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D.C. forum discusses rising poverty, unemployment

Caitlin Yoshiko Kandil | 1/17/2012, 3:52 p.m.

She also questioned the criminalization of poverty, offering the example that when a person applies for food stamps, his or her information is automatically given to the criminal justice system.

Moore, meanwhile, took on American politicians. “They’re not leaders, they’re followers — they follow the money,” he said, and encouraged listeners to go after the “puppet masters,” not just the “puppets” in order to restore a democracy “hanging on by its last one or two threads.”

The activist filmmaker also begged President Obama to adopt a more aggressive approach toward domestic poverty. “You have the opportunity to be the Roosevelt of the 21st century,” he said.

While most speakers called for sweeping changes to the political and economic order, Orman argued for individual education and incremental change. Without understanding how the financial system works in this country, she said, “you are setting yourself up to be a victim to a system that wants you to fail.” She also explained that she is fighting the way credit scores are calculated, and wants to create a system in which cash and debit payments contribute to FICO scores, not just credit.

Carter and Escarra also offered solutions stemming from their own experiences. Carter, known for “greening the ghetto” in the South Bronx, New York, suggested green jobs would address the twin problems of environmental degradation and poverty, while Escarra, president of Feeding America, explained that alleviating the hunger faced by 50 million Americans today would help lift some of the burden off the poor. “Hunger is one solvable problem,” she said.

Echoing Occupy Wall Street, Moore offered a list of solutions that gained the most applause of the night.

“Tax the rich, end the wars, take the money out of politics, corporations are not people,” he said. “And I want to say this to the one percent who might be watching — how many gated communities can you build?”