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Tavis Smiley and Cornel West: The Rich and the Rest of Us -- a Poverty Manifesto

Poverty is no longer black and brown - it is multicultural and multiracial - and is engulfing millions of us.

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TAVIS SMILEY: On that very issue, as a matter of fact, and he keeps raising that issue about substance abuse. That’s an insult to everyday Americans who have been laid off, been downsized, have lost their homes, have lost their savings, are now just trying to hold on to their dignity. We believe, as Dr. King did, that there is dignity in labor, that there is dignity in working. These are Americans now just trying to hold onto their dignity. With all due respect to Mr. O’Reilly, for him to suggest once again, as he’s been doing consistently, that these are persons who are engaged in substance abuse, I mean, it’s just insulting. Most Americans who are poor right now are not poor because they’re drug users, because they’re alcoholics. They are poor because they don’t have jobs, because of these greedy corporations in the country who are making more money at home, sending more jobs abroad.

I was so heartened to see this pushback the other day here in New York by these shareholders about these—about this CEO, CEO pay.

AMY GOODMAN: Citigroup.

TAVIS SMILEY: I think, to your point, Amy—yeah, Citigroup. To your point, Amy, I think that the Occupy movement is resonating. And this is another example. And I’m glad that the New York Times, at least in their coverage, highlighted and shouted out, as it were, Occupy for their message starting to take hold now, where shareholders and pension plans and other entities invested in these companies are saying, "Hey, enough is enough."

JUAN GONZALEZ: But the complicity, though, as you alluded to earlier, of so many of the commercial media reporters, in terms of not focusing or not raising the issue of the poverty divide in the country in these debates or in investigative articles that look at the various aspects of it, how does—Occupy Wall Street, you feel, has had a major impact on at least awakening the press, it seems to me, in terms of some of these issues?

TAVIS SMILEY: I think so. I mean, there’s no doubt about the fact—and Doc and I discuss this all the time—that we are seeing at least more conversation about poverty than we have in a long time. But one of the reasons for that—we talk about in this book—one of the reasons for that, Juan, though, is because poverty, again, is no longer black and brown. There are so many of our fellow citizens who happen not to be black and brown who now find themselves poor, and so these voices are being raised. To your point about Occupy, you know, while it is a multicultural, multiracial, multiethnic entity, the overwhelming number of persons who started this and who sustain this happen to be young white Americans. And so, now that we see, again, that poverty is engulfing millions of us, all of us, from California to the Carolinas—again, we saw this on our poverty tour—because so many Americans of all races are being impacted by this, now we see the media starting to take this conversation more seriously.

The ultimate question is, can we move from conversation to action? And that’s why, in this book, we talk about a portrait of poverty, how we got here. We talk about the poverty of opportunity, but then, beyond that, a poverty of affirmation, a poverty of compassion, a poverty of truth, a poverty of vision, a poverty of imagination. We shatter these lies told about poverty and the poor. Then we close this book with the real manifesto, which is these 12 points that we think—12 issues that must be addressed immediately and seriously, if we’re going to reduce and eradicate poverty in this country.