According to noted historian, lecturer and author Cornel West and syndicated talk show host Tavis Smiley, neither mainstream political party — nor their chosen representatives in the general election — are doing enough to talk about poverty, the destruction it causes in urban communities and the impact it has on families.
Smiley, West and a myriad of community action groups — including the Philadelphia Student Union — took turns discussing poverty and how to best eradicate it during the Philadelphia stop of the “Poverty 2.0 Tour,” which has already taken the pair through Ohio and Virginia, with Florida being the last leg of the tour. The Tenth Memorial Baptist Church, on 19th Street near Masters in North Philadelphia, hosted the third tour stop.
This is the second year in which Smiley and West embarked on such a tour, which visits key battleground states and hosts town hall-styled meetings with local residents.
Tenth Memorial Baptist Church Pastor Rev. Dr. William B. Moore and state house hopeful Jordan Harris also offered remarks.
“The sprint between Labor Day and Election Day is when the attention of the nation is focused intently on the presidential race,” Smiley said, noting that last year, he and West visited nine states and 15 cities. “We know the two candidates, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, and the truth of the matter is, neither has said enough, as of yet, about the issue of poverty.
“The moderators need to put poverty front and center in the upcoming debates,” he added.
Although Smiley took both candidates to task for not mentioning the uncomfortable topic, he noted Obama ran on a platform of eliminating poverty, and so far, has failed to deliver.
“Obama is infinitely better in this election than Mitt Romney,” Smiley said. “But, Barack Obama, when he ran for president as a senator four years ago, he ran on a platform saying he was going to fight to eradicate poverty in America. He hasn’t quite gotten around to that yet. He said he was going to raise the minimum wage to $9.50 an hour; he hasn’t gotten around to it yet.
“Before you perceive this as hating on the president, we’re talking about accountability,” he added. “We want to get poverty on the agenda, and sometimes, you have to fight with your friends to push this issue out there.”
Smiley also said the media needs to ask the questions, if the candidates are unwilling to voluntarily bring the topic up.
“So one, we have get the candidates to address the issue. If the candidates won’t address the issue, then the media will have to address the issue, because the media is covering the horse race,” said Smiley, who noted that here, in the richest country in the world, more than 50 million people go to bed hungry, and of that number, 9 million are children. “The second way is for the media to talk about it, which will make the candidates talk about it.
“So [the candidates] can force the media to cover about it, and the media can force the candidates to talk about it,” Smiley continued. “You do that by demanding the four American journalists moderating the debate to put this on the agenda.”
West agreed, noting that not enough is being done to fight poverty — and there’s not enough people willing to fight, Civil Rights-era style, for their fellow man.
“We expect that the forthcoming census data will reveal that poverty in America is not an abstraction, and too many Americans are living hand to mouth. Basic needs such as living-wage jobs, food, clothing, medicine and shelter cannot be ignored by the major parties,” West said. “We live in a society of warped priorities; we live in a system that is failing poor people and working people, and is not working for poor people and working people.”