Cornel West and Tavis Smiley offer their Poverty Manifesto

On Tuesday night, The Lecture Fund welcomed renowned radio and television personality Tavis Smiley and Dr. Cornel West, a philosopher and writer described by Smiley as “our country’s leading public intellectual,” to Lohrfink Auditorium to speak about the growing issue of income inequality in the United States.

Smiley set the tone for his segment of the talk by declaring poverty “the moral and spiritual issue of our time,” and “a threat to our democracy.”

Referencing the historical reputation of privilege at elite universities, Smiley said, “Some might find it ludicrous or laughable that we’re talking about poverty at a place like Georgetown.” However, he continued, poverty is an issue impacting a growing number of people who had once been solidly in the middle class.

Smiley and West embarked on a “poverty tour” this summer with the aim of seeing the effects of the current recession on Americans. Visiting 18 cities in nine states over the course of a week, Smiley and West discovered that poverty can no longer be “color-coded,” for Americans of all races struggle to make ends meet.

Smiley declared that 150 million Americans can now be classified as poor or near-poor—almost half of the population of the United States. Nevertheless, the nation has been reluctant to start a conversation on the topic; in the three debates leading up to the 2008 presidential election, the words “poor” or “poverty” were never even used.

“The time is now for this conversation,” Smiley said. “Poverty is an issue of national security.”

A Princeton professor whose popular writings focus on poverty and race theory, West began his portion of the talk with kind words about departing Georgetown professor Patrick Deneen. Of Professor Michael Eric Dyson, West said, “I may not always agree with that brother, but he’s a genius.”

Moving on to the issue of poverty, West raised the question of what kind of human beings we choose to be, and what kind of community we create as a result. West implored audience to be independent thinkers and to wrestle with what it means to be human. “We need more voices, not echoes, at Georgetown,” West said, encouraging students to have the “courage to think critically.”

West also criticized the values that encourage young people to pursue wealth and personal success above all else, characterizing this type of “peacock sensibility” as “spiritual malnutrition.”

“To be human is to spead loving kindness,” West said. “All the money in the world will still leave you shallow and hollow if you don’t learn to love wisdom, love justice, love neighbor.”

Smiley and West signed copies of their new book, The Rich and the Rest of Us: A Poverty Manifesto, after their talk. The event was followed by a television interview with Smiley and West conducted by CNN host Piers Morgan.

Photo: Julian De La Paz

4 Comments on “Cornel West and Tavis Smiley offer their Poverty Manifesto

  1. I am deeply concerned about poverty. But when you tell me that half of the population of the richest country on the planet is poor or near-poor, something has gone wrong. That says more about our unreasonable standards of consumption than it does about the state of actual material depravity in our country.

  2. Funny, I would have expected a very well rationalized and thought-out argument from Cornel West.

    Oh wait, he’s kind of a hate-monger.

  3. Everyone should have a bigger slice of the pie, but god forbid anyone try and grow said pie.

  4. Have they ever looked into the real issue. The real issue is about Living a life below the means and loving your work ethics, espefially respecting “MONEY”. Yes I said respecting “MONEY” it is not a new term nor is it intended for play. Respecting money is the idea of learning to live within your means, by not over indulging with materialistic items, using too much of your credit cards, by not purchasing wants vs needs.

    If each person reminds him/herself too not eat out every day, to not pay internet prices, to not topay the high cost of cell phones, not to get payday loans (making the sharks richer by placing the debt trap circle along with a noose over your neck that you will always owe to them). Yes respecitn g money is an important part of our lives.

    The commercialization and the need to have new trinketts and dumming down our youth through video games is a sure way to poverty. We can only save our own democracy through these means that I had mentioned above, and not through distribution of wealth; which every body should know is the communistic ideas that are attacking our life style and our children.

    Bill Diaz

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