Book: Frances Fox Piven, Who’s Afraid of Frances Fox Piven? The Essential Writings of the Professor Glenn Beck Loves to Hate (The New Press 2011)
A Necessary Defiance
Last year Frances Fox Piven got a request from a student wanting to interview her for a term assignment, the subject of which was Piven’s book Challenging Authority. Assuming that like many students this one was willing to make the long drive because it was easier to do this than to actually study and research her book, she agreed to be interviewed at her apartment.
Two guys showed up at the appointed time. She served them tea and cookies. Two weeks later, she found the interview on the Internet. The ?student? had in fact been a conservative activist. As she dug deeper she discovered a network of hostile attacks against her and her husband and writing partner, Richard Cloward. In the meantime, right-wing media personality Glenn Beck was steadily railing against something he called the ?Cloward-Piven plan for orchestrated crisis to collapse the system.?
The slams proliferating through cyberspace were vitriolic, paranoid, and absurd. To get an idea, consider this comment from a reader on Glenn Beck’s blog The Blaze: ?The Wicked Witch is drooling at the thought of bloodshed. She’s been incubating the seeds of civil unrest for decades. Planting them at every opportunity.?
In her introduction to this book, Piven states, ?I think the impulse to dismiss lunatic charges by the right in the hopes they will go away is a mistake. They aren’t going away, because the attacks are effective.?
Who’s Afraid of Frances Fox Piven? is a retrospective collection of essays from Piven’s long career as a promoter of the rights of the poor. Its publication now is her response to conservative jabs, which she feels disguise a profound contempt for the humble social stratum She’s chosen to defend.
Piven shines a soft light on the face of the poor. Yet she does so not from the perspective of privilege but rather from a grassroots level, carefully examining all of the factors that contribute to poverty as well as to the very understandable tendency of the poor to become unruly and disruptive in the face of the systematic silencing and neglect they experience.
She explains why the poor sometimes appear disagreeable in their attempts at self-aggrandizement and why our revulsion might form part of the complex system that keeps them from wielding the political influence so necessary to their own empowerment (and hence prevents the creation of a just society).
Who’s Afraid came out just prior to the formal commencement of the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement in America, but it was timely with a cluster of indirectly linked anti-inequality protests across the country. A more apt stepping stone in the raging waters of current American discontent cannot be found; these essays clearly outline the conditions that led to current Western economic woes.
They also point the way out.
One of the key issues for the OWS movement is the unequal distribution of wealth and the corrupt and irresponsible means by which this injustice has been permitted to grow to monstrous proportions. Piven discusses specific conditions from which it emerged, a three-decade process in which the poor were silenced, the market was increasingly deregulated, wealth hoards became ever more buttressed, normal avenues of correction and reform were bit by bit blocked off, and the general populace was either completely ignorant or gripped with a paralyzing despair.
Piven emphasizes the need for an informed populace and an intelligent, time-tested set of strategies for implementing change, including a protest movement to compel Barack Obama to carry out the necessary reforms. She wisely notes that Roosevelt’s platform of 1932 was very similar to those that had preceded it and that it was really the mounting unrest and rapidly growing protest movements of the Great Depression that compelled his administration to stop their ears against the howling of the elites long enough to tackle the tough issues with courage and savvy.
Who’s Afraid of Frances Fox Piven? fulfills six of the Mindful Bard’s criteria for books well worth reading: 1) it poses and admirably responds to questions that have a direct bearing on my view of existence; 2) it stimulates my mind; 3) it inspires an awareness of the sanctity of creation; 4) it displays an engagement with and compassionate response to suffering; 5) it gives me tools enabling me to respond with compassion and efficacy to the suffering around me; and 6) it renews my enthusiasm for positive social action.
?What we should do instead of ducking is rally to the defense of the individuals and groups that are under assault, and we should do that aggressively, proudly, even joyfully because we are standing with what is best in American politics, especially with the social movements from below that have sometimes humanized our society.?
Frances Fox Piven, Who’s Afraid of Frances Fox Piven?