Cornel West on poverty issues in the U.S.

Princeton University Professor Dr. Cornel West listens during at a “Taking power back from banks for consumers, and the fight against poverty” event Jan. 12, 2012 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

Last year, famed commentator Tavis Smiley and renowed academic Cornel West launched their first poverty tour. They traveled the country spreading the word about poverty, and the problems it presents.

Well, they're back at it again. Today they're launching "The Poverty Tour 2.0" and this time around, they're focusing on battleground political states.

"We're simply calling for the incumbent of the White House to have a major conference on the eradication of poverty," West says. "Bring in all the creative minds -- left-wing, center and right-wing."

He adds, "We can learn much from a variety of different perspectives by making poor people's lives a priority in the same way we make war in Afghanistan a priority, the same way we make prisons a priority, the same way we make bailing out banks a priority. Treat poor people the same way you treat investment banks on Wall Street."

West says that the conversation about poverty is in line with the major concern on the minds of many Americans: jobs.

"Even when they talk about jobs, we're talking about jobs with a living wage -- 60 percent of the jobs that people talk about these days end up generating a low-wage job," West points out. "So you end up with a working poor -- it ought to be an oxymoron. It's not a matter of trashing the rich, it's a matter of hating injustice."

The tour is winding through major swing states: Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Florida. But West is quick to insist that this isn't just a call to support President Obama and the Democrats in the election.

"The Democratic Party's too beholden to the oligarchs too, that is part of the problem," he says. "Yes, Barack Obama is somebody who leans in our direction, but at the same time, I've been scathing in my critique of Barack Obama in terms of his Wall Street government that he put in place with Tim Geithner and company."

West says that the Republicans' points about poverty during its national convention felt "primarily rhetorical."

"It's one thing to talk about equality of opportunity. It's another thing to be a Republican party so tied to the oligarchs of our day, so tied to the wealthy sectors of our society," West says. "But in a democracy, you have to talk about public interest and common good. In order to do that, everybody's got to share in not just the prosperity, but also the sacrfice."

About the author

Jeff Horwich is the interim host of Marketplace Morning Report and a sometime-Marketplace reporter.

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