Cornel West and Tavis Smiley Discuss American Poverty

Poverty and what it means in our time is a huge social and political issue. With the Great Recession and the drab economy of the last few years, there is an increased focus on what some see as a widening chasm of inequality. On Friday, Cornel West and Tavis Smiley spoke at Hunter College on poverty and how it is a social problem for America. Promoting their new book The Rich And The Rest of Us, this work is an extension of their poverty tour of Summer 2011. The two social activists have subtitled their book as a poverty manifesto, and they intend to raise awareness of the depths of the new American reality. According to recent statistics, 150 million Americans are either poor or near poor. Citing how easy it is to fall into poverty, Mr. Smiley noted that those in the middle class who have lost their jobs now comprise part of the new poor. Joining the persistent poor, often referred to as the underclass, and the working poor, its important to see the now broader social dimensions of what was thought of as a marginal problem.

Whether or not one agrees with this focus on poverty or not, it is very interesting to see the political conversation around this in contrast to other issues. One telling thing that Dr. West raised in his part of the presentation is that there seems to be always money found for national defense and building prisons, but none for social programs and education. Expressing support and solidarity for Occupy Wall Street, he railed against oligarchy. With their calls for the political system to focus on this tragic reality, West described himself  and Mr. Smiley as  “poverty abolitionists” Indeed a bold declaration, especially in the context of today.

The Bible says that the poor will always be with us.  So is it realistic to think that we as a country, or any country can eliminate poverty?

Marc W. Polite




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