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Tavis Smiley Urges Obama to Take Up MLK's Fight Against P overty

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    http://www.democracynow.org/2013/1/17/as_obama_prepares_for_2nd_term As Obama Prepares for 2nd Term, Tavis Smiley Urges Him to Take Up MLK’s Fight Against
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 18, 2013
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      http://www.democracynow.org/2013/1/17/as_obama_prepares_for_2nd_term

      As Obama Prepares for 2nd Term, Tavis Smiley Urges Him to Take Up MLK’s
      Fight Against Poverty

      Tavis Smiley
      Democracy Now: 1/17/2013

      Ahead of Monday’s public inauguration that will usher in President Obama’s
      second term, we turn to a call for him to put the more than 50 million
      Americans living in poverty at the top of his agenda. The issue has garnered
      attention in part because Obama will take the oath of office with his hand
      placed on two Bibles — one owned by Abraham Lincoln and the other by Martin
      Luther King Jr., known for his civil rights and anti-poverty activism. We’re
      joined by broadcaster and author Tavis Smiley, who has spent the past year
      crisscrossing the country with activist and professor Cornel West to start a
      national conversation on the issue of poverty, calling on President Obama to
      organize a White House Conference on the Eradication of Poverty in America.
      Smiley will be in Washington, D.C., tonight moderating a nationally
      televised symposium, "Vision for a New America: A Future Without Poverty."
      [includes rush transcript]

      Guest:

      Tavis <http://www.democracynow.org/appearances/tavis_smiley> Smiley,
      broadcaster, philanthropist and New York Times best-selling author. He hosts
      the TV show Tavis Smiley on PBS and two radio shows: The Tavis Smiley Show
      and Smiley & West, which he hosts with Cornel West. Together, they have
      written the book The Rich and the Rest of Us: A Poverty Manifesto. Tonight
      he is moderating a nationally televised symposium, "Vision for a New
      America: A Future Without Poverty." The event starts at 6:30 p.m. Eastern
      and will be broadcast live on C-SPAN, as well as online.

      JUAN GONZÁLEZ: This Monday marks the public inauguration that will usher in
      President Obama’s second term, and we turn now to the call for him to put
      more than 50 million Americans living in poverty at the top of his agenda.
      The issue has garnered attention in part because Obama will take the oath of
      office with his hand placed on two Bibles—one owned by Abraham Lincoln and
      the other owned by Martin Luther King Jr., known for his civil rights and
      anti-poverty activism. The inauguration also comes on January 21st, the
      federal holiday in honor of the civil rights leader, who delivered his "I
      Have a Dream" speech 50 years ago at the Lincoln Memorial. Obama will face
      the memorial as he takes the oath. He has addressed the issue of Martin
      Luther King and poverty before, in 2011, when he spoke at the dedication of
      the Martin Luther King Monument at the National Mall.

      PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Nearly 50 years after the March on Washington, our
      work, Dr. King’s work, is not yet complete. We gather here at a moment of
      great challenge and great change. In the first decade of this new century,
      we have been tested by war and by tragedy, by an economic crisis and its
      aftermath that has left millions out of work and poverty on the rise and
      millions more just struggling to get by. Indeed, even before this crisis
      struck, we had endured a decade of rising inequality and stagnant wages. In
      too many troubled neighborhoods across the country, the conditions of our
      poorest citizens appear little changed from what existed 50 years ago,
      neighborhoods with underfunded schools and broken-down slums, inadequate
      healthcare, constant violence, neighborhoods in which too many young people
      grow up with little hope and few prospects for the future.

      AMY GOODMAN: President Obama speaking in 2011 at the dedication of the
      Martin Luther King Monument on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

      Well, journalist, author Tavis Smiley has spent the last year crisscrossing
      the country with activist, professor, preacher, Cornel West, to start a
      national conversation on poverty, which they address in their book, The Rich
      and the Rest of Us: A Poverty Manifesto. They’ve called on President Obama
      to organize a White House Conference on the Eradication of Poverty in
      America. And tonight Tavis will be in the nation’s capital moderating a
      nationally televised symposium called "Vision for a New America: A Future
      Without Poverty." The event begins a 6:30 p.m. Eastern time and will be
      broadcast live on C-SPAN at George Washington University. Tavis Smiley joins
      us now from Washington.

      Tavis, welcome back to Democracy Now! Talk about what you’re doing and what
      you want President Obama to do, to convene.

      TAVIS SMILEY: Thank you, Amy and Juan, for having me back on, and Dr. West
      sends his regards.

      First of all, let me just say very quickly, with regard to the King Bible
      being used in this inauguration, I’m feeling ambivalent about that, in part
      because I always—I have always regarded Dr. King as the greatest American
      this country has ever produced. And any celebration, any honor of Dr. King
      that keeps his legacy at the center of the conversation is important. But
      I’m feeling some sort of way about this because at a moment where this
      country is using more drones than ever before, oftentimes killing innocent
      women and children, at a moment when this country continues to render poor
      people invisible, at a moment when this country continues to escalate
      militarily, all the things that concerned Dr. King, those—that triple
      threat, those three evils that King talked about, are more out of control
      now than ever before. And so it’s one thing to engage in the symbolism of
      placing our hand on his Bible; it’s quite another to get down to the real
      work of—the substantive work that King would want us to be doing, were he
      here now—so that on Monday, President Obama will be in the foreground, but
      Dr. King clearly stands and looms large in the background, as the backdrop,
      if you will.

      And so, I think the question that we have to ask ourselves now is the same
      question Dr. King asked when he was alive. "Life’s most persistent and
      urgent question," said King, "is: What are you doing for others?" "Life’s
      most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others?" And
      so, if we can’t make the world safe for his legacy by making poverty, the
      eradication of poverty a priority, then something is wrong with our
      commitment, our commitment to King’s legacy. And so, tonight we’re going to
      continue to do our small part to try to make poverty and its eradication a
      priority in the nation, here at George Washington University.

      JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Tavis, the past few months, all this emphasis in the
      media and in Congress on the fiscal cliff, but the little talk about the
      growing nature—the spread of poverty in America and how the reduction of
      many of these, quote, "entitlement programs" will lead to even greater
      poverty.

      TAVIS SMILEY: Yeah. The president has been given high marks, as you know, by
      his supporters and by others, and the media certainly has declared him the
      winner in these January fiscal cliff negotiations. But, of course, you and
      Amy both know that we won’t really know how good this deal was in January
      until we get to March, when we get to the debt ceiling conversation and when
      these entitlement cuts are on the table. I’ve said many times before that
      budgets are moral documents. Budgets are moral documents. And when we get to
      this kind of debate in March about these entitlement cuts, then we’re going
      to see how good this deal in January allegedly was.

      But something is wrong when your economic policy has you teetering on cliffs
      and bumping up against ceilings. That’s no way to run a country. It’s
      certainly no way to prioritize poverty. The bottom line is that President
      Obama ought to do two things, and he ought to do them quickly. Number one,
      he ought to give a major public policy address on the eradication of
      poverty. Here’s a guy who starts out as a community organizer, who speaks
      eloquently of Dr. King, who has a bust of Dr. King in the White House Oval
      Office, has—will be inaugurated on King’s holiday. What are we going to do
      about pushing our president to give a major public policy address on the
      eradication of poverty, number one? And number two, then to call and convene
      a White House Conference on the Eradication of Poverty, bring the experts
      together and create a national plan that can cut poverty in half in 10 years
      and eradicate it in 25. So, first, a major public policy address, and
      secondly, convening this conference to put together a national plan. We’re
      going to talk about that tonight and ask the public to help us engage the
      president on this issue by going to our website, AFutureWithoutPoverty.com
      <http://www.afuturewithoutpoverty.com/> , and signing the letter that we’re
      pushing out to the White House asking the president to do those very two
      things.

      AMY GOODMAN: Tavis, yesterday President Obama convened a large gathering.
      Many of the people there were victims, the Newtown, Connecticut, mass
      killings that took place. Survivors were there, as well as other mass
      killings. President Obama had Joe Biden, the vice president, convene a
      commission to look at what should happen around the issue of gun violence,
      and they came out with their recommendations yesterday. Do you see this as a
      model for what you want to happen around poverty?

      TAVIS SMILEY: Absolutely. And it ought to be clear, there’s a lot on the
      president’s plate. That’s what it means to be president, to try to manage
      the richest nation in the world, that ought not to have more and more people
      falling into poverty, a nation that ought not buy the argument that just
      because you want sensible gun control legislation, that somehow the Second
      Amendment is under attack. There’s a huge gap between repealing the Second
      Amendment and sensible gun laws. So I’m glad to see the president take this
      issue on, but it is the case that in his first term he received an F from
      the Brady Campaign on gun control legislation, an F. So, I think that we’re
      seeing now that he’s going to improve his grade on that, if he stiffens his
      spine and stands firm on these executive actions and, moreover and more
      importantly, the fight that he’s going to have to engage with Congress. So
      I’m glad to see him taking these steps.

      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.

      And then we’re starting our tour tomorrow night at Butler University in
      Indianapolis, going to colleges and universities for the next week or two,
      trying to get young people engaged on this very issue of making poverty a
      priority in the nation. AFutureWithoutPoverty.com
      <http://www.afuturewithoutpoverty.com/> is where you can get all the
      details.

      AMY GOODMAN: Tavis Smiley, I want to thank you for being with us, a
      television/radio broadcaster on public television and radio, New York Times
      best-selling author. Tonight at George Washington University, a summit on
      poverty.

      That does it for our show. On Monday, we’ll be broadcasting live from the
      capital on Martin Luther King Day and the inauguration. We’ll be
      broadcasting from 8:00 Eastern Standard Time, our regular start time for
      Democracy Now!, right through 1:00, broadcasting the inaugural ceremonies
      and bringing in different voices from all over this country. Check out
      democracynow.org.


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