Growing up poor in rural Vermont, I always knew that my family had less than most people I knew and saw. I built assumptions based on my experiences and observations. The cashier looked at me differently when I paid for my candy with food stamps-- there must be something wrong with needing public assistance. I felt a prick of envy when I overheard a schoolmate complaining about her family trip to the Caribbean-- she must not have any problems if a tropical vacation was a nuisance.
I felt judged and deprived, angry, and powerless. Eventually, I learned the facts about inequality in the US. Aha! I wasn’t alone. Connecting my life to a bigger context helped me understand how to engage in making change. All of us are part of an unfair system, with inequitable access to power, opportunity, and life chances. Our experiences, and their impact on our lives, are different, but we’re all in it together.
Class and income inequality are back in the American national conversation for the first time in decades. Most of us want a just world where everyone’s needs are met, but the divisions and barriers are daunting. Understanding how class shapes our individual and national stories is important for shifting our assumptions so that we can work together for change. We need to talk about what the US economic system looks like, and why; how race, gender, ability, and other identities work with class to traumatize and limit opportunity for some, and give extra opportunity to others; how our class experiences shape our interactions with each other; and where we each stand in local, national, and global contexts. And we need to come together, as people of conscience, and use this reflection to envision and create an equitable future.
I’m now a trainer with Equity Solutions, a collaborative that works with agencies, organizations, and schools to start the conversation about class. Our cross-class team addresses inequality through the lens of a wide range of occupations, incomes, backgrounds, and identities. In this work and in our lives, we’ve seen stigma, assumptions, and structural barriers harm people, and block them from benefiting from opportunities and resources. In response, we have developed strategies and techniques to overcome these obstacles.
Equity Solutions provides everything from 3 hour workshops to multi-year strategic processes. Our trainings and consulting are engaging and multifaceted, using art and performance, brainstorming and problem-solving, academic models and local wisdom and creativity. We collaborate toward solutions in a way that is connected and compassionate. Everyone has something to learn and something to teach.
We work for a future where everyone has a voice in the decisions that affect their lives, fair compensation, dignity, and access to the food, shelter, health care, and support that allow families and communities to thrive.
It starts with us, all of us! Won’t you join us?
(This piece originally appeared in the Peace & Justice Center newsletter.)