tv Tavis Smiley PBS January 3, 2012 2:00pm-2:30pm PST
tavis: good evening. from los angeles, i am tavis smiley. tonight we begin a look at one of the most vexing problems facing our country, poverty. i traveled to many of the poorest parts of our country to put a face on the number of people who find themselves among the ranks of the port. tonight we will bring you the first installment of the poor followed by a conversation with cornel west. his thoughts about what can and should be done. we are glad you have joined us. >> every community has a martin luther king boulevard. it's the cornerstone we all know. it's not just a street or boulevard, but a place where wal-mart stands together with your community to make every day literacy one question at a
you. thank you. [captioning made possible by kcet public television] tavis: even before the name -- numbers came out, we decided to spend some time getting to know the people behind the pottering -- poverty statistics. cornel west joined us. in tonight's episode, we call this one suffering, we look at what motivated us to take this for and the personal face of an american tragedy.
>> most of those people do not know where they are. >> there is a new and poor in america right now. i want them to come together. >> the corporations get away again. the banks got away again. this entire legislation is on the back of the poor. >> well adapted to indifference. we want great leaders who love the people.
tavis: the more i see what people are going through, all people of all colors and creeds, that is why i left the studio. that is why i give up my vacation time and called doctor west and we hit the road. it is the telling the truth that allows suffering to speak. this is a nation of great abundance and great people. somehow, great inequality and great suffering. 43 years after the death of martin luther king, our nation has prosperity for a handful while huge swaths of the citizenry are asked to do more with less. to bring the focus to the
suffering, my team and i travel 3,000 miles across this country, over a week's time. i shared it with my friend doctor cornel west. we must -- and that those struggling on education -- met those struggling on education, housing, food access, we met with labor, veterans, -- we met with groups taking unprecedented action. we met with organizers trying to continue the legacy of doctor king. >> this is ground and 04 poverty. >> we met with the homeless and the forgotten on the fringes of society.
we held meetings with the thousands in attendance and faced the fire with those to disagree with us. -- who disagreed with us. [unintelligible] but we started where we should have, on a native american reservations. >> when i left my home i was 27 years old. even the little kids now. there is only about 100, maybe. maybe more. tavis: reservation surrounds the sacred body of water but even here there is disparity and the trampling of the native american
culture and tradition. the choicest parts were taken by the government consults for million-dollar summer homes to the wealthy elite of the midwest. ancient burial mounds like the one seen here are now in the backyards of non-natives. >> because of the white man that took our land away, took our pride away. and our language. our ancestors were not going to speak their language. tavis: there is a new poor in america right now. as we will examine, the housing crisis has endangered the american dream. every family can own their own home. in chicago, we toward public housing in which doctor king and his family once lived. to bring attention to the issue. according to the chicago coalition for the homeless,
there are more people on the waiting list in the city of chicago and there are available housing units in the state of illinois. entire blocks in the city remained abandoned. >> this is the second most unemployed community neighborhood in the country. only detroit beat said. tavis: groups like the anti conviction campaign have organized to meet -- match these people with people who need it most. >> it was born because of folks from different parts of the city, the black community, housing was leaving. our struggle relates to education cuts, labor, all of these struggles are intertwined. tavis: 43 years ago, doctor king
was assassinated in memphis at tavis: 43 years ago, doctor king was assassinated in memphis at solidarity with the sanitation workers' union. we met with some of their original members. >> it hurt me when he got killed. that is what made me stand up to be a man. we had nothing. we were just a poor person. he help desk -- helped us. he came to enlargen us, he died for us. tavis: workers face a decline of rights and benefits and a system that seems to trample the poor, the old and the
disparity? a system designed to create poverty? house -- has the housing crisis led to a new form of poverty? what will it take for our country to understand the situation we find ourselves in? can the system change to help the people? or do the people in need to change the system? so each night we will bring you a new installment of our property toward. we will -- this was put together by the media mobilizing project. we chose them because some of the men and women who work on the projects like the one you just saw come from the ranks of the poor themselves. disenfranchised and even homeless. we thank them for their work and dedication to this cause to run our report. we were honored to be drawn --
joined by cornel west who serves on my radio program. it is always a blessing to have you in this studio. >> i am blessed to be here. tavis: let me start with a simple question, why a poverty for four years? i ask because there has been a debate about this heritage foundation report that suggests the issue of poverty may be is not as important as people want to make it. there is debate about the poor in this country. why do it for about it? >> i want to salute you for coming up with the idea of the poverty tour. i go back to the discussion there in the family room of my mom's house. i am so glad i was blessed to be there with you because i think anybody can see who is concerned
about the precious humanity of poor brothers and sisters and the rich resiliency. their ability to fight back to circumstances can see this is not just a crisis, it is a catastrophe. when i hear the heritage foundation trying to trivialize the suffering, i say they are part of a bygone era. this movement, we are moving into a new era. we're tired of the indifference to poor people. the legacy of martin luther king jr., miles, cesar chavis, it is now coming back. it is about what connecting catastrophe with courage and compassion, standing up and having the courage to tell the truth. as you said, let us be attuned to the suffering and lettuce
have compassion. it is no longer fashionable to be assessed with the lives of the rich and famous that we overlook the impact that 42% of children live in or near poverty. tavis: when you see that clip, doctor king gave his life fighting for sanitation workers. this war on poverty. people are now calling for a new pop -- war on poverty. you look at those years from his debt until now, there has not been any appreciable gain on the notion of eradicate in poverty in america. >> part of it is that with the advent of reagan, you had markets on least, a deregulated, unfettered. they generated about -- unbelievable innovation but it went hand-in-hand with not just an increase in wealth and equality, but also the
callousness toward the catastrophe of poverty, of working people. in the last 25 years, 82% has gone to the top 1%. i think that is unjust. it is unfair. in the last 10 years, a 100% net income growth has gone to the top 10%. that is the level of inequality. it is getting so far out of control that the very future of american democracy is at stake. we are living in one of the most critical moments in the history of this nation and the world. tavis: some would suggest that is a hyperbolic claims on your part at the future of the democracy is predicated on this moment and what we do? we have had a poor people as long as the country has been here.
how is the future of the democracy predicated on what we do about poverty? >> when% of the population owns 41% of the wealth and 25% of the income, no democracy can survive. democracy is about common good and its relation to its citizens, especially its weak and vulnerable citizens. when you have corporate greed and the prison industrial complex, in the military industrial complex, in the corporate multiplex of mass media, then on the financial sector, what does it do? it generates a dog eat dog attitude. new democracy can survive without notions of compassion, public service, what are our obligations to our fellow citizens?
uni are much better off than most americans but we know our destiny is interwoven with not just our poor brothers and sisters but those in the prisons. our children. the elderly. your friend. our working people ensorcell -- so forth. when you lose that spirit, you end up with a culture of superficial spectacle, narcissism, hedonism. everyone is concerned about not getting caught. tavis: what about the numbers growing because of the women and children joining the ranks of the poor. what does that say about our nation and our priorities when women and children are the fastest group joining the ranks of the port? >> i was at an event a couple of
weeks ago. one of the great profits of our day spoke with tears in her eyes. she said, to live in a nation or the younger you are the more likely you are to be poor, something is wrong with that. that is a warped priority. when martin luther king talked about a revolution of priorities, somehow we have to turn that around and say, our future rests in the quality of the thinking, a loving, laughing, among our precious people of all colors. that is why occupied wall street is in place. young people are saying, you older folks have been avaricious and greedy. especially those at the top. it affects all of us. as a christian, when we talk
about wall street oligarchs and -- we're not in demonizing individuals. all individuals have the same value. they're made in the image and likeness of god. we're not demonizing their rich. the greed of the rich -- >> it is true that over the years, the gap, the gulf between what workers make and what ceos make -- >> absolutely. 1975, $24 to every $1. that is the corporate greed. i believe that all of us have gangster proclivities and greedy orientation's any accountability. that is why democracies are necessary. we have to have institutions to try to curtail the use of arbitrary power so that our greedy orientations and
gangster-like proclivities' do not get out of hand. the poor people can be greedy to. we need the shaping of the souls as well as our institutions. it is not a lack of focus for funding, the poor are to blame for their station in life. millions, billions, have been spent going back to the johnson administration and his war on poverty trying to lift out the poor. to those who say we have spent money, we are still spending money on all kinds of programs, what is the -- what should we do? >> we have to ensure we are not wasting any of of the administrative programs. that is true in education and housing. but we know that where you have
priorities were you are willing to spend trillions of dollars on wars in iraq and afghanistan without billing the -- been willing to pay for it, will spend $300 billion since 1980 in the prisons. we do not have extra money for education or housing. we do not have money for jobs. we just spend money on jails and prisons and for the criminal justice system. it is a matter of our priorities. where is the love? who really loves poor and working people? when you love people, you give them a priority. you have a surge -- sense of urgency. there has been an attempt to banish any empathy poor poor people. to marginalized. . tavis: since you and i were on
this tour, every step of the way for those 3,000 miles, up one or two things that struck you, that hit you with regard to what you saw. >> part of it was there was a perception among some many poor people that they were going to fight but that our political system was so paralyzed. the republican party is -- has mean-spirited ideas. the departure -- democrat party is better but still tied to oligarchs and plutocrats. this unprecedented moment in u.s. television. tavis: what ought to be the
response, the senate taking out the jobs bill this week, what ought to be their response to the protests and the jobs bill, to the notion of lifting up the poor in this country? >> barack obama is beginning the year with the kind of pressure we have put -- put on him in terms of jobs. he has to fight for it. every job cannot use tax policy as a jobs policy. do not use the irs as a mechanism. we have to talk about mortgage relief, serious public education, and not just regulating the banks, we need to talk about decentralizing the banks so that no longer having the investment banks and commercial banks merged together so that trading and lending overlapped and wall street ends up more a casino rather than a source of generating capital for
entrepreneurs -- >tavis: by to have you here. a quick word about the library in peace activist who was on this program. she joined us with a conversation on the work on behalf of women in africa. two days prior to being named recipient of this year's nobel peace prize. what a deserving honor. if you miss that conversation, you want to access it by visiting our conversation by visiting pbs.org. thank you for watching and keeps the faith. >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at pbs.org. tavis: hi, i'm tavis smiley. oin me next time for part two
of our poverty tore and the growing number of children. >> every community has a martin luther king boulevard. it's the cornerstone we all know. it's not just a street or boulevard, but a place where wal-mart stands together with your community to make every day bett literacy one question at a time. >> brought to you by the aarp foundation. ♪ >> the w.k. kellogg foundation, improving the lives of vulnerable children. learn more at wkkf.org. ♪ america's kids and a better