Activists of different classes tend to speak differently.

This story illustrates class speech differences observed in progressive activist groups.


test your ability to name class differences in how activists talk

Two members of the same group answered the same question.  Both are middle-aged African Americans and experienced activists.

What differences do you notice in how they talked?

Interviewer: What are the goals of your group?

Rodney: One, we want to end the war, two is to become a multi-racial, multi-class, multi-ethnic peace movement for social and economic justice.

Interviewer: What are the goals of your group?

Laverne: We don't want to see the war in Iraq, we want to see that come to an end.  We don't want to see the recruiters harassing the kids in the high school, which they do.

After you notice as many differences as you can, scroll down to learn Laverne's and Rodney's class paths.






Their class stories:

Rodney is a third-generation college graduate. He works as a top manager at a national nonprofit. He is a homeowner in a suburban town.

Class identity: Upper-middle-class

Laverne’s parents have high-school educations. She still rents in the working-class neighborhood where she grew up. Her jobs have mostly been direct-care human services. After years of one course at a time, she finally got a vocational 4-year degree after age 40.  

Class identity: Working-class for most of her life, now a recent straddler

Rodney's and Laverne’s ways of speaking are typical of activists of their class.

To persuade THE public of your cause, draw on the strengths of both class speech styles: 

Working-class & poverty activists’ strengths: 

  • Metaphors, sayings and analogies make the issue more colorful.
  • First and second person make it personal.
  • Emphasizing the impact on individuals.


College-educated activists’ strengths

  • Abstract terms encapsulate the essence of a cause, or convey an analysis. Use them sparingly, and define them.
  • Third person makes it universal.