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Today Dr. Cornel West and broadcaster Tavis Smiley will embark on what they’re calling Poverty Tour 2.0.

The dynamic duo is slated to hit Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida and Virginia, major battleground states in the upcoming election, from September 12th through the 15th.

The first city on the tour will be Cleveland, followed by Alexandria, Virginia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and winding up in Fort Lauderdale, Florida on the 15th.  Here, we continue off from part one of our conversation with Dr. Cornel West. Publisher Lee Bailey asked West why, in the modern age, does he continue his mission to bring attention to the problems of race and poverty in America.

“That is my tradition, my brother. That is my tradition,” answered West. “I am a cracked vessel of Miles Horton and brother Martin and Curtis Mayfield and I so swore to tell the truth and will deal with any costs that comes with it.”

During our conversation West admitted getting the establishment to recognize the problems of race and class in a democracy is a daunting task, but he sticks steadfastly to hope.

“Each social moment has its limits. A lie can only be put forward for so long,” West explained. “We don’t know when it will reach that tipping point. But there’s no doubt about it. It becomes exhaustive, you get tired of being tired, courage steps in and you have to have people who are on the love train. That’s what I’m worried about. When the limit explodes the dominant orientation is hatred, revenge and scapegoating. You have to have love, justice and compassion in place along with the truth telling. Truth telling is so hurtful and so painful that people don’t want to accept it until the limits are exploded. You have to have something in place when you want to tell people ‘I want to appeal to the better angles of your nature’.”

When West, an avid historian on African American musical culture, mentioned ‘love train’ we didn’t quite know which train he was referring to. Is it the Isley Brothers’ version or what? Here the good doctor tells us what’s he’s getting at.

“I wanna go back to the ‘Love Train’ that Curtis Mayfield talked about. I want to talk about justice connected to the love that Martin was talking about,” he explained. “That’s what’s so sad. The black prophetic tradition, and that tradition had been the leaven in the American loaf. America would be a facist society without Frederick Douglas, without Ida B. Wells, without A. Phillip Randolph, without brother Martin. American democracy owes its expansion to these courageous black people who didn’t talk solely in relation to black people but rather freedom and justice for everybody. That’s a tradition that we have to keep alive. But it’s a tradition that, in the age of Obama, is not only misunderstood but it’s a threat because of the refusal to really come to terms with the social miseries.”

“There’s a report on the poverty level coming out on Wednesday, right?” he asked. “And of course those are just statistics. We’re not even talking about the brothers and sisters of all colors living in or near poverty at a time when the 1 percent are living like the kings and queens of Europe in the 15th century.”

Even though West mentioned the ‘love train’ and all, getting a society to change its mind is a difficult task indeed. No one should know that more than the Professor, but he says there is hope.

“I’m not going to say nothing on the tour that’s optimistic. I’m going to say something on the tour that’s profoundly hopeful. As long as we bare witness to trying to help each other there is hope. Curtis Mayfield said if there’s hell below we’re all gonna go. It’s not optimistic because if he can say it it will wake people up them he can help educate people.”

Though West did expect a great deal of resistance from people on the inside of the Beltway, he tells that he can do without the full on smear campaign that has been levied against him and his ally, Tavis Smiley.

“(B)eing misunderstood and lied about, and not being seen as part of a larger tradition,” said the doctor in a clearly frustrated tone. “People want to isolate brother Tavis and I, as if we need to be isolated as individuals attacking the president based on personal so and so. As opposed to keeping alive a tradition that goes back to Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman. In the face of these lies and opposed to these structures of domination that have been put in place in American society, it can be slavery or Jim Crow, in this day and age it’s Jim Crow Jr, mainstream media views us as just black folks upset about other black folks. Now, I unapologetically love of black people. But it doesn’t stop there. The love spills over to the vanilla suburbs and red reservations and so on and so forth. It’s not just black folks concerned about other black folks. It’s black folks concerned about justice. “

When asked about whether or not he would do anything specifically for African Americans, president Obama famously answered ‘I am not the president of black America.’ Initially I, as well as many other black Americans, understood exactly where the POTUS was coming from. However, Dr. West does make a good point to the contrary.

“Once you get into mainstream politics you can’t even mention race unless you’re very subtle and nuanced about it. ‘My son would look like Trayvon,’ isn’t that what brother Barack said? That’s was very beautiful,” said Cornel.

That simple gesture toward the plight and family of slain teenager Trayvon Martin by President Obama was the most that anyone had ever heard him say regarding a controversial racial issue, and he caught hell for just that brief statement. Imagine if he went further, or did this sort of thing more often? The wolves would begin circling for certain.

“But he’s going to catch some hell anyway,” West countered. “He’s got to be able to hit it head on. He can’t be afraid to catch hell. He’s got to explain to the people ‘Look y’all, I am the president of all America’. Which means he’s got to be able to go to the Catholics and talk about their problems explicitly, or to the Jews and talk about Jewish problems explicitly but when it comes to Negros (he) can’t talk about them because y’all are gonna trash (him)? No, I’m going to talk about everybody’s situation. It’s not going to be some nuanced, indirect reference. The brother got shot. You’re gonna talk about military Moms as if (you’re) the president of military Moms. No, I’m president of everybody. The stuff about the military moms? They deserve it, but don’t you think black people do too? That’s what presidents do, they speak to the specificity of every group, especially the group that gives you 97 percent of their vote. Could you imagine FDR going before workers and saying “I’m not the president of labor, I’m president of all the United States” and they gave him 80 percent of the labor vote? He better come with it.”

But, as many of our readership knows, most of the flack that has been fired at Dr. Cornel West and Tavis Smiley has not come from the White House, but that doesn’t mean they’re not somehow connected to the muckrakers.

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