Recently, a front page diary discussed Glen Beck’s attacks on Frances Fox Piven. However, the diary missed the most important part of the story: Her importance to the left as an activist in the academic world. Her work as an activist and a scholar show how false the myth that academicians don’t get their hands dirty in the real world. One colleague said that Piven is "one of the few academics who bridge the world of scholarship and the world of activism."
But Frances Fox Piven can speak for herself on the topic of how academia and activism actually complement each other:
Being that everyone at DailyKos is positioned somewhere on the left side of the political spectrum we should all be aware of her ideas and her activism. Her work is that important.
Utilizing Government Service centers as a place to mobilize citizens
In "The Weight of the Poor: A Strategy to End Poverty" published in The Nation in 1966, Richard A. Cloward and Frances Fox Piven ask the questions: How can the poor be organized to press for relief from poverty? How can a broad-based movement be developed and the current disarray of activist forces be halted? Do these questions sound familiar?
Their answer was to push for the enrollment in welfare of every eligible family across the country in order to use these new enrollees and the government welfare sites as pressure points to create change:
"A series of welfare drives in large cities would, we believe, impel action on a new federal program to distribute income, eliminating the present public welfare system and alleviating the abject poverty which it perpetrates. Widespread campaigns to register the eligible poor for welfare aid, and to help existing recipients obtain their full benefits, would produce bureaucratic disruption in welfare agencies and fiscal disruption in local and state governments. These disruptions would generate severe political strains, and deepen existing divisions among elements in the big-city Democratic coalition: the remaining white middle class, the white working-class ethnic groups and the growing minority poor. To avoid a further weakening of that historic coalition, a national Democratic administration would be constrained to advance a federal solution to poverty that would override local welfare failures, local class and racial conflicts and local revenue dilemmas. By the internal disruption of local bureaucratic practices, by the furor over public welfare poverty, and by the collapse of current financing arrangements, powerful forces can be generated for major economic reforms at the national level."
In that front page diary I referenced earlier, Meteor Blades made a great suggestion:
"Instead of trying to mobilize a quarter million or even a million people in DC or NYC, we should work for decentralized but coordinated demonstrations in 100 or 200 cities on the same day. If 5000 people protested in 200 cities, that would be a million people. And it would grab LOCAL news media attention and, as a consequence, national attention. It would have much more impact, cost less money (because of travel expenses and the like), provide a platform for future organization, involve a wider diversity of people who can't afford to travel, put pressure on local politicians, some of whom might even participate, and have other longer-term benefits. The mass demonstration, used sparingly, may still have its place in the 21st Century, but local organizing, nationally coordinated is the basis of all effective politics. Unions have known this from the beginning, as have political parties."
That’s a good idea. In fact, I think one that Piven herself would agree with:
"Protesters need targets, preferably local and accessible ones capable of making some kind of response to angry demands. This is, I think, the most difficult of the strategy problems that have to be resolved if a movement of the unemployed is to arise. Protests among the unemployed will inevitably be local, just because that's where people are and where they construct solidarities. But local and state governments are strapped for funds and are laying off workers. The initiatives that would be responsive to the needs of the unemployed will require federal action. Local protests have to accumulate and spread—and become more disruptive—to create serious pressures on national politicians. An effective movement of the unemployed will have to look something like the strikes and riots that have spread across Greece in response to the austerity measures forced on the Greek government by the European Union, or like the student protests that recently spread with lightning speed across England in response to the prospect of greatly increased school fees."
Motor Voter Registration
In an interview posted at Democracy Now, Juan Gonzalez said: "It seems to me that the bigger impact of your work, even more than that, was the book that you and Richard wrote, Why Americans Don’t Vote, which really laid bare the class composition of the American electorate and urged voter registration in a massive way, led, I think, to the motor voter laws in many states, where governments began to actively register people to vote. Maybe that was the fear, that Beck and his—I guess his tutors have, that you were able to really influence the ability of more of the poor to get registered to vote and to participate in the electoral process."
Besides just writing about voting, Piven and her husband Richard A. founded HumanSERVE.
The organization established motor-voter programs in selected states as precedents for the federal legislation.
In advocating for the passage of the Motor Voter Act in 1992, Cloward told the Times, "The Civil Rights of Act of 1965 stopped government from preventing people from registering to vote, and this legislation goes the final step by imposing on government an affirmative obligation to register the eligible electorate."
Piven has served a lot of lefty causes. Her CUNY faculty biography states:
"Professor Piven has served on the boards of the American Civil Liberties Union and the Democratic Socialists of America. She is currently the Editorial Board Chair of the New Press, is a Left Forum board member, and is outgoing President of the American Sociological Association. Under her leadership, the ASA conference’s theme was "Another World Is Possible," echoing the slogan of the World Social Forum. She used her tenure to challenge fellow sociologists to respond to current neo-liberal policies by searching for political strategies that might affect "reform and transformation.""
Finally, from the recent Democracy Now interview, we hear in her own words who she is: a Democrat devoted to promoting the best of the American ideals.
"I think it’s also crazy to call me a commie, a socialist, a revolutionary or whatever. I think I’m a democrat. I think that all of my work has been devoted to remedying the flaws, the distortions in American democracy. If you go back to the first project that I worked on politically, which is what the—it’s where the article comes from about the—which they call a conspiracy to crash America. That article didn’t call for crashing anything, except the existing welfare system. It proposed that people on the left help poor people in the cities get their full benefits from welfare. Now, at the time, welfare was denying benefits to over half of the people that were eligible. It’s doing that again now. But the article helped inspire—it helped inspire an effort by poor people, many of them people of color, in the cities to get the benefits that they were entitled to from welfare. Now, you can disagree with that effort, but it’s not crashing the system.
Well, I think that we haven’t given enough attention to and enough importance to what is really a very dominant propaganda network that has developed in this country. It is planful. There are different components to it. You can trace its beginnings in some of the Republican strategy—strategists of the late 1960s, who were trying to win over the working class by playing on the cultural divisions in the United States. It’s hard for people to understand what’s going on in a complicated society. Democracy requires that people have some understanding of what’s going on, of what their own interests are, who their enemies are. But it’s a very complicated society. And moneyed propagandists have taken advantage of that to create a demonology in which it is the left, the Democratic left, that is the source of many of our troubles. And this is the most frightening development, rather than the kind of nutty death threats that you read a couple of. It’s a very alarming development, because it raises the question of whether a democracy can survive and reemerge with any kind of health in the face of these enormous propaganda capacities. And in that sense, it is Murdoch, not Beck, who is the more important target."
Francis Fox Piven is a role model for all of us. She has put more than academic ideas in front of academia. She has been an agent of change on the streets since the 1960s. When we hear the right threaten her, the threat is greater than just to her physical well-being. She was a part of the Cultural War the right is still fighting. In fact, the right is threatening all of us—as Kossaks we are also enemies to the right. We need to speak up on her behalf while we continue to build upon the gains, like Motor Voter Registration, that Democrats like Frances Fox Piven and Kossaks have fought for in the past.-
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