Archive | January 23, 2011

Frances Piven, Social Welfare and Gun Waving Internet Maniacs

The right is apparently getting the guns out for a little known, 78 year old political science professor from City University of New York, Frances Piven. Apparently, Beck and his cloud of gun waving fanatics don’t believe that the First Amendment guarantees the right to free political speech, and are calling for Dr. Piven to be, at best, tried for treason, and, at worst, shot on sight. The almost impossible to comprehend graphic on the left should provide an indication as to the comedy of their claims.

Hearing that the right has a new academic boogyman, I am of course eager to learn as much about this person as possible.

Most of Beck’s vitriol stems from a 1966 article “A Strategy to End Poverty“, published in the liberal magazine, the Nation, outlining a plan to free America’s poor from oppressive welfare systems that do little to raise their standard of living, and more to keep them poor. The article and plan were mostly aimed at the Democratic Party at the time, with the hope that action could induce the Party to provide more benefits for the poor. Along the way, Piven hoped that they would at least get some help for people who need it. She called for education programs to assist individuals in filling out the daunting welfare forms to maximize efficiency amongst applicants and to insure that the groups that welfare are targeted at, have representation in welfare offices.

I can corroborate Piven’s claims as to the backwardness of welfare. I was on food stamps in the early 90’s and was amazed at a) how much work and savvy it took to maintain the benefits and b) how the system would immediately punish recipients for trying to escape poverty. This was during the first Bush admin, and well after Reagan era budget cuts.

If a welfare recipient made a dollar above $800 in a calendar month, he or she would lose $400 a month in food stamp benefits. If one went to university, one was barred from receiving benefits. Recipients were therefore required to be in a GED program or to not be in school at all, basically insuring that a poor family would remain poor for the rest of their lives.

Forms were dauntingly complex and reams of documentation were required to prove eligibility. The semi-literate, those living unstable lives and the homeless were effectively shut out of the process. Welfare workers and policy makers systematically withheld information from potential recipients. Policy makers consequently marginalized the very populations they were thought to be helping. Your only hope was to find a welfare worker that was willing to subvert the system and provide you with help and benefits.

She advocates a national minimum income in the text, which is where Beck and his batshit followers likely go ballistic and start hoarding Glock 9’s. Rightist seeking to discredit her have repeatedly pointed out that she has indicated that marginalized groups as the victims of violence often were required to use violence to achieve their own ends. Despite rightist protestations, I cannot find any place where she suggests using violence, but she does often put out that, in reality, it often is. You can check out the video below and decide for yourself.

Piven is hardly an enemy of democracy, despite Beck’s obsessive claims. In the introduction to “Challenging Authority: How Ordinary People Change America ,” which I just skimmed through, she rightfully points out that what we have in America is not a democracy, but more like “authoritarian populist regimes in Southeast Asia and Latin America” that do not represent the interests of the people, but rather the interests of a small and powerful group. I somehow recall Tea Partiers making similar statements. It’s an interesting book. I doubt that many of her critics have actually read it.

Piven wrote a great history of how she came to be the right’s enemy number one. Apparently, a Republican activist from Michigan posed as an interested student, went to her apartment in NY, filmed an interview with her for an hour, and then cut out the damning portions and posted it on the internet.

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