Made Visible: Women, Children & Poverty in America – Panel discussion, Part 3

On the third and final night of a compelling discussion, the panelists’ conversation includes recommendations for national action to move women and children out of poverty.

Women are poorer than men in all racial and ethnic groups, and the numbers of women and children that are falling into poverty are growing. What will it take for America to put her women and children first?

Answers to this question and other related issues are examined by Tavis and a diverse all-female panel of thought leaders, opinion makers and influencers.

Guests include: Nely Galán, founder of The Adelante Movement; Dr. Julianne Malveaux, economist and president of Bennett College; Suze Orman, a leading authority on personal finance; Hilda Solis, 25th U.S. Secretary of Labor; Cecilia FireThunder, former president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe; Faye Wattleton, former national president of Planned Parenthood; Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers; and Sheryl WuDunn, Pulitzer Prize–winning writer and co-author of Half the Sky.

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Tavis: I’ve done these symposiums, most all of you know, around the country for years now and this is the first time in my 20-year career I’ve had the opportunity to be blessed to moderate a panel of all women.

I will tell you without going into any details, this is the most difficult symposium that my people have ever helped me produce, trying to get focus on this, trying to media attention about this.

When you put together an august panel of experts – you know, I got a few friends in the industry. It’s not so difficult for me to get the exposure, get the platform ID to talk about the impending conversation.

This has been like pulling teeth trying to get the kind of focus and attention on this particular issue. In no particular order, Faye, I want to come to you first.

Faye Wattleton: There are a number of areas in which, by the markers of a society’s well-being, that Black women fare least well, least well.

But what we have not discussed seems to be just a political forum. What we have not discussed is the enormity of the power of popular culture and the media to define Black women in terms that are not dignified, that we are not worthy of being perceived as being equal.

The characterizations and the stereotypes that are reinforced about Black women in our society really deserve an uprising among Black women at this point [applause]. And popular culture and the media and the public conversation really all need to be challenged with respect to Black women [applause].

Tavis: I’m glad you said that. Suze, you’re an honorary Black woman.

Suze Orman: Yep.

Tavis: You are a sister [laugh].

Orman: The rumor is, just so you know, is that I’m a Black woman trapped in a white woman’s body [applause].

Tavis: From the south side of Chicago.

Tavis: From the south side of Chicago. To face one about media, that poverty is just a question, an issue, particularly women and children in poverty, that we just don’t find sexy enough to talk about, even though you talk about money every week.

Orman: Well, what’s interesting about me talking about money every week is that, for 11 years now, I’ve had a show on CNBC. For the past four or five years, it’s been the number one rated show on CNBC, but you wouldn’t know it.

You wouldn’t see it, you wouldn’t hear anybody talking about it and you really wouldn’t see the support that somebody truthfully of my stature should have.

But I’m here to tell you, ladies and gentlemen, I do not have it. As much as you think I do, I do not. I have to fight and crawl and beg and scratch for every single thing that I still to this day create.

So women do not have a face, in my opinion, in media, especially in business economic media. They don’t have it the way that they should and I think what you said was so true and, because it’s so true, it’s so sad.

There’s only one correction that I’d like to make on this panel and that’s with you saying women hold up half the sky [laughter]. Ladies, we hold up the entire sky! [Applause]

Tavis: And I’m just minced meat [laughter] and all my fellow brethren, but I take your point. Nely, you were gonna say something about this? Yeah.

Nely Galan: Well, I want to answer your question.

Tavis: Please, please.

Galan: Because I think the reason it’s very difficult to talk about poverty is because in a country whose God is money [applause] – that’s true. When you classify yourself as poor, you might as well be a leper. Nobody wants to call themselves poor and, even when you read it, it’s uncomfortable.

Tavis: But half of us are, Nely.

Galan: We are, but I’m telling you why it’s painful to talk about it. I’m answering your question. It’s part of our collective, but it’s a part of a collective that we deny. What we haven’t said is that what’s going on in the collective in our country is that the values in this country have gone to hell [applause]. They’ve gone to hell.

What we see in the media with what’s going on with the Republican debates is embarrassing [applause]. And what we see in the media and what we’ve seen over the last few years in the media, what we put out in the world is that money is God and, if you don’t have it and by any means necessary to get it, you’re nothing.

I think the important thing is that what we know is that women are the holders of the values in our families and we have to go back to upholding what is really good.

When we say that immigrant children should not have education, what happened to a country that, from the time it was founded, we wanted all children to have education? What happened to those values?

I think that’s why you’re right. It’s painful to discuss. It’s very shameful. It’s shameful in this country. It’s not shameful to be poor in other countries. People don’t ask you right away, “What do you do and how much money do you make?” They ask you, “Who are you? Who are you? Who are you in our community?” [Applause]

Tavis: Sheryl WuDunn, you respond any way you want to respond. I take Nely’s point and I agree with it.

Sheryl WuDunn: I just want to give the point of view from the media because I do think that’s why, in “Half the Sky,” we say that the moral challenge of our time is gender inequity.

Tavis: Exactly.

WuDunn: Poor women, poor girls, lead to gender inequity even in the U.S. as well, so it applies in the U.S. as well. But I think that one of the major problems why it doesn’t get so much coverage, why people aren’t so interested partly is, you know, the way we tell it. You know, so much of what is covered in the news media, in the television, is how you tell stories.

I think much more investment and thought needs to go into how we tell stories. So in “Half the Sky,” what we do is we actually tell individual stories of women who have faced challenge, but also who have actually come out of those challenges.

I think that’s really important even when we talk about how to engage elected officials. You need to not only tell the story of the challenge, but also the way out. There are many, many ways of helping. We need to focus on that.

Tavis: Dr. Malveaux, if I say to you that, to my mind, there is a bipartisan consensus in Washington – and you know how difficult that is to get.

If I said to you there’s a bipartisan consensus in Washington, that poverty doesn’t matter, that the poor don’t matter, political or moral, there’s a consensus in that town that the poor don’t matter, it’s just not a problem in this country, you say what?

Dr. Julianne Malveaux: I say absolutely, Tavis. I mean, one of the words, you’ve talked about the [inaudible] of discussion about poverty, but there’s another word we don’t talk about very much. That’s capitalism.

We don’t talk about what the flaws of capitalism are. I know Suze Orman’s gonna come get me, but let’s just be clear that what capitalism does is it creates poverty.

I mean, the people who have the payday loans, they’re making fun off poor people. The people who are using these credit cards – you’ve got a great credit card product that I hope you’ll talk about – but the people who have these prepaid credit cards, they’re making money off people.

Back in 1963 or 1964, a man named David Caplovitz wrote a book called “The Poor Pay More.” It talked about the many, many ways that poor people are extorted.

So Dr. Martin Luther King in 1968 in “Where Do We Go from Here,” he talked about economic structure. He said there are 40 million poor people in America and you have to ask what kind of country creates 40 million poor people? When you ask that question, you have to ask about the very structure of our economy. The income distribution becomes unequal.

We are only second to Sweden in the inequality of our income distribution and nobody wants to talk about – if you talk to the other people, they will say, oh, this is class warfare when you begin to talk about the differences of who earns what, or they need to work hard.

I’m gonna tell you, there’s nobody harder working than an undocumented person who is cleaning up somebody’s house and getting paid under the table [applause].

Tavis: I want to go to Secretary Solis and to Cecilia in just a second. But since Dr. Malveaux raised these prepaid cards, you have a card that is called the Approved Card that’s different than anything else out there.

Since Malveaux – thank you, Julianne – offered an opportunity for you to respond to that, I want you to respond and tell us about what makes this Approved Card different.

Orman: Let me first say there is big business in people being poor. The more poorer you are, the more you pay for insurance, the more you pay for everything, the more money they make off of you. So I would not disagree with you at all about capitalism. There’s a good side to it and there is a horrific side to it. That’s true.

When you are poor, you have bounced checks. When you have bounced checks, you cannot get a checking account or a credit union account. If you can’t get a checking account or an account at a credit union, how do you get a card to transact business?

You need a piece of plastic to order something over the internet, to go into the grocery, so you’re not robbed. Fine. Came the big business where many people brought out what was known as prepaid cards, cards that you didn’t have to qualify for, but they were issued and you deposited money on them and you used them.

Many of them are highway robbery. They charge you $35 to $50 a month to use them. How many of you out there have one of those? Uh-huh, quite a few of you. So I decided I was gonna do something about it and I created it, funded it myself, something called the Approved Card.

The Approved Card, if you use it the way that I ask you to use it, will not cost you more than $3 per month and that $3 per month is for four cards. The $.75 a month, you can pay your bills online for free, blah, blah, blah. You can read about it at Fine, do that.

But here’s the point. When I brought out this card, I have never in the 30 years that I’ve doing this seen such opposition of outright lies from the television community, from the newspaper reporters, from everybody because, if I succeed in this card, the banks fail [applause].

If I succeed in this card, the other people who have these prepaid cards that are making a fortune off of you fail. You cannot get out of poverty if you do not have a good credit score. Do you understand that?

You cannot get a credit score if you use cash or a debit card. If this experiment works, 24 months from now when you use a debit card, it will go onto your credit report and you will get a credit score, that you can be a viable human being.

But you got to work with me here, people, because everybody else wants this project to fail. It’s called and, if it starts to succeed, the $3 a month that you’re to pay, I vow to you, will go away ’cause I want a card that’s better than cash [applause].

Tavis: Randi?

Randi Weingarten: I wouldn’t be accused here of class warfare, but I was just in China, Singapore and Japan. What is remarkable and, you know, we talked about the [inaudible] factories. In our terms, they’re sweatshops; in their terms, it’s upward mobility.

But they have in China an industrial policy. We don’t have an industrial policy in the United States of America. If we lost the auto industry, Detroit would be dead.

What happened was, they took a risk. The Secretary took risks, the auto companies took a risk, the unions took a risk, and right now you see this remarkable change. That was the closest we ever had to an industrial policy. I think we need more of that kind of industrial policy here.

I think what we’re saying on this panel is it’s important to shine the light so people don’t feel shamed, but then it is equally important to have a set of strategies that we go forward with, both capital strategies, industrial strategies, educational strategies, all underlined by values because it is our value in the United States of America.

Look, we’re right by Lady Liberty, which is “Give us your tired and your poor.” It is we are a country that will bring ourselves up, have the American dream, but we need those strategies.

I think what comes out of this, as I’m listening to the amazing ladies on this panel, is that if we could actually collectively, strange bedfellows as we might be, end up having a set of strategies that we all pursue, that would be a change.

Teachers every single day see poverty firsthand. They are on the front line of seeing it every day and we fight like hell – sorry – to try to keep schools open, to not destabilize neighborhoods. My members take money out of their pockets every single day to buy supplies, to buy food, to do all of this stuff [applause].

You’re totally right. We see it firsthand, but we have to have long-term as well as short-term strategies. We have to have a job strategy, but we also have to have a lifeline strategy.

Tavis: Cecilia?

Cecilia FireThunder: That brings me back to this discussion of my reservation, which is 100 miles by 50 miles, 40,000. We have tribal schools, colleges. One of the things that we are doing in our community is taking a hard look at the existing way of educating our people.

Unfortunately, the western model created by somebody in Washington, D.C. trickled down to our community. Education, when it began in my community, was only to do two things, civilize us, speak English and be Christians [applause].

So when the United States government first invested in education, it was not to teach us how to read and write. It was to say, “Our Father” and speak English. Today we are taking a hard look. We have a captured audience and this is what I like to say.

The boundaries of my reservation and everything that goes on inside of there is our responsibility and it’s up to us as tribal citizens of that community to look at where we’ve been, where we are and where do we need to go.

One of the areas we’re looking very hard at is the educational system. We say education is the key to get out of poverty. However, not everybody can go to college. Not everybody’s going to be a dentist or a doctor.

When you take a look at our community, what kind of jobs do we need to train our people for? Our community and our land, we grow hay, wheat, sorghum. We grow rib eye; we have a lot of cows.

So part of the challenge is to take a look at what we can do to change how we do business in our community and that goes back to changing the educational philosophy of this country so that it fits the needs of everyone community in America [applause].

Tavis: Just like there’s a link between, Randi, inadequate education and poverty, there’s also a link clearly, Faye, between poor health and poverty. Talk to me about that link.

Wattleton: Well, there is an enormously strong link between poor health and poverty particularly among women, especially among women, and it’s especially tragic because not only do we fare less well in the healthcare system in our own experiences, but we are also mothers of children and, when we are not healthy, our children can’t possibly be healthy.

Yet most healthcare policy programs are aimed at children as a way of legitimizing somehow taking care of women. Speaking of policy adjustments, we need to change that. We are also the caregivers of our parents and other disabled.

The Affordable Healthcare Act, however, for the first time will provide preventive services without a cost-sharing, meaning that the individual or consumer doesn’t have to put up a certain amount of money in order to get the care.

Who would have ever imagined that we would engage in a major national debate over whether contraceptive care would be included as a fundamental requirement under preventive healthcare?

When I speak about healthcare, I think we have to also put into that category a freedom from violence against women in our society [applause].

The organization that I co-founded a few years ago published a survey among 3,300 women in which we thought that we were gonna find the usual conversation that we’ve had here today for over two hours: economics, economics, economics.

What came back when we asked what do you believe ought to be the number one issue addressed in this country, it was to stop violence against women [applause].

You know, it is a marker of how we value women in this country and our health – I am speaking to the healthcare question – when the only time that we’re concerned about a woman’s safety is when she has been physically injured or has been killed and that we really don’t much care about the circumstances of her well-being with respect to her safety and security, her health security, unless there are just enormous threats to her well-being.

Tavis: But there’s also data, as you know, that links that cycle of violence to poverty.

Wattleton: To poverty, precisely, and that links that cycle of violence to the state of motherhood, that a homicide against women is among the highest, among pregnant women. Women are not victims. We have the power to change the circumstances and help ought to be the number one agenda.

Tavis: Thank you very much. I appreciate it [applause]. One of the other issues I wanted to get to today that we did not get to at all in this conversation, Dr. Malveaux.

You referenced Dr. King earlier and quote him a couple of times. King once famously said, as you well know, that war is the enemy of the poor, that war is the enemy of the poor.

That’s true for all poor people, but is especially and particularly true for women and children because those resources that are being squandered abroad and not being available here at home for women and children’s services, tell me more. I feel you agree with it.

Malveaux: Oh, absolutely. Dr. King really looked at war, you know, as an act of violence. The combination between war, capitalism, because who makes money from war? What we notice is that, among women who are enlisted in the Army, 40 percent of them are African American women. We’re 13 percent of the population.

There’s an economic draft. We don’t really have a draft, but there’s an economic draft. People go to war because they don’t have a job.

We have women, Tavis, who have left their children with their momma so they can go to war. You have people who have enrolled in the Army Reserves or somebody’s reserves because they could get an extra $250 a month and, the next thing you know, they’re over there in Afghanistan somewhere.

I wanted to say to Faye that, you know, we talk about violence against women. It’s economic violence, patriarchy, another word we have not used, the power of men.

Patriarchy allows an economic violence against women with the situations that we’re put in, the sexual harassment that so many women experience, and people say, well, just go away, quit. Some people can’t afford to quit.

So we women have to be more united. We’ve accepted a structure that discriminates against us systematically. It starts with the culture, as you said, with the music videos? That’s to say, Tavis, what you end up with.

As a president of a college, I had to tell some students one day that it is not against the law for you to cover your body [laughter]. Nothing bad will happen to you if you don’t show your body parts. The war piece is a huge piece that’s sucked resources out of our economy and women and children have paid for it.

Tavis: Gandhi once said – I love the Gandhi quote that “poverty is the worst form of violence.” Poverty is the worst form. I got a minute and a half to go. I want to close where I began with our Secretary here, our Labor Secretary.

In a minute and a half, tell me, if you can, why in this particular moment with all the numbers not giving us reason to be optimistic whether or not you are hopeful and that women and children in America should be hopeful.

Hilda Solis: I am hopeful. Even starting tomorrow, we’re gonna be celebrating the passage of the Affordable Care Act where more uninsured children, Latino, African American poor children, are being covered in phenomenal numbers.

This is a 70-year span of time where finally this president got something done and no one thought that this was gonna be that hard. It was hard, but more people are reaping the benefits.

I have hope because, when I look back at the past, 3.9 million private sector jobs created in a span of, what, three year, two years, two and a half years? Part of it is because people have confidence, optimism and hope.

Yes, I do believe the numbers can improve if people believe that we can help work with each other, build coalitions, empower each other, and make sure that we’re sharing and we’re coalescing and that we’re really standing up and that we hear the voices of the public. The bottom line, folks, is that our destiny is wrapped up together.

It’s not the White House and Washington, D.C. over here. It’s all of us working together as a community [applause].

Tavis: It’s the final night of our conversation. I could not have been more delighted to be here with this august panel of experts on the issue of women, children and poverty in America. One more time for our panel, everybody. Let’s hear it for the panel [applause].

I thank you, and I want to thank everyone here at NYU and the Skirball Center for Performing Arts for having us, this conversation “Made Visible.” Women, children and poverty in America is one that we wanted to do and couldn’t wait to get here to make it happen.

Thanks to all of you for being here for this conversation for these three nights. Until next time, keep the faith [applause].

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Last modified: January 19, 2014 at 9:38 pm