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Components of Cross Class Dialogue Circle

Topics Covered

Past Dialogue Circles

Testimonials

More about Cross Class Dialogue Circles

“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

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 10-15 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.

Facilitators

2 or 3 Equity Solutions facilitators co-lead each session. See bios here.

Components of the Cross Class Dialogue Circle

The in-person circles meet 3 times over the course of two months. The virtual sessions meet weekly for 7 weeks. 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.

  • 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.

 

Topics Covered

  1. Recognizing and naming your class background (experiences up until around age 12).

  2. Understanding the root cause of class and economic inequality.

  3. Naming the connection of race and class.

  4. Recognizing and communicating about your current class position, and practicing tools for communicating about class or across-class.

  5. Envisioning economic justice on both the macro and micro level.

  6. Practicing cost-sharing, a tool for evening out the playing field.

  7. Making a plan for how we show up for economic justice

  8. Wrapping up loose ends

 

Past Dialogue Circles

We have now had 11 circles and are planning for 4 more circles in 2019.

In each circle participants dive in with a willingness to be changed - which means vulnerability, staying up cramming on homework the night before, and pushing through barriers such as health and being introverted. The way people in the circles engage with each other is beautiful and inspiring. From the moment that folks arrive, until the moment they leave they are asking each other hard questions, sharing very personal journeys, and seeking truth. We see people change before our eyes and continued to be inspired every time!

There are so many touching moments that we want to share here - yet cannot due to confidentiality. Just know that participating in a circle is in itself in defiance to all of the misery that we see around us. It is transforming the very fabric of how we engage with each other. It is creating regenerative relationships. The ripple effect of that on communities and systems is huge! When we are personally regenerated, we can contribute to efforts of creating a regenerative economy.

Thank you to each person who has participated in a circle. Your presence is a gift to us and all the others in the circle.

Here are photos from a few of the circles.

 
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Fall 2018 in White River JUnction, VT

 
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Fall 2018 virtual circle with antioch University New England

 
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Spring 2018 circle in bellows Falls, VT

The Spring 2018 Cross Class Dialogue Circle was at the Rockingham Library in Bellows Falls, VT. There were 17 participants and close bonds were formed.

 
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Spring 2018 Level 2 circle in Brattleboro, VT

 
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fall 2018 circle in brattleboro, VT

Testimonials

“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

"I participated in the Cross-Class Dialogue Circles in 2017 as someone with a professional class background and strong ties to members of the owning class. The Circle provided me with tools to combat the stagnation and distancing frequently paired with my guilt, and therefore, I was able to openly discuss, question, process, and learn about privilege and oppression associated with socioeconomic status in a way that had always felt off-limits. After this experience, I have been able to have a frank conversation about cost sharing, access, balance, and wealth when transitioning into a new living situation. With family members, I have started many conversations about how our history and privilege has led to our current socioeconomic status. Within my professional spaces, including while organizing and facilitating, I am better prepared to critically question our practices and structures with class and classism in mind. With these new conversations and considerations, adjustments have been made to seek inclusion and to turn over the power that comes with access to wealth. I see now that the avoidance of talking about money, access and privilege is just a piece of the puzzle that upholds oppression within our system. I am grateful to now have the confidence to initiate these conversations in privileged spaces and therefore continue my learning as well as hopefully spark thought and learning with others." ~ Anne Louise, professional class with ties to owning class

"Attending the Cross Class Dialogue Circle was an incredibly transformative experience for me. Over the last year I had begun to think about class and privilege differently, and am still working to reframe feelings of shame and guilt around the owning-class privilege I grew up with. Participating in the circle and confronting those feelings in a cross-class space was difficult and necessary to that process. I have so much gratitude for the work the facilitators put into creating a space for a true dialogue, balancing a wide range of viewpoints, histories, traumas, and communication styles. They allowed for an incredible bond of trust to connect the group as we related deeply personal experiences to the larger economic structure. The cost-sharing exercise, one of the central pieces of the dialogue, was especially important for me and would not have been possible without the base of trust and love that had developed within the group. I would recommend the dialogue circle to anyone from any class background. Getting past the taboo of talking about class, especially in cross-class spaces, is so important to dismantling the current inequitable structure, and the dialogue circle offers an opportunity to build relationships across class and to work together to navigate the complicated ways that class shows up in our lives. I am grateful to the facilitators as well as the other participants and absolutely feel that the dialogue circle fundamentally changed the way I see class and myself for the better, giving me tools to both talk about class and take action from a framework of solidarity and connection." ~ Brita, owning class