"We all blew it"


“I think Van Jones is a big part of the future of environmentalism,” Gus Speth, dean of Yale’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and co-founder of the Natural Resources Defense Council, told New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert earlier this year. “He, more than anyone else, is bringing together a concern about the environment and a concern about social justice. And, if I had just one thing to say, it is that we in the environmental movement cannot fail Van Jones.”

Less than a year later, have environmentalists already failed Van Jones?

The Monday after Jones resigned from his post as a White House adviser to the Council on Environmental Quality, Arla Shephard and I drove south from Colorado to interview environmental justice activists and community organizers in New Mexico. Jones’ resignation, and the racially loaded witch-hunt that prompted it, made our trip seem all the more timely.

When we asked the organizers we met with about the environmental justice movement's achievements over the past two decades, many of them cited the appointments of Van Jones, Hilda Solis (Secretary of Labor), and Lisa Jackson (EPA Administrator) as proof of the movement’s progress.

But Jones’ departure was a frightening reminder of how much work remains, said Robby Rodriguez, executive director of the Southwest Organizing Project, and stark evidence that Obama’s election did not dawn a post-racial society.

What was revolutionary about the environmental justice movement when it first formed, Rodriguez said, was its idea of broadening environmental discourse to consider people, economics, and race. When we talk about environmental issues today, he said, people and economics are almost always a part of the conversation, but an honest discussion about race is still absent.

As arguably the most prominent environmental justice advocate in the nation, Jones was working to change that. And his White House appointment showed his message was gaining traction. But Jones' swift takedown and the racial scare tactics deployed against him, Rodriguez said, “[don't] send a good message to any of us doing this work that we can aspire to influence the highest levels of government."

Rodriguez wondered why white progressives and environmentalists, many of whom have heaped praise on Jones in the past, kept mum as Glenn Beck went on a hysterical rampage to chase Jones out of Washington. Did mainstream white enviros really see Jones as one of their own?

Noting that “no major white green groups” came to Jones’ defense until after the deed was done, blogger Ludovic Blain attributes their silence to “racismblindness,” or a “surprisingly high tolerance for racism.”

Carl Pope acknowledged as much. “We all blew it,” the executive director of the Sierra Club wrote in a blog posted just after Jones’ resignation. Here’s a portion of Pope’s mea culpa:

This was a lynch mob and, when it started forming a month ago, we didn't take it seriously enough. When I saw the first Glenn Beck piece on Van Jones and the Apollo Alliance as the new vast left-wing conspiracy, I could not take it seriously. Silence enabled Fox to keep pushing. The statements for which Jones apologized -- the reference to the right as "assholes" and saying that Bush was talking "like a crack-head" were such ordinary political discourse -- think Rahm Emmanuel, think Dick Cheney saying "fuck yourself" to Senator Leahy, think Tom Friedman dubbing Bush "the addict-in-chief" -- that I didn't understand why an apology was necessary; I assumed it would blow over.

Well, that was a mistake. So was the decision by the White House to treat the initial attacks not as part of an assault on the president but, instead, to allow them to be viewed as being about Van Jones. What we underestimated was the power of the fact that both Jones and the Barack Obama are black. Yes, the hysteria was about politics -- I don't think Fox News really cares about Jones's ethnicity -- but it was enabled by race. Calling Bush a "crack-head" is seen by a large part of America as worse than calling him "addict-in-chief" because crack is not just a drug -- it is a drug used largely by black people. It reminds those Americans who are still uncomfortable with Barack Obama that we have a black president.
Van Jones - Who "blew it"?
Felice Pace
Felice Pace
Sep 15, 2009 10:06 AM
I don't think "We" blew it; "They" don't listen to most of us. Here's who I think blew it:

1. Barak Obama: He should have recognized that Jones became a target in large part because he is black. The racists don't think they can take out BO yet so they needed a surrogate. The president should have realized this and refused to accept the resignation.

2. The Environmental Establishment: Having signaled in numerous ways (e.g.gushing about Salazar as Sect. of Interior) that they would be compliant with the Administration's tepid environmental agenda, the Administration was confident that they would not get up in arms over throwing Van Jones to the wolves.

All the rest of us (the grassroots environmental movement) could do was protest the result; we had no leverage to change the Administration's political calculations or the access to know what was developing. Potentially the environmental grassroots could have the power to make a difference on political calculations like those the Obama Administration made with Jones. But that would require that we:
    1. Unite
    2. Get out from under the dominance of the Establishment Enviros.

I see very little work being done by the grassroots environmental movement in either of these areas. As a group, grassroots enviros prefer to work to address specific environmental problems and not to work to change the structural and power relationships within the movement and society which determine so much of how environmental issues play out. As a result we will likely continue to suffer the dominance of the Establishment Enviros and remain powerless to materially impact political decisions like the decision to jettison Van Jones.
Van Jones
Dave Skinner
Dave Skinner
Sep 15, 2009 02:02 PM
Aw gee...
Racism did have a certain amount to do with Van Jones' departure, but it was self-inflicted. Here's a guy who tells the East Bay Express, a friendly alt weekly, his arrival at Yale with a Panthers book bag, his radicalization in the Rodney King days and his foundation of a neo-Maoist group -- in the post USSR era, no less. That's plenty radical, no matter your paint job.
Plenty racial too. Van's worldview is focused through a racial lens, period. Never mind his organizing a protest in support of that Mumia guy, who has been a touchstone for the racialist black Left since forever. Mumia's color doesn't excuse the fact he was found guilty of murder.
Never mind the simple fact that environmentalism has been pretty much a rich white urban liberal sort of thing, which is shameful considering that the worst environments tend to be in urban minority neighborhoods. Much sexier, and much more lucrative, to "save" the boonies rather than play white bwana to the ghetto, which is how it would look. I mean, let's have Sally Struthers greening the Oakland streets, eh?
White Greens have, with the not particularly notable exception of Rodney Coronado and Jarid Manos, not had many "names" of color.
And should I raise the point Winona La Duke (another Green of Color) was running mate to Ralph Nader, who ALSO signed that crazy 2004 truther petition?
My bottom line is that it is dishonest to throw the race card on Van Jones. Van was important and useful to Greens in terms of expanding the political base for environmentalism, which was the reasoning driving the Apollo Alliance.
Now he's useful for expanding awareness of the core values of the environmental movement. I mean, I heard Valerie Jarrett. So don't deflect, okay?
Capitalism is hard to defend
Norma J F Harrison
Norma J F Harrison
Sep 15, 2009 05:43 PM
It's hard to find the wherewithal to support some one/action that touts a program that is like all the other programs said to do good things for ?people/?Earth, but is really the same - trying to get noticed to be accepted.
Jones's has been program that fits the capitalist model, using non-union labor, consuming 'green' materials - better than not but to what end - still consuming in order to get ahead; often in urban 'removal' situations, from where poor people have had to move out because they couldn't pay the bills there.
...and the Ella Baker Center urges hip-hop recording by performers who then go out onto the street seeking buyers for the plethora of production of discs; seeking success for individuals which must leave other unsuccessful performers behind, the typical capitalist kind of effort.
...imagine their disappointment... their outporing of effort to little avail....
Theirs amounts to a step up from begging. Production of excess goods for sale is capitalism - competition is central.
Jones' solutions mimic the customary consumerist effort to profit.
Jones keeps his job administering putatively helpful programs - helpful because he, like Obama - has an engaging self-assured attractive manner. He got patted on the back often enough, mostly by white sympathizers, that he felt he had something going.
Now, out in the real world he's faced , as is Obama, with the facts of who owns us and Earth, for which not Jones nor Obama benefit.
The workers are hired temporarily from the armies of the unemployed, left without jobs again when the work at a site is done; with minimal if any opportunities to advance with income, security, general comfort at work. All the factors that make jobs unattractive in this society, except for how desperately we need them for survival and hope accrue to these jobs as well.
Jones keeps his job by syncretizing - going along - leaving left-directed objectives so he can at least get concession from the system. Capitalism is not a victimless crime. It's abuse of us - of labor, and of Earth -
But you KNOW that.
Jones is not a bad guy. He's tried what's possible - for him and for as many as can connect with him. It's in the usual tradition of a successful business here.
But his work is not the heroism claimed for him.
The support that follows him MUST claim that we cannot create justice out of what amounts to crass commercialism - this work being slightly less crass than some other work. ...although, we all see the constant call that this venture is green, is healthy, is caring for the broad interests we have - much as is claimed for U.S. military ventures throughout the world.
There actually could be a good result among the horrible ones, from U.S.'s bombing slaughter, Earth-murder by war.
I wonder if that good result could have arisen by another means than U.S. invasion-attack....?
It's next to impossible in this society to stick with the original plan, as Jones might actually have thought a while back - to build socialist struggle. Maybe he thinks that's what he's doing. I haven't had a way to ask him - if he'd answer...
I say it's harder to give up honest principles, as do these kinds of efforts.
There's no achievement in obtaining profiteering success for a few people. It goes on all the time - for a few people. The rulers, our Owners are not stupid. They're the best students of Marx; they have classic educations, so they'll know exactly how to keep the yoke on us.
Van Jones
Sep 15, 2009 07:14 PM
Van Jones is an avowed communist and his views are not in the direction I want this country to go. Wait for the next election and the ether will have worn off most voters and we will have a huge back lash toward the center right country we are.
Blaming the victim disempowers; getting power
Evan Ravitz
Evan Ravitz
Sep 15, 2009 08:48 PM
This repeats the canard that WE are at fault when we can't "hold our leaders accountable" or "make them" stick to their ideals. Leaders, like Obama and Van Jones, have failed us, in this case by folding instead of fighting.

There's ONE mechanism that "makes" the government do the right thing: Here in Colo., ballot initiatives gave us the country's first Renewable Energy Mandate (Amendment 37), the country's strongest ban on lobbyists giving politicians ANYTHING (41), campaign finance reform (27), increased K-12 funding (23), Background Checks at Gun Shows (22), Medical Marijuana (20), cleaner hog farms (14), Term Limits (12), etc. just in the last 6 general elections. Research it yourself with the National Conference of State Legislatures' database: http://www.ncsl.org/programs/legismgt/elect/dbintro.htm

With NATIONAL ballot initiatives, we'd have national health care and an end to the wars right quick. THEN, there'd be money to make a carbon tax palatable to voters. Etc.

Until then, we are BEGGARS in our own land, as Sen. Mike Gravel says. He has the best project for better and NATIONAL ballot initiatives: http://Vote.org Endorsed by Paul Hawken, Ralph Nader, Pete Seeger, Howard Zinn...
Sep 17, 2009 09:04 AM
I am so sick of the race thing.It seems when no one can articulate what they really want to say they pull the race crap.Obviously the Obama team realized they cant have loose lips on the team.Its never worked for any Prez.It always causes trouble.Between you and Prez. Carter I counldnt find a better example of racism.Get over it. Greg White Loomis Ca.
considering race
Cally Carswell
Cally Carswell
Sep 17, 2009 10:07 AM
I think it's entirely appropriate to consider the role race played in Van Jones' resignation. Glenn Beck's attacks against him were certainly racially loaded. And they came within the context of recent comments by Beck that seem intended to stoke racial tensions, including Beck's now notorious assertion that President Obama "has a deep-seated hatred for white people." Isn't this worth analyzing?
Van Jones
kenneth keffer
kenneth keffer
Sep 19, 2009 12:11 AM
Are you saying that Mr. Carter is a racist? The last time I heard "Get over it" Bush had been appointed prez by the Supreme Court, I ain't over it yet. Look at the signs some of the tea party goers were carrying and tell me that wasn't racism. South Carolina Republican activist Rusty DePass compared an escaped gorilla from a Columbia zoo to first lady Michelle Obama's ancestors. Diane Fedele, who was then the president of a Republican women's club in San Bernardino County, Calif., resigned last October after she sent out a newsletter with a drawing of Obama on a bogus food-stamp coupon surrounded by ribs, watermelon and fried chicken.Republican U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins of Kansas said that the party was looking for a "great white hope" to lead the party into the future.Naw there is no racisem in America, no sir.
we all blew it
Dennis P Lima
Dennis P Lima
Sep 19, 2009 10:01 PM
Will you liberals ever give up? A minority gets fired, so of course its racism. Unbelievable. You people keep playing the race card and many of us in America are really sick of hearing it. Van Jones, what an idiot. Good riddance, now go away and shut up.
Van Jones
Joe Hill
Joe Hill
Sep 23, 2009 02:08 PM
It's amazing how guys like Dennis Lima think all the bruhaha stirred up by the right is not about racism. I am a redneck, but I respect a man for being a man...period! All you Glen Beck cry-babies need to wipe your nose and get over white domination of politics and power in this country!
Van Jones et al
Sep 23, 2009 08:44 AM
Give me a break! Van Jones exploited his race for personal gain. It didn't take a big effort by Glen Beck for the White House to realize that this guy was a loose cannon. It had nothing to do with race. If he was white and had made the same comments he would have been labeled a kook and shown the door. Stop the self-righteous race baiting and get over yourself!
Van Jones
Joe Hill
Joe Hill
Sep 23, 2009 02:13 PM
It is about racism Sean! As a former military man and country boy, I have learned that it's not about liberal or conservative, it's about standing up for real values....and quite frankly, the whole Glen Beck-protest anything Obama does have none worth mentioning. I'm a redneck and I'd just love to kick a few of you morons down the road and back to Germany were you belong!
van jones
dennis p lima
dennis p lima
Sep 24, 2009 01:04 PM
That's interesting Joe. I'm also a veteran of the Army and National Guard, (actually spent 2 years in Germany) but I don't recall ever being taught to answer anyone's comments with idiotic comments like yours. Just a year ago when Bush was president all we heard was "dissent is patriotic". Why the change now Joe? As for Glen Beck, I never even heard of him until recently, but thank goodness we have an alternative media voice in this country, as opposed to the pathetic Obama obedient media at ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, PBS, NY Times etc etc etc.