Frances Fox Piven Talks Tea Party Politics

In more turbulent times, during the occupation of Columbia University in 1968, Frances Fox Piven crawls into a Columbia academic building, where she was a professor. From columbia.edu.

Today, activists and academics Frances Fox Piven and Cornel West will host a national teach-in on debt, austerity, and fighting back. I interviewed Dr. Piven for Campus Progress, where a shorter version of this interview first appeared last week .

As members of Congress debate the budget, everything from Planned Parenthood to immigrant integration services to Americorps is facing the axe. Massive slashing of social spending—that average citizens will bear the brunt of—seems inevitable. Not so, argue Princeton Professor Cornel West and City University of New York Professor Frances Fox Piven in a recent op-ed in The Nation calling for a national movement to fight back against budget cuts that target the poorest, a concept generally known as austerity. West and Piven plan to hold a national teach-in on more than 160 college campuses around the country and will be webcast from New York City on Tuesday, April 5 as means of demonstrating against harmful budget cuts.
Despite a decades-long history of activism, Piven has only recently captured national headlines after she was targeted by Glenn Beck for an activist strategy piece entitled “The Weight of the Poor” she and her late husband Richard Cloward published in 1966. Piven quickly became the target of death threats. Rather than retreat from activism, however, she has only increased her public profile, continuing to speak out and fight alongside people’s movements as she has for decades. Campus Progress recently spoke with Piven to discuss the Tea Party, young people’s potential as activists, and a how to get citizens mad about all of this.

You and Cornel West begin your article in The Nation by stating that there is a “one-sided war on the American people,” seen in the budget cuts and austerity agenda. Many say that though such cuts are painful, they’re merely an attempt to balance the budget, not a war on the populace. How would you respond?

That’s simply a fabrication. Austerity has become the rallying cry of Republicans and even Democrats because the business-backed political class is trying to complete the push-back and even elimination of the reforms that were won in the New Deal Period changes in American public life that began in the 1930s and in the 1960s and 1970s. They have private sector unionism down to 6.9 percent, and now they’re taking off after public sector unions. They’ve been taking steady bites out of the American safety net—the Republican Governor of Michigan, for example, just signed a bill to reduce unemployment insurance from 26 to 20 weeks. That was not the vision of the New Deal—it was supposed to be a measure of security for all Americans in the face of adversity, whether caused by market collapse or biological exigency or personal calamity. They want to get rid of that.

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