Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Van Jones’s Ousting: A Wake-Up Call for Green Economy Advocates

Van Jones’s Ousting: A Wake-Up Call for Green Economy Advocates
Posted September 7th, 2009

Progressiviews: Blog from Aaron Lehmer

September 2009

by Aaron Lehmer, Network Development Director

A dear friend of the earth, a staunch defender of justice, and a bold champion for a solar-powered America has just been forced out of the Obama Administration through a clever campaign of deceit, malice, and fear. FOX News’ right-wing attack dog, Glenn Beck, and his supporters cherry picked statements from Van Jones’ past, mercilessly branded him a “communist”, and wrapped up their bogey-man caricature in a bow with dire warnings of plans to destroy the “America we all grew up in.”

Having worked closely with Jones at the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, I can attest to his steadfast commitment to working within the system – harnessing the promise of our much-heralded free market and democratic institutions – to build a “green economy that lifts all boats.” Far from some lefty ideological plot, our Green-Collar Jobs Campaign brought together a broad range of established players in the local economy – businesses, educators, environmentalists, job trainers, unions, and yes, even some of those pesky community organizers – to launch the Oakland Green Jobs Corps.

Thanks to the incredible work of Green For All, the Apollo Alliance, and others, this model has spread like wildfire across the nation, inspiring dozens of states and cities to launch their own efforts putting the unemployed and underemployed back to work retrofitting our buildings, installing solar and wind systems, and greenscaping our urban centers. It’s no exaggeration to say that Van’s vision of fighting poverty and pollution simultaneously through green-collar jobs has catalyzed a movement – and earned him the admiration of people across the political spectrum. Indeed, his hard-won federal Green Jobs Act, committing $500 million toward green job training, was initially signed in to law by none other than the leftist radical President George W. Bush.

But all of these political smear tactics are really just a cover for the real reason Jones was targeted: his vision of a truly inclusive green economy is catching on, and it actually is a threat to business as usual. One of FOX’s commentators, Phil Kerpen, misplaced the threat at the doorstep of creeping Soviet-style socialism, asserting that Van’s “‘green jobs’ concept was merely a new face on the old ideology of central economic planning and control, an alternative and a threat to free market capitalism.” Fear-mongering knows no bounds.

Given the scores of decidedly pro-market corporations, trade groups, and financial services firms partnering with the Jones-affiliated Apollo Alliance (see full list here), Kerpen’s claim is laughable on its face. On a deeper level, however, Jones’ vision of an inclusive green economy is profound in that it forces Americans to acknowledge their segregationist past and to take a stand for an ecologically sound future in which all of us can thrive. Now that’s radical. It’s also vital if we’re to make it as one nation through the increasingly troubled waters of climate instability, the twilight years of cheap oil, and what’s likely to be a protracted period of economic decline.

As a middle-class white activist, I have a choice: I can ignore the fact that every day, I’m held up by centuries of hard work by formerly enslaved Africans, along with better schooling and job opportunities thanks to decades of racial discrimination against their descendants by schools, banks, and corporations. Or I can acknowledge these advantages, and work to neutralize them as a way to fulfill America’s promise of equality for all under the law.

Building a truly inclusive green economy will demand a level playing field in education, job training, and hiring for those from low-income communities and among the historically underserved. We have the resources to do this, but will privileged Americans extend a hand of partnership across race and class to build the pathways out of poverty into green prosperity that Van has called for? Or will they succumb to bitter hatred, Glenn Beck-style?

Van’s effective and passionate calls for a clean energy economy must have worried America’s old energy CEOs, whose deep pockets typically leave no politician behind. Earlier this year, International Energy Agency Chief Economist Fatih Birol warned that the world is headed for a catastrophic energy crunch by 2020, thanks to the plummeting output of the world’s oil fields. Given that oil is the lifeblood of industrial civilization, learning to make do with less and less of it while transitioning to renewable energy is now all the more urgent. If the green economy message gets too widely accepted, that could mean a shift in billions of investments and subsidies away from fossil fuels toward energy efficiency, clean power, and alternative transportation systems. Heaven forbid!

So a green economy that lifts all boats may not be as easily accepted as we advocates have come to believe, at least not while vested interests are controlling the debate and scaring people from seeing its true promise. Van’s ousting is truly a wake-up call for deeper thinking about how to build a broad-based, resilient movement that can counter these challenges head-on, and to connect more deeply with Americans from all walks of life about how an inclusive green economy cannot only heal our troubled planet, but also heal our troubled past.

Despite this setback, Van will undoubtedly continue on as a powerful advocate for green-collar jobs. And our movement, against the odds, will surely grow by leaps and bounds. Fear cannot stop a potent vision such as this.


* Green For All, a national organization Jones founded, has issued the following statement: “[Now] is the time to come together around the values our movement stands for: clean air, healthy communities, good jobs, and opportunity for all.” Please sign the Petition in support of the Green Jobs Movement.
* An independent “I Stand With Van Jones” Facebook campaign has already attracted thousands of supporters within the first day of its launch. Take a moment to Stand With Van through Facebook.

Aaron G. Lehmer is the Co-founder and Network Development Director of Bay Localize, an Oakland-based nonprofit working to build a stronger, more self-reliant Bay Area. He was formerly the Policy Director for the Ella Baker Center’s Green-Collar Jobs Campaign

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