Now that President Obama has spoken out about marriage inequality for same-sex couples, when will he do the same about a greater injustice, poverty in America? It's a question authors and activists Tavis Smiley and Dr. Cornel West are posing as they conclude a cross-country book tour focused on poverty in the United States.
It was less than a year ago when Smiley and West teamed up for an 18-city, 11-state Poverty Tour, but decided even this was not enough to make poverty matter to the masses. Moved by the stories and families Smiley and West encountered all over America, they've written a new book The Rich & the Rest of Us: A Poverty Manifesto. Smiley and West are also calling on the president to transform "biased apathy to engaged advocacy" by holding a White House Conference on the Eradication of Poverty.
It is no coincidence the Pew Charitable Trust released findings from its Economic Mobility Project this week. Much of the study reinforces the ideas Smiley and West present in The Rich & the Rest of Us . The report examined Americans' ability to move up or down the economic ladder. Pew identified education, access to capital, savings and neighborhood poverty during childhood as key drivers of economic mobility. These factors determine whether one can rise out of poverty, or remain in its cycle for generations.
Poverty is unquestionably linked to jobs and the economy. Yet, in the current race to determine our next president, neither party nor their candidates have been willing to make poverty a priority in America. According to Smiley and West, the real problem lies in politicians' insistence on "demonizing" the poor. Smiley cites statements made by Republicans campaigning for the GOP nomination as examples of how misunderstood and maligned the poor have become in America.
During a chat with the press Thursday, Smiley insisted he is not an authority on poverty, nor does he purport to be. He shared that he too has family members who are poor and has spent a great deal more time in his life without money than with it. Smiley believes America has the power to completely eradicate poverty amongst its citizens in a little as ten years. He questions how America could allow the dreams of its people to transform into a nightmare.
"How can someone who is working be poor?" Smiley asked incredulously. "Not only that we victimize the poor with our language. Poverty affects veterans, the elderly and many of these are made to feel as if their poverty is a character flaw instead of a circumstance."
This is especially true when it comes to women and children. The model of the poor welfare queen is a popular image invoked against anti-poverty policies. When women are poor, staying home with their children becomes less noble; society says these women should be out working. Dr. West recommends workplace day care or head start programs that do not force mothers to choose between caring for their child or making a living: "Poor children are far more likely to become poor adults, reversing this trend means making women and children a top priority."
Eager to have the president and the White House rally around this timely, tragic issue affecting over 150 million Americans, Mr. Smiley and Dr. West reiterate the need for a White House Conference on the Eradication Poverty. By gathering the vast resources of the White House, a workable plan to end poverty can start to come together. However, Dr. West notes with certainty, a people centered movement is much more likely as, "politicians who depend on the rich to get elected are unlikely to lead this revolution."