For six months, social justice activist-environmentalist Van Jones was President Barack Obama’s Special Advisor for Green Jobs until controversy over past remarks and opposition from people such as Glenn Beck gave him cause to resign.
Van Jones, the author of “The Green Collar Economy” – the first environmental book written by an African American to make the New York Times bestseller list – brought his message to Memphis last week.
Undeterred, Jones continues his fight for a clean and green economy that will help the dwindling middle class and low-income communities, create wealth and protect the environment. Last Saturday (Jan. 15), Jones spoke at the Mid-South Peace & Justice Center’s 29th anniversary celebration, Living the Legacy of Nonviolence, January 15 at First Congregation Church in Midtown.
Jones sees jobs based on sun and wind as the key to America’s future prosperity. These jobs would pay decent wages and be upwardly mobile, reduce waste and pollution and benefit the earth. For example, manufacturing wind turbines could put idle automobile workers back to work and installing solar panels could remove Pookie and Run-Run from the corner and onto rooftops. (Note: Both wind turbines and solar panels make electricity, which can be returned to power companies and lower utility bills.)
“If you want the jobs of tomorrow, you need to have the products of tomorrow,” said Jones, best-selling author of “The Green-Collar Economy” and co-founder of Green For All, whose a mission is building a green economy strong enough to lift people out of poverty. It provides green jobs training, advises local governments on how to set and meet energy-saving goals, and mentors leaders in disadvantaged communities to be key players in the emerging economy.
Jones said wind platforms could be put in the Gulf where “massive wind slicks” and “sun spills” would not be a problem. He said farmers could be paid for putting a wind turbine on their land, growing energy crops (if the corn lobby was out of the way) and putting in towers to pull carbon from the air (if the cap-and-trade bill had passed). Moreover, support for urban gardeners would create vegetable greenhouses and put food production centers in cities.
Stressing a clean and green economy should include everybody, he said eco-apartheid keeps access to fresh vegetables and healthy food out of low-income areas. And, he challenges environmentalists who say there is no throw-away stuff, such as aluminum cans, to also support the idea that there are no throw-away children.
He said that juveniles should not be thrown into jail as nonviolent drug users. Adding, that hypocrisy is rich kids go to rehab or to Europe while poor kids go to jail and it would be cheaper to send poor kids to Europe than to prison.
Van Jones, whose real name is Anthony K. Jones, has roots in Orange Mound. His father, who died three years ago, was born and raised in Memphis. Willie Anthony Jones, a middle school principal, taught his son many things about people and life.
“Son, there is nothing that anybody can give you to stop you from being poor. They can keep you from being broke. But in six months, you’ll be broke again. You must climb the ladder out of poverty.”
Jones, who born in Jackson (Tenn.) in 1968, said it was the year they tried to assassinate hope – with the deaths of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy and rioting at the Democratic National Convention. Introduced by Congressman Steve Cohen, he told the 300-plus audience on Saturday that it has taken 40 years to bring hope back. And, although he himself had been targeted by the “politics of hate, I will not give up on hope.”
“We’ve got to push ahead,” he said.
Appointed by President Obama in March 2009, the UT Martin/Yale Law School graduate said that hope and change were treated equally during the presidential campaign.
But “Change is much harder than hope,” he said, illustrating the difference. Hope is looking at a magazine photo of a physically fit person and imagining yourself in that condition. Change is going to a gym and working out on a regular basis. He said change has opposition.
Jones took on his detractors during the speech. There is a movement in the country named for a beverage, he said, whose proponents believe that the problem in America is its diversity. However, the diversity of America’s people is a “miracle in human history” and something to be cherished and protected. So Muslims and Latinos are not the problem.
“We don’t have jobs in this country” because both political parties voted to send jobs overseas, to bankrupt schools to build prisons and to deregulate Wall Street (causing the housing crisis). He said they were bad ideas and we share the responsibility – “we all went along with those bad ideas.” The main advocate for the Green Jobs Act signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2007, Jones said that the ideas of the (Tea Party) movement will make matters worse and must be opposed.
In addition to founding Green for All, Jones co-founded the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights and Color of Change, both based in Oakland, Calif. An online community, Color of Change is said to have more than 700,000 members, making it the largest African-American online political organization in the country.