TheNation.com created This Week in Poverty to keep the struggles of the poor and near-poor front and center for its readers every week. Now, as we enter the home stretch of the 2012 presidential campaign, we are launching a new effort to help push the issue of poverty into the mainstream political debate.
Each Talk About Poverty (#TalkPoverty*) post will feature three to five questions for President Obama and Governor Mitt Romney from experts who know antipoverty policy inside-out. I will profile the individuals asking the questions so you get a sense of why they know what they are talking about; offer background on why these particular questions are being asked; and then lay the questions out for the candidates.
In the next month or so, when we’ve completed the #TalkPoverty series, The Nation will compile the best questions into a single questionnaire and hound the presidential campaigns for answers. You can offer your own questions on Twitter using the hashtag #TalkPoverty—some might be included in the final questionnaire.
We will also rely on your help to show politicians that people do, in fact, care about poverty and want their political leaders to address the issue in a thoughtful, informed way. Please tweet this article using #TalkPoverty, share it on Facebook and keep the conversation going in your own circles. The only way we will possibly get the candidates—and Washington—to talk about poverty is if we insist that they talk about poverty.
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When it comes to public policy and poverty in the US few people know more about it than Georgetown University Law Professor Peter Edelman. He has worked to eradicate poverty for nearly half a century, most notably as a legislative assistant to Senator Robert Kennedy and as an Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services in the Clinton administration—a post he resigned in protest over the 1996 welfare reform bill. He’s also taught and written extensively on the subject, including in his recent book, So Rich, So Poor: Why It’s So Hard to End Poverty in America.
Edelman attended Harvard Law School and clerked on the Supreme Court. But in an interview last year he told me the big change in his life occurred when he met Senator Robert Kennedy and went to work for him.
“Here was a man who really—I think unlike anybody at that level since—was just deeply committed to doing something very serious about poverty in this country and obviously the intersection of poverty and race,” said Edelman. “I had the opportunity to go around the country with him, and to learn as he learned—from listening and talking to people and seeing problems.”
Edelman said his travels with Kennedy taught him in ways that books never could have about “the different specific ways in which power disparities arranged themselves, whether in Mississippi, the Central Valley of California, Eastern Kentucky, the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota or Mayor Daley’s Chicago.”
Edelman and Kennedy visited places that were invisible to most Americans, including: Watts, South Central Los Angeles, four months before the civil unrest in 1965; Eastern Kentucky, where the children of former coal miners were going hungry because the mines had closed; and the fields of Delano, in California’s San Joaquin valley, where migrant farmworkers were attempting to organize.