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Combating the War on the Poor: Cornel West and Tavis Smiley on Cross-Country "Poverty Tour"

The 15-city Poverty Tour comes on the heels of last week's deficit agreement, which excluded a tax hike on the wealthy and any measures to tackle high unemployment.

AMY GOODMAN: On the heels of last week’s deficit agreement, which widely criticized—was widely criticized for excluding a tax hike on the wealthy, as well as any measures to tackle high unemployment, the Congressional Black Caucus has launched a month-long campaign to address staggering unemployment rates among African Americans. In Detroit, Cleveland and Los Angeles, two cities that are stops on the tour, the unemployment rates are in the 40 percent range. The caucus chair last week slammed the deficit deal as a "Satan sandwich" that unfairly harms African Americans. Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports Obama will embark on his own jobs tour that will take place in the middle of the caucus’s campaign.

Well, we are now going to turn to two leading African-American voices. They have hit the road to challenge President Obama’s record on poverty. The veteran broadcaster, Tavis Smiley, the author, Princeton University professor, Cornel West, are in the midst of a 15-city, cross-country trek they’ve called "The Poverty Tour: A Call to Conscience." The tour comes on the heels of last week’s deficit agreement.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Tell us, Tavis, why you’re at Kent State right now.

TAVIS SMILEY: We’re at Kent State now as one of many stops on this tour, as you mentioned, Amy, because we’re trying to raise awareness about this issue, trying to raise the level of debate and conversation about the plight of the poor in this country. I believe, and Dr. West believes, that it is, in fact, the telling of truth that allows suffering to speak. And if we don’t speak truth to power—and put another way, truth to the powerless—then they end up being rendered invisible in this country.

You mentioned a moment ago, and you’re absolutely right about this, this deficit-reduction plan, this debt-ceiling plan, that Congress came together on and the President signed, unfortunately, I think is a declaration of war on the poor. Any legislation that doesn’t extend unemployment benefits, doesn’t close a single corporate loophole, doesn’t raise one cent of new revenue in terms of taxes on the rich or the lucky, allows corporate America to get away scot-free again—the banks, Wall Street getting away again—and all these cuts ostensibly on the backs of everyday people.

This conversation now about the poor in this country needs to happen, and so we’re out here trying to dramatize that and trying to ensure that this time around, in this presidential debate, Mr. Obama and whoever his Republican opponent will be are going to be forced to address the issue, the ever-expanding issue, of the poor in this country.

AMY GOODMAN: You know, before I turn to Cornel West, I was speaking yesterday to Harry Belafonte, the famous singer, actor, activist. I interviewed him earlier this year about his meeting with Cornel. It was before President Obama was president. And this is what he had to say about his conversation with, at the time, Senator Obama.

HARRY BELAFONTE: Every opportunity I’ve had to put that before him, he has heard. I have not had a chance to put it to him as forcefully as I would like to, because he has not yet given us the accessibility to those places where this could be said in a more articulate way and not always on the fly.

But he once said something to me during his campaign for the presidency, and he says—he said, you know—I said, "I’ve heard you" —he was talking before businessmen on Wall Street here in—there in New York. And he said to me—I said, "Well, you know, I hope you bring the challenge more forcefully to the table." And he said, "Well, when are you and Cornel West going to cut me some slack?" And I got caught with that remark. And I said to him, in rebuttal, I said, "What makes you think we haven’t?"

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