Gosh! But are they right? I think so!
(Many leftists have this kind of optimism right now, but we know it won’t last very long. And, as the above and below show, we still need to publicly deliver a strong critique [especially -48 to -41, but -48 to the end].)
I especially liked this part:
AMY GOODMAN: I talked about Smiley & West, your weekly radio show, which was just canceled here on WBEZ in Chicago, though it’s being picked up by other networks. Tavis, can you talk about this and the controversy around this? It’s been written up in the public radio and television—
TAVIS SMILEY: Sure.
AMY GOODMAN: —newspaper, Current, and other places.
TAVIS SMILEY: I’m now in my 20th year in the broadcast business, and most of that time has been spent in public media spaces—NPR, PBS, PRI—and that’s by choice. I could be in a commercial space if I chose to be, and I’ve done that before, but I—
AMY GOODMAN: You came from BET.
TAVIS SMILEY: I came from BET, came from CNN. I came from ABC. I’ve done the commercial thing. But I love the public radio and public TV space, because it allows us to get a different kind of truth, and I don’t have to respond to all the pressures from corporate media when you’re playing that particular game. And I have respect for my friends who do it; it’s just not for me at this point in my life. So I’ve done this for a long time.
This has been an uphill battle all along for me. It’s tragic to consider that, at my age, I’m the first person of color in the history NPR to have his own daily show. And that started in 2002. 2004, I become the first person of color in the history of PBS to have his own show every night on PBS. That’s how late to the game public TV and public radio have been in terms of giving people of color a space to operate inside of, so that when a station like WBEZ in Chicago—a great station—but when a station like WBEZ in Chicago starts making excuses for why they drop Smiley & West, when we believe and know this was all about the politics—this is the president’s home town, and they didn’t want us on the air in the last six weeks of the campaign talking about holding the president accountable and pushing him on why he’s not talking about poverty and why he’s not talking about the drones. So a decision was made here in his home town, without our knowledge, without our consultation, to just simply pull the plug on the Smiley & West show, again, without any forewarning. When that happened, you know, the citizenry here in Chicago who supports BEZ and listens to our program went crazy. And—
AMY GOODMAN: What was it replaced by?
TAVIS SMILEY: It was replaced with a repeat of Car Talk, which is not—which, as you know, is no longer even in production. Car Talk was a very popular show for years, but it’s not even in production anymore. So they pulled us off and started running repeats of Car Talk. So, that got a lot of conversation going in the city.
To make a long story short, this is not about Smiley & West being canceled. This is about the democratization of public media. It’s about the lack of diversity in public media. Something is wrong when a black man from Chicago has a better chance of being president of the United States than he does of hosting a talk show in prime time on public radio in Chicago. So all these excuses continue to be made. I’ve been fighting this battle for years. And when I talk about diversity, I don’t mean just ethnic diversity. I mean ideological diversity. For all the criticisms that public media takes for being part of the liberal media bias, we ain’t so liberal, when you listen to the ideology, when you see the lack of ethnic diversity.
And so, the good news is, without going, you know, on so long, because I don’t believe in spending too much time on what’s prologue, the reality is that within 24 hours a number of stations in Chicago called and said, “We would love to carry Smiley & West.” And so, part of our being in Chicago alongside you last night was to talk about democratizing public media and to celebrate with our listenership the fact that there are two stations in Chicago now—WCPT, Chicago Progressive Talk, and WVON, the Talk of Chicago—two stations now that are carrying the program. So we lose one station and pick up two. So, if every time I get canceled by somebody, if I can pick up two in the place of one, keep canceling me. I can live with that.
CORNEL WEST: Keep canceling. Keep canceling. You know, but Brother Tavis makes the point with great insight that when public broadcasting was first initiated under Johnson, it was for children and people of color. But it has become a white liberal elitist bastion, as if white liberal elitists own it. And so, the voices of red, our indigenous brothers and sisters, Latino, black, Asian, don’t play a fundamental role. That needs to be radically called into question. And our white liberal elitists, they need to understand that this is part of the critique that they have to come to terms with.
AMY GOODMAN: So, where do you go from here? Tavis, you still have your PBS show. Your show continues here in Chicago and all over the country. Inequality globally and here in this country is growing.
TAVIS SMILEY: Yeah, there’s no doubt about it. One of the things that—to answer your question expressly, where do we go from here, we continue using these platforms every week and every night to try to speak truth, again, to power and to the powerless. And I’m about to start my 10th year on PBS, so that show is going extremely strong. I’m 13 years now on the public radio. So I’m very blessed to be where I am with these platforms.
And with regard to poverty, specifically, where we go next is January the 17th in Washington. We are having another national symposium, just three days before the president gets inaugurated, talking about poverty. The confirmations are coming in. We’re bringing together this time the leaders in the poverty—the anti-poverty movement. We’re talking Marian Wright Edelman, confirmed. We’re talking Jeffrey Sachs, confirmed. We’re talking Cornel West, confirmed. We’re talking Jonathan Kozol, confirmed. We’re bringing together leaders in this movement, and we’re going to talk about the president calling a White House conference to eradicate poverty.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to do part two of our conversation with Smiley and West in just one moment, and we’ll post a web-ex.
(Go here to see Part II, transcribed below.)
We continue our conversation with broadcaster Tavis Smiley and professor, activist Dr. Cornel West about their push for President Obama to address poverty in his second term. Smiley argues the ultimate question now, is: “Are we ready to push?” He and West have organized a symposium to take place on Jan. 17, prior to Obama’s inauguration, to demand Obama call a White House conference on the eradication of poverty.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. And our guests are Tavis Smiley and Cornel West. Professor Cornel West now teaches Union Theological Seminary in New York. He taught, before that, at Princeton University and, before that, at Harvard University. Tavis Smiley broadcasts on PBS and NPR. He has several shows, The Tavis Smiley Show, and he does a show together with Dr. Cornel West called Smiley & West, as well as his own NPR show, The Tavis Smiley Show. I’m Amy Goodman.
And we’re talking about poverty. Now, this should not be revolutionary to talk about poverty. It shouldn’t be radical at all to deal with a critical issue in this country. But if you look at the last months of this political campaign, of the presidential campaign, poverty was almost mentioned—well, almost not at all. Yet, a new report is warning global inequality has reached a 20-year high. According to the group Save the Children, poverty, that had previously been concentrated in the world’s lowest-income countries, is now on the rise in middle-income countries, which account for 70 percent of the world’s poor. Let’s talk about that, Dr. West.
CORNEL WEST: Well, it’s sad. In America, we are 34 out of 35 of the top industrial countries when it comes to child poverty, ahead only of Romania.
AMY GOODMAN: Thirty-four of 35.
CORNEL WEST: Thirty-four of 35. Twenty-two percent of our precious children of all colors live in poverty in the richest nation in the history of the world. That’s obscene and profane. No serious talk about it. Now, in the black community, it’s nearly 40 percent; in red, 40 percent; brown, nearly 40 percent of the children.
AMY GOODMAN: How have we come to this point?
CORNEL WEST: Shameful silence on behalf of leaders who do not want to tell the truth about the suffering of poor people.
TAVIS SMILEY: On top of that, corporate greed.
CORNEL WEST: Yes, yes.
TAVIS SMILEY: On top of that, political indifference.
CORNEL WEST: That’s right.
TAVIS SMILEY: On top of that, a silencing and a sidelining of progressive voices over the last four years.
CORNEL WEST: That’s right.
TAVIS SMILEY: So there are myriad reasons how we arrived at this place. The ultimate question now is, to whatever extent—to whatever extent there is hope in a second term for President Obama, the ultimate question is—that we raised in our gathering last night here in Chicago—are we ready to push? And that’s why Dr. West and I love that Curtis Mayfield song, “Keep on Pushing.” That’s the only option that we have at this point. You know, we have to ask ourselves, what kind of nation do we want to be? And what kind of demos are we going to be to make the nation that we want to live in? So I’m hoping that those of us on the left, who have been so quiet, are going to start to push this president.
I noted, as we all did very—the day after the election, and to their great credit, the Latino leadership called a national press conference, a national conference call, and they went on record the day after, letting the president and the whole world know what they had done to elect Barack Obama to a second term. And they laid out immediately what their expectations were, what their demands were. So there’s a long line wrapped around the White House now to push him. But the Latino leaders, they get it. They didn’t waste any time saying, “We got you re-elected, and here’s what we expect.”
AMY GOODMAN: So talk more about what it is you’re going to do, this convening you’re going to be doing in Washington, right at the time of inauguration.
TAVIS SMILEY: Absolutely.
AMY GOODMAN: Inauguration is on Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday.
TAVIS SMILEY: Twenty-first of January. And so, just three or four days prior to that, on the 17th, we’re gathering at George Washington University for a live symposium on C-SPAN and on PBS and on public radio. But we’re talking specifically about how we get this president—demanding, in fact, that he call a White House conference on the eradication of poverty. To his credit, the first thing he did when he got elected four years ago was to sign Lilly Ledbetter. We’re demanding now that he call immediately a White House conference on the eradication of poverty, bring together all the experts, from the left and the right, and let’s craft a national plan to cut poverty in half in 10 years, to move toward eradicating it in 25 years. This is not a skill problem; it’s a will problem. Do we have the will to do this? And he ought to take a page out of Lyndon Johnson’s playbook. You know, if he wants to hit—if he wants to aim for the fences, you know, if he want to be a great American president, if he wants to leave behind a legacy—and we read in the New York Times, from all his private talks with these historians, that that’s what he wants to do: he wants to leave a legacy, he wants to be a great transformational president—we say take on the issue of poverty, so that all of America benefits. So, January the 17th, we’re going to have this national conversation, pushing him and demanding—and all these leaders have bought into this. I mentioned Jeffrey Sachs and Marian Wright Edelman and Cornel West and Jonathan Kozol and others, who are coming together. And we’re going to have, obviously, an opportunity for folk to go online, as they watch this symposium live, to sign the letter to the president that he get serious about calling a White House conference to eradicate poverty.
AMY GOODMAN: How do you end poverty in America?
CORNEL WEST: Well, you have to have an awakening, and you have to have people who are willing to put their bodies on the line. I think what is happening now, moving into the second term, the black prophetic tradition has waken up. What’s the brother from Howard? Brother Keith, open letter —
TAVIS SMILEY: Mm-hmm, to the Washington Post.
CORNEL WEST: —to Obama in the Washington Post. Strong. Fredrick Harris, Columbia, Price of the Ticket, strong. Boyce Watkins, already strong. Julianne Malveaux, bell hooks, Black Agenda Report with Glen Ford and Bruce Dixon and Nellie Bailey. There is an awakening that’s—and when the black prophetic tradition wakes up, you got something, because then you got Jamal and Leticia on the block beginning to say, “I need to talk politically, not be addicted to this cultural, superficial spectacle.” And that’s what we’re about.
AMY GOODMAN: And yet, you have the whole discussion now about the bipartisan consensus. Republican House Speaker John Boehner told newly re-elected President Obama he wants to see Obama succeed.
HOUSE SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER: Mr. President, this is your moment. We’re ready to be led—not as Democrats or Republicans, but as Americans. We want you to lead—not as a liberal or conservative, but as president of the United States of America. We want you to succeed. Let’s challenge ourselves to find the common ground that has eluded us. Let’s rise above the dysfunction and do the right thing together for our country.
AMY GOODMAN: So there you have House Speaker John Boehner.
TAVIS SMILEY: Yeah, I—I appreciate the sentiment. But their words, at the moment, we will see what kind of truth there is, what kind of authenticity there is behind those words, when the president, now back in Washington, sits down Republicans to deal with that word that I hate—sequestration—when we start dealing with these cuts that are on the table. We’ve said many times that budgets are moral documents. Budgets are moral documents. When they get into the weeds about these numbers and about the budget priorities, we will see how strong that sentiment comes through.
CORNEL WEST: Absolutely. Yeah, my spontaneous response is, if I believe those words, I’m the flying nun of Eskimo origin. But everything’s possible.
TAVIS SMILEY: There’s always hope.
CORNEL WEST: Everything’s possible.
AMY GOODMAN: But you see how the—
TAVIS SMILEY: Yeah.
CORNEL WEST: I’m a Christian. Everything’s possible.
AMY GOODMAN: The crackdown happens from the beginning. The discussion is all about how far right do you go. And groups who are concerned about issues like poverty, issues of social justice, are being told, “You’re going to be lucky—you just have to be quiet right now, because we are talking about these massive cuts.”
CORNEL WEST: Yeah, don’t do it.
AMY GOODMAN: “Do not undercut the president.”
TAVIS SMILEY: Well, they—that’s the same thing we heard the first term. And we see where we are now. And we—part of the reason why the race was as close as it was, getting down to the wire, is because too often in the first term, the president compromised, capitulated, caved, and oftentimes negotiate against himself with Republicans. And so, I hope that we’ve learned a lesson—that he’s learned a lesson, the White House has learned a lesson, from the first administration, that sometimes you’ve got to draw a line in the sand. And as my grandfather said, there’s some fights that ain’t worth fighting even if you win, but there are other fights you have to fight even if you lose. So I would love this notion of bipartisanship to come to the fore in Washington, but if that doesn’t happen, the president has to stand on a—on some immutable principles and try to advance the conversation.
AMY GOODMAN: Maybe it’s the bipartisan consensus that’s the problem in Washington, not the gridlock, right? I mean, the bipartisan consensus—
CORNEL WEST: That’s right.
AMY GOODMAN: —you see reflected in the presidential debates. There’s no debate over drones.
CORNEL WEST: That’s right.
AMY GOODMAN: There’s no discussion of poverty, absolutely no mention of climate change. And yet, does this represent the majority of people in this country? Hardly, I think this election shows.
CORNEL WEST: Not at all. Not at all. You got the far right, and then you’ve got the center-right—the Republican Party, Democratic Party. And without no one who’s really progressive on the left telling the truth about the suffering. But, you know, the truth is, is that, you know, if 40 percent of white babies were going to bed every night either starving or not having enough to eat, it would be a different discussion. And each baby has the same value, but we’ve got 40 percent of the babies of color who are going to bed without, and we’re told to be silent and somehow capitulate to a debate about deficit, when we know we need massive investment for jobs with a living wage, massive investment for public housing, massive investment for public education, and we’re getting privatization on each front? There’s no way we’re going to be silent. You would have to crush us to the earth and introduce us to the worms before we’re going to be silent.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to ask you about a protest that happened this week. Hundreds of people gathered at the University of Mississippi on Wednesday to denounce racism on campus, one day after a heated protest against President Obama’s re-election. After the results were announced on Tuesday night, a crowd of several hundred gathered in anger, with some people reportedly shouting racial slurs. At least two people were arrested. What type of backlash do you expect against President Obama’s re-election?
CORNEL WEST: I think it’s going to be intense, as it was before. But the important thing is not to focus on that. That’s lunatic fringe. You focus on the suffering and what can be done about the suffering. As long as we focus solely on the xenophobic, right-wing fringe, there’s always going to be one. We’ve got 1,100 white supremacist militia groups in America, coming at us all the time. We can’t be obsessed with that. We’ve got to be obsessed with trying to do something that’s positive and changes the world, you see.
TAVIS SMILEY: In 10 seconds, racism is still the most intractable issue in this country. And I know you saw this report a couple of weeks ago, just before Election Day, that finds that racial attitudes in this country have not changed at all. In four years, the needle has not moved on race relations. So, so much for the post-racial America that Mr. Obama’s election was going to usher in. It’s still the most intractable issue in the country.
AMY GOODMAN: I flew into Chicago, and I was sitting next to a man, African-American manager in a large company, manufacturing company. He said he was afraid to go to work the next day. He said these are all his friends that he works with. He loves his company. He does happen to be the only black person in the company. And he said he’s very loved in the company. But he was afraid to go to work on Wednesday, after Election Day, because he knew that everyone in the company voted for Romney, and that when they saw him, they would see President Obama’s face, and he just didn’t want to bother them. He didn’t want to disturb them. And he was a little bit afraid, though he loved them.
TAVIS SMILEY: It’s a serious burden around, Doc. I—wow.
CORNEL WEST: But he’s much better off than those kids that got to deal with the bullets coming at them all the time and going to funerals 12 and 13 times before they’re 17. And that is what we’re dealing with in terms of the massive number of poor folk in these chocolate cities. So I pray for the brother, and I know he’s got some challenges, but he’s not a priority.
AMY GOODMAN: Very quickly, your book, The Rich and the Rest of Us: A Poverty Manifesto, which has come out in paperback, why did you write it? Talk about your poverty tour, and talk about your conclusions from the book.
CORNEL WEST: Brother Tavis’s idea, Brother Tavis’s vision. I was glad to go along with him.
TAVIS SMILEY: OK, brother, talk about it, please.
CORNEL WEST: And we had a magnificent time. Started with indigenous peoples on the reservation. We went to white poor, brown poor, black poor, yellow poor, trying to allow all the voices to be heard. Color of Change, De-incarcerate, Janitors for Justice—all the different organizational groups that are bubbling from below, of all colors, especially younger generation.
AMY GOODMAN: We haven’t even talked about prisons, and they certainly rarely talk about prisons, except the other way: locking people up.
TAVIS SMILEY: That’s why we call it A Poverty Manifesto. In the back of the book, the last part of the book, 10 specific things that can be done, that must be done, to eradicate poverty in this country. And one of those 10 is taking on this prison-industrial complex. And we hope that the president and that those in the White House who are serious about creating his legacy, whatever that means, will consider doing something about poverty in this country. It is threatening our democracy. It is now a matter of national security. When people have no hope for the future, they have no power in the present. Something must be done to save this democracy by doing something about this growing gap between the have-gots and the have-nots, about this gap between the rich and the rest of us. And we’re going to keep pushing the president, lovingly, respectfully, but keep talking about this issue.