Revolution #224, February 6, 2011

Defend Dr. Frances Fox Piven!

After more than a year of sustained vilification of and emotional provocations against Frances Fox Piven by Fox News commentator and Tea Party hero Glenn Beck, Dr. Piven has become the target of very serious, and very vicious, threats against her life.

"ONE SHOT... ONE KILL!"… "Why is this woman still alive?" "Maybe they should burst through the front door of this arrogant elitist and slit the hateful cow's throat." These were among dozens of open threats to Dr. Piven's life that were allowed to sit for weeks on Glenn Beck's website, The Blaze. Meanwhile, Glenn Beck has only continued to fuel the invective atmosphere of violent anger against Piven through his ongoing distortion of her work and his open mockery of those who have expressed concern for her safety.

This situation is extremely serious. It fits exactly into the pattern of high-level demonization of progressive individuals that has led to the assassination of numerous abortion providers, the endangerment of the lives and destruction of the careers of countless progressive academics, the growing violence against Democratic Party officials, and the chilling of progressive and radical political discourse and political activism much more broadly.

It is important that numerous prominent individuals and highly regarded organizations have stepped forward to hold Fox News and Glenn Beck responsible for, and to denounce and demand the end of, the danger they have put Dr. Piven in. This positive development must be built upon, with many more individuals, institutions and organizations joining together to have Dr. Piven's back and to draw a firm line of distinction between debate and engagement, even vigorous criticism or the insistence that individuals accused of serious crimes against humanity be tried and held to account, and an atmosphere of personal demonization and invective aimed at putting someone in danger of illegitimate and/or extralegal persecution or assassination.

Who is Frances Fox Piven?

As a basic rule, it is imperative that whenever someone is targeted by someone like Beck (or Sarah Palin, Bill O'Reilly, or numerous others), by other "more liberal" major media, or by the government outright, that no one simply accept the way that person's views or activities are characterized by those vilifying them. By Googling Frances Fox Piven's name and taking some time to read her views as put forward in her own words, one will both gain a much deeper sense of just how dishonest the methods of people like Beck are and will help set a standard so that attacks from fascists provoke people to engage the ideas and people who are under attack, rather than distancing themselves and assisting in their silencing.

Frances Fox Piven is a professor of political science and sociology at The Graduate Center of the City University of New York and former President of the American Sociological Association. She is highly regarded for her scholarship on welfare and the poor as well as on the impact of social movements; and she is widely recognized for utilizing her standing and reputation as a voice of conscience and for mobilizing people to act against poverty and against political repression. Piven was also a very early and consistent opponent of the U.S.'s unjust wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In Glenn Beck's alternate universe, Frances Fox Piven is a violent "enemy" of ordinary Americans who, together with her late husband and colleague Richard Cloward, is somehow responsible not only for the recent economic collapse, but for the supposed infiltration of the administration of Barack Obama with "revolutionaries," as well as an accelerating push from outside the administration to "flood the system with impossible demands so that the system will collapse and a new one can form." Beck sometimes "substantiates" his claims by plucking out of context certain phrases and concepts of Piven's (many of which had to do with her encouragement to the poor and disenfranchised to mobilize politically to demand their rights), completely distorting them, and pairing them with images, implications, and motivations that are wholly of his own making. Other times, Beck doesn't even bother with these contortions, simply referring to Piven as "one of the nine most dangerous people in the world."  As the New York Times recently put it, Piven's "name has become a kind of shorthand for 'enemy' on Mr. Beck's Fox News Channel program, which is watched by more than 2 million people, and on one of his websites, The Blaze."  ("Spotlight From Glenn Beck Brings a CUNY Professor Threats," New York Times, January 21, 2011)

Through both distorting and exaggerating the influence of this alleged "Piven-Cloward strategy," Beck accomplishes at least two things.

On one level, Beck is working to undermine the legitimacy of the Obama presidency by painting Obama as either a conscious agent of radical socialist transformation of America or at minimum an unwitting stooge of this "socialist" take-over. This is an utterly ridiculous claim: Barack Obama is the extremely conscious executive presiding over the world's most powerful and vicious capitalist-imperialist empire. Everything Obama does—from waging war on people in Afghanistan and other countries, to the U.S. where the Obama Justice Department is ordering FBI raids on the houses of those who dissent from those wars, to his machinations with the economy and health care—is calculated to defend and extend the interests of the U.S. capitalist-imperialist class. There is nothing socialist or communist about Barack Obama. But Obama, on the one hand, and forces represented by Beck on the other, have some very sharp differences over how to do that, and this accounts for Beck's attacks on Obama as "socialist" or "communist." There is, in other words, method to the seeming madness.

On another level, by singling out an individual like Piven (or others before her) Beck is whipping into a frenzy, training and increasingly unleashing a fascist social base to take into their own hands the silencing of those who would challenge the injustices, crimes and oppression intrinsic to American capitalism. This must be taken very seriously indeed.

Even where these kinds of vicious and sustained attacks on individuals do not result in actual assassination, they create an atmosphere in which it is difficult in the extreme—if not completely impossible—for those targeted to continue their lives and their work. We have witnessed this in the way that Ward Churchill was targeted and illegitimately driven from academia and in the way Bill Ayers and Reverend Jeremiah Wright and Van Jones were turned into political caricatures and pariahs. All of these individuals have received death threats and for each of them this danger is still real; but even if this doesn't happen the message has been sent not only to them but to millions of others. Watch what you say. Watch who you associate with. If you step out of line, if you speak unpopular truths, if you associate with others who challenge the status quo, this could happen to you.

The Need to Defend Piven and Widen Political Discourse and Resistance

Against this rising tide of threats and invective, it is extremely important that people are pushing back. The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) issued a letter, sent by its Legal Director Bill Quigley and Executive Director Vince Warren, to Fox News president Roger Ailes insisting that CCR is a vigorous defender of the right to free speech but that there is no place for the "intentional repetition of provocative, incendiary, emotional misinformation and falsehoods [that place that person] in actual physical danger of a violent response." They ask Ailes to "stop the Fox and Beck generated threats on Professor Piven." (CCR Press Release, January 20, 2011) The American Sociological Association (ASA) issued a statement that read, in part, "Scholars of [Piven's] caliber, intellectuals of her stature, and especially those who tackle social conflicts and contradictions, mass movements and political action, should stimulate equal levels of serious challenge and creative dialogue. Being called by Glenn Beck one of the 'nine most dangerous people in the world,' and an 'enemy of the Constitution' is not a credible challenge; it is plain demagoguery." (ASA Press Release, January 24, 2011)

At the heart of this and in the face of extreme pressure, Frances Fox Piven has insisted that she will not be intimidated or silenced. As she put it in an interview with The Nation, "They're trying to shut the left up and make them hide. So, I think that every bit of public outrage we can muster against them is useful... I'd like more and more re-assertion of the politics being attacked... We need to stop letting the right peel us off." (The Nation, January 25, 2011)

Indeed, if Piven and others who are targeted are allowed to be isolated, demonized and silenced—and worse—it would not only be a grave loss of an important and bold voice of conscience but would only encourage the fascists to target another and yet another, all the while deepening the freeze that is growing over political discourse and essential political resistance.

Instead, we must seize on this moment and the beginning momentum to rally together against this attack. We must not only find the ways to insist that the hateful personal vilification and provocations towards violence against Piven and others cease, we must find the ways to lend practical support to those who are made to feel unsafe in their homes, at their jobs, and throughout their lives for their progressive or radical political views. We must insist on, and find the ways to make real, the ability of those who are so-targeted to not only be safe but to have the ease of mind and functioning necessary to continue their work. Through doing this we must embolden others to know that if they raise their heads to question, to speak out, and to resist they will not be alone. We must insist that—living as we do in a nation that is inflicting murderous and unjust wars around the world, under a system that is causing irreparable harm to the environment itself, in a country where one in eight Black men in their 20s are incarcerated and one in four women are raped or sexually assaulted—it is not only our right, it is our responsibility to look deeply into the causes of all these nightmares, to engage with dissident and radical thinkers, and to dream and work to make real a radically different future than what exists today.

Finally, we must understand that defending those under fascist and illegitimate governmental attack is not a distraction from our struggle to bring a better world into being, it is a living part of how we will get there and of the kind of world we want to achieve.

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