Thursday, September 16, 2010

Glenn Beck's obsession with Frances Fox Piven

Guest post by R.K. Barry

Ed. note: This is the pseudonymous Mr. Wilson's second guest post here at The Reaction, a fantastic look at Glenn Beck and the right's war on the poor (and Beck's war on Frances Fox Piven). You can find his first, also on Beck, here. I encourage you to check out his new blog, Lippmann's Ghost. -- MJWS

(Update: "T.W. Wilson" now goes by his real name, R.K. Barry. I have changed his byline accordingly.)


Much as I try to ignore him, and I do try, this is one of those times when Glenn Beck's views are so foolish, though dangerous, that good people need to rise up and call him out.

Specifically, I refer to his characterization of Frances Fox Piven as something close to a violent revolutionary for suggesting simply that poor people ought to access the government benefits to which they are entitled. Along with Richard Cloward, she once argued that many Americans who were eligible for welfare were not receiving benefits and that a welfare enrollment drive would create a political crisis that would force government to enact legislation establishing a guaranteed national income.

Learning at the knee of famous community organizer Saul Alinsky, they suggested that the rules of the game be implemented to the letter in order to expose a contradiction in the system that would benefit a constituency in need.

In my neighbourhood, we call that smart politics: helping citizens understand their interests and assisting them in mobilizing as they access, through legal and legitimate means, political power.

Beck's endless rant about the so called "Piven-Cloward Thesis" always focuses on the disaster that will result if the poor should ever demand their due. Apparently this would usher in a totalitarian state where freedom is trampled underfoot, with jackboots and straight armed salutes everywhere. Not sure of the logic, but I recognize red-baiting when I see it.

In truth, what he doesn't like, what so many on the right don't like, is the thought that previously marginalized communities "want in" and may find a way to get there. This has always been a large part of what scares the hell out of the right and makes them worry about the security of their privileged perch.

Piven is one of the great progressive minds of our age (and yes Glenn, you jackass, I said "progressive," a term many of us embrace unreservedly).

I have always considered it a wonderful experience to have spent a term in a small graduate seminar at the City University of New York, a very long time ago, with Professor Piven. I learned a great deal, which I am pleased to say I have put to good use over the years. I also got to know, if only briefly, a very passionate and effective advocate for people who are so often on the outside looking in.

Her crime, as far as Beck is concerned, is that she has had the audacity to advocate on behalf of the poor in America, educate us about their circumstances, and, here is what galls the "great man" the most, work with the poor to help them gain a stronger voice in the political process.

Before being slandered by Beck, Piven was best known for combining academic work with political action as she did when she co-founded Human SERVE (Service Employees Registration and Voter Education), an organization whose stated goal was increasing voter registration by linking it to social service program delivery and Department of Motor Vehicles use.

Human SERVE was later taken up by the Clinton Administration and made into the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, also called the "Moter Voter Bill."

One of the very important things that this kind of work did was to put more poor Americans on voter's lists by giving them the chance to register to vote when they came in contact with necessary bureaucratic processes like getting a driver's license or accessing social services. The point is that poorer Americans are frequently disenfranchised and do not easily interact with voter registration mechanisms unless it happens through other processes with which they are more comfortable.

Piven is also well known, not coincidentally, for writing about how poverty policy and practice have historically helped employers access a cheap supply of labour or kept poor people from expressing too much outrage about their condition. See Regulating the Poor, written with Richard Cloward.

When poor people stand up for their rights, stand up against power, that power has always been very good at pushing them aside and, not infrequently, crushing them. American history is full of examples of poor people and poor workers destroyed by power. Call it class warfare if you like.

I can only imagine how well Beck and his coterie of haters would receive the idea of more poor people voting. On its face they would claim no foul, but I don't buy it. The poor are not welcome at Glenn Beck's tea party. This much is clear.

What we have here is a war on the poor. And the right wing has cleverly twisted the truth to make its case. Health-care reform is well on its way to being successfully re-branded as another entitlement program for a slothful underclass. The Republican leadership talks about unemployment insurance like it's a reward for laziness amongst the needy. The sub-prime mortgage crisis is explained as poor people wanting a life to which they are not entitled (instead of the result of unscrupulous banking practices). Tax cuts for the über-wealthy are taken to be a reward for obvious virtue, while the "have-nots" are assumed to deserve their meager lot. And lastly, opposition to progressive immigration reform is clearly a part of this narrative.

So, if you really want to get the attention of the wacky right in America, all you have to do is be successful at helping poor people stand up for themselves, at helping them be heard, at showing them how to get in the game. Saul Alinsky knew it in his day, ACORN more recently, and Frances Fox Piven knows all about it now. Class warfare indeed. Bring it on.

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  • Frances Fox Piven is a dispicable idealog who advocates violance to acheive her view of how the world should be. I find it typical that these academics having not participated in any real society, could not possibly hold down a real job, have somehow accumulated life experience to offer any sensible way foreward hence the dribble from this sociopath. fortunately not many people give a damn what Francses or her cronies have to say and make no mistake Frances would have been the person firing the gun in Arizona if Jeffery had not beaten her to it. She would then run away to hide in her halls of acadamia attwempting to manipulate the reporting of the shooting to blame the right wing rhetoric for the shooting. OMG isn't that what just happened. Frances you old dog!!!!!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:35 PM  

  • Well, here's a candidate for stupidest comment ever.

    Anonymous, you obviously have no idea what the hell you're talking about. I suspect that everything you "know" comes from the delusional and paranoid mind of Glenn Beck.

    But I guess you're also an example of what we've been talking about in recent day, namely, the toxic culture of conservatism. Sorry, but you can't turn this on the left. You and your ilk are the ones who are culpable.

    By Blogger Michael J.W. Stickings, at 7:58 PM  

  • I think this problem goes deeper than we think. The people, leaders and media hacks that are so vitriolic are either not well educated or deliberately hateful and out to cause trouble. Take Palin and Sharon Angle now; they appear to be not well educated, not readers of good literature, not very imaginative and are narcissistic and self-seeking. Therefore, I think, they are unable to understand that words move people, that revolutions have been made and conducted on the power of words. Their use of language in its most violent form is, simply to them, part of a game played in politics to achieve their ends. This is why any reasonable person would find them unfit for public office. We need responsible politicians, who will aim for reason and fairness by using words with care and integrity. Following the assassination attempt and that cruel gunning down of innocent people in Tuscon we all hoped for apologies from these media pundits and politicians for their violent rhetoric. Wouldn’t that have been wonderful? we could have started fresh and allowed the words of President Obama to flourish and develop into right and good action. However the lack of apology and the complete denial of complicity by these two women, Angle and Palin, further illustrate their lack of comprehension. Do we want these people in public office? Also, I believe some media hacks want dissension; men like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh appear to thrive on it. It certainly makes them rich. Further, the lack of constructive criticism by Tea Party members and certain Republicans has also demonstrated the poor state of our education system. We must be careful these uneducated and violent masses cannot be turned against the sense and reason of the American Constitution. I believe that extreme Right Wing Republican leaders and media hacks like Glenn Beck are playing a steady drum beat of violent rhetoric that is inciting the uneducated and causing the dangerous overwhelming of this country with violence. Even now Glenn beck is witch hunting that wonderful person Frances Fox Piven. Who is next?

    By Blogger June, at 8:35 AM  

  • I have always noticed that the left tends to accuse their opposition of sins they commit to a far greater degree. From hypocrisy this author moves with breathtaking speed to high dudgeon. All the while proving everything Beck alleges about Piven and progressives in general far better than Glenn himself ever could. The author demonizes Beck/Palin/Limbaugh etc while validating the messages they send so perfectly. And he appears to not even be aware of it through his ideological and emotion prism. It must be tough for him to go through life so fundamentally wrong on so many levels and about so many things. The dissonance with reality must be deafening. Pity him.

    By Blogger Unknown, at 12:41 AM  

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