A selection of scholarly and polemical writing by the co-author of Poor People’s Movements (1977), occasioned by her elevation to Queen of Darkness by Glenn Beck and other hard-line conservatives.
Perhaps most alarming is the epilogue, a reprint of an editorial from early 2011 that quotes some of the murderous e-mail (and some even more threatening posts on Beck’s website) addressed to Piven (Political Science and Sociology/CUNY; Challenging Authority: How Ordinary People Change America, 2006, etc.), messages occasioned by Beck’s demonization of her on his defunct TV show. In reply, Piven offers a chronological series of essays and excerpts that outline her principal positions since 1963. (There is also an afterword, an amiable interview with Cornel West about Piven’s life and beliefs.) It’s safe to say—given the academic tenor and diction of these selections—that many (most?) of Piven’s enemies have not read her. Her long professional and personal mission has been to study and advance the rights and the political power of the poor and otherwise disenfranchised. The research she and her husband conducted established some fundamental principles that appear throughout: The poor have what she calls “disruptive” power, the power to reverse, though usually only temporarily, the normal hierarchy of social relations. The status quo has a numbing effect on the lower levels of society, often inhibiting organization and action. Most newly registered voters (as many as 80 percent) do not vote; the domination of one party in an area suppresses voter turnout. At times, Piven is very prescient: In a 1983 piece, she predicted the very process that brought about the destruction of ACORN in recent months. She also maintains a cool, realistic eye, writing, for example, that Barack Obama “is not a visionary or even a movement leader.”
Scholarly, committed and tendentious—but hardly insurrectional or satanic.