Talk Show Host Tavis Smiley will be at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Va., on Thursday, Sept. 13 as a part of the "Poverty Tour 2.0: A Call to Conscience."
Virginia is one of four presidential battleground states that Smiley and Princeton University professor emeritus Cornel West will make stops in, to build on what Smiley calls "the continuing moral crusade to make the eradication of poverty a top priority in America."
"Conditions are getting worse," Smiley explained. "We see very simply that poverty is the new American norm. One out of two Americans are in, or near, poverty – or a paycheck or two from it – half of the country is near or in poverty. The new poor are the former middle class. You cannot sustain a democracy with poverty run amok. I don't know why he [President Obama] doesn't say that."
A poverty report released last year estimated that 46.2 million people – 15 percent of the U.S. population – live below the poverty line. Poverty is highest among Hispanics and African Americans, children and households headed by women. The lingering recession's impact on the poor would be markedly worse were it not for the 2009 stimulus package of which $250 billion targeted and protected low-income Americans.
"The [U.S.] Census will release its poverty numbers in a few weeks. It will be horrendous," Smiley said during a recent interview. "For 48 hours, poverty will be the top draw. That's why we timed this tour to the release of these numbers. We're going back out to these battleground states. We're going to take up residence until November."
Smiley cited an Associated Press story which notes that "poverty is spreading at record levels across many groups, from underemployed workers and suburban families to the poorest of poor. More discouraged workers are giving up on the job market, leaving them vulnerable as unemployment aid begins to run out. Suburbs are seeing increases in poverty including in political battlegrounds [states]..."
He said the time for talk is over.
"We have to make poverty a priority. We want to force the moderators in all four debates to raise the issue of poverty in these debates."
"The Poverty Tour 2.0" will be on the road Sept. 11-15, and participants will make stops in Ohio, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Florida.
In Alexandria, as elsewhere, West and Smiley, will convene town hall meetings that are free and open to the public. The town halls are solution-oriented, Smiley said, and each program will be broadcast live on multiple platforms including USTREAM, radio and social media.
Smiley outlined different elements of the tour. It starts in Cleveland on Sept 11.
"We'll be on a bus, a smaller bus and not with as many people," he said with a chuckle. "Last year's was a long tour. This one is abbreviated – not as many places, right place, right time and right message."
Smiley, who also hosts The Tavis Smiley Show, said as this year's fiercely competitive presidential race heats up, he and those who're deeply concerned about the impact of poverty are committed to keeping the heat on Obama and GOP challenger Mitt Romney.
"We will have the Poverty Symposium on Jan. 17 at George Washington University," he said. "We will go to work on organizing that symposium. It's just a few days before the inauguration and it's important to remind the new president that this is an issue that must be addressed."
Despite the heat he's taken for criticizing Obama, Smiley said elected officials must be held accountable.
"I think it will be a very close race but I think he's going to win," Smiley said.
"Whether he wins or not, they have to do something about this. We will remind him about his remarks at his acceptance speech."
The Town Hall begins at 10 a.m.-1 p.m., at the T.C. Williams High School Auditorium in Alexandria, Va., on Thursday, Sept. 13. For further information, call 703-824-6800.