The C-SPAN live broadcast will air from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Eastern on Thursday, Jan. 12 and will feature a panel of experts at George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium.
Panelists scheduled to appear include Cornell West, Princeton University Professor and author; Suze Orman, a leader on personal finance; Michael Moore, Academy Award wining filmmaker; Barbara Ehrenriech, author of “Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America”; Jeffrey Sachs, poverty expert and professor of Health Policy and Management at Columbia University; Majora Carter, Urban Revitalization Strategist; and Vicki B. Escarra, president and CEO of Feeding America.
Smiley has long been an outspoken opponent about the lack of attention paid to the issue of poverty in America, and the talk show host and author said it is imperative that with the approaching presidential election, political leaders across the country as well as the president must take immediate action to confront the issue.
“There are three classifications of Americans: Either you are in poverty, you are near poverty or you’re part of the new poor,” Smiley pointed out during a press conference to announce the show.
“The new poor are the former middle class. More and more middle Americans of all races, colors and creeds are falling into the ranks of the poor. And so, the data is clear. The data underscores the fact that we’ve got to get serious about talking about poverty in America.”
“Four years ago, during the last presidential campaign, in three presidential debates between Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain, the whole world is watching—the word poor, the word poverty, are not uttered one time,” he pointed out. “The word poor is not mentioned, the word poverty doesn’t come up. Mr. McCain doesn’t say it, Mr.Obama doesn’t say it or talk about it and the moderator didn’t ask about it.”
Smiley said that the issue of poverty was not even discussed when the economy began tanking four years ago. “At that time, there was no conversation about the poor in this country,” he pointed out.
“Fast forward four years later, look at all the devastation, look at all the numbers,” he declared. “I committed to myself four years ago that we were not going to endure another campaign where poverty was ignored. I pledged to do everything I could along with others to make sure that poverty is not just on the agenda but does, in fact, get discussed.”
Smiley said that poverty numbers have hit the African American community particularly hard. “In the black community, we are now at depression era levels,” he declared. “It is as bad for black folks right now as it was during the great depression”.
And Smiley said he was recently able to talk to citizens grappling with poverty up close and personal. “Last summer Dr. Cornell West and I, as most of you know, took our poverty tour around the country, to 18 states and 11 cities. And now, this Thursday, we are taking the next step, which is to convene a national conversation about how to get traction on the problem of poverty in this country.”
Smiley continued, “You can talk about this issue without demonizing the president, without castigating dispersion on him, that’s why I said earlier and I want to be clear, there’s a bipartisan feeling that the poor don’t matter.
“The white house ought to do more, the Democrats have been spineless and milquetoast, and now you have Republicans like Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul who have just basically launched a verbal assault on the poor.
“Even as the economy starts to uptick, the numbers of the poor are going to grow … so, it’s coming from both sides and the bottom line is, our democracy cannot sustain itself under the weight of this kind of poverty.”
Smiley said that he and Dr. West are completing a book about poverty that will be released on April 17.
“The book is called ‘The Rich and the Rest of Us, a Poverty Manifesto.’ In the book, we are laying out exactly what has to happen to not just to reduce, but to eliminate and eradicate poverty in this country and what those who are in high office ought to be saying about the issue in advance of that book coming out,” Smiley said.
He continued, “Whoever the republican nominee will be, and Mr. Obama, there has to be a conversation at the highest levels in this country about the poor so that they are not rendered invisible.”