The last night of discussions on poverty in America—”The Fight of the Poor”—directs attention to groups and communities organizing a movement to end poverty across the country. Tavis also talks with Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners magazine and chair of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Faith.
Tavis: While many of the men and women we elect to lead on important issues continue to ignore the issue of poverty in America, thankfully there are people and groups all across the nation trying to make a difference. In the final installment of our Poverty Tour called “The Fight of the Poor,” we focus on the grassroots efforts to eradicate poverty in America.
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Willie J.R. Fleming: So one day, Martha Biggs came to us and told me she was tired, you know, willing to do whatever it takes to house the children. So I consorted with some folks at the campaign and we decided that we were gonna put forth an effort to reclaim the foreclosed and abandoned property.
Evelyn Dortch: One of the things that my organization, DAWG, has been trying to do is educate what a lot of people want to call the newly poor, which are people who’ve never been poor, but they find themselves poor.
Luis Larin: The United Workers are part of this network and, when we see all these groups working together and we see how they are fighting for things, we can see how these social movements are growing up.
Maureen D. Taylor: The assembly to end poverty and all of the coalitions and the individuals that are involved in it are about the business and not just the plight of the poor, but the fight of the poor. That is the basis on which we are on a journey to eliminate poverty.
Fleming: We, the people of the United States, must take it upon ourselves to begin to enforce our human rights.
Geoff Millard: Changing the power structures that really keep a lot of us poor generation after generation after generation.
Male: In the end, you simply have to have enough people who love people enough and respect people enough to fight. You got to fight.
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Tavis: Our Poverty Tour ended as it should in Memphis, Tennessee where Dr. King lost his life. At the time of his death, King and others had recently launched the Poor People’s Campaign which brought poor people of all races across the country together to demand an economic Bill of Rights.
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Dr. Cornel West: Something’s happening in Will County, Illinois, and something’s happening in America and there’s a direct connection between the warehouse workers and the Poverty Tour and we’re not the only ones that’s happening. In Arizona, it’s happening in Florida, it’s happening in Colorado, it’s happening in the Big Apple. We gonna end in Memphis. It’s happening with sanitation workers who Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his life for.
Tavis: How do I know that, if Dr. King were here today, he’d be talking about poverty? I know this and you should know it because, when he died, when he got shot down like a dog on that balcony in Memphis, he was in Memphis. He was in Memphis talking about what? Poverty, for sanitation workers. That’s what King was talking about.
Millard: He talked about the evils of militarism and racism and he talked about economic justice. These were things to Dr. King that were very intertwined.
Tavis: I remember and there are examples here in this wonderful museum of those poster boards that you all were wearing that said, “I Am A Man.” What did that mean to you, “I Am A Man?”
Elmore Nickleberry: Made me feel good. That made me feel good because most times when I was coming up working, they’d call me to go in the back yard. “Look at that old garbage man.” I was a garbage man then. But that sign, “I Am A Man,” that made me feel good and I’m a man now, glad to be a man.
West: Yes, yes, yes [applause].
Fleming: What Martin was trying to get at, at that time, was taking the people and a movement out of the context of civil rights and into human rights. He understood that poverty was something that affected everybody, not just people of color, but everybody, right? And in this day and age, we’re seeing the same issues that Martin Luther King fought for. I think these are challenges we’re facing because a lot of leaders have failed to pick up that torch.
Tavis: Before the launch, King said, “I would remind you that, in our own nation, there are about 40 million people who are poverty-stricken. I have seen them in the ghettos of the north, I have seen them in the rural areas of the south, I have seen them in Appalachia. I must confess that, in some situations, I have literally found myself crying.” 40 years later, we follow in King’s footsteps and, across the country, we too saw people suffering and struggling to survive and, like King, we cried.
West: Every generation needs [unintelligible].
Taylor: This plight of the homeless, plight of the poor, that’s a fine story. I’ve seen it been made, got t-shirts, the whole nine yards, but we are now talking about not the plights, we’re now talking about the fight. That is the basis on which we are on a journey to eliminate poverty.
Millard: That history is still alive. It’s still happening today. Organizers are still fighting for those things. We’re still fighting against militarism. We’re still fighting against racism. We’re still fighting poverty and these things are very intertwined.
Fleming: We, as the people of this world, have to come together. We, the people at the bottom, have to come together and begin to enforce our human rights, right? Not just the human rights to housing, but the human rights to education, the human rights to community, the human rights to this earth. I think that we, the people of the United States, must take it upon ourselves to begin to enforce our human rights.
Millard: We can’t just sit back and say, oh, well, that’s the past, and sit around and toast a beer and say, oh, that’s great stuff that happened then. That work continues on today and it continues on in young people and in movements like [unintelligible] against the war and movements like the United Workers up in Baltimore, like the Coalition for Motley Workers. These are real people that are organizing within their communities for empowerment and that’s what it’s really about. It’s empowerment and empowering our communities.
Fleming: I met Martha Biggs. I know that she was from the Cabrini Green public housing. She had been evicted out of public housing for quite a time. So one day, Martha Biggs came to us, told me she was tired, you know, willing to do whatever it takes to house the children. So I consorted with some folks at the campaign and we decided that we were gonna put forth the effort to reclaim the foreclosed and abandoned property.
Martha Biggs: My name is Martha Biggs and it was also my home that we fought back and fought to retrieve because there’s a lot of people out here that don’t have a place to stay and homeless. The people that I work with feel like that’s not right, that people should have a place to stay and shouldn’t have to sleep on benches or on sidewalks.
We also fought for other people that was in foreclosure, people that was getting put out for small reasons like they done lost their job and can’t make the ends meet with the rent. We’re out here helping those people too. At this moment, I have a lot of people that’s calling. I have a lot of people that’s down for calls to open up these foreclosed buildings that no one’s living in, make them better and put people in them.
Fleming: There will be more land liberation going on throughout the United States of America. There will be more resistance to evictions and foreclosures going out through America. There will be definitely more extreme takeovers going on soon [unintelligible].
Dortch: Here in West Virginia, in one town, a plant was shut down and over half of the town’s population lost their job. These were hardworking, working class, middle-class, kind of families.
One of the things that my organization, DAWG, has been trying to do is educate what a lot of people want to call the newly poor, which are people who’ve never been poor, but they find themselves poor, and educate them and let them know there’s not poor, there’s not the working class. There’s one class.
Larin: The United Workers is part of this network and, when we see all these groups working together and we see how they’re fighting for things, we can see how these social movements are growing up. Like for a month, they want the campaign for universal healthcare. We can see the Domestic Workers United. They want also rights that before they didn’t have. We can see the CIW, the Coalition of Migrant Workers in Florida, how they are successfully organizing farm workers and getting what is right for them.
So we can see around the country how these poor people are coming together, are organizing and are stronger and they are creating a change. We need to multiply what these groups are doing. We need to multiply the organizing. We need to multiply the understanding, the commitment and the sacrifice and be ready to fight.
Tavis: We saw people who understand Dr. King’s life and legacy and we saw leaders who have a vision to share about the United States that we want to live in, leaders who are willing to fight for it.
Marian Kramer: We have a vision because we know that the society that we know can be created is a society that does not have homeless, do not have children without an education.
Taylor: The assembly to end poverty and all of the coalitions and the individuals that are involved in it are about the business of not just the plight of the poor, but the fight of the poor.
Larin: When people come together, when people decide to fight, to change the situation, they can change the situation.
Fleming: So in order for folks to really survive in America right now, they’re gonna have to come together across racial and economic barriers to ensure that the next generation, our children, does not go through this same plight that we’re going through.
Rev. Dr. Michael L. Pfleger: It’s time to wage war against poverty again; it’s time to wage war against poverty again.
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Tavis: As we close out this week on poverty in America, let me thank one last time the good folk at the Media Mobilizing Project for their outstanding work on our Poverty Tour and all of these wonderful video highlights you’ve seen all this week.
Let me also let you know that, if you missed any of the pieces themselves or our conversations this week, you can log on any time to the poverty week in its entirety at our website pbs.org.
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