“An Action Here, An Action There” — Frances Fox Piven in Bloombergville

Social historian Frances Fox Piven came to our sidewalk university Wednesday evening to talk about the history of social movements and political change in the United States and how it relates to Bloombergville.  Sitting on a canvas folding chair, the professor of political science at the City University of New York Graduate Center spoke for 45 minutes to a group of about 50 Bloombergville residents and a couple of curious passersby.  Afterwards she stayed for nearly an hour more answering questions.

Frances Fox Piven speaking in Bloombergville

“Protest movements start out small, an action here, an action there,” she said, as she gave an overview of key moments in U.S. labor and protest history from the Great Railroad Strike of 1877 to the Auto-Lite strike of 1934 in Toledo, OH, to the Freedom Riders and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.  She also talked about the contravening impact of American corporate power, in the 1890s and especially after World War II, as well as the complacency that arises within movements when they have had a measure of success.  “Business has always been strong when social movements have been dormant,” she said.

Her main message was one of support and helping to put the efforts of Bloombergville into a larger historical context.  Every great social achievement has started small, she suggested, movements don’t appear fully blown all at once.  Not every effort is successful.  But together they can add up to significant change.  To her, social movements are “the fire and the heart” of politics in the United States.  It’s important not to get discouraged.

Bloombergville listens

The question and answer time covered topics from Civil Rights under the Nixon Administration to the union movement’s conservatism since the mid-20th Century, from the recent events in Madison, WI, to the nuts and bolts of organizing and sustaining an action.  On that point, she encouraged the group to think locally rather than getting on a bus to go to Washington.  Small actions in a local school or library can have big impacts.

Towards the end, she was asked about what lies ahead for the United States.  “No one knows,” she said.  “Neoliberal capitalism has created an unknown future.”  In a world where large multinationals have such free range, you never know what they will do.  It makes the lives of people more precarious.

On a happier note, she reminisced about her past political involvement. “It was the best time of my life,” she said. Seeing people engaged in politics and the issues surrounding them showed her that there are people, as she put it, “willing to move.”

After the talk, Frances Fox Piven endorsed The Bloombergville Declaration.


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