a brilliant Black woman and two beautiful Black kids. It matters. Symbolism does matter.
I want to warn us to not be seduced by symbolism in this second term. If we are, we’re the only folk who are going to be seduced by symbolism. For everybody else who is in that line wrapped around the White House, demanding the president now respond to his or her agenda, starting with our Hispanic brothers and sisters, symbolism is not enough for them. They don’t want symbolism; they want substance. We got to make sure that we don’t fall for that in the second term.
EBONY: Unemployment is at an all time high. What other issues should we expect will be addressed?
CW: Unemployment is a crucial one. Not just jobs with low wages, but jobs with a living wage. I also think he needs to use his bully pulpit to stop the bogus drugs, the war on drugs, and to try to transform the new Jim Crow. See, if we had a president in 1945 who was Black and didn’t say another word about Jim Crow, the symbol would only go so far. But we got a new Jim Crow and this president knows the complex ain’t no joke. It affects our focus. You see it with all of this killing across our cities. You see it with the dropping out of schools and so forth. If somehow we can get jobs and education in there as an alternative to the new Jim Crow, we can have a new America and a new Black America. He’s got to hit that head-on. That’s part of the struggle against poverty that was Tavis’s idea to have the poverty tour.
TS: [President Obama’s] inauguration this year is on the King holiday, January 21. Martin King gave his life for what? Fighting for poor people. This president is going to be inaugurated on Dr. King’s holiday. We’re going to Washington prior to that on the evening of January the 17th for a nationally televised symposium on CSPAN, on PBS and on Public Radio, talking about poverty. This symposium is created for a specific purpose. The panelists include Cornel West and Marian Wright Edelman from the Children’s Defense Fund and just a broad array of experts on poverty. In his first term, the first thing he did was sign the Lilly Ledbetter Act. In his second term, we’re demanding and asking that he establish a White House conference on the eradication of poverty. Bring all the experts together to the White House, from the left and from the right, so that we can craft a national plan that can cut poverty in half in 10 years and move toward eradicating it in 25. It can be done… The first term is all about getting some points on the scoreboard and hoping for a second term…We’re in the second term. He’s iconic already because he was the first Black. But I know Barack Obama, and I know that’s not enough for him. He doesn’t want his major claim to fame to be he was the first Negro president. What he wants to do is be a transformational president. On January 17, in the heat of all the celebration, we are going to say, “Mr. President, we love you. We respect you. We’re glad you won. We support you. In this second term, you’ve got to take a risk.” There is no greater legacy than Barack Obama could have as president than to lift millions of people out of poverty.
EBONY: What do you say to people who are sitting back saying, “Here they come again starting trouble?”
CW: You know what I’d say to them? God is going to trouble the water. We want to be in the troubling waters in order to bear witness. Sometimes God is in that trouble to wake up, to change the world.
TS: Our people, too often, miss this. It is an honor to be held accountable. It means that people have a trust in you, a faith in you, a belief in you, and so they hold you accountable…That’s why we engage in things called contracts. We want to hold people accountable. The contract that the president signs with the American people is a contract [in which] he tells us this is what he’s going to do. We want to hold him to that. We’re not trying to demonize the president or cast aspersion on him. There is honor in accountability. Our people need to understand this. They can hear everything else the president says, but somehow they miss it every time he says, “I need you all to hold me accountable.” This is not Cornel West or Tavis Smiley saying this. He has said repeatedly, “Hold me accountable.” He has said repeatedly, “Be the wind at my back.” Now the president is telling us in a second term to, “Go out and make me do it.” Are we