Sunday, November 11, 2012

What would an anti-poverty movement look like?

From our friend Chauncey DeVega, I see that Brothers West and Smiley are at it again. I know there are those among us who think we should simply ignore them. Perhaps they're right. But my problem is that I find common cause with their focus on poverty but get royally pissed off at their methods.

So I'm going to take a moment once again to point out how their methods are not only wrong - they're destructive to the cause. But beyond that - what SHOULD we be doing?

First of all, in the video DeVega posts, Cornell West calls the first Black President "a blackface Republican." We all know that West is very well aware of the history of blackface in these United States. For him to use that term anywhere near President Obama is enough to get me enraged - to the point that I almost don't want to listen to another gawd-damned thing he has to say. For no other reason than it being a movement-killer among the great swaths of black, brown and poor people who support this President, its a sublimely ridiculous thing to say right now.

But he goes on from there to throw people like Michael Eric Dyson, Rev. Al Sharpton, and Melissa Harris Perry under the bus by saying they "sold their souls for a mess of Obama pottage." This is a critique the purists on the left throw out to avoid having to deal with what people like Dyson, Sharpton and Harris-Perry actually have to say. I'd suggest that if Mr. West has an argument - he should make it. Simply calling someone a "sell-out" is a cheap shot of the lowest kind. Once again...a movement-killer.

And what do Mr. West and Mr. Smiley have to suggest as the way to end poverty? Their big answer is a conference where the goal is to push President Obama to have a White House conference on poverty. I have to laugh when these two talk incessantly about the "prophetic tradition" in the black community that they want to advance. Can you imagine what would have happened if Dr. Martin Luther King or Malcolm X had called for a White House conference on Jim Crow as their big movement builder? The truth is that those two men rarely addressed the President of the United States at the time. And when/if they did, it was related to a specific action they wanted from the President and Congress.

The prophetic tradition they talk about is probably best represented today by the thousands of DREAM activists who are finding a way to actually make progress on an agenda. Initially I was a bit put off by their focus on the DREAM Act. That's because I wanted to see comprehensive immigration reform and thought the DREAM Act was a half measure that might delay it. If I had been more in tune with the prophetic tradition, I would have seen immediately that this is how movements are started...with a clear focus on something that is achievable. Its all very reminiscent of the Montgomery Bus Boycott that ignited the Civil Rights Movement.

So if we want to see an anti-poverty movement, what would that small achievable next step look like? I'd suggest that perhaps the first step would be to form a rainbow coalition to support these DREAMers and their Latino allies in passing comprehensive immigration reform that makes EVERYONE a first-class one left behind. Once that is accomplished, that same rainbow coalition could get to work on raising the minimum wage.

None of those things alone is going to end poverty in America. But then neither was the bus boycott going to end Jim Crow. And the DREAM Act wasn't comprehensive immigration reform. But they got the ball rolling forward with something specific that could actually get done. That's what we can learn from our prophetic tradition. White House conferences on poverty...pfffttttt.


  1. Tavis Smiley has been hating on Obama ever since the latter didn't attend Smiley's Annual Covenant Conference when he first ran for president & Hillary did.

    He and his equally full of shit buddy Cornell West appeared together on Charlie Rose's show right after Obama gave his acceptance speech at the '08 convention in Denver... and completely trashed the speech because Obama didn't talk enough about poverty.

    At that point, they must have realized they had an act they could take on the road together and have done so ever since... never once recognizing the incredible tightrope act President Obama has hand to walk as the first black president representing all the people... and not acknowledging his success at dealing with poverty against extraordinary odds.

    I'm glad you've called out these poverty hucksters for who and what they are. They raise good points here and there, but their tag team act is always more about them than they people they claim to be advocating for.

    In terms of sincerity and humanity, I'll take Melissa Harris Perry, Rev. Al and Dr. Dyson over them in a heartbeat.

  2. 'Afternoon, Ms. Pants

    comPLETEly agree with Anon. above. Sums it all up right nicely. The only thing I'd add is that we are seeing what we are from Tavis and the good docta because Tavis thinks he's Frederick Douglass. And, he'll be glad to lead the way - but buy his books and such first (which, from the perspective of attention and putting bodies in a big room, is the best way to quickly do it, you see).

    And, yet THANK YOU for breaking it down because there are many who, when looking at alla this here intra black huffin' and blowin', don't know the skins from the shirts, as it were.

    Ahhh, Ms. Pants you are SUCH a gem.

    1. I couldn't believe my own ears this morning...a conference to push for a conference???? You have GOT to be kidding me!!!!!!!

      So good point about the book-selling. At least we can call it greedy instead of just plain ignorant ;-)

  3. OK, I've indulged West as I think everyone remembers. This does it for me. I'm out.

    I really can't see any ultimate Federal solution to poverty that isn't based on paying people to not work. What we can do though through government is to draw lines so to speak around communities which capital can't cross.

    At some point, we need an economy wherein communities sustain themselves through their own labor, and exchange takes place on top of that rather than, as it is now, in its place. The right complains that the social safety net makes people dependent on government, while what we actually have is an economy, increasingly a world-economy, where people depend on the market for their basic needs. That's what produces poverty.

  4. It's easy to see what's going on with Dr West.


  5. I'm sorry. Here's what I was looking for.

    "I don't want the bad talk around me."


  6. West's idea is like the Pointy-haired Boss calling a meeting entitled, "Planning to Plan."