Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Dark Dynamic Duo

Mine is a university town and because of the university we get to see many nationally and internationally known figures come to our university to speak.  In the past few years I've seen, for free, Spike Lee, Vice President Al Gore, Amy Goodman, and Vandanna Shiva.  This year we got lucky and were able to land Tavis Smiley and Dr. Cornell West on just a few days notice. 

I've seen both men on TV and listened to them for many years on various radio programs and I've admired both men for a very long time.  So for me this was a thrill to get to see them speak live and it was an added thrill because they were speaking on behalf of the book they just co wrote The Rich and the Rest of Us.

The lighting in the Culp Center auditorium is the absolute worst.  But that's Smiley and West taking questions from the nearly standing room only crowd.

Smiley spoke first.  Since yesterday was MLK day he spoke about how King  viewed poverty as a national menace.  He told us that in King's view poverty was one of the three main threats to our nation, the others being militarism and racism.  He also talked about how proud he was that Obama had won a second term but how that we need to push Obama to do the progressive things we want him to to so that Obama will become a transformational president and not a transactional one.  He cited MLK's influence on LBJ and how Fredrick Douglas pushed Lincoln to become great.

He also talked about how he and West became vilified in many quarters of the progressive movement for daring to push Obama to do what he promised in his first run for office.  He made the point that West said all along he was going to do any thing to get Obama elected and that once in office he was going to be Obama's biggest critic in order to keep him on the right path.  

I enjoyed Smiley's talk and he is exactly like you see him on TV.  He's very proper, upstanding, has a great command of language, and he seems to be unfailingly nice to everyone.  He's a stout fellow who looks like he'd be the one you want watching your back in a bar fight.

Cornell West looked a lot bigger in real life than he does on TV.  He's a tall wiry guy with a huge afro and a grin that splits the room wide open and makes it seem like he's your long lost best buddy.  He's much more dynamic and engaging in person than he is on TV.  I found myself hypnotized by his stage presence and by his persona.  I can see why students flock to his classes where ever he teaches.

West spoke more about abstract things than Smiley did, but that's they way they want it.  Smiley builds the house, West decorates it.  He talked about how poverty isn't just about money, although that's a huge part of it.  He spoke about how we're poor culturally, spiritually, and how we've become used to inequality, it's almost taken for granted these days.  He talked about how we've sanitized the teaching of Martin Luther King, about how we're all connected to one another through various traditions, culturally, musically, and spiritually.  He spoke about how poverty divides us, for instance in education rich kids get taught but poor kids get tested.  He made the point that how little poverty there is in Finland and Norway and how both countries education systems rank at the top, while ours ranks 21st in the world.  Eliminating poverty is not something that's impossible, many capitalist countries have done it, what prevents us from doing it is having the will to do it.  

Both men are passionate about the issue of eradicating poverty and advocating for social and economic justice.  My favorite line of the night was when West said, "Justice is what love looks like in public."  To me the night was a smashing success and it was a huge thrill to see such prominent men out doing something about poverty and injustice, and to see them come to this conservative area I live in was even better.  It was great.

And of course there was one small little know it all right wing troll who tried to toss a wet blanket on things.  Both Smiley and West spoke about a living wage replacing the minimum wage and this seemed to rankle this little troll.  He admonished them by telling them that a living wage was unsustainable for business and that if we expected the government to pay it, we were crazy because the government had run the post office into the ground financially, so how could we expect them to function properly and pay a living wage.   I cornered the kid out in the lobby after he tried to slink off to tell his Ron Paul buddies how he tore down the two scary black know it all intellectuals.  I reminded the kid that the post office was showing a profit, they always demand any business, even non profit ones that operate in the public interest, turn a profit.  But then the Republicans in Congress changed the rules and demanded that the post office set aside funds to fully fund pensions for employees they have not even hired yet.  Of course the kid said I was wrong with out showing me any proof of his claims and walked away.  


Barbara Bruederlin said...

Despite the limitations of the venue, it sounds like a great night. I find myself going to lectures than concerts or plays lately; they generally give more food for thought.

gmb said...

Good for you. Confront the assholes and make them squirm. And thanks for the review. I'll look out for them in my neck o' the woods.