Tavis Smiley and Dr. Cornel West have put together an exhaustive week-long television series on poverty in America–set to run nightly next week on PBS. The pair went on an 18-city, 11-state tour of America this past August to report their series. On top of their in-the-field efforts, Smiley landed interviews with Jeffrey Sachs and Kathleen Sebelius among others.
As we reported yesterday, Smiley and Dr. West will be in Los Angeles this weekend to promote their series and to support the Occupy Los Angeles protesters outside of LA City Hall. We spoke with Smiley and Dr. West about their efforts and about the recent Wall Street protests that have spread across the nation.
FishbowlLA: With 50 million Americans living below the poverty line, I imagine you didn’t have to travel very far to find people to interview. Where did you go?
Smiley: We went everywhere. We started where we should have–on a Native American reservation in Wisconsin. We ended in Memphis where Dr. King was assassinated. Before he was killed, he was marching with sanitation workers. He was engaged in his own poor people’s campaign.
In between those two places we talked to all races colors and creeds. Coal miners in West Virginia. We stayed all night on streets in DC. We spoke with military veterans in Ohio. We met with children in Detroit, senior citizens in Chicago, immigrant workers in Atlanta. We met with people of all races, creeds all ilk and that’s why we can say now, with certainty, that there is a new face of poverty in America. The new poor are the former middle class, and we saw that every where we went.