Ernesto Cortés Jr. has an important question about the much touted economic recovery in the United States after the great recession. Who has benefited from this recovery?
Cortés says that while assets like stocks, bonds and real estate are increasing in value, wages “have not kept up in any shape or form with assets.
“Public policy has been focused on how we make wealthy people wealthier,” Cortés said in a telephone interview with The New Tri-State Defender. “How do we make it possible to share the prosperity without going into debt?”
Cortés will be speaking at the National Civil Rights Museum at 450 Mulberry from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Feb. 6 in a presentation called “Economic Recovery for Whom?: Who gets squeezed and what can we do about it.” The presentation is free, open to the public and part of the Catalyst For Change Distinguished Speaker Series.
Cortés is the co-director of the Industrial Areas Foundation, which provides leadership training and civics education to poor and moderate-income people across the U.S. and the UK.
He describes himself as an organizer who teaches others to do the same. Cortés said there are two kinds of power — organized money and organized people.
“I teach people who want to be professional organizers how to do that and I work with them in the building of their organization,” he said.
He said these are typically groups that want to work for change in communities, such as churches, clinics, settlement houses, schools and teacher’s organizations.
His work has taken him throughout the Southwest and Cortés said that while he doesn’t have a project in Tennessee right now, he’d like to help here if he can.
Cortés said President Roosevelt’s New Deal policies helped level the playing field for people, for awhile, but they began losing faith in government to make positive changes beginning in about 1980 and that trend has continued. At such times the public looks for a savior, someone who says they can solve all the problems.
Sometimes frustration leads to protest, but Cortés said society has to go beyond protest to solve its problems.
He said the civil rights protests of the 1960s “ended a national disgrace…
“Now we need to learn how to do politics,” he said. By that, Cortés said he means learning to discuss problems, deliberation, debate and negotiation.
Faith Morris, chief marketing and external affairs officer, said the museum continues to explore why the disenfranchised are disproportionally impacted by today’s economic policies and practices.
“Among our experts on the subject is Ernesto Cortés Jr. who tells us the nation’s most ‘economically vulnerable are bearing the cost of change but not benefitting from a dynamic economy,’” she said. “You can’t help but think about the 400 years of slavery that built this nation’s economy on the backs of slaves with free labor.
“Cortés’s talk also will further explain James Baldwin’s musings that ‘anyone who has ever struggled with poverty knows how extremely expensive it is to be poor.’”