Civil rights activists denounce prominent Obama critics

Listen to an audio story by Annenberg Radio News

imageA small crowd holding “Obama 2012” campaign signs stood on the sidewalk outside talk show host Tavis Smiley’s headquarters today. They were there to denounce Smiley and Author Cornel West’s call to challenge the president in 2012.

West and Smiley have been critical of President Obama’s economic policies, arguing that the president hasn’t done enough to help the black community, which has been hit particularly hard by the recession. The two went on a national “poverty tour,” highlighting the plight of poor communities across the nation.

Najee Ali of project Islamic hope insists that today’s demonstration was not a protest against Smiley and West.

“I have respect for Cornell West and Tavis Smiley, but that doesn’t mean I have to agree with them on their opinion on the president of the United States,” Ali said. “You don’t speak for us. We support president Obama and his policies.”

Ali called the Smiley-West poverty tour “nonsense” and said that if the two men were serious about addressing poverty, they’d get behind president Obama and his jobs bill.

Claire Gentry showed up to support the president. She says criticism of this administration by two leading black figures is unproductive.

Unless they have actually run something themselves “a complex entity such as the United States of America, they have no idea how difficult the situation is. It’s the most difficult economic environment since the 1930s.”

Smiley, West, and others said they’re seeking progressive primary challengers who can debate Obama on policy issues. Ali and others see their efforts as divisive to the black community.

“We cannot turn against each other,” Ali said. “We have to lift each other up. That’s our message to Tavis and Cornell West. Lift the brother up. Stop tearing him down.”

A spokeswoman for Tavis Smiley declined to comment on the protesters’ criticisms.