12/03/2012 11:30 am ET Updated Feb 02, 2013

Ceilings, Cliffs and Walls

Ceiling caving, cliff hanging, walls closing in -- sounds like an Indiana Jones movie. Except this is real life. The real lives of millions of Americans.

First, we hit the debt ceiling. Now we're hanging over the fiscal cliff. Next, the walls start to close in on millions of Americans, particularly the poor.

The news media is covering this story everyday as if this is some kind of "cliffhanger" when, in truth, it's really not. I can tell you right now how this movie ends. Indiana Jones is not going to show up and save the day. Whenever this so-called "grand bargain" is reached, it may be grand for the elite, but not so much for the nation's poor. I would love to be wrong about this, but signs point to yet another piling on of the poor. Eventually, if not immediately.

Yes, I know folk on both sides of the aisle in Washington have drawn a line in the sand, but have you ever actually drawn a line in the sand? They are quite easily erased. When they finally stop posturing and positioning and get down to the business at hand, the ultimate question is how "pragmatic" will the Obama White House be when it comes to cutting programs for the weak and the vulnerable? Will poor people be given priority? It's the predicament that the less fortunate find themselves in perennially -- will their suffering be rendered invisible yet again?

How do we stop this insane merry-go-round policymaking where the nation's poor are concerned? Round and round and round it goes, and where it stops, nobody knows.

We stop the insanity by asking the president to convene a White House Conference on the Eradication of Poverty in America. It's a simple idea, but one that could lead to a national plan created by anti-poverty experts that would cut poverty in half in 10 years and move closer to eradicating it in 25 years. It can be done, if we dare to imagine an America without poverty. On the other side of the "entitlement reform" that this "fiscal cliff" conversation is going to bring us, the timing of this effort by the White House couldn't be more critical.

With all this drama in Washington, it may seem like you have no agency in this matter. Indeed, you do. Especially if you're a woman, or young, or Hispanic or African American... or all of the above! By now we all know the coalition that helped to reelect President Obama was made up largely by the aforementioned groups. Interestingly, the same fellow citizens who have the most to lose if these forthcoming cuts are as deep as some of us believe they will be. To be sure, too many Americans have already gone over the fiscal cliff, and some in Washington are scared that because the president signaled his willingness to agree to certain cuts the last time we had this fight, it's going to be hard to hold the line on cuts this time around. I fret that they may be right, and I shudder to think what the end result of these negotiations might be.

What I know for sure is that now is the time to encourage the president to put poor people first. He can do that by delivering a major policy speech on eradicating poverty in America, and then convene this conference and push poverty to the top of his second term agenda. In so doing, he can leave a lasting legacy of which he, and we, can all be proud.