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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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Now, here’s the bottom line. These plans already exist. Jeffrey Sachs here at Columbia in New York has one. Marian Wright Edelman, Children’s Defense Fund, has one. Catholic Charities has one. Jim Wallis’s Sojourners has one. There are all kinds of institutions and think tanks who have created these plans to reduce poverty in this country, but nobody at the White House level, nobody at the federal government level, has said, "Let’s all get in a room and create a national plan that we’re going to rally around to reduce poverty in this country." They’ve done it in other countries. Chile comes to mind. Between '87 and 2009, they went from about 48 percent poverty to 11 percent poverty. And Doc makes the point, and we do in the book, that after the Johnson war on poverty, we reduced poverty in this country. Again, this is not a skill problem; it's a will problem. We need a national plan to get serious about this issue.

AMY GOODMAN: We just have 30 seconds. Cornel West, Occupy—I saw you down at Occupy Wall Street, and you traveled around the country. The significance of this movement?

CORNEL WEST: Oh, it’s the historic movement, democratic awakening taking place among everyday people straightening their backs up. And it’s a beautiful thing to witness. And it is coming back stronger than ever. And I’m blessed to be there. I’ve got my cemetery clothes on and my jail clothes on and my street clothes on. Even as we write our books, and even as we listen to Richard Wolff talk about Democracy at Work, new important book, Paul Krugman, [End] This Depression Now, new important book, connection of mind, body and soul.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we want to thank you for being with us. We’re going to do part two, and we’re going to post it on our website at democracynow.org. Check it out. The Rich and the Rest of Us: A Poverty Manifesto by Tavis Smiley and Cornel West.

In part two of our interview, Tavis Smiley and Dr. Cornel West discuss growing up in working-class households. "I saw so much poverty growing up," says Smiley, who lived with 13 family members in a three-bedroom trailer and learned that even when he was not optimistic, he could be hopeful. "Hope needs help," Smiley notes. West recalls how he worked with the Black Panthers to organize a general strike while growing up in Sacramento, California, in order to push for African-American studies programs in local high schools. Looking at current events, Smiley and West cite Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s comment that "war is the enemy of the poor" and compare the amount of money spent in Iraq and the 2012 presidential campaign to funding for programs that assist the one in two Americans who are now poor. They also discuss the Trayvon Martin case and react to Ted Nugent's potentially threatening comments about President Obama at the recent National Rifle Association meeting.

 

Click here to see Part 1 of this interview.

 

 

Amy Goodman is the host of the nationally syndicated radio news program, Democracy Now! .