The professor Glenn Beck loves to hate speaks with Cornel West about waitressing, black nationalism, how the radical right helped her define her politics, and why she’s gloomy about America’s future.
The conservative media stalwart Glenn Beck may be partially responsible for reinstating Frances Fox Piven into mainstream sociopolitical discourse. Nary a mention of Piven goes by without referring to Beck’s tirades against her and social activist Richard Cloward, Piven’s late husband and collaborator, as well as the death threats made against her by users of Beck’s website The Blaze. He has repeatedly targeted Piven as a catalyst for, among other things, the “unsustainability and possible collapse of our economic system” and “an overarching left-wing plot” against America. Due to one essay in particular, which she wrote over forty years ago, Beck has stated that Piven is “the enemy of the Constitution.”
Unfortunately for Piven, the controversy surrounding her scholarship largely exists because her most zealous critics never fail to distort her findings. Peter Dreier of Dissent astutely points out that her studies on protests encourage not the use of violence as a measure of civil disobedience but rather “the combined power of voting and grassroots protest to bring about change.” In her attempts to empower the disenfranchised and understand the impetus behind social unrest, she has been blamed for seeking to completely uproot America’s democratic ideals while, in fact, she strives to make the best of America accessible to more people. Among other works, Piven’s notorious 1966 Nation article “The Weight of the Poor: A Strategy to End Poverty” and her 1972 book Regulating the Poor: The Functions of Public Welfare (co-written with Cloward) have been cited by conspiratorial demagogues as leading to Obama’s election to the presidency and the successful passage of his healthcare plan. More reasonably, her works reflect an activist attitude that forgoes passive resistance as a mode to bring about greater societal change.