Smiley and West Bring Poverty to the Forefront
Barrington M. Salmon | 9/18/2012, 7:19 p.m.
West and Smiley's guests included Sharon S. Bulova, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors; Alexandria Schools Superintendent Morton Sherman; Congressman Dennis J. Kucinich [D-Ohio]; Dolores Huerta, a founder of the United Farm Workers Union; and Georgetown law professor and anti-poverty activist Peter Edelman.
Several of the guests cautioned the audience that the issue of poverty isn't going away in the U.S. particularly if Congress and presidents prioritize funding wars as opposed to education, health care and other social needs. The problem is exacerbated by politicians beholden to their corporate masters, powerful corporations with pots of money to produce the legislation and results they want, a sustained attack on labor unions and global competition which has led to jobs fleeing overseas and a push by businesses and corporations to keep wages and salaries low.
Nader castigated the priorities chosen by those elected to run this country.
"The way to turn this country around is to change the priorities of public policies," he said. "... Speaker John Boehner is a corporation masquerading as a human being."
"Fifty million people have trouble getting enough food to make it through the day," he said. "One of three people make $10 or less an hour. More than 58,000 people die every year from workplace accidents because of lack of safety and other hazards. Yet trillions will be spent by the so-called military-industrial complex. No weapons system is enough. We have enough to blow up the world 300 times over and cause the rubble to vibrate."
"We spend $675 million to guard the giant U.S. embassy in Iraq but only spend $550 million on OSHA [The Occupational Safety and Health Administration]. Workplaces are replete with disease and trauma."
Smiley said three groups make up the poor in this country: the perennially poor, the near-poor, who're just a paycheck or two away and the new poor.
"Conditions are getting worse," said Smiley. "We'll see very simply that poverty is the new American norm. The new poor are the former middle class. One out of two people are in or near poverty - a paycheck or two from it. Half of the country is near or in poverty. You cannot sustain a democracy with poverty run amok. I don't know why President Obama doesn't say that."
Turnage Spencer expanded on her plight later.
"I could go on and on," she said. "I'm a simple person, not extravagant. This is my hair and my clothes are hand-me-downs. It's real hurtful to be judged by my appearance. "
Turnage Spencer said she doesn't qualify for a number of forms of assistance but received $300 in TANF assistance for about three months, ending in January and her food assistance was also terminated. She has continued to apply for jobs and said that she has a job search log that details her fruitless hunt for work since September 2011. Turnage Spencer said she lives in a tiny apartment in Alexandria and subsists on $185 a week from unemployment and quickly dwindling savings. She said she's fortunate because while she doesn't have medical coverage, Medicaid covers her daughter.