64 year old, raised working class

“I’ve really enjoyed the shared experience talking things out, and been humbled to hear people share themselves to strangers while helping me to understand how deeply class shapes our lives and relationships. It’s given me some hope to hear how readily people get class.” Jay, age 36, semi-proletariat

“The cost-sharing process has radically changed the way I think about and interact with money. This process helped shape how I deal with sharing everything from the cost of gas and a meal to how I interact with my parents and borrowing money when I need it.” – age 24, raised professional class, unintentionally downwardly mobile

“Around here, it seems like everyone is the same class until all of a sudden someone I know buys a house. I have anger and rage about that class difference, my inability to get ahead, and our different choices in life because of class.” – age 34, raised working class poor, currently straddling working class & middle class

“Although there isn’t much difference between $10,000 and $90,000 in how you live, there is more breathing room. You don’t have to wake up during the night wondering where food is going to come from. You can notice that the leaves are changing colors.” – age 37, raised upper middle class, currently unintentionally downwardly mobile

Pair share

Pair share

Engaging with each other across class is empowering, healing and liberating. People of all class backgrounds have a role to play in the movement for social and economic justice. The disconnection and isolation between people from different classes hurts our communities and movements. We in Southern VT can be better equipped to work effectively for the just society we want and need when we can create trust and understanding across differences of class and power.

 

Facilitators: Kendra Colburn, a trainer and community activist, and Angela Berkfield, of www.ACT4SocialJustice.com, co-facilitate the Circle. Kendra has a mixed class background, with a complicated set of privileges and obstacles. She is a curriculum developer and facilitator with Equity Solutions VT, among other jobs and gigs, and has been working on class issues since 2006. Angela, who identifies as middle class with owning class privilege, works with a variety of groups to better understand class and other social justice issues, so that we can work together for a world where all people can thrive.

Co-Sponsors!

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The Marlboro College Diversity and Inclusion Taskforce

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We are excited to work together towards powerful cross-class collaborations for strong and sustainable communities. We are looking for more co-sponsors. Please contact us if you would like to ensure this valuable community education continues.

Support Cross-Class Dialogue Circles in Brattleboro. The participants from each Dialogue Circle work together to raise funds necessary to cover the costs of the next dialogue circle (for facilitation, childcare, food, and materials). The next circle will then fund the next circle and so on and so on. We need supplementary funds to keep the circles going. The money you give to this project is a catalyst for far-reaching change. We appreciate donations of all sizes! Make a Donation. To make a tax deductible donation go to the POS website – click the donate button and write Cross Class Dialogues in the comments. 

Thank you for contributing to economic justice!

And if you want to read more…

Imagine these situations:

  • A campaign opposing a new big box store uses disparaging language about the kind of people who shop at such stores, alienating many low-income community members who are otherwise in agreement with the campaign’s goals
  • An organization hosts an educational event about climate justice intended to appeal to the whole community, but the language and images used to market the event lead low-income people to feel unwelcome, and a lack of childcare at the event makes it difficult for low-income parents to participate
  • A community group uses a sliding scale to make membership affordable to everyone, but the rates people choose to pay are not proportionate to their means, with low-income members stretching to pay more than their share while members who could afford more contribute toward the low end of the scale
  • In a planning meeting, a raised-poor woman proposes an idea using colorful language and specific examples; the response is lukewarm, but 30 minutes later a professional-middle class man repeats the same idea using abstract technical language, to enthusiastic approval

Such scenarios are all too familiar. With the best of intentions, many groups and organizations unintentionally perpetuate class-biased patterns in terms of who is included and who is excluded, whose voices are respected and whose are ignored, whose work is valued and whose goes unacknowledged. In pursuing sustainable, collaborative and socially just communities we can’t afford to leave anyone out or ignore good ideas. The projects and programs that move our community toward this vision need leadership from people who understand how class-bias plays out and have the skills to work effectively across a range of class backgrounds and statuses.

In conducting outreach for the Cross-Class Dialogue Circle, we recruit individuals from diverse class backgrounds, and encourage participation from people whose work in the community puts them in cross-class situations – service providers working with low-income families, managers of small nonprofits who work with donors and board members, people working on equitable business models such as worker-owned cooperatives, and community organizers trying to foster collaboration among people across the class spectrum.

With the skills and understanding gained through participation in the Cross-Class Dialogue Circle, these community leaders can foresee barriers to participation and make their events truly accessible to the whole community; they can create effective sliding scales and cost-sharing processes so that community projects are funded equitably; and they can help stakeholders understand each others concerns and come to solutions that truly meet everyone’s needs.

Join us for a circle! Or donate to ensure these circles can continue.