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Why Obama's 2nd Term Should Be All About Taking on MLK's Anti-Poverty Crusade

Tavis Smiley offers a roadmap for Obama... to follow in Martin Luther King's footsteps

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Having said that, look what it took to get here. I mean, look at all these mass—I mean, the fact that those victims were there at the White House for this announcement speaks to the fact, Amy, that we’ve allowed this to go on and on and on, and only when the most innocent and precious children in our nation are shot down do we finally get the backbone to take these issues seriously. And that’s my point, that I don’t know what else has to happen for us to recognize that poverty is threatening our very democracy, that poverty is now a matter of national security. And when you tackle poverty, you deal with these other issues that are tentacles of poverty—a horrible education system and lack of housing and lack of good jobs with a living wage, etc., etc. So, poverty ought to be something, I think, that the president can wrap his legacy around, if he wants to have a legacy of which he and we can be proud.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Tavis, I’m wondering if your campaign, as you’ve been going around the country, whether you feel it’s had any impact on corporate leaders in America? Thirty years ago, the biggest private employer in America was General Motors, and every worker had a union job, a pension and a middle-class situation. Now the biggest employer is Wal-Mart, private employer, and most of their workers are in poverty themselves because of the low wages and the lack of benefits. Your sense that your campaign is having any impact on corporate leaders?

TAVIS SMILEY: Well, corporate America is hard to crack. I will say this: You know, we—you know, people go hard at Wal-Mart, and I believe that companies ought to be respectful of the health of their employees and the equity pay of their employees, etc., but this announcement they made about hiring these military veterans, given the work that you cover here on  The War and Peace Report, I think is significant. And so, the point here is that corporations can lead. Corporations can advance the conversation. For example, you know, in this country, as the Supreme Court continues every so often to file these affirmative action cases, it has been the case that oftentimes corporate America has led the government when it comes to trying to address the issue of affirmative action. So, that’s not always the case.

So I don’t know what impact we’re going to have or have had already. What I do know is that this president and all of our leaders in Washington typically don’t tend to do much unless they get pushed. And now is the time for us to push all of our leaders on the issue of poverty and ask the president to provide some leadership on this. There is a link between gun violence and poverty. The younger you are, the more likely you are to be poor; the poorer you are, the more likely you are to be subject to random gun violence. And when we have a conversation about Sandy Hook, we have to also remember that black and brown kids are gunned down in this country every day, and nobody says anything.

AMY GOODMAN: Tavis, as we wrap up, what you’re doing tonight at George Washington University, and then the tour you’re taking afterwards?

TAVIS SMILEY: Yeah, so tonight, George Washington Univesity, doors open at 5:00, if you’re in the D.C. area. We go live on C-SPAN tonight at 6:30 for a spirited debate—Cornel West and Jeffrey Sachs and Jonathan Kozol, but also Newt Gingrich and others. So it’s going to be a spirited debate about how we make poverty a priority. That’s tonight.

 
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