Working in the Class Action office, I sometimes find myself asking, “What would Felice do?” Often it’s hard to know, but at other times I can almost hear her voice weighing in on a decision.
For example, should we do a local training of trainers now, or wait until we can afford to fly in low-income trainers from all ends of North America? I think Felice would say wait. Class Action needs those feisty and wise voices, so much like her own.
As we work on the high-school/middle-school curriculum “Class in the Classroom,” I know Felice’s input would be to add humor. And yes, we’re planning to give those kids some lively lessons they won’t forget! Felice had such empathy for teenagers, it was like she felt like a big teenager herself. For the Enough DVD, created by her beloved friend Zoe Greenberg at age 13, Felice was insistent that feedback on the accompanying curriculum be collected not just from teachers, but from the young people who participated in the pilot as well. Similarly, we’ll take seriously the kids’ responses to the “Class in the Classroom” pilots.
Whatever it took to be welcoming to people on the margins of society was what Felice would do. So whatever it takes to get currently working-class and poor people’s voices on the Classism Exposed blog, that’s what I as editor try to do – whether it means interviewing someone who prefers to talk than write, paying someone for their story, or enlisting the help of a well-networked working-class recruiter.
Felice’s message to first-generation college students was “you’re not crazy, your school is classist” – and we’re carrying that message into our newest round of outreach to first-in-the-family students.
If Occupy Wall Street and the other occupations had happened when Felice was the Executive Director, would Class Action have been there, offering support and fomenting cross-class dialogue? Yes, I think so. I wish I could tell her how some Class Action people have marched and camped out, donated food, and blogged about the movement, and brought to an encampment a flyer titled “This country needs some conversations about class.”
An upcoming owning-class women’s Skype support group on family trauma and wealth, facilitated by co-founder Jenny Ladd: should Class Action just passively host it, or actively promote it? I can guess what Felice’s opinion would be. She was different from so many progressives who say, “Wealthy people have problems? I should have such problems!” Early in her class awareness, back in the 70s, she had an ‘aha’ moment when she saw privileged people as trapped by their class conditioning, polite and uptight, and in need of her help to restore them to their full humanity. The cross-class dialogue group from which Class Action grew focused on how all members were blocked from going for their dreams by childhood class patterns; yes, the working-class and poor members had more material obstacles and a deeper sense of powerlessness, but the wealthy inheritors were psychologically trapped too, in class-specific ways. I know Felice would have networked like crazy to reach every owning-class woman in need of the family trauma support group.
Maybe I guess wrong sometimes. The living Felice is no longer with us to gently contradict me (or, more likely, to tell me I’m full of shit.) It’s heartbreaking to have to guess what she’d say.
But since I’m guessing, here’s my guess: to do what Felice would do means saying yes a lot – yes to youth, yes to race and class and other diversity, yes to creativity, yes to thinking big, yes to doing whatever it takes to get everyone on board with the effort to eliminate classism from the world. Inspired by your memory, Felice, we’ll say yes, and yes, and yes.
Betsy Leondar-Wright, Project Director of Class Action and editor of the Classism Exposed blog, became friends with Felice in 1978.