By Cindy Cooper, cross-posted at On The Issues Magazine
"I think there may be a new page that we've come to the United States," author, activist and professor Frances Fox Piven told an audience in New York City about the Occupy Wall Street protests in New York. "Not just that there's a big movement out there and it may grow bigger," said Piven, "but I think that this movement poses a challenge to feminism as it has developed."
Piven's half-century of work on poverty, workers, social policy and progressive movements was front and center when she was honored with the Sue Rosenberg Zalk Award by The Feminist Press on October 24, 2011. A distinguished professor of political science and sociology at The Graduate Center of the City University of New York, Piven has been a particular target of attack by right-wing commentator Glenn Beck, who singled her out as a central enemy -- even the key enemy -- of conservative causes.
None of this has stopped Piven. She refused to buckle under the assault of Beck and his verbally offensive followers, spoke back, and continued her work, even releasing a new book, Who's Afraid of Frances Fox Piven? The Essential Writings of the Professor Glenn Beck Loves to Hate.
In fact, Piven suggested earlier this year that economic stresses might just result in the eruption of a mass protest movement, a near-presaging of Occupy Wall Street. In a column that she wrote, Mobilizing the Jobless, in The Nation in January 2011, Piven recounted the levels of unemployment and economic conditions faced by many.
"Where," she asked, "are the angry crowds, the demonstrations, sit-ins and unruly mobs? After all, the injustice is apparent. Working people are losing their homes and their pensions while robber-baron CEOs report renewed profits and windfall bonuses." Piven answered her own question by warning that the time may be coming. "Protests by the unemployed led by young workers and by students who face a future of joblessness just might become large enough, disruptive enough, to have an impact in Washington. There is no science that predicts eruptions of protest movements. … Who, indeed, predicted the strike movement that began in the U.S. in 1934, the civil rights demonstrations that spread across the South in the early 1960s? We should hope for another American social movement from the bottom."
The "Occupy" movement that emerged in September appears to have fulfilled her prophesy. Accepting her award from The Feminist Press, Piven, who has spoken at the Occupy Wall Street site in New York, offered an eyewitness appraisal of how "Occupy" fits into the history of feminism and social movements in the U.S.
"I think that feminism -- 20th century feminism and before that 19th century feminism -- these have been among the great … movements of the modern era, along with the black freedom movement, the gay and lesbian movement, and so on. But these have been fantastic movements, eruptions of people, eruptions of us, to assert our worth, our humanity, our equality, our potential, and to do so in a way that changes … identity politics.