Tavis Smiley, Cornel West tell crowd at UF: We must address poverty
Published: Friday, January 20, 2012 at 4:20 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 20, 2012 at 4:20 p.m.
Tavis Smiley and Cornel West delivered a call to action Friday to everyone from University of Florida students to President Barack Obama to pay attention to poverty.
"I submit to you that either we eradicate poverty or poverty just might eradicate us," Smiley said. "The very future of our democracy is at stake."
Smiley, a talk show host and author, and West, an author and Princeton University professor, spoke at UF's Graham Center for Public Service to more than 300 people in the Pugh Hall Ocora and several hundred more watching a feed in overflow rooms.
The duo previously traveled on a "poverty tour" across the U.S. and the issue is the subject of their upcoming book together.
Smiley said new statistics showing that half of Americans are poor or near poverty support the idea that poverty is the most pressing issue of our time.
Both speakers criticized Obama for his lack of attention to the poor, with Smiley saying that the public needs to push the president to move from style to substance on the issue.
"Great presidents aren't born, great presidents are made," he said. "They have to be pushed into their greatness."
West appeared earlier in the day at an event in downtown co-sponsored by Occupy Gainesville, and he discussed the significance of the Occupy movement in his UF talk.
The movement has quickly done what trade unions have long tried to do, he said, by moving the public discourse to focus on corporate greed and the suffering of the powerless.
The Occupy movement is "just fellow citizens who are sick and tired of having their voices pushed to the margins and sick and tired of too many poor and working people's precious lives being crushed, suffocated," he said. "And it doesn't have to be that way."
While disappointment in Obama was a reoccurring theme, the speakers criticized both Democrats and Republicans for their lack of attention to the poor.
Smiley noted that neither Obama, Republican John McCain nor the moderators of the three presidential debates in 2008 mentioned the poor once during any of those events.
"In Washington right now, there seems to be a bipartisan consensus that the poor don't matter," he said.
Smiley is a longtime broadcaster who hosts "Tavis Smiley" on PBS and "The Tavis Smiley Show" from Public Radio International. West was described by Smiley as a "public intellectual" and has written 19 books, including "Race Matters, Democracy Matters" and his new memoir, "Brother West: Living and Loving Out Loud."
Earlier in the day, West delivered a rousing speech in downtown Gainesville at an event protesting a U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning limits on political spending by corporations.
"We're tired of corporate greed — that's why we're here," West told a crowd of several hundred people at Bo Diddley Community Plaza.
The gathering was part of a series of national events, Occupy the Courts, protesting the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision and pushing for a constitutional amendment establishing that corporations don't have the same rights as human beings.
After the speech, West led a portion of the crowd on a march to the nearby federal courthouse.
Co-sponsored by the Move to Amend coalition, the local event included speakers, songs, poems and a skit by members of Occupy Gainesville about the legal history of corporations in the U.S.
West chided the mainstream media for being confused about the Occupy movement and expecting it to issue demands.
"We're a movement and a movement has a vision, an alternative way of looking at the world," he said.
He decried the "moral obscenity" of 1 percent of the population controlling 42 percent of the wealth. He criticized both a "mean-spirited, mendacious, mediocre set of Republican candidates" and "milquetoast" Democrats as contributing to the problem.
"Both parties are tied to oligarchic rule," he said. "You've got a conservative version and a neo-liberal version. We want democracy at the deepest level."
Contact Nathan Crabbe at 338-3176 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For more stories on the University of Florida, visit www.thecampussun.com.
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