Listening In: Panel on Poverty Sounds Call to Action

February 04, 2013 at 4:31 pm

In this edition of MetroFocus, we feature a video excerpt from Bob Herbert, a former New York Times columnist, who delivered opening remarks at last month’s spirited panel discussion on poverty.

Herbert, now Distinguished Senior Fellow at Demos, spoke at “Tackling Poverty,” held January 30 at El Museo del Barrio in Upper Manhattan. The discussion was sponsored by City Limits, along with the Institute for Children, Poverty, and Homelessness (ICPH). David Novarro, an anchor and TV host at WABC-TV, moderated. The panel featured Dona Anderson, Director of ICPH; Melissa Boteach, Director of Half in Ten and Poverty & Prosperity Programs at Center for American Progress; Maya Wiley, Founder and President of The Center for Social Inclusion; and Chris Brown, Director for Legislative Affairs at Policy Link.

Herbert struck a serious tone from the onset. “It’s customary when you’re giving a talk like this to start with a couple of jokes, to win the audience over and get them on your side,” Herbert began. “But we’re here to talk about poverty in the United States and there’s nothing funny about poverty– so no jokes tonight, just the truth.”

Make no mistake: This is not a fight for the faint of heart… It’s a fight that we should make. In my view, it’s a fight that we must make.

Bob Herbert, Distinguished Senior Fellow, Demos, and former New York Times op/ed columnist, delivers special remarks before a panel of local and national poverty and homelessness experts.

Novarro asked the panel what needs to happen for the country to succeed in reducing poverty in America. “We have a failure of political will in terms of elected officials,” said Wiley, a passionate speaker whose words often elicited cheering from the audience. “But that, I think, is very different from the public’s political will.” Given the hard times that so many people have faced, she said that she’s seen “more willingness to invest in people, which is really all we’re talking about—whether we’re going to invest in our people.”

Boteach said the “Half in Ten” program is working on cutting poverty in half within ten years, and that her organization has suggested a new budget to the government. “One of the things we need to do is get out of this mind set of being on the defensive, because when you’re in this crash defensive posture, it’s very difficult to do anything other than to prevent worse things from happening.” Calling budgets “moral documents as much as political documents,” she said one method to reduce poverty is to let expire a provision of the state tax that helps the top .02% of the country keep more wealth. Doing that, she claimed, “would preserve 280,000 children getting school lunch for the next 10 years.”

Herbert ended his remarks with a call to action: “We need to take this fight to the streets,” he said. “We need to march, we need to protest, we need to badger the media to pay attention to the poor and the unemployed and the young people of America whose futures are being so cruelly curtailed by the unfairness of the economic system.”

Continued Herbert, “Make no mistake: This is not a fight for the faint of heart… It’s a fight that we should make. In my view, it’s a fight that we must make.”

Watch the full panel discussion below:

ICPH and City Limits hold the second Tackling Poverty NYC session on Wednesday, January 30 at El Museo del Barrio in Manhattan.