Calling All SocBlogs – In Support of Frances Fox Piven

See that little badge on the right? That is my small contribution to supporting our former ASA president and colleague Frances Fox Piven against attacks from some overpaid, deranged TV / radio personality and his poo-flinging monkeys. I’m not linking to them.

Instead, I invite you to read a good article about this over at Campus Progress, emphasizing the fact that said deranged TV personality has obviously either not read Piven (and Cloward), or deliberately misread her (he can’t read history either apparently):

“The fuel for Beck’s accusations comes almost exclusively from a single article she and her frequent co-author and husband, Richard Cloward, wrote as professors at Columbia University in The Nation titled “The Weight of the Poor: A Strategy to End Poverty” in 1966. In it, Piven and Cloward, who later became active members in the welfare rights movement, argue that in order to achieve a guaranteed annual income for all American citizens—according to them, the only viable solution to end poverty—welfare recipients and community activists had to create a crisis within the welfare system. Part of this engendering this crisis, as part of a larger strategy, would be an effort to sign up citizens who either did not receive government assistance but qualified for it or received assistance but not the full amount to which they were entitled under the law, eventually forcing the government’s hand:

[W]elfare practice everywhere has become more restrictive than welfare statute; much of the time it verges on lawlessness. Thus, public welfare systems try to keep their budgets down and their rolls low by failing to inform people of the rights available to them; by intimidating and shaming them to the degree that they are reluctant either to apply or to press claims, and by arbitrarily denying benefits to those who are eligible. 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.

Cloward and Piven go on to argue that such a crisis could put the tenuous Democratic coalitions in large urban areas in flux, opening up the political space needed to institute a guaranteed annual income.

A few points here. The activist couple considered themselves both strategists for and participants in people’s movements, concerned with how average people can best organize themselves to better their lives. There is nothing within “The Weight of the Poor” that indicates that the strategy was intended to transform anything other than the welfare system, to say nothing of collapsing the entire American economy. The article can certainly be debated as a piece of strategy—it’s worth pointing out, for example, that in the wake of the welfare rights movement’s success in increasing public assistance rolls but failure to establish a guaranteed annual income, the federal government moved quickly to gut much of welfare, leaving many poor families in as bad of shape as ever. But to argue that it is a roadmap for the destruction of American capitalism is disingenuous at best

In addition, to repeatedly credit a professor with hatching a scheme to force America to collapse in on itself without exploring her other works is dishonest. (Beck did, however, attack Piven’s recent piece in The Nation on organizing the country’s unemployed–thus doubling his Piven bibliography.) But it makes sense when one examines even the titles of the books she has authored and co-authored: Why Americans Don’t Vote, Why Americans Still Don’t Vote, Challenging Authority: How Ordinary People Change America. Piven and Cloward only belong on the Tree of Revolution if the prereqs for inclusion are encouraging citizens to vote and to participate in change.”

Go read the whole thing.

Also, Blue Monster has suggestions as to what we all can do.

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