“We need a different on-ramp for people from disadvantaged communities,” Van Jones told Thomas Friedman in the New York Times article “The Green-Collar Solution.”
“The leaders of the climate establishment came in through one door and now they want to squeeze everyone through that same door. It’s not going to work. If we want to have a broad-based environmental movement, we need more entry points.”
Van Jones is an Oakland-based progressive leader whose vision of environmentalism seamlessly incorporates social justice. He is the founder and national executive director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in Oakland, an action center working for justice, opportunity and peace in urban America. Jones is also a member of Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums’ Green Economic Initiatives Task Force, which supports the idea of aggressively attracting eco-friendly employment and businesses to the inner city.
He is currently writing a book called “Green-Collar Jobs: How To Beat Global Warming, Cut Poverty & Unite America,” in which he places the poor and the disadvantaged at the center of a new, solution-based environmentalism. Jones’ most recent project, Green For All, is projected to provide tens of thousands of “green collar” jobs to minority and low-income workers, mostly youth in urban areas.
At last year’s Bioneers Conference, after pointing out the difference between the environmental issues poor black people care about and the ones affluent white people worry about, Jones jokingly declared, “This is the PowerPoint presentation Al Gore would give if he was black.” Those who have had the opportunity to hear him speak often come to the conclusion that he will go down in history.
Jones was not always the dynamic, witty, confident figure he is today, however. He was a sick, skinny kid with a speech impediment throughout childhood, and had to work hard to overcome these setbacks. It’s taken encouragement and support from close friends for him to accept himself and step up to spearhead a major social movement.
Jones was able to rise above these challenges to become one of the most well-known and well-liked human rights activists of modern times. He strongly believes that if we’re going to change the world, we’re going to have to do it together. He also believes that every person has an inherent power to effect this shift.
Many people find it unbearable to admit a mistake, as if it’s a sign of personal failure, which is hardly accepted in society. However, Jones admits to his mistakes all the time. He hopes that if he confesses his faults, it will open space for everyone else to forge ahead.
As Jones said to Friedman, “If the road to social transformation can be paved only by saints who never make mistakes, the road will never be built. The upside is that we don’t have to be perfect to save our communities and restore the Earth. We just have to try hard and be as honest as we can be about the processes we are going through. So I share the mistakes and failures, as well as the successes, because that is the truth of my journey – and of anyone’s journey.”
Ben Eckold is a business junior, a member of the Empower Poly Coalition and an environmental columnist for the Mustang Daily.