Cornel West issues a Poverty Manifesto

Read the original article here by Linda Matchan at the Boston Globe!

 

WHO

Cornel West

WHAT

The educator, activist, and and former Harvard professor is touring the country with broadcaster Tavis Smiley to stir up interest in their new “poverty manifesto” called “The Rich and the Rest of Us.”

‘We are trying to shatter these myths of poor people, to accentuate their dignity and humanity and [show] they are poor as a result of no fault of their own. ’

Q. Why is the word “poverty” absent from the national debate? All we are hearing about is the middle class.

A. I think that in the last 30 years we have moved to the right in terms of our public discourse, and we tend to characterize poor people as undeserving people with character flaws and therefore undeserving of public attention — people who have to deal with the consequences of their own actions. We are trying to shatter these myths of poor people, to accentuate their dignity and humanity and [show] they are poor as a result of no fault of their own. It goes back to the founding of the nation, to the notion of the self-made, rugged, rapacious individualism that has characterized so much of the shaping of the conception of the nation. In the 1980s, Reagan really helped inaugurate this obsession with the rich and famous, which generated an indifference and sometimes a contempt for poor and working people.

Q. You write that nearly one in two Americans is living in or near poverty and that the poor are starting to fight back. Why have they not staged a revolt, as at other times in history? Why hasn’t this exploded?

A. It is hard for these voices to surface and therefore hard for poor people to be visible and taken seriously unless they constitute a threat, and then it is tied to issues of national security. We are arguing this is a state of emergency and a national security [issue] already. We know that empires tend to collapse not due to internal collapse  . . . or external threat but due to internal rot.

Q. To the north of us, in Canada, the public debate sounds very different. You hear about the need for “generosity” and “inclusivity.” Why is generosity not part of the American political lexicon?

A. I would say that our conception of public interest has been reduced to national security and policing. That is, we give tremendous amounts of money to the war and prison industrial complex. In Canada, housing, health care, quality education are all considered integral to the public interest. We have tremendous problems making that case. What you end up with is an obsession with austerity and cutting budgets rather than with education, housing, and jobs with living wages. I do think, though, that this [focus on] austerity will come to an end. You see it in Europe: austerity reinforces more recession and depression.

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