Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Rich and the Rest of Us

In this slim and accessible book, Tavis Smiley and Cornel West discuss poverty in the United States in a historical context and point out that in order to eradicate poverty in this country, which they believe is very possible, we need to take advantage of best practices in innovation.  As the authors put it, "One out of two Americans is living in poverty or near the poverty line," and the authors believe that the first step in eradicating poverty is destigmatizing it and recognizing that it exists.  Smiley and West outline "12 poverty changing ideas," which include things like providing jobs with living wage salaries, health care coverage for all, ending hunger and homelessness, and having the White House hold a conference on "the eradication of poverty."  They also outline in detail some suggestions for how to achieve each of these ends.  

For me, given my work with low-income populations and in community development, these ideas did not come as a surprise to me.  Therefore, while I did not have any "aha" moments, I was more impressed by the authors' vehemence and insistence that this is a crisis that needs to be solved or it could lead to catastrophe.  Some key quotes:

"With the rich getting richer, the poor getting poorer, and the class divide getting wider, there is very little reason not to believe that America could one day implode under the weight of escalating poverty."

...the poor have been stabbed with the blade of indifference."  

"Poverty is 21st-century-style slavery."

"Our intention is to prod America's consciousness toward righteously radical thinking and 21st century revolutionary action."

Ultimately, Smiley and West end by encouraging readers to take action to make poverty an "archaic remnant," which reminds me a lot of Muhammed Yunus' vision to put poverty in museums.  Let's work together to make this happen in our lifetimes.  

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