Archive for the ‘Dr. Cornel West’ tag
Something Is Happening In America:
Poverty Tour Stops In Chicago
(Aug. 8, 2011) Last night in the large stone St. Sabina church on Chicago’s south side over 1,000 people gathered to hear Tavis Smiley, Dr. Cornel West, and Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan speak. It was the third day and their fifth stop of the Poverty Tour organized by Tavis Smilely and Dr. West. The tour will cover 16 cities from the start on a Native American Reservation in Northern Wisconsin and ending in Memphis Tenn. The goal of the tour is to raise awareness about poverty, because as Mr. Smiley has stated the poor are becoming “more and more invisible.”
Smiley said the cities were chosen to cover people of all faiths, races, and ethnicities, ages-urban and rural- including immigrants. On the tour they will spend time listening to people and recording their stories. During the tour they will be staying in the homes of poor people and sleeping on the bus. They will also be staying at a homeless shelter and in a housing project. The stories they gather will be aired on the Tavis Smiley television show on PBS during the last week of September or the first week of October. Also beginning on August 22nd, Smiley’s radio show will devote one show per week to issues about poverty. In addition a dean and students at Smiley’s alma mater, University of Indiana, are working on a “white paper” about who are the new poor in America. The report will be presented on C-span in January with a panel.
Although it was said several times that this was not an “anti-Obama campaign” on this stop in Obama’s hometown, the words were challenges to Obama. Smiley said the tour is about “aiding and abetting the President,” pushing him to do the right thing for the poor of all colors in America. Smiley said, “It is really simple, are you going to stand with poor, or side with the rich. I am standing with the poor.”
When he ended his remarks his words built to a passionate and thunderous pitch. His words bounced off the stone walls and echoed from the high cathedral ceiling; all one thousand people seemed to stand at once, clapping, cheering, some with tears in their eyes as he shouted, “Say it Mr. President! Say the word Mr. President! Just say poverty! Let us hear you say the poor! Say it Mr. President!”
Next to speak was Lois Farrakhan. He began with a reference to the Sermon on the Mound, especially the statement, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” He said that Mohammed defined spirit as energy of life itself. Then he made the powerful analogy to the poor having their spirit strangled. That the poor don’t have the energy needed to fight for justice. That the poor walk with their heads hanging down, their backs bent. He also went on to say that it doesn’t matter who is in the White House. He said that we are poor in spirit because we are poor in leadership. “Where there is no vision the people will perish.”
Farrakhan then lowered his voice. “Obama is poor in spirit today because the bankers have surrounded our brother.” He went on to relate how the bankers are few but the people are many, The poor are the majority. We need to rally the poor, to re-energize the poor. Give spine to their backbones once more.
He directly called upon Obama to become a spokesman for the poor, to be a spokesman for his base. “You don’t have a lot of time . . . when the poor rise-up there will be blood in the street.” Farrakhan then went on to relate a story of a visit he had with the chief of the Chicago police, a visit he said took place at Farrakhan’s dinning table. He said I asked him why is Blackwater training our police officers. I asked him, why are you buying 17,000 assault rifles with armor piercing bullets. “There is trouble on the horizon! The poor are tired and they are not going to take it any more!”
He continued that the poor carry the government on their backs. The poor are what holds the wealthy up. All the wealth of this country is built upon the poor.
Then as he closed again with his voice rising with the standing people, the clapping people, some with outstretched arms and their index fingers pointing to the heavens above, “Obama if you are a one term president at least go out standing up for the poor. Obama if you speak for the poor, your people will have your back. If you stand-up for the poor Jesus will back you, the people will back you. Go out standing in the tradition of Dr, King!”
Then Dr. Cornel West took to the podium. Wearing his signature three piece black suit and white shirt. He said folks ask me why I wear a three piece suit. “These are my funeral clothes.” He said tugging on his lapels with both hands. “I am coffin ready, because when you fight for the poor you have to be ready to die.”
He began by saying something is happening in Chicago tonight. Something was happening in Joliet earlier today. Something was happening in Wisconsin yesterday. Something is happening in America.
He then channeled those who have fought for the poor through history, among those he listed; Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. means something to me! Cesar Chavez means something to me! Malcom X means something to me! Dorothy Day means something to me!” Then he moved into how so many leaders today have “sold out!” Too many of our leaders have sold out to the oligarchy. He talked about how Obama’s first mistake was to surround himself with wall street advisors. He mentioned Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner, who had been head of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and before that was with Goldman Sachs, and Larry Summers former President of Harvard, former Chief economist of the World Bank, and former U.S. Treasurer. He also pointed out that Rahmn Emmanuel was the driving force behind who was chosen. “Now Summers and Emmanuel are gone, and he (Obama) is left with the mess.”
He made the point that we have enough money to address the issues of poverty. “The banks are sitting on 1.2 trillion dollars. If we need $700 billion for the banks we find it. If we need three trillion to fight two wars at the same time we find it. We have the money. The problem is “We don’t have enough folk who love poor people.”
They then took questions and comments from the audience. There were long lines at two microphones. There were questions and comments about the Take Back the Land Movement, which began in Brazil, and the anti-eviction work that is being done around the country, Smiley’s book The Covenant with Black America. (Smiley pointed out that the work done all around America to produce the covenant was done before Obama became the candidate. When Obama became the candidate then Smiley was asked to keep quiet about the covenant. He said he was told, “Don’t go bringing up that covenant now, first we have to get the brother elected, and then we can go back to the covenant.” So Smiley said he stepped back and worked for Obama’s election and now the covenant still has not been brought back up. Smiley also pointed out that Obama is the first President since 1948 who did not mention the word poverty in his State of the Union address last year. “One of the worst hurts you can cause someone is to make them feel invisible.”
Other questions and comments were about the split in the African American community between “grassroots” and “elites,” police treatment of blacks, need to eliminate tax cuts for the wealthy, Rahm Emanuel’s politics, and how much Congress is at fault (not just Obama).
Smiley also related the story of FDR and A. Phillip Randolph, who outlined the needs of black people. FDR agreed with Randolph and that he (FDR) had the bully pulpit to make it happen. FDR then turned to Randolph and asked him to do him a favor, FDR said, “Now go out and make me do it.” Smiley said that the tour was about making Obama accountable to the poor.
Father Pfleger of the St. Sabina church closed by asking everyone to “leave with a commitment to organize, to be a voice for the voiceless, to wake up the conscience of a world that is asleep, to find the moral center of those in power and lead them, drag them to our cause. May the poor be on their agenda because we refuse to shut up.”
Then my African American friend and I went out into the Chicago night. I drove him to a mosque on the far south side and then to his apartment on the west side. We drove past the boarded up buildings, the dimly lit streets, corners where black market deals were going down, past the prostitutes arguing with their pimps. Turning around on a dead end street where drug exchanges were taking place; in the darkness, among the trash and cars with flat tires. We passed the fearful eyes of those watching the police cars pulling to a stop. The men on the steps of darkened buildings with bottles in their hands, their heads lowered, and shoulders stooped. Only black people everywhere one looked, except for many of the police who were white.
As I drove the dark streets I thought about what Tavis Smiley said in response to a question, “This deal they just signed for a trillion dollars in cuts is a ten year deal. If you think things are bad now, if you think poverty is bad now, just wait until these cuts start kicking in.”
And as I watched a teenaged African American boy riding up and down the sidewalk on a bike at 10 o’clock, a bike that was way too small for his long thin frame, I thought again of the moan and deep heavy silence that fell across the packed church pews when one short black woman stood at the microphone and said that she was the grandmother of the 13 year old boy that was shot by the police recently. And she shared that she also worked with a drug rehab program that had had its funding cut. “What is going on? Why cut money from those who are in need? Why would they shoot an unarmed baby like my grandson?”
The first year Obama was in office the number of children that fell into poverty was the largest single-year increase ever recorded. Yet he never mentioned poverty in his State of the Union speech.
Well this Sunday night on the South side of Chicago poverty was the said aloud, and the word poverty was shouted. There are streets in Chicago that could be the same streets I walked in Kenya, or one could walk upon in any third world nation. The situation with the gap between the rich and the poor in our country is not sustainable. The backs of the people are strong but they are capable of being broken. It is a matter of time before the poor will rise-up.
To prevent a desperate explosion among the poor, to keep our streets from erupting in flames of anger, we must keep the word poverty on our lips and we must make sure that the poor do not remain invisible. Something is happening in America. Let us work together to make sure that what is happening leads to a better life of justice and security for all, of all colors and all faiths. And may we work to make it happen before it is too late.
Will you stand with the poor or side with the rich?