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November 3, 2011

"I think there may be a new page that we've come to the United States," author, activist and professor Frances Fox Piven told an audience in New York City about the Occupy Wall Street protests in New York. "Not just that there's a big movement out there and it may grow bigger," said Piven, "but I think that this movement poses a challenge to feminism as it has developed."

Piven's half-century of work on poverty, workers, social policy and progressive movements was front and center when she was honored with the Sue Rosenberg Zalk Award by The Feminist Press on October 24, 2011. A distinguished professor of political science and sociology at The Graduate Center of the City University of New York, Piven has been a particular target of attack by right-wing commentator Glenn Beck, who singled her out as a central enemy -- even the key enemy -- of conservative causes.

None of this has stopped Piven. She refused to buckle under the assault of Beck and his verbally offensive followers, spoke back, and continued her work, even releasing a new book, Who's Afraid of Frances Fox Piven The Essential Writings of the Professor Glenn Beck Loves to Hate.

In fact, Piven suggested earlier this year that economic stresses might just result in the eruption of a mass protest movement, a near-presaging of Occupy Wall Street. In a column that she wrote,
Mobilizing the Jobless
, in The Nation in January 2011, Piven recounted the levels of unemployment and economic conditions faced by many.

"Where," she asked, "are the angry crowds, the demonstrations, sit-ins and unruly mobs After all, the injustice is apparent. Working people are losing their homes and their pensions while robber-baron CEOs report renewed profits and windfall bonuses." Piven answered her own question by warning that the time may be coming. "Protests by the unemployed led by young workers and by students who face a future of joblessness just might become large enough, disruptive enough, to have an impact in Washington. There is no science that predicts eruptions of protest movements. Who, indeed, predicted the strike movement that began in the U.S. in 1934, the civil rights demonstrations that spread across the South in the early 1960s We should hope for another American social movement from the bottom."

The "Occupy" movement that emerged in September appears to have fulfilled her prophesy. Accepting her award from The Feminist Press, Piven, who has spoken at the Occupy Wall Street site in New York, offered an eyewitness appraisal of how "Occupy" fits into the history of feminism and social movements in the U.S.

Piven said:

"I think that feminism -- 20th century feminism and before that 19th century feminism -- these have been among the great movements of the modern era, along with the black freedom movement, the gay and lesbian movement, and so on. But these have been fantastic movements, eruptions of people, eruptions of us, to assert our worth, our humanity, our equality, our potential, and to do so in a way that changes identity politics.

"What did we say in the early phases of these movements We said that our situation was particular; our grievances were particular; our oppressors were particular. And we wanted to name them, and we wanted to assert our own aspirations and our own potential. And that's what the African-American movement did, and that's what the gay and lesbian movement did, and that's what the Latino movement did. And that was worthwhile -- because it gave us room; it gave us pride; it gave us ambition.

"But now I think we are at a different and more advanced stage in the development of our movement, where we want to identify not only our particularity, but we want to identify our commonality -- which both coexist, right And we want to reach out to people in other movements because we want to join what seems to be a great movement that is rolling across the planet, a movement of people who are all different. We are, all of us, different. But [this is] a movement of people who recognize a common enemy, an underspring of corporate and financial capitalism. And [it is] a movement of people who recognize comrades, solidarity, people like them, even if they look different, they dress differently, they have different specific memories, visions and hopes.

"But there is a sense in which we are all one, at least at this moment in history. We will divide again, that's true. The gist of what I am saying is that this movement that has emerged in the United States we call it Occupy Wall Street is the hope of our time.

"We should join it as feminists. But we should also join it as working people, because we are working people. We should also join it, linking arms with the poor women who have been so hurt by recent developments in the United States and whose safety net is being battered. We should also join it knowing that we are all people of color. And we should join it knowing that this is the greatest solidarity movement of our era."