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“Poverty is threatening our very democracy” ——- Tavis Smiley to kick off national lecture tour on poverty in Indianapolis on Jan. 18

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I attended quite a compelling panel discussion yesterday in Indianapolis, “Poverty in America, From Safety-Net to Reliance,” featuring Tavis Smiley and John Graham, Dean of IU’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs.

The program began with a pair of SPEA graduate students presenting data showing that poverty in Indiana is worse than the usual government statistics indicate. A couple of the many stats they presented: 1. Per capita income in Indiana declined from 2000 to 2010 and is the lowest among states in our region. 2. Families on food stamps in Marion County grew by 203% from 2000 to 2010 and in the counties surrounding Marion County, it was even worse — 342% growth during that decade.

“Poverty is threatening our threatening our very democracy,” Tavis Smiley said at the beginning of his remarks. “It is now a matter of national security.”

Smiley then quoted former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, “You can either have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few or you can have a democracy.”

Smiley, an IU SPEA graduate, said that 1/2 of people in this country, 150 million Americans, are either in or near poverty. He spoke passionately about his plans to conduct a national Poverty Manifesto tour in which he and Cornel West will visit college campuses around the country.

During these visits, Smiley and West will seek to engage college students to use social media and other means to pressure and convince the Obama administration of two things: 1) the time is now, during Obama’s second term to “stiffen his spine” and make a major policy address on reducing and eradicating poverty, and 2) Obama needs to convene a White House panel on poverty with two goals – cut poverty in half in 10 years and eradicate poverty in 25 years.

Smiley and West are kicking off their national college tour with a free lecture at 7:30 this Friday, Jan. 18 at Clowes Hall at Butler University. http://www.cloweshall.org/calendar/event.lasso?id=19252

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