On March 18, Tavis Smiley will be moderating an all-star, all-woman panel discussion entitled “Made Visible: Women, Children & Poverty in America.” Though Smiley has interviewed and worked with several women over the years, this is the first time he has moderated an all-woman panel.
“Since the topic is women and poverty, it was that clear we needed to have women at the heart of this event. They are the experts,” Smiley told the AmNews. “And beyond that, just like my other panel discussions, I wanted to make sure we had a racially and ethnically diverse group.”
The nine-member panel is certainly diverse. Native American, African-American, Jewish and Latina are some of the ethnic backgrounds represented among the stellar group of women, which features Dr. Julianne Malveaux, Suze Orman, Susan Sarandon, Cecilia Fire Thunder, Faye Wattleton, Randi Weingarten, Sheryl WuDunn, Nely Galan and Hilda Solis.
Smiley revealed part of his motivation for the makeup of his panel. “One thing I found very troubling was that the contraception issue being debated before Congress was initially all-male. Then we have Rush Limbaugh calling a woman a slut. Not too long ago it was supposed to be the year of the woman, and now there’s a war on women. All of these dots are connected.”
In 2011, Smiley and professor Cornel West embarked upon a nationwide “Poverty Tour” with the stated purpose of shedding light on the plight of the poor and eventually helping find solutions, though many critics felt it was really an anti-Obama tour. Smiley rejected such criticisms about the tour and his upcoming event.
“Obama is by far the better choice over the GOP candidates. That is not the issue. The issue is, how do you force or coerce a president to be more aggressive, to find his spine? Not just talk populist rhetoric, but embrace progressive policy?” said Smiley. “I’m not being a ‘hater.’ President Obama has made some notable major achievements, like signing into law the Lilly Ledbetter Act and repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’
“I’m here to lovingly push him in the right direction. Great presidents are not born, they are made. There would be no Abraham Lincoln without Frederick Douglass. No LBJ without MLK.”
As for how President Barack Obama can move forward with a progressive policy agenda regarding poverty, Smiley suggests a first step could be calling a White House conference of experts to explore how to eradicate–not just diminish–poverty. Smiley and West have a new book coming out this spring called “The Rich and the Rest of Us” that will offer more details about their proposed agenda to fight poverty.
“Many people in this country now fall into one of three categories–the perennially poor, the new poor [the former middle class] and the near poor, who are one check away from destitution. We are laying out a poverty manifesto,” said Smiley of the new book. He also noted that children don’t have as many dedicated lobbyists as other interest groups and they deserve attention.
“Made Visible: Women, Children & Poverty in America” will be held in New York from 4 to 6 p.m. on Sunday, March 18 at NYU’s Skirball Center for the Performing Arts, 566 LaGuardia Place. Register for free at www.tavistalks.com/womenandchildren. C-SPAN will be taping the conversation, which will broadcast for three nights on “Tavis Smiley” on PBS, Wednesday, March 28 through Friday, March 30.