Dr. Cornel West and Tavis Smiley | Talks at Google

>>Stacy: Good afternoon. Welcome. I’m delighted
to host Dr. Cornel West and Mr. Tavis Smiley today. Dr. West is a class of 1943 university
professor at Princeton University. He’s best known for his classics, Race Matters and Democracy
Matters. From film to TV to radio. From spoken word and of course, authorship, Dr. West crosses
all media, and, to communicate his message. TIME Magazine describes him as “one complex
dude.” [laughter] A brilliant scholar. Political activist. Committed
Christian. And a soul brother to the bone. Welcome Dr. West. [applause]>>Cornel West: Glad to be here. Thank you
for having me. It’s a blessing to be here. Thank you.>>Stacy: Mr. Smiley is President CEO of The
Smiley Group. He co-hosts the late night talk show Tavis Smiley and also has his own radio
show on Public Radio International, the Tavis Smiley Show. He too is a multimedia communicator.
Covering race, religion, politics, social justice, and all of those topics in ways that
challenge our beliefs. He is not only a voice for change but he is an inspiration for our
youth. Because of the Tavis Smiley Foundation more than 6,000 youth have been trained in
leadership. These two co-host a show together on Public
Radio International. Called Smiley and West. They both collectively have written 35 books.
Both have had New York Times bestsellers. And they’ve finally come together to raise
awareness about a topic, which they coined the “p” word. Or Poverty. Poverty in America.
Please join me in welcoming Tavis Smiley and Cornel West to talk about “The Rich and The
Rest of Us.” [applause]>>Stacy: They, we have a video that we wanna
show. Do you wanna?>>Tavis Smiley: Yeah, I think this piece is
called “I had everything.” And the short answer is that last summer Dr. West and I took a
poverty tour. We got on a bus and went to 11 states and 18 cities across the country.
Trying to get a sense of what poverty had really done to America. What was the impact
of the so-called “great recession” on everyday people in this country? Doc and I believe
that poverty is the moral and the spiritual issue of our time. But it required us to do
a little more research. We wanted to get out on the road. Give up a part of our summer,
to try to see what the new face of poverty looked like. So for so long in this country,
poverty has been color coded. So you think poverty, you think black. You think poverty,
you think brown. But with the Census Bureau letting us know that one out of every two
Americans is either in or near poverty, 50 percent of our nation. 150 million people
are either in or near poverty. Clearly the face of poverty had changed and we wanted
to see what the new face of poverty looked like, to have a better understanding of how
we are to advance our work, Stacy, about what poverty is, what it is not, how to reduce
it. How to eradicate it. So we got on this bus. Again, 11 states, 18 cities. Had a documentary
crew in tow with me. And we turned that tour into a week long special on PBS. So for five
nights on national television, on PBS, there were these short pieces. These seven to ten
minute pieces. On each night about what we saw, about a particular theme, particular
subject matter, particular aspect or angle of poverty. And that these short mini-docs,
if you will. These mini-docs were then followed by extensive conversation with experts about
these particular issues. So this is a piece that aired on one of the five nights of the
PBS special. Born of our poverty tour last summer. The precursor for the book we’re gonna
talk about today. It’s about seven to eight minutes. It’s called “I had everything” and
I think it’ll give you a good sense of what we experienced on the tour. So. Take a look.>>Stacy: Roll the video. [blues music]
>>Male Narrator: The largest economic institutions were brought to their collective knees at
the government’s doorstep, in search of salvation. The bailout. Wall street socialized it’s failure
on the back of Main Street. The resulting housing crisis and jobs crisis fostered a
poverty unseen in generations. A poverty not just of inner city ghettos and barrios, but
of the suburbs, crossing all racial lines. Nearly one third of the middle class, mostly
families with children, have fallen now into poverty.
[blues music continues in background]>>Male speaker: Welcome Dr. Cornel West! [applause and cheers]>>Cornel West: Oh, what a blessing to be in
the heart of the blues land. I’ve always considered myself a blues man. The life of the mind,
’cause the blues ain’t nothing but a occupied graphical chronicle of a personal catastrophe
expressed lyrically. [applause] The blues is universal. I don’t care what
color, what culture, what city, what life. Everybody has some catastrophe. [audience whistles] But the question is, what is your response
to the catastrophic? Will it be love and justice? Or will it be hatred or revenge? And the blues
says, it’s all about the love>>Male #1: [inaudible] This is the homeless
[inaudible]>>Male #2: That’s what we are. We’re the homeless
guys at Freedom House. You talked about the poverty. That’s what, you know, I had a job,
I had a family. I had, you know everything a person’s supposed to have. The car, the
whole bit. And I’m down to nothing right now. You know I’ve been, like in retail for almost
30 years. I was working for one of the major stores. Who decided last year they needed
to close 140 of their stores down. All of a sudden everything was thrown out from under
us. I worked with people that had been with the company 30, 40 years. A year or two left,
people are getting kinda, whatever, pensions. You know the things they worked hard to be
able to have in their retirement. People who only had like a year or so to go. Lost all
of that. Because I didn’t have the job I also lost my home. And because of losing my home,
I had, you know, my wife and I, I had to make sure she was cared for, ’cause I couldn’t,
there wasn’t any way. And so we split up. And we’ve been separated for about nine months
now. [blues music]>>Cornel West: So much love. When I hear BB
King I laugh sometimes. I sing about Christ. You can feel the love when he plays Lucille
it’s mixed with misery, but misery never ever has the last word. Even [unintelligible] [blues music]>>Tavis Smiley: Many Americans of all races,
colors and creeds are finding themselves in poverty. More children of all races colors
sand creeds from 2008 to 2009 joined the ranks of the poor in this country than at any other
point in time in recorded data in the history of this country. A country for me is not a
great nation unless it takes care of its babies. [applause and cheers]>>Tavis Smiley: It takes care of its babies.>>Male #3: The unemployment rate in Detroit
is 31 percent. [boos and shouts] That’s a depression that’s not a recession.
>>Cheryll Chambliss: I just wanna speak to the fact that I’ve done like I did everything
that I was supposed to do over time. I educated myself. Educated my children. Home ownership.
And I’m not unique. I’m a person that has been laid off of my
job. I’ve had my car repossessed. And my home is up for sale. My boss explained to me that
he could hire two 20 something’s for my salary. And that I could bring a lot to the situation
where people are looking for experience, that I have over these last 30 years but they just,
kind of put me out to pasture. [whistling, shouting, applause in background] But I’m not ready. It’s devastating.>>Tavis Smiley: ‘Cause when she says that
she is the face of poverty, she is. I’ve been saying, and Dr. West has been saying consistently
on this tour, that the new poor in this country are the former middle class. [shouts of agreement]>>Cheryll Chambliss: There is poverty on so
many different levels. Poverty like we’ve never seen before. And there’s such a, just
there’s so much greed. At the top. And so much corporate greed that, something has to
be done.>>Rep. John Conyers: There are more poor white
people catching hell than there are black people [inaudible] [shouts from audience] We are in a class war right now. [shouts and cheers] We are [inaudible]. It’s already here. They
just didn’t declare it. [shouts and cheers] [blues music]>>Tavis Smiley: There was a white woman who
was standing on the sidewalk who was waiting for our bus to pull up so she could read Dr.
West and me the riot act. Riot act.>>Female Protestor: I went to the Tennessee
Williams Festival. Y’all are upsetting me. You have chosen Columbus Mississippi. This
is not a poverty town.>>Tavis Smiley: She didn’t like the idea that
we would bring a poverty tour, and pull up outside this big poverty tour bus. You’re
stigmatizing our town.>>Early Robinson: I’m a ex-military man. Both
lost our jobs. Say, February. Got to pawn cars, got to do various things just to keep
our home. Strong, healthy, can do it all. Got all kinds of skills. Nobody just not hiring.>>Tavis Smiley: You’re husband and wife, both
lost your job in the same month?>>Early Robinson: Same month. February. 2011.
And trying to keep the house and all, and both of our cars is pawned.>>Christine Robinson: I’m not a talker. ‘Cause
I’m going to start crying ’cause I get emotional.>>Early Robinson: Don’t do that.>>Christine Robinson: Oh. [laughter] Like Early said. He’d been cutting grass.
I go clean houses. I have to work all the time to pay [inaudible] off.>>Christine Robinson: I’ve got my CEO license.
I can do just about anything. I’m willing to do it. But they cut us off the stamps.
Penalized us. We make two dollars too much. We’re fighting foreclosure just like she said.
The life insurance for Early is gone. Car insurance is gone. The [inaudible] walked
last week. Gas gone out the house. No one know how you live. But like you said, have
faith, pray. And we have each other. We have God. And we just keep on going.>>Larry Tate: See, Prairie used to just serve
the elderly and the disabled. Now we serve everybody that need to serve. This year, we
had a budget of two million dollars. 2012, our budget’s going to be about 800,000 dollars.
So that’s limited all the services.>>Tavis Smiley: From two million to 800,000>>Cornel West: [inaudible]>>Tavis Smiley: Not even half. So that’s>>Cornel West: Less than half. That’s what
you have.>>Larry Tate: Yeah. That was a cut that came
from the federal So you can see now, we’re gonna have very limited service. 2012. Now
when we’re dealing with a big dish of poverty. So that’s just gonna make things worse. It
just seems like to me that the government has forgotten about the people. And we need
to put that emphasis back on the people. [blues music]>>Cornel West: Columbus, Mississippi. The
birthplace of course of the greatest lyrical playwright in the history of the country.
His major theme is those who escaped from reality. The engagement with reality. The
engagement with history. And the engagement with memory requires an engagement with poverty.
And so the blues coming out of Mississippi is an engagement with history. And engagement
with memory. It’s a engagement with poverty and a resilience against it. Endurance. Fight
back. And this is a love tour that fights back. [blues music]>>Stacy: Wow. [applause] [CW and TS talk quietly to each other]>>Cornel West: Mm-hm-hm. Thanks son.>>Stacy: What a story. I grew up in Detroit,
Michigan, so as I was watching this video, some of the comments definitely hit home for
me. And poverty, not a secret that there’s people in this room who this is home for.
So we’re delighted to have you come and talk about what you experienced, and why this is
important for you. A lot of the themes that came out in this video and in your book talk
about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and how, collectively, we are not living out that dream. Tell me
more about what you mean by that.>>Tavis Smiley: Mm. Please.>>Cornel West: First I just wanna thank you,
and thank Google for allowing brother Tavis and I to be here. Anytime I get a chance to
spend time with this high quality freedom fighter I’ve known for 25 years, consider
him my younger brother. And I’m his older brother.>>Stacy: Alright.>>Cornel West: So anytime we get a chance
to spend time together, it’s a beautiful thing. And I wanna acknowledge too, the magnificent
work that Google does. And we had met a group here at Google that had a wonderful conversation.
They were telling me magnificent things taking place here. And my dear daughter Zeytun, who
was a computer wizard who’s teaching me both about Google and about other aspects of the
computer.>>Stacy: Good.>>Cornel West: I want to acknowledge.>>Stacy: Very good. [laughter]>>Cornel West: Oh yes. But lets’ start with
brother Martin King and Fanny Lou Hamer, that rich tradition that Tavis Smiley and I have
dedicated our lives to. Which is all about a quest for unarmed truth. The condition of
truth to allow suffering to speak. So we’re concerned about the suffering of all people
of all colors. All sexual orientations. All religions and non-religions. But human beings
who really ought to be living lives much more, of higher quality and dignity. And also the
unapologetic love. We’re quite explicit about talking about love. That’s why this really
has been a love tour.>>Stacy: Yeah.>>Cornel West: And for us, brother Martin
used to say “Justice is what love looks like in public.” So when you really love people,
we have a deep love for poor people, you can’t stand the fact that they’re being treated
unjustly and unfairly. And when you look at the relation between poverty on the one hand
and the distribution of wealth, the wealth inequality that the Occupy Movement rightly
talks about. We say we’ve got to bring a limelight to it. Tavis’s idea to have this poverty tour.
My only condition was we begin on a Indian reservation with our precious indigenous brothers
and sisters.>>Stacy: Excellent.>>Cornel West: And we started down at the
Indian reservations. You can look at America from a very different set of lenses. Look
at it from 1492, World War I. been going on ever since. 311 reservations now. 50 percent
unemployment. Levels of social breakdown and so forth. Then we moved to brown barrios where
our Latino brothers and sisters deal with immigration policy. Then we went to the black
ghetto. Or we used to, you know, we on the chocolate side of town. Where we come from.>>Stacy: [laughs]>>Cornel West: But then also our white brothers
and sisters. And our Asian brothers and sisters. So to make it a holistic thing. To keep alive
the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. [inaudible]>>Stacy: You spend a good amount of time in
the book taking us back. And going back and looking at history. And talking about how
this is not a recent issue. Why was it important to do that?>>Cornel West: Well one, because you have
to understand, America itself of course was born of revolutions. Revolution against monarchy.
But of course we still had mistreatment of indigenous peoples and slavery. So the US
Constitution, pro-slavery document. And practiced for almost 80 years. Wonderful words on paper.
On the ground, slavery at work. Then we broke the back of slavery. Magnificent. Democracy
alive. Expanding. Deepening. But here comes Jim Crow, slavery by another name. and that’s
what the Civil Rights movement was all about. But now our present wrestling is, with oligarchy.
We got one percent of the population own 42 percent of the wealth. The top 400 individuals
have wealth equivalent to the bottom 150 million fellow citizens. That level of wealth inequality
cannot sustain a fragile experiment in democracy.>>Tavis Smiley: Mm-hm.>>Stacy: People in this room love data so
I think they probably like the last part of what you said. [laughter] Tavis, the subtitle of this book is called
“The Manifesto.”>>Tavis Smiley: Mm-hm.>>Stacy: Are you concerned, are you worried
about critics thinking that you’re pushing a liberal agenda? And is that gonna get in
the way of achieving what you wanna achieve by writing this book?>>Tavis Smiley: Yeah. It’s a good question
Stacy. I don’t think this is about liberal versus conservative. It’s not even about black
versus white. It’s about wrong versus right. And the question is, are we committed to the
best in and for every American? I think that whether we’re black or white, Republican or
Democrat, liberal or conservative, educated or illiterate, urban or suburban, we all want
the same thing as Americans. And that’s simply to live in a nation that is as good as its
promise. That’s all we want. Nobody’s asking for more. Nobody oughta settle for less. We
all ought to have the opportunity to live in a nation that is as good as its promise.
The problem with America, as currently structured, is that the gap between the possibility of
America and the promise available to every American, that gap is too wide. So the gap
between the promise and the possibility is too wide. And it’s ever expanding. As I mentioned
earlier, when you have now 50 percent of your people living in or near poverty as Doc suggested
a moment ago, that’s a catastrophe waiting to happen. And we argue very aggressively
and unapologetically in the text that poverty threatens our democracy. So if you are a liberal,
if you are a conservative, if you’re on the Left, if you’re on the Right, and you love
America. And you care about preserving and protecting our democracy, then poverty is
going to have to be addressed. My reading of history suggests, and I haven’t studied
this as much as Dr. West has, ’cause he teaches this stuff, but my reading of history suggest
to me that there is no, there is no empire in the history of the world that at some point
did not falter or fail. Every empire at some point falters or fails. And I don’t know if
it’s our hubris. Or our arrogance. Our narcissism. Our patriotism, which has now run amuck and
become nationalism. I don’t know what it is. But for some reason we don’t even wanna wrestle
with the fact that this democracy could be on the precipice of something very very dangerous.
What we argue in this book again is that poverty is the moral, the spiritual issue of our time.
And if you don’t wanna put it in moral terms, in spiritual terms. If you wanna take it out
of the body politic, the fundamental point is, that democracy as we know it is unsustainable
if we let this divide continue to grow.>>Stacy: And highlight for us you talk about
poverty. A lot of times people think of the homeless person on the street who’s done something
bad, or is ill. But you reframe it. To talk about this new poor. Or the near poor.>>Tavis Smiley: And that’s what this video
we saw is all about. Trying to let people see what the new face of poverty is. We were
just in New York a couple of weeks ago. I for the first time in my career, moderated
for PBS and for C-Span. A panel of all women. It was an all woman panel of experts talking
about the issue of poverty vis a vis women and children. Something is wrong with a nation
that allows its women and children to fall faster into poverty than any other segment
of the population. That’s where we are right now. Women and their babies are falling into
poverty faster than any other group of Americans. And so, it’s important for us to see the faces
of these Americans. Of all races. Of all colors. Of all creeds. I won’t repeat what Dr. West
said earlier. But he gave you a good sense, in the back of the book, we laid out the poverty
tour that we took. There’s a wonderful appendix in the back of the text that lays outóand
when Doc and I first thought about it, we weren’t sure we were going to put that in
the book. But the more we wrestled with it, our wonderful editor, Cheryl Woodruff, decided
we should in fact put this in the book. Because she said “People need to know where you went.
And who you saw. And what you experienced.” There are some wonderful narratives that we’ve
woven through the book. But we wanted people to look at a snapshot of what the tour was
all about. So in the piece you just saw a moment ago. That white brother you saw in
that piece, he’s not just white. He’s a military veteran. That whole room as you saw was a
room full of military veterans. Something is wrong with a nation that allows military
vets to put their lives on the line for our freedoms, and they come home and they can’t
find gainful employment. There’s something wrong with that. And so the fact that he and
his wife had to split. There was nothing wrong with their relationship. They just couldn’t
make it together. So they had to separate so that both of them could try to survive.
And very quickly, what you saw him basically saying, what I took from what he said that
night, and Doc and I saw this repeatedly throughout the tour, is that there are so many people
that are wrestling with poverty. And it’s so egregious and it’s so widespread across
the country that people are no longer concerned about their homes. They’ve lost their homes.
They’ve been unemployed for two or three years some of them. They’ve lost their 401K. They’ve
lost all their savings. They’re beyond the embarrassment in front of family and friends
that they’ve been unemployed for so long. But you know what they’re trying to hold on
to? Their dignity, Stacy. They’re fighting to hold onto their dignity. Because as everyone
at Google here understands, there is dignity in work. There is dignity in our labor. And
when you don’t have an opportunity to work to use your God-given skills, then your dignity
is threatened. And then you start to wrestle with your own
humanity. And when half of the country is wrestling with that, now you see why we say
that this is threatening to our very democracy. Now you see why Dr. West says all the time,
and we lay it out in the text, that this is a matter of national security. When you start
having half the population wrestling with these kinds of issues.>>Cornel West: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.>>Stacy: You’ve both been pretty outspoken
that the current administration, and even as we go through the Republican primaries
have either ignored using the “p word” saying poverty. Or used it in ways that aren’t uplifting
in your mind. And that there’s a responsibility that’s lacking. Why do you feel so strongly
about that and what exactly is lacking in your mind?>>Tavis Smiley: You said something about Obama?>>Cornel West: A little bit.>>Tavis Smiley: [inaudible] [laughter]>>Cornel West: No, I have a great love for
my dear brother President. But brother Tavis and I believe in protect him against vicious
right wing lies and respecting him as a human being as President. And correcting him because
we love poor people. We love working people. And I think any President, any color, must
be accountable in that sense. But I think part of it has to do with the fact that brother
Tavis and I come out of a tradition that says that there’s a difference between success
and greatness. See, success is a beautiful thing. Material prosperity can be magnificent
if you know how to use it, don’t allow it to devour your soul. Having status and title
and wealth can be fine too. But if one is well adjusted to injustice, then you could
be successful and not great.>>Tavis Smiley: Mm-hm.>>Cornel West: See greatness has to do with
what is the quality of how you treat other people? What’s the quality of your service
to others? I’m a Christian, so it’s “the least of these” right? Our Jewish brothers and sisters
gave a great gift to the world. Prophetic voices. Amos and so forth. What you do to
the least of these is the measure of your greatness. So don’t tell me how much money
you’ve got. Don’t tell me how big your crib is. I wanna know what the quality of the love
and service you have, especially to those catching hell. The weak and vulnerable. But
that’s the legacy of Martin as well. We’ve been shaped by that. So when I look at any
President, I wanna know, well what is the quality of your service to the least of these?
Now we look at the Administration and we see, well, often people say “Well, poor people
are individuals who have bad flaws and make bad judgments.” I say “That sounds like some
investment bankers I know.” [laughter] Flaws, bad judgment. What do they get? Bailouts.
Individuals, flaws, bad judgment. Pull yourself up by your own bootstrap. Deal with the consequences
of your own failure. This is a country that rewards success. But if you’re not successful
and you go under, you have to take responsibility. OK, if that’s true then let’s play the game
by one set of rules. You can see the hypocrisy setting in. So when I looked at the Obama
Administration. I saw Tim Geithner and Larry Summers and others. I said “My God, they don’t
have a history of being highly sensitive to the suffering of poor and working people.
They’re Wall Street extensions.” You know, worked on Wall Street. A very intimate relation
with Wall Street. Wall Street got that friendly treatment you see. And we make this point
in the book. Well, where’s the investigations of Wall Street insider trading, market manipulation?
We know Jamal and Leticia get caught with a crack bag on the corner, they’re going to
jail. Was there criminal activity on Wall Street? My hunch is– [laughter] Let’s have the investigation. Let’s see whether
they violated the law and so forth. So I see the Obama administration early on too cozy
with Wall Street and that was made the point in terms of Main Street. Now when he does
wonderful things we applaud him. Health care extended for children? Magnificent. What was
the Lilly, uh?>>Tavis Smiley: Lilly Ledbetter.>>Cornel West: For the sisters of our color?>>Tavis Smiley: First law he signed. Great
decision.>>Cornel West: Beautiful. Beautiful. But when
he’s turning his back to poor and working people, we hit him lovingly. [laughter] Not just him. But the whole Administration,
you know.>>Stacy: And then that’s fair.>>Cornel West: Absolutely. Because we have
a system where oligarchs really rule both parties in place. Republicans deeply conservative
with oligarchy rule. Democrats, neo-liberal, but oligarchy rule. Both tied to big money.
Who speaks for poor people on K Street? 13,000 lobbyists. Wearing Red Element. That’s about
it. Some churches. Some mosques. Some synagogues that are prophetic. We’re not talking about
the Constantinian ones, who are well adjusted to the oligarchy rules.>>Tavis Smiley: And I think context here is
very important. Most people miss this. Four years ago when we were in the last campaign
for the White House with Mr. Obama, Mr. McCain. Three presidential debates. The word “poor”
or “poverty” does not come up one time in three presidential debates.>>Cornel West: That’s right.>>Tavis Smiley: We all recall the economy
was tanking at that point. We were headed into the so called Great Recession at that
moment. The word “poor”, “poverty” doesn’t come up in three presidential debates. Obama
doesn’t utter it. McCain doesn’t utter it. The moderators in those three debates don’t
even ask about it. Fast forward four years and nobody except Wall Street bankers, are
better off now than they were four years ago. Poverty abounds. 50 percent of us are wrestling
with it. You have the perennially poor. You have the new poor. As I said earlier, the
new poor are the former middle class. And you have the near poor. Folk who are just
a paycheck away. That’s again, 150 million of us. Half of us wrestling with poverty.
So we can’t have another campaign for the White House, Stacy, where the issue of poverty
doesn’t get addressed. We raised this issue with Mr. Romney. He wants to suggest that
we’re playing the politics of envy. That’s nonsense. Nobody poor is jealous or envious
of wealthy people. People just want an opportunity. Want a chance to work. They want their dignity.
They wanna revel in their own humanity and that of their loved ones and family. So it’s
not a politics of envy. But we can’t have another campaign where this issue doesn’t
get addressed. We are out here now, unapologetically, with humility, to put this issue on the agenda.
We’re not the only ones. But to raise this issue higher up on the American agenda. So
this time around, we don’t go through another campaign where this issue doesn’t get addressed.
Thankfully Occupy is back. It’s the Spring. And they’re gonna be in full force. So I think
this time we’re gonna see a different conversation than we saw four years ago. But we can’t,
our democracy again cannot survive us putting our head in the sand and ignoring this issue.
Particularly in a presidential election year. So Doc is right. It’s not just the Democrats.
Democrats, Republicans. Nobody wants to make this an issue. We said in the book that there
seems to be in Washington right now a bipartisan consensus that the poor just don’t matter.
A bipartisan consensus that poverty is just not an important enough issue to address.
And that’s what sort of troubles us.>>Cornel West: Mm-hmm.>>Stacy: So you talk about some past presidents.
Johnson, Truman, Roosevelt as people who came in with their Administration and did something
about poverty. What impressed you about what they did? What can the current Administration
or a future Administration learn from that?>>Cornel West: Mm. well, Tavis always makes
the point that each Administration has to be pushed. And he’s right about that. LBJ
was pushed by the social movements of the 1960s. Both the Civil Rights movement, the
Trade Union Movement. Also religious people who were concerned about the plight of poor
people. And so the, went from 22 percent to 11 percent, in terms of poverty rate. Within
ten years with LBJ’s program. Especially the impact on the elderly. Especially the impact
on the elderly. Major investment. And that’s what we’re calling for. We need to shift from
this discourse about austerity and cuts. And need to talk about investment. Infrastructure,
research and development for technological innovation. But especially for jobs with a
living wage. Job training centers. And we really know what to do. Paul Krugman makes
this point in his recent point, in this depression now. We know what to do. We just don’t have
the will to do it because again, the political system is broken down. It’s become an instance
of legalized bribery and normalized corruption. An it’s hard to get the voices of poor working
people hear given that hemorrhage that’s taking place and in the mean time, our bridges are
collapsing. Educational system is collapsing for working and poor children. And more and
more this wealth inequality is escalating.>>Tavis Smiley: If I may add to that very
quickly Stacy.>>Stacy: Sure.>>Tavis Smiley: In the back of the book, the
last chapter of the book is called “The Poverty Manifesto.” The book starts with a portrait
of poverty. It’s important for us to understand how we arrived at this place. We start with
a portrait of poverty and then the next chapter is, talks about the poverty of opportunity
in this country. And then we talk about the poverty of affirmation and the poverty of
vision. And the poverty of courage. And the poverty of imagination. And we walk through
these various chapters under these kinds of things, weaving this narrative. What we think
oughta be done and how we address this issue and what hasn’t been done quite frankly. At
the end of the book there is the appendix about the tour that we took. But beyond that
the final part is this poverty manifesto. Where, to your question more expressly, we
lay out a dozen things that we think need to be done to get serious about reducing and
eradicating poverty in this country. So there are 12 specific ideas at the end of the text
that we think we ought to as a nation take seriously. One of those ideas is the calling
of a White House conference on the eradication of poverty. I mentioned earlier the power
the President has with just a pen. The first thing that President Obama did the minute
he got inaugurated on those steps. And we all watched and cried and celebrated. He walked
inside.>>Cornel West: I’m not sure all of us did.
A significant number of fellow citizens did. We did. But we had a lot ofó>>Tavis Smiley: Lot of people didn’t.>>Cornel West: brothers and sisters, hard
to adjust to that.>>Tavis Smiley: I did. [laughter] Some folks still have a hard time with it
four years later.>>Cornel West: That’s right. That’s right.
We pray for them. They just [laughs]>>Tavis Smiley: I take that loving correction.>>Cornel West: [laughs] They got challenges.>>Tavis Smiley: But he walked inside and signed
Lilly Ledbetter which is again what should have been done a long time ago. With respect
women in the work place. What we are suggesting. Not suggesting. Calling for in this text,
on this list of 12 things. Is that the next President, as his first official act, Mr.
Romney, Mr. Obama or somebody else that we don’t know of at this moment. They oughta
after inauguration, through Presidential order, through executive order, establish a White
House Conference on the eradication of poverty. Bring in all the poverty experts into the
White House for two or three days and let’s develop a national plan. Not a band aid. Not
a quick fix. But a national plan. This ain’t rocket science. As Doc said, it’s not a skill
problem, it’s a will problem. But bring the experts together. You know there are all kinds
of plans right now that exist for how to eradicate, how to reduce poverty in this country over
ten, 15, 25 years. Catholic Charities has one. Jim Wallace at Sojourners. Jeffery Sachs
at Columbia. Um, these programs these plans exist for how to reduce poverty significantly
in this country. There are other countries that have done this. We just have not had
the kind of leadership since President Johnson, that you raised, Stacy. Had that kind of Presidential
leadership, and that covers Republicans and Democrats, so we’re not trying to cast aspersions
or demonize Mr. Obama. But we need that kind of leadership from the top down. That kind
of bully pulpit that the White House offers. The President to make poverty a priority in
this country. And finally again, echoing what Dr. West said that great Presidents aren’t
born, great Presidents are made. They have to be pushed into their greatness. So there
is not Abraham Lincoln without Fredrick Douglass pushing him. There is no FDR without A. Phillip
Randolph pushing him. There is no LBJ without MLK pushing him. So those of us who care about
the future of this democracy and who understand that poverty again, threatens that very democracy
can not be afraid. We gotta find the courage, the conviction, and the commitment to push
all of our leaders to make poverty a priority.>>Stacy: So who is the push gonna come from
for us today?>>Cornel West: People sitting in this room.>>Tavis Smiley: And watching on YouTube.>>Cornel West: And watching on YouTube. Absolutely.
People of good conscience. With courage. Who want to make the world a better place. Who
are deeply concerned about injustice. Deeply concerned about unnecessary social misery.
And we’re, we are witnessing that. There is a democratic awakening that’s taken place.
Not just in America. Tunisia, Egypt, Spain, Greece, and so forth. Your example of Chile.>>Tavis Smiley: Mm-hmm.>>Cornel West: To go from 40 percent poverty
to eleven point five percent poverty. That’s major. That’s major. The wealth inequality
is still a challenge. But that’s major. We can learn something and that’s a situation
which we in the United States often view ourselves as out ahead of other people. That’s part
of our American exceptionalism you know. God winks at us and closes God’s eye to other
nations, you know. Now we know that’s a lie. But we, we like to believe that. We’re free
and democratic ’cause we fight to keep it free and democratic. We can lose it. The younger
generation can lose it. If you don’t fight. You see. But it’s gonna come from everyday
people. It’s gonna come from ordinary citizens who wake up and say “Look, our priorities
are warped.” We came up with half a million dollars, a Marshall plan, for jails and prisons
in the last 25 years. But we say when it comes to education, we don’t have the money, gotta
cut. Jobs, don’t have the money. Housing, don’t have the money. Comes to war, Iraq,
Afghanistan, trillions of dollars we either found or went in debt. The priority. And brother
Tavis is right. He says poverty is a matter of national security. State of emergency.
When it becomes a priority, we follow through. We execute.>>Stacy: So I know people in the audience
have questions, if you can queue up at the mic, as I ask one more question. Priorities.
In your plan, your 12 point plan, you actually talk about women and children as being the
priority.>>Cornel West: Absolutely.>>Stacy: Tell me more about that.>>Cornel West: Women and children first. I
think probably one of the saddest features of the United States today is that the younger
you are, the more likely you are to be poor. In the richest nation in the history of the
world, 23 percent of our precious children of all color, live in poverty. 40 percent
are red. Never forget our indigenous brothers and sisters. 39 percent of brown children
live in poverty. 38 percent of black children live in poverty. Now that to me is just a
moral abomination. It’s an ethical obscenity. That that could be the case. You know what
I mean? Finland got three percent of their children. It’s no accident they’re number
one in education. You see? They have a commitment to education. Teachers, a whole culture of
equity and shared responsibility. And their teachers, the major graduates of the universities,
become teachers rather than investment bankers. But of course they only got five and a half
million, so they don’t have to rule the world the way the United States often views itself
as. No military commitment and so forth you see. But a different kind of culture. And
we can learn something from Finland without imitating them. We’re still quite distinctive
in our own ways you see. But women and children first. And I think that if we can get that
out in public and make that more visible and as Tavis says, more and more it’s not just
black and brown faces on poverty. ‘Cause it’s been color coded for a long time, you see.>>Tavis Smiley: And the irony, I might add
real quick, Stacy, the irony of it is, and obviously in a campaign for the White House
the issues change daily. Sometimes they change by the hour. But every one of us in this room
and on YouTube right now knows that one of the great debates right now over the last
few days has been whether or not there is in fact a war on women. And should Ann Romney
have gone to work and what does it mean that she didn’t go to work. How many nannies did
she have. And what about the rest of women. And we’re in this debate. Or at least a pseudo
debate about women in our society. With regard to their economic status. Their economic condition.
And their economic future. But we still haven’t gotten even in that debate to the real issue.
Nobody on the Democratic side, nobody on the Republican side has said that women and children
must be first. And women and children, oftentimes the weak and the vulnerable are falling faster
into poverty than anybody else. So we get all these nonsensical ridiculous quite frankly
stuck on stupid debates about nothing and that’s what in part, presidential campaigns
are. It’s about point scoring and trying to play to your base and the stuff that we all
know make up presidential campaigns. But again, this is why you can’t go through
another process like this. Where the facts are not placed on the table. And people aren’t
forced to address what those facts really are. So whether you’re Mr. Obama. Mr. Romney.
Or anybody else. What are we going to go about the fact while we debate this other stuff,
that women and children are catching the most hell? What are we going to do about the fact
that Doc said just a moment ago. And that just, every time I hear him say that, and
we write about this in the book. But every time I hear that statement that the younger
you are in America the more likely you are to be poor. That goes against the whole notion
of the American Dream. That goes against what every young person I’m looking at right now
here at Google is all about. You wanna make a difference. You wanna make a contribution.
But let’s not be naive here. You want your piece of the American Dream. You want your
chance at raising a family. You want your chance at home ownership. You want your chance.
And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. But how do we go, how did we arrive
at this place? Of being a nation where again, the younger you are, the more likely you are
to be poor. Put another way, too many of our children are being forced to surrender their
life’s chances before they ever know their life’s choices. And that oughta be unacceptable
in this country.>>Cornel West : Mm-hm.>>Stacy: Let’s take some questions.>>Male #1: Thank you Stacy. My name is Michael
Peggs. I wanna thank both of you for being here an particularly Dr. West. For my brother
in the house known as Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Incorporated.>>Cornel West: Oh-six, oh-six brother.>>Male #1: And we appreciate you.>>Cornel West: Oh, don’t start on me. Oh-six,
oh-six [laughter] In the house. In the house.>>Tavis Smiley: We Kappas ain’t gonna have
that today.>>Cornel West: In the house. On King, Dubois,
Duke Ellington.>>Tavis Smiley: La, la, la, la>>Cornel West: [inaudible]>>Tavis Smiley: La, la, la, la>>Cornel West: I don’t claim apology. OK,
I know you got a question.>>Male #1: OK, I was traveling back from New
York yesterday on the flight, rereading “The Miseducation of the Negro” by Dr. Carter G.
Woods. And I was reminded that education is really the paramount means for uplifting the
people. And whether pragmatic and practical, or classical and traditional, education really
has to prepare you to make a living for yourself. And that was really his second theme in the
book. The importance of earning a living. And I’m wondering if our current state of
poverty is a result of our inability to make a living. Some would imply it’s a individual
responsibility. Or something larger.>>Cornel West: Yeah, it’s a deep question.
I appreciate the question. The Greeks have a wonderful word called “paideia.” P-A-I-D-E-I-A.
Which means “deep education.” Not the same thing as cheap schooling. Deep education.
Learning how to die. Criticizing yourself. Wrestling with yourself. Examining yourself.
And then being a citizen. Somebody who can actually be self-determining in that way.
See, cheap education is just gaining a skill, becoming a consumer, and being a spectator.
Not the same thing. It might even plug you into the job. Of course so many jobs these
days are low wage for the most part. But it’s the deep education that’s at the center of
a democracy. Not cheap ed, cheap schooling might be tied to the market and so forth and
so on. But there’ s got to be some balance between the market that is open enough for
people to be able to allow their talents to flower and flourish, and then public space.
Common good. So it’s not just about the private gain. It’s something that holds us together.
Glue that holds us together. And deep education, public education at its best, historically
has been that. But our priorities are warped. Here again. You know. And that’s part of our
challenge.>>Tavis Smiley: We could have a debate very
quickly about which came first, the chicken or the egg. That, which came first education
or poverty. Because their inextricably linked, the two. Without having the debate about which
one impacts which, in which direction. What we saw on this tour. We spent a lot of time
with children on this tour. And we saw children in your hometown in Detroit, who come to school
and they can’t concentrate. And you know why. They haven’t had anything to eat. Their living
conditions are deplorable. Again, we didn’t just see this in Detroit. We saw this around
the nation. But the link between education and poverty is well documented. Everybody
agrees on the Left and the Right, without access to a quality education, then you’re
much more likely to live a life of poverty. And so we take this issue without belaboring
the point. We take this issue head on in the text. But again, something is wrong when kids
you know, we’ve been working with a program called Feeding America. And the numbers of
children who go hungry in this country every day. The increasing rates of food insecurity.
It’s hard for a kid to go to school and concentrate and focus when there’s so much lacking at
home. Here again, women and children falling through the cracks.>>Male #1: Thank you, thank you.>>Cornel West: Absolutely.>>Female #1: So the fact that you know, this
room isn’t overflowing out the building to me, reflects the fact that the elite really
don’t prioritize poverty. And people in this room are obviously, our colleagues and neighbors,
are part of the one percent. So how do you recommend that we, even the most liberal of
my colleagues and neighbors, their extended social circles. They consider themselves liberal
but poverty, as you well know, it’s not at the top of their concerns. You know they’re
more concerned about internet privacy or climate change. And plenty of other things but poverty
just, isn’t in their top three, five, ten.>>Cornel West: Mm-hmm.>>Tavis Smiley: [chuckles]>>Female #1: So what do you recommend we do
to educate the people that we are in close contact with who are the, you know, the people
who are in power in this country?>>Cornel West: Now, we’re trying to see to
it that within the next two to four or five months, many of your friends will not only
be talking about it but will have their conscience awakened. Because a lot of times it’s a matter
of exposure. A lot of times they tend to view what’s going on in the corporate media. Which
tends to have a very truncated framework in regard to what’s going on in the nation. ‘Cause
they’ve got a bottom line too. So there hasn’t been a lot of talk about poverty. Lot of people
in America didn’t know that there is such a thing as arbitrary police power in poor
communities. Until Treyvon Martin came. See, I mean, “Oh my God, that’s still going on?
In 2012?” You don’t say. [laughter] But we all have our own bubbles. And people
can’t be in contact with everything at the same time. But when there’s a major stress,
the way Occupy stresses wealth inequality, corporate greed. People start talking. “Oh
my god, that does make sense. That’s true. Look at the stories. Newspapers are talking
about it.” And I think we haven’t seen this in America really since John Atwoods tried
to pull it off. But then he had his problems. God bless him. [laughter] But it goes back then to Martin King and Dorothy
Day and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, and the others in the 60s, the Thom Haydens and
others who were trying to raise this issue. But now I think it’s coming back and so I
think more of your friends. And again, not limited to liberals. But we’re talking about
centrists, conservatives. Anybody who cares about other people’s suffering. I don’t think
liberals have a monopoly on caring. At all. Even though thank God a number of them do.
But I think there is going to be a real renaissance and I hope I’m not naive about this. You don’t
think I’m naive about this?>>Female #1: Well, thank you.>>Tavis Smiley: I would never call you naive.>>Cornel West: I appreciate that.>>Tavis Smiley: No, no. Thank you for your
question.>>Female #2: Hi, my name is Nava. Thank you
both for being here. I, Dr. West, you referenced the prison system earlier in your conversation
and I’m just curious to find out your insights around the connection between poverty and
prison.>>Cornel West: Ah.>>Female #2: and if you think that a major
overhaul of the prison industrial complex is necessary. If so, why?>>Cornel West: Well, I appreciate the question.
When we make reference to that magnificent text by our dear sister Michelle Alexander,
“The New Jim Crow.” And I was actually blessed to write a forward to the paperback. It provides
a full fledged answer to your question. It has something to do with the war on drugs
and why it is that the war on drugs is disproportionately targeting chocolate sides of town. 13 percent
of young white brothers and sisters on the vanilla side fly high in the friendly skies.
13 percent of black and brown fly high in the friendly skies. 62 percent of convictions,
chocolate. Black. Brown. Poor. You see. And so you go from 300,000 about 30 years ago
to two point four million today. And again. Not just a matter of priority but socially
neglected. Economically abandoned. Under intense police surveillance. That’s black and brown
poor people. Not even black and brown middle class people. ‘Cause we know Jack and Jill
black brothers and sisters going to jail the same level as Jamal and Latisha on the ground,
the poor. We have different kind of black leadership. And I love my Jack and Jill brothers,
don’t get me wrong. But it’s the class question. How deep is your love for poor people? No
matter what color. And think about an America, in terms of our priorities. I mean we have
come up with now these drones that can drop bombs on people all around the world. Zero
in. Try to keep track of the terrorists. Sometimes you hit the daughter and son. That’s wrong.
Wife. That’s wrong. But you know how much goes into being able to generate that kind
of unmanned aerial vehicle? And yet when it comes to dealing with poverty or reform the
prison industrial complex. Lower priority. Not on the radar screen. You’re gonna lose
your democracy. We have the wrong things on the radar screen. That’s part of our challenge.>>Tavis Smiley: If I could add to that real
quick, I was thinking as Doc was talking. Again about how important context is to all
of this. Again, the first chapter of this book, Stacy, lays out a portrait of poverty.
How we arrived at this place. And in this moment, even when there’s someone in the White
House, and Doc and I are very clear in this book. We think that President Obama is far
better than any alternative on the Right on these issues. We’re gonna keep pushing him.
But he’s far better than any alternative that we see at the moment in the race. That’s our
own assessment we’ve made. And you may see that differently. But we lay that out in this,
in the book and say that unapologetically. Having said that, it’s important to understand
that whether we’re talking about people we regard as our enemies, people who are pushing
an agenda that’s antithetical to the best interests of poor people, or we’re talking
about persons we regard as our friends, we have to remain vigilant. Holding them accountable
to the best interest of the least among us. Case in point. I was on Bill Maher this Friday
night on his real time HBO show. And Bill and I had a conversation about this. So when
you talk about the prison industrial complex that Nava asked about with Dr. West. The most
damning thing that’s happened to poor people since Ronald Reagan and that nonsensical so
called war on drugs. Reagan a Republican obviously. But the worst thing since then was a Democrat
named Bill Clinton. And Bill Clinton is my friend. I know he ain’t going to be happy
when he hears me say this. But he’s heard me say it before. The most racist law that
Bill Clinton ever signed into, bill he ever signed into law, was the crime bill. Where
you, we made as a part of the law the fact that you had to get caught with 100 times
more powdered cocaine, this is what Doc was suggesting. You gotta get caught with 100
times more powdered cocaine than crack cocaine to get the same sentence. 100 times more powdered
cocaine than crack to get the same sentence. We signed that into law during the Clinton
administration. Negros was celebrating. We all loved Bill Clinton. He’d come to our churches
and sing “We shall overcome.” Know all the verses. [laughter] Verses, chorus, everything else. I’ve stood
with Clinton many times and when the Negro national anthem, “Lift every voice and sing”
is sung. He knows all the verses. I know the first. But he knows all the verses to “Lift
every voice and sing.” [laughter] So he’s a friend of the black community and
I love him and I’m not trying to demonize him or cast aspersions. I’m just saying that
these politicians are not perfect. And even when they’re our friends we have to remain
vigilant and diligent about holding them accountable. So that was a horrible law that Bill Clinton
signed. And so you know, we’ve had to deal with that for all these years so so many of
the consequences that Nava was asking about and Doc responded to had to do with this crime
bill that we let Bill Clinton and Congress get away with signing during his term. That’s
on the prison industrial complex. Back to poverty, women and children falling faster
into poverty I’ve said now for the fifth time than any other group in our society. Why is
that Tavis? Well, that is the case in part because 15 years ago Bill Clinton signed a
so-called “welfare reform” bill. We refer to it as a welfare “deform” bill. But he signed
a welfare reform bill. His intent was to move women from welfare to work. That’s not exactly
what’s happened. And now without going into all the particulars, you see the exact opposite.
Where women don’t have access to work and they don’t have access to the welfare to give
their children food to eat and medical care. They don’t have access to that program anymore.
‘Cause we slashed the program so bad and changed the rules and regulations 15 years ago. Peter
Edelman, the husband of Marion Wright Edelman that Dr. West referenced earlier has a wonderful
book coming out a few weeks from now, behind ours. Called “So Rich, So Poor.” Peter Edelman
famously resigned his high position in the Clinton Administration in protest over that
law. Peter Edelman and myself and Dr. West and others were saying then, “This is going
to be bad for the country.” Took us 15 years to finally get to the point now where the
analysis and the data has been done. It didn’t quite work out. The New York Times last Sunday.
Sunday before last. Front page, above the fold. Major story, the New York Times. 15
years later, look at the carnage that’s been done as a result of that welfare bill. This
was a guy who we liked. A guy who we supported and voted for and loved and held hands with
and sang “Kumbayah.” And he did a lot of wonderful things, don’t get me wrong. But I’m just saying,
again, making the point. You gotta stay vigilant. Even when they are your friends. Even when
they are of your political persuasion. Even you are supporting them, and giving them your
money and giving them your vote and campaigning for them. You still gotta stay on ’em. Because
left to their own devices and the people around them, they won’t measure up. And that’s why,
in this era, poverty again is the issue of our time. That we have to address, no matter
who’s in the White House. No matter who’s running things on Capitol Hill. But I thought
about that when you went into that dissertation because, it’s you know, so much of this is
about chickens coming home to roost. Years later. And that’s why poverty’s just run amuck.
But anyway, I digress.>>Stacy: So before we take this last question
from the audience, I wanna go a little bit deeper on that. ’cause you bring up this concept.
And this is what you’re getting at. This fundamental fairness.>>Cornel West: Mm. Yes.>>Tavis Smiley: Yes.>>Stacy: So there’s an inequity and there
needs to be a shift. And talk about what that shift means and who should be responsible
for that shift. Talk about lobbying. And organizations. Talk about what this fairness looks like.
Is it motherhood and apple pie? Or is it real?>>Cornel West: I think it has to do with courage.
And taking a risk. We need more non-conformity in the culture.>>Tavis Smiley: Ah.>>Cornel West: ‘Cause we live in a culture
where everything is up for sale. Everybody’s up for sale. Things like integrity and dignity
and magnanimity ought to be beyond any kind of market price. But if the conformity is
so powerful that people are just fearful of telling the truth and bearing witness, because
they’re concerned about careers rather than their callings. Or their professions rather
than their vocations. Then you lose any source for the democratic awakening that needs to
take place. ’cause again, this is a citizen’s affair. And again, we speak as citizens. We’re
citizens in democratic experiment. We’re concerned about its imperial side. We’re concerned about
its racist, sexist and classist side. And homophobic side. Anti-Semitic side. Anti-Arab,
anti-Muslim side. But we know there’s some good folk and some good things in the democratic
experiment. That’s what we stand for you see. And there’s always jazz and the blues. Which
is always comforting. And Bruce Springsteen out there. You know, the white blues brother
out there doing his magnificent thing with wrecking balls. But what we’re saying is that if we don’t
give this a sense of urgency, then just like 1861, lose your democracy. Unless folk came
through. Just like 1930s, you lose it. 1960s, you can lose it. Each time we were able to
come through strongly. Can we come through this time? It’s very much up to the younger
generation. I’m old-school. I’m old-school. He’s old-school. [laughter] You all. Many of you are new-school. Its’
a beautiful thing to see. I’m not discriminating against the older brothers and sister of all
color. Here with the grey. [laughter] But it’s going to be a younger generation
affair. And that’s when we say who, they’re gonna lead us very much like the best of Occupy.
I know he’s got a question.>>Stacy: Alright. Last question.>>Male #2: Alright. Great. Well thank you
both for being here. My name is Daniel Sanderson. And you both made a lot of keen, poignant
points about poverty. Particularly with respect to new poverty. And how that will or can threaten
our democracy in the future. I guess what I’d like to hear a little bit more about is,
are there particular aspects of our democracy that you feel are especially threatened? Is
it the right to vote? Is it something like political stability? What are your thoughts
on that?>>Cornel West: You wanna respond for that?>>Tavis Smiley: Well, I think it’s all of
the above. It’s more of a smorgasbord for me.>>Cornel West: it’s a good question.>>Tavis Smiley: it’s a very good question.>>Cornel West: Yeah.>>Tavis Smiley: At the moment, since you raised
it. The voting rights of people of color and poor people are particularly threatened. I’m
glad to see that there is some conversation about this on the radio and on the television.
And some persons have been out front about this. And we talk about this on our radio
program, Smiley and West as well. But that does concern me. Particularly because we are
in an election year. The persons who are being targeted. The persons who are having to jump
through all kinds of hoops. Republicans, and I’m not trying to cast aspersion, these are
Republican sponsored bills. Those are the facts. Across the country where they’re trying
to deny and take away and make the hurdle so high for you to get into a booth just to
cast your vote. There’s a reason why there, these policies, programs, and bills are becoming
laws in certain states. Impacting certain communities. And we all know what we’re talking
about here. So that’s one aspect that does particularly concern me. We raised that issue
in the text. But it is so fascinating and again, we’re out of time here. But there’s
so many issues that we raise in the book. Where you can just see how the body politic
punishes, demonizes, criminalizes poor people. And it’s again, about highlighting those things.
About being aggressive in pushing back on those things. But for me, I’ll let Doc give
his own answer. But for me at the moment, of the list you just mentioned, the thing
that I’m most concerned about, again given where we are right now, is this attack on
voting rights in this country. That is a particular aspect of democracy that poor people are being
particularly punished by. That legislation is not just, it’s punitive and pejorative
where poor people are concerned.>>Cornel West: Yes and I’m concerned about
the moral and spiritual dimension of our democracy. You see, when citizens feel as if they’re
hopeless and helpless, impotent, that they donít make a difference, that the public
interest is defined in such a way that nobody really cares about their suffering. Or their
wounds and their bruises. That’s the history of black folk for a long time. Right? In the
body politic, but civically dead. No real rights. Nobody respect. Right. That you say,
“Well, how can a democracy survive when you have large numbers and not just black folk
now. We’re talking about poor folk across the board, you see. They don’t make a difference?”
Well, that reinforces narcissism, addiction, self medication, escape. All of the various
forms of mass culture. And all the little tricky techniques of trying to get people
pacified. Because their pain is so overwhelming and they figure they can do very little about
it. Alcoholism. Sex addiction. We go on and on and on as ways people have to deal with
their wounds. When people feel as if they can’t really have an impact on their world.
They can’t lift their voices as they were, as it were. That’s very dangerous. That’s
very very dangerous. And I think part of the prophetic tradition that we try to enact in
our own feeble way is to call, make a call for the kind of awakening. To say “You do
make a difference. And when you organize and mobilize, people can see you make a difference.
And people care.” Well to do people do care about working and poor people if they enact
certain kinds of efforts to promote certain kinds of policies. To public interest and
so on.>>Male #2: Right.>>Cornel West: So to give people a sense of,
yes, we all in this thing together. And we either hang together or we hang separately.>>Male #2: Thank you.>>Stacy: Thank you.>>Cornel West: Thank you for your question.>>Stacy: We’re ready to end. We are all in
this together. Thank you for participating>>Cornel West: Thank you, thank you. You are
wonderful. You are wonderful. Thank you.>>Stacy: Joining us here at Google.>>Cornel West: Absolutely.>>Stacy: Participating and allowing our listeners
on YouTube to get a little bit of a glimpse into “The Rich and The Rest of Us.” And giving
us all a call to action on what we can do as participants in this economy. And caring
about people. Thank you for being here.>>Tavis Smiley: Thank you Stacy. [applause]>>Cornel West: Thank you Stacy. Thank you
very much. [applause continues]>>Tavis Smiley: That was wonderful. Wonderfully
done.>>Stacy: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. [modern instrumental music]

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