In a recent column, Bill Moyers and Michael Winship wrote, “When it comes to our ‘out of sight, out of mind’ population of the poor, you have to think we can help reduce their number, ease the suffering, and speak out, with whatever means at hand, on their behalf and against those who would prefer they remain invisible. Speak out: that means you and me, and yes, Mr. President, you, too.”
In the past year, it’s hard to imagine how anyone could have done more on the national stage to seek out and speak out on behalf of people living in poverty than broadcaster Tavis Smiley and Dr. Cornel West, professor of Philosophy and Christian Practice at Union Theological Seminary. Next week, September 12–15, they will go on the road for their second poverty tour in a year, which they have dubbed “Poverty Tour 2.0.”
In August 2011, Smiley and West embarked on an eleven-state, eighteen-city “Poverty Tour: A Call to Conscience”; that was followed in October by a week-long series about the tour broadcasted on both the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and Public Radio International (PRI). In January 2012, they collaborated with Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs on a study examining the impact of the recession on people living in or near-poverty; the next day, Smiley moderated a panel live on C-SPAN—“Remaking America: from Poverty to Prosperity”—which included Dr. West, author and Nation contributor Barbara Ehrenreich, filmmaker Michael Moore and others. In March, Smiley moderated a nationally broadcasted panel of women who talked about the impact of poverty on women and children in America. Finally, Smiley and West co-authored The Rich and The Rest of Us: A Poverty Manifesto. It was released in April and peaked at #7 on the New York Times Best Sellers List.
All of this work is in addition to their coverage of poverty-related issues on their nationally syndicated weekly public radio show, Smiley & West.
In my mind, Smiley and West’s work is representative of the kind of constancy and singular focus that’s needed if we are to preserve the advances this nation has made in the fight against poverty, and take new and greater steps forward in the months and years ahead.
“It’s all about making sure we keep on beating the drum about poverty,” Smiley told me when I spoke with him and Dr. West about the upcoming tour. “We want to do our part to make it a priority in this campaign and beyond this campaign.”
The poverty tour that begins next week will visit four battleground states—Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Florida.
“We know where Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney are essentially going to take up residency between now and Election Day,” said Smiley. “We know where the energy is going to be and the concentration of media is going to be, and that’s where we’re going.”